Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, October 25, 2012

London For The Frugalist

Our family loves to travel. Our family also loves to save money. Normally, these two things aren't compatible but our family, who are firm frugalists, have worked out ways to do to it. My mother can offer a dozen tips on how to traverse the world for very little. My father could probably add in a dozen more. And my partner, who is thriftier than a prisoner, could just about circle the world on the smell of an oily rag.

I have to confess that I'm not as talented at Traversing The World On $1 A Day as my Frugalist Family. But I'm learning. In fact, this week, I've been managing on a budget of around 20 pounds a day, excluding hotels. And just look at the glorious sights I've seen...

The just-opened Tim Walker exhibition of fashion photographs at Somerset House. One of the most magical photography exhibitions I've ever seen. Even the ways the images were displayed were ingenious. 

Just beautiful. And completely free.

The newly renovated Fashion Galleries at the V&A Museum. A beautiful, inspirational, memorable, utterly joyous exhibition of frocks, shoes, ballgowns, day dresses and other sartorial finery from the late 17th century to the turn of the century. 

Also completely free. 

(There were also two other magnificent exhibitions: Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 and Hollywood Costume, which cost a small fortune, but I think the Fashion Galleries were better.)

The fabulous stores of London's arcades. Most travellers know about Regent Street, and Bond Street, and Oxford Street. But I think the arcades are far more interesting. Just look at the two gorgeous gentleman I saw ambling along Burlington Arcade, above. 

Window shopping – always free.

The glorious autumn leaves of Kensington Gardens. Gloriously free.

The beautiful fabric shops of Soho. If you love fabric, these stores are like walking into textile heaven. And so cheap. The linens are less than 10 pounds. 

Not free, but oh, so cheap.

The 'intimate' rooms at Firmdale Hotels. If you're travelling alone and you can forgo a Queen bed for a large three-quarter-sized one, you can find great rates at Firmdale Hotels' famously glamorous urban retreats. They often reduce these rooms, dubbed 'single' rooms, to spectacularly low rates. I often stay at Number Sixteen for just 120 pounds. This was my room at the new Dorset Square Hotel. The really lovely thing, apart from the great price, is the fact that they face great views. Number Sixteen's single rooms have their own terrace. Dorset Square's face the park opposite. Bliss. (PS Look at Dorset Square's cute door handles – made from cricket balls!)


  1. Oh you have seen some lovely things whilst away.

  2. Thank you Janelle - a wonderful post and some great tips for those of us living in UK and visiting up in London too! What a fantastic photography exhibition and love the Lulu Guinness purse and bag. Gorgeous hotel as well.. My parents are exactly the same about saving money and being frugal in all areas of their lives - think I am rather a disappointment to them on this front but I am learning! And have set my self a strict (already saved) budget for my time here in England till next June! So far so good and I am sticking to it!! Happy travels. Sarah x

  3. You're so right, it IS possible to experience London on a budget. Most of our museums and art galleries are free, unlike in the States where the admission prices are HIGH! Thank you for the hotel recommendation. I'd add for your readers that there are some delightful B&Bs where you get a fab stay, and personal service for around £100 or under. See for some good ones. For the really desperate look at where you also stay in someone's home. Keep away from coffee shops and 'chain' restaurants, try and eat your main meal at lunchtime when there are great deals and get an Oyster card for travelling.

    1. Karen
      A later response. Just a quick note. It's worth being aware that a number of US museums and art galleries quote a "recommended" price, eg the Met in NY last time we were there (about ten years ago) "recommended" entry price of $10 pp. But you could actually pay just $2.00 pp to enter if you wished to be frugal, as many New Yorkers do. It can make a big difference to your travel budget. Especially if there are two or more of you and you go back a number of times. Best wishes, Pamela

  4. I agree with you wholeheartedly about travel Janelle, it really is so important for the soul. I have such vivid memories of travelling to London years and years ago when one pound was three Australian dollars...thank goodness for duty free gin and the Liberty sale! Being a museum/galleryaholic you are so right that the best things in London (and in most cities in the world) are either free or excellent vale for husband even dragged me along to see the Dyson vacuum prototype in the V&A on one trip! Rx

  5. Really enjoyed this post - am so glad you put it out there that you can do London on the cheap. Especially with the best museums being free! Love your blog- fun, creative and informative. Am going to share Dorset sq hotel bc marylebone is the best part of town.


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