The Eye is a ferris wheel. It is not a symbol of London. It is not a ‘must-do’. It is not something your drooling grandchildren will scrawl crayon pictures about after hearing your wistful remembrances. It’s an amusement park ride designed to give you a good view of London.

For £17.00!

Yes, for £17.00 over three million people every year get to see London from really, really high up. Is that really something you want? Before you answer that let’s answer a few questions.

1. Have you been to the tallest building in your city? If not, why not? Is it because, perhaps, you don’t care?
2. What do you think you’re going to see up there?
3. Is seeing London from high up in the air something you’ve dreamed about for years? Or is it something you’ve only dreamed about since you heard about the London Eye? If it’s the latter, you are a victim of advertising.

A much better option is to head on over to Primrose Hill or Hamstead Heath. Free to get in and free to look. Bring some food and drinks and you have yourself a nice little picnic.

Hash House Harriers: Putting the Word ‘Harrier’ Back Into Modern Usage Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In 1938, at the end of a hard week colonizing Malaysia, a group of British army officers and local expats had a group run. Fast-forward 70 years and people around the world still meet up to detoxify from their excesses, meet new drinking partners, or walk and chat down the street convincing themselves they are exercising. Yes, it is the confusingly-named Hash House Harriers.

HHH is a running group with branches in most of the world’s major cities, including London. If you’re a runner or you just want to meet new friends, you can pretty much be guaranteed a good time with these folks. You're saving money, getting fit, and being social. Generally the process goes like this: meet up at a pub, go for a run, then come back to the pub. There are usually people with endurance limits of all shapes and sizes, affording you the opportunity to either dash up front or maneuver your way into a tailwind for an easy coast. A small donation to cover Web site hosting costs is sometimes required. And nobody is saying you have to drink but, well, you are meeting at a pub. Still, HHH is far cheaper than getting a gym membership and probably friendlier as well.

There are multiple HHH groups within the London area. City Hash House Harriers operates within Zones 1 and 2. The London Hash House Harriers sometimes go a little further out of the city. Members of The London Bike Hash apparently didn’t fully understand the concept of running when setting up their chapter.

Global Freeloaders: For Free Accommodation You Can Be a Hippy For the Night Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The man who invented the idea of karma was smarter than a greasy weasel with an iPod for a brain. Somehow he convinced enough people that if they helped him out now, that at some vague point in the future they would be rewarded. (If you’re a business owner try to do that with your employees on payday.) Fast forward a few millennium, add a dash of the internet and a sprinkle of recession, and you have Global Freeloaders.

If you’re visiting London and don’t have the cash for even the most basic hostel then consider GF. Established ostensibly to promote a sense of global community, GF networks travelers in one country with those in another. The idea is simple: you get to stay at my place if I get to stay at your place. Oh but wait, maybe I don’t want to stay at your place, so my cousin Billy will stay at your place because I’ll stay at his place next week…and so on. You get put up and sometime in the future you put someone else up. It's like that Twilight Zone episode with the wacky box.

Sometimes people will just put you up on their couch, other times you get a bed, full meal, and tour around the city. Either way, GF seems to be geared for the backpacking under-30 crowd. You may well be expected to be the foreign entertainment at a party. Just don’t be a jackass and you’ll be all right.

Let’s be honest here: cheap accommodation in London is about as common as good pork pies. Who cares that it completely flies in the face of basic human labor exchange? Maybe we’ll start to have global freeloader markets as well, where I bring my tomatoes and “someday” you give me a T.V. Could work.

ISIC Card: “That’s right: I’m 52 and finishing my bachelor's. Now take off that 10%!” Sunday, April 26, 2009

Provoking miserly sighs from ticket sellers for years, the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is a must have when visiting London. Nearly every major attraction has a student rate that is accessible with the ISIC card. Sure you’re only saving a couple of pounds each time you use it, but those add up. It’s safe to assume that whenever you approach even the smallest ticket booth that you should flash the card to see if they’ll knock off the price of a pint.

And it’s not just entry fees. The ISIC Web site lists dozens of deals, from 30% of Lonely Planet books to low prices on train tickets. Use it. Save money.

To get a legitimate ISIC card you’ll need to be a full-time student at a registered educational body. How those bodies are registered are beyond the scope of this article. But those guys with three legged tables in Camden town and ready-made ISIC cards are probably not deans.

Tube: Or Not Tube Saturday, April 25, 2009

Those little one-pound coins. So small. What’s a couple of them thrown into a box? So you progress through your day tossing coin after coin away, skipping down into the bowels of the underground, past a shivering saxophone player to another ‘must-see’ attraction. And it’s not until you’re in Brixton selling your passport to a gold-toothed gangstah that you suddenly realize that perhaps you should have been keeping track of all those transactions.

The Tube is expensive. Full stop.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the Tube. London buses are slower than frozen, reverse-time-traveling molasses. Walking any great distance in London is great but impractical. To save money on the Tube you need to plan.

You probably need to buy an all-day Travelcard. For a mere £5.50 you are allowed unlimited use of the Tube from 9:30am onwards. Considering that even a single journey costs nearly as much as the card, it’s a smart bet. The only catch is that your travel is restricted to certain zones. Plan out which sites/place you want to visit before paying for the card. Odds are good that if you’re visiting London you need only to get Zones 1 and 2 for the first little while. If you’re figuring that you’ll be using Travelcards for a full week then grab yourself a 7-day Travelcard for the discounted sum of £25.80.

Having said all this, do you really need to take the Tube? If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Tube map does not correspond to reality. The map was created for visual simplicity. Stops that appear to be outrageously far from one another can practically be run to within minutes.

Check your zones, check your weight on the scale, and considering walking.

To and From Heathrow Airport: It's Not Walking Distance

There are several ways of getting to and from the explosion of humanity that is Heathrow Airport. In order of expense from cheapest to most expensive, the four most common ways go roughly:

a) Tube (£4)

b) Heathrow Connect (£6.50)

c) Heathrow Express (£16.50)

d) Taxi (at least £40)

The only people who should ever take a taxi to/from Heathrow Airport are friends splitting the costs, families traveling with small children, people who have had hemispherectomies, and the Queen. Cabs are disgustingly expensive and their prices fluctuate depending on the time of day. Plus, if you’ve made the unfortunate decision to take a cab during rush hour, you could be figuring out how to say “Do you take VISA?” in Cockney.

The Tube is assuredly the cheapest option, but even cheapskates understand that there is no point saving money in London just to end up unhappy. The Tube is at least an hour-long journey on a progressively packed tin can. And just how many bags do you have?

No, you need to step it up to Heathrow Connect. Like its more expensive brethren - the Heathrow Express - Heathrow Connect is a train that travels from Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station, a convenient point for subsequent connections. Express is triple the price because it is an uninterrupted journey. Connect makes a couple of stops.

So how much more time will Connect require? Ten minutes. That’s right: Express takes 15 minutes to get into the city while Connect takes a whopping 25. £6.50 vs. £16.50: your choice.

Is getting there ten minutes earlier really worth £10 to you?


You are here because you are smart.

You want to visit London and you want to have fun. Maybe you're one of the millions of people who flock to London every year for a taste of battered cod, a chance to run their hand over stone walls, or the thrill of getting ripped off by a Camden Street electronics dealer.

Your motives are your own, but the common thread that runs through all visitors is the painful understanding that London is a very, very expensive city. This blog will help you save money.

You will spend money. You will cringe at some of your choices. But you will get by better than the average person who thinks that £6.00 for a beer is a good deal.