10 Money Saving Tips for U.S. Visitors to London 2012

Cyclists on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace

(Image courtesy of London 2012)

With less than 135 days to go till the London 2012 Olympics, there are many from the U.S. gearing up for a visit to England’s historic capital for this summer’s main event.

I spent 12 years living there before moving to California. It probably took about ten of those to master the day-to-day “survival economy”, so I’m going to share some of the things I learned to keep the Pounds in your wallet. If this is your first time, make a note of some of these money-saving tips in order to save a fortune, whilst ensuring you don’t miss out on some of the very best that London has to offer.

Start Saving Before You Get to London

  1. Book your flights so that you fly to London on a Tuesday or Wednesday because it is cheaper to fly on those days.
  2. Once you arrive, take the train into town because it costs a lot less and is faster than getting a cab. The tube takes about as long as a cab ride and costs around $9 or you can catch one of the express services from Heathrow or Gatwick which will get you to the center of London in 15-20 minutes. It is cheaper to buy express tickets online and whatever you do, make sure you have a ticket before getting on board the train because you either pay a premium to buy them on board or you could get thrown off or hit with a fine.
  3. No need to rent a car for getting around London because public transport is cheap, faster and besides that, parking is expensive. There is a congestion charge for entering central London by car, which was brought into force for a very good reason.
  4. Get an Oyster Card for the duration of your stay to save on what will otherwise add up to expensive train and bus tickets. It works on all underground lines and buses as well as most overland train services.
  5. Museums and galleries like the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern and National Gallery are all free, so you can more than get your cultural and educational fill without spending a penny.
  6. Traditional London cabs, or Black Cabs as they’re known, can be very expensive so look for mini cab firms and make sure you haggle! With a minicab you can agree on the fare before the journey whereas Black Cabs will keep ticking over even if you get caught in a traffic jam. It is also very important to check that minicabs are registered before using them as there are many illegal firms. The safest way is to call the official line to book a cab.
  7. Tipping is the norm in the UK, but not expected. Typical tip levels are 10%-15% for a meal or cab ride, but other than that tipping is more discretionary.
  8. Visit Primrose Hill near the famous Camden Town and Market for spectacular views of London. Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath is also worth a visit and it’s a lovely quiet neighborhood with plenty of leafy streets, restaurants and pubs to grab a bite and a pint while taking in London life.
  9. Walk. Get a map and familiarize yourself with the surrounding areas of your base camp and the areas you want to explore. Using the tube map can be misleading when it comes to distances with many stations just 3-5 minutes walk apart. (Make sure to look right — not left — first when crossing the street.)
  10. Give yourself plenty of time. While the pace in London is fast, things can get congested pretty easily and there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a crowd or traffic jam when you’re in a hurry. When you’re in a hurry, you have to rely on Black Cabs and if you’re late for a ticketed event, you could end up wasting money on your ticket.

If you’re going to London this summer, you can expect a very warm welcome, albeit in a very English way. London really has everything to offer, including, believe it or not, some wonderful summer weather.

The folks at Travelzoo have also teamed up with Visit Britain and British Airways to bring you some amazing travel deals in their featured Destination of the Week: Great Britain, so you may want to have a look if your considering a trip across the pond.

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