I dream about London, I really do. It’s always seemed to me to be one of the most wonderful places in the world. I’ve been there a few times, most recently during the weeks before the royal wedding. London never fails to fascinate.
For American travelers, London has the advantage of being foreign and yet very familiar, and despite everything happening in Washington, the English still like us (force of habit may perhaps be at play here). Now is a very good time to go and visit our British brothers and sisters.
London is notoriously expensive, alas, but here are a few ways to further minimize expenses without going totally “on the cheap.”
Fly smart. Flight time from Chicago to London is under eight hours, and most of us can endure even Economy seats for that brief period. We took Norwegian Air, which just started offer the flights to London from O’Hare in March of this year. Direct, non-stop flights Chicago to London, round trip, in well-designed and brand-new planes, are usually very competitively: currently, they’re offering Chicago to London, one way, for around $160.
Take advantage of free stuff. Admission to all major London museums is free. No charge. Contrast that to the $25 admission to get in the Art Institute. In London, the British Museum, National Gallery, and many other world-class institutions are completely free. I like museums in 2-3-hour doses, and it’s nice to be able to drift into a museum for just a few hours, and come back the next day or two, and pick up where you left off, without paying for several admissions.
Go Tube. The Tube, the London transit system, is an extensive network of trains that enables you to get to most places in the area for a very limited charge. If you have Google Maps on your mobile device, you can use it to easily find what trains to take to get where you want to go, and, of course, there are helpful people in all the stations to guide you. I bought an Oyster Card, which provides reduced bus and train travel in London and eliminates the bother of buying tickets every time you want to go somewhere.
Eat in. British food is no longer a punchline. Due, in part, to the general rise in international food awareness, the Brits, much like we Yanks, have upped their food game. Some of the best English foods are simple things like cheese and fish. When in London, I ate many meals at “home,” which on my most recent trip meant a place I got through London Perfect. When traveling, having a kitchen is a wonderful way to inexpensively sample local food in an atmosphere that’s more relaxing than in a restaurant. Shopping at local markets and eating back at my London Perfect “home” made me feel more like a local and less like a tourist: it’s a good feeling. Lisa Byrne of London Perfect told me that their residences are a cost-effective alternative “to booking a hotel, as guests will undoubtedly get more space for the price at any of our apartments, all of which are located in the most desirable and posh areas of the city.”
My little house in London was on Queensgate Mews, and if you’ve ever wondered about the word “mews,” it means the kind of alley behind grander homes; Queensgate is the street of grand homes; I stayed in what used to be one of many stables. Now, most mews in London seem to have been significantly upgraded.
In this time of political upheaval, when many of our allies are wondering what happened to America, it may be more important than ever to get to know the British.