Britain on a Budget
Penny Wise but Not Pound Foolish
When planning a trip to the United Kingdom, few things are more daunting than the prospect of the shrinking dollar to the seemingly almighty British pound sterling. But fear not, Anglophiles, there are bargains to be had across the pond and a well-planned budget-conscious vacation to Britain is well within the means of most penny-wise and pound-savvy travelers.
Some of London's poshest hotels are running guaranteed dollar rates, thus ensuring the best exchange rate for travelers. Current participating properties include Athenaeum Hotel & Apartments, Egerton House Hotel, 41 and the Milestone Hotel. The latter arguably has the best turndown service in town, including hot chocolate and a teddy tucked in for the night.
Self-catering apartments and bed and breakfasts are an affordable way for visitors to save money during their stay in England, Scotland and Wales -- all while preserving an intimate, home-away-from-home feel. The new start-up company base2stay, in London, offers low-cost rooms and Royal Garden Apartments, in Edinburgh, offers two-person "Executive" rooms. Coastal Cottages, in Pembrokeshire (which offers some of the most beautiful seaside scenery in all of Britain), operate affordable cottages.
The Youth Hostels Association is Britain's leading accommodation provider, with a network of over 200 youth hostels in England and Wales. Hostels are ideal for single and family travelers, students and youth groups, because they provide comfortable accommodations and good food at reasonable prices.
Stuff to Do on a Shoestring
Museum lovers and history buffs should take advantage of the free admission offered at the more than 250 National Museums and galleries in Britain. There are 238 in London alone, 11 in Scotland and 8 in Wales. The British Museum in London can easily take up an afternoon. While there, don't miss the Elgin Marbles; the current controversy over returning the famous statues to Greece might put them farther out of reach for future travelers.
Be queen (or king) for a day. The Great British Heritage Pass gives visitors unlimited entry to many of Britain's historic sites, including nearly 600 castles, stately homes and gardens in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Card Holder's Privilege
The London Pass grants tourists complimentary entry to 50 attractions, as well as special offers, such as discounts at restaurants and theaters. The pass also enables travelers to avoid lines at popular attractions. In addition, sightseers can secure complimentary access to public transportation on buses, tubes and trains.
The Edinburgh Pass provides travelers on short vacations with free access to participating attractions and public bus transportation around Edinburgh and the Lothians. The pass also gives tourists exclusive discounts in shops, restaurants and theaters, as well as a guidebook outlining special offers.
The Oyster Card is the cheapest way to pay for single journeys on the tube, buses, Docklands Light Rail and trams in London. Locals use this card, too. You can store your Travelcard/bus pass and/or cash to pay as you go on your card.
Yes, London cabs are expensive. So, why not walk? The Original London Walks uses Blue Badge guides (the gold standard of tour guides) to inform visitors about the history of London. The company offers more than 300 walks through London, as well as Explorer Days, 1-day sightseeing tours to Bath, Cambridge, Canterbury, Cotswolds and Oxford, Hampton Court, Stonehenge and Salisbury.
From Pub Grub to Posh Nosh
While in the UK, you don't have to limit yourself to fish and chips or pub food on a budget, although these 2 great British institutions are a good choice for lighter fare days. There are also trendy new restaurants and old standards offering prix-fixe menus year-round. At Arbutus, which was recently awarded a Michelin star under the guide of owners Anthony Demetre and Will Smith, you can order a pre-theater, 3-course meal that's very affordable.
The Kitchin restaurant, in Edinburgh, has a similar deal at lunchtime offering 2-course and 3-course meals that won't break the bank. The restaurant is named for owner and head chef Tom Kitchin, who trained with master chefs Guy Savoy, Alain Ducasse and Pierre Koffmann of La Tante Claire, in London.
Gastropubs are one of the hottest food trends in Britain right now. They pair the relaxed atmosphere of a pub with the epicurean excellence of traditional fine dining. Many gastropubs have been awarded Michelin stars, and Britain's best-known chef, Gordon Ramsay, is set to open a series of them in and around London.
The Warrington, in Maida Vale, and the Narrow, in historic Limehouse, both offer offer a good value for travelers, with low-priced appetizers and main courses. Other good gastropub choices include the Eagle (London); the Drewe Arms in Broadhembury (Devon); the Punch Bowl Inn at Crosthwaite (Cumbria); Crinan Hotel (Argyll, Scotland); the Harbor Inn, Bowmore, (Islay, Scotland); and the Foxhunter at Nant-y-Derry (Wales).
Getting There Is Half the Fun
bmibaby, a subsidiary of British Midland Airways, is a low-cost airline with flights to Birmingham, Cardiff, Durham Tees Valley, Manchester and Nottingham East Midlands. The airline is an affordable way to travel within Britain.
BritRail gives visitors an exceptional value money-wise, as well as the flexibility to explore and travel by train within Britain. BritRail has several pass options, senior citizen and student discounts, and 25% discounts during the winter.
Megabus.com, a low-cost bus service, offers online bookings for travel within Britain. For 1 fee, visitors can travel to and from Birmingham to London, Bristol to London, Cardiff to London, Portsmouth to London, Glasgow to Edinburgh and Manchester to Leeds.