London is not cheap. It was recently ranked the second most expensive city in the world, just behind Tokyo and ahead of Moscow.
Coupled with the weak dollar versus the pound ($1.84 to 1 pound), the idea of spending a long weekend in London "on the cheap" is a daunting task.
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Still, that's what I attempted to do on a recent trip to visit a friend. Here are some of the highlights of my trip:
London's newest footbridge lets you walk across the Thames river from St. Paul's Cathedral to the Tate Modern museum, giving amazing views of the Tower Bridge. It gave me easy access from my hotel in the financial district.
The best thing about the Tate Modern is that it's free, although they do ask for donations. It's also open till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, when almost all other museums are closed.
The worst part about it is that an entire floor was under construction, taking a third of the collection of out commission while I was there and also crowding the other two floors. But still, the collection would interest anyone who sat through a modern art history course in college, with paintings by Duchamp, Lichtenstein and Rothko lining the walls.
Although the best views of the bridge can be seen from the Millennium Bridge, walking up to the Tower Bridge offers great views of the rest of the city, as well as an up-close-and-personal look at the decorated structure that looks like it could come from any childhood fairy tale.
From the bridge, check out the oddly shaped, glass sphere-like building that is London's City Hall on the south bank of the Thames.
Right next door to the Tate is Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, reconstructed on the site where the original Globe Theatre was in Shakespeare's day.
The first night of my trip, I was alone until my friend arrived the next day, so with a few hours to kill in the evening, I decided to take in a showing of "Coriolanus."
For $18 (10 pounds), I snagged a seat under the thatched roof (it was raining) off stage left, but could have seen the show for cheaper if I wanted to stand in the pit (and in the rain). With hot coffee available at intermission, it was the perfect way to spend the night alone in London.
Unless you're a big royalty buff, Buckingham Palace is a good place to walk by and take in on your way to some other destination. If you time it right, you can watch the changing of the guard. Check here for a daily schedule.
For the casual tourist, don't waste your time staking out a spot to see the actual ceremony. If you're anywhere near the palace at the time of the ceremony, you will still see a good show as the new guard enters the compound and the old guard exits.
Also, the palace has beautiful gardens and manicured lawns that make for great backdrops for pictures.
St. James' Park
After a long day of sightseeing, if the weather's nice, take a rest in St. James' Park, just in front of Buckingham Palace. In the summer you might catch a festival or concert, and there's always good people-watching. If the ground is soggy, chairs are available for rent for a few pounds.
The London Eye
Although it might seem a bit pricey compared to other, cheaper attractions in London, a spin on this monstrous Ferris wheel in the heart of the city is worth every cent of the near $25 (13 pounds) it costs to board.
One revolution in a huge glass capsule that fits about 20 people takes half an hour and gives riders a view of the city they can't get anywhere else.
All Bar One
Sprinkled over the city, All Bar One offers a modern take on the classic London pub. It offers a clean, social atmosphere, a menu with more than fish and chips and a wine selection that will boggle most wine lovers' minds.
Created to be a more "female friendly" pub, tourists usually find All Bar One a less intimidating pub experience than some of the grittier pubs in the city.
This hip retailer is best described as a London H&M. It offers trendy clothes that won't burn a hole in your wallet (although, with exchange rates as they are, a frugal tourist might wait until he or she returns to the States for any major shopping sprees).
But for the fashionista who wants a few things that you can't find in the States, Topshop is the place to pick them up.
For a more classic London shopping experience, Harrods is a must.
Even if you don't want to drop a dime, walk through the food floor and gaze at the room filled only with chocolates or one filled to the brim with cheeses.
Better yet, go to the bottom level for a glass of sangria and some tapas for a light afternoon lunch.
Also stop by the eerie memorial dedicated to Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed. Fayed's father, Mohamed Al-Fayed, owns the world-famous department store.
Even going into this trip with "cheap" in mind, it wasn't too hard to keep within my budget. I never had to rely on my credit card, and given that England is not known for its culinary delights (especially to vegetarians, as I am) it was easy to skimp on meals. And my New York City know-how made the Underground the cheapest and easiest way to get around.
While it would be very easy to indulge in the city's famous theater, shopping districts and plentiful cabs, it's also possible to do it on the cheap.
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