London is notorious for having expensive accommodations and food, but Singaporean tourists can save money with these little-known tips.
Ah, London – the great financial centre of Western Europe, and former centre of the world. There’s a lot to do and see in London – most of which, unfortunately, costs money.
Things are not made easier by the high price of accommodation, and the food. In fact, The Telegraph in the UK rates London as 7th most expensive city in the world to visit. Don’t worry though – here are some ways Singaporean tourists in London can cut costs and have a grand time.
1. Use Credit Cards and Vouchers When You Dine
Unlike Singapore, there isn’t a cheap hawker centre on every block; often the closest “cheap” thing to you is a cafe.
For this reason, we suggest you make sure your credit cards can give cashback on overseas dining. This will quickly net you the maximum rebate in a week, and save you money in the process.
We suggest the Citi Cash Back Card, a nice all-around rebate card that gives 8% cashback on dining worldwide, capped at S$25 a month. If you prefer a more dining-specific card, try the UOB YOLO Card which gives 8% rebate on weekend dining and 3% rebate on weekday dining, capped at S$60 a month.
If you prefer to pay in cash, visit MoneySavingExpert for the free vouchers. If you have to step into a mid-range eatery (because the alternative is eating sandwiches and burgers till you’re sick of them), you may as well pick the ones with a discount.
Never buy vouchers from people selling them on London’s streets. This is a common tourist scam, and you could find they are invalid at the restaurant.
We strongly suggest you ask the locals before stepping into any restaurant. Eateries in London seem to be really good, or really bad, with few in-between. Some places are fantastic value for money, like the Biegel Bake on Brick Lane (around S$7 for a burger that is big enough to count as two meals. Delicious too).
Others, well…we don’t want to name and shame, but one of our staff once paid S$45 for chicken spaghetti that probably came out of a box.
2. Get Around on Bike…
There are plenty of bicycle stations across London, which the locals refer to as Boris Bikes (after London Mayor Boris Johnson). This is a biking programme run by Santander Bank, and you can use your credit card to unlock a bike (make sure it’s enabled for overseas use).
It’s about S$4 for a bike access fee. After that, every bike ride of 30 minutes or less is free. Every additional 30 minutes is about S$4. Within central London however, 30 minutes is usually enough time to get where you’re going – it’s unusual to ever end up paying for another 30 minutes.
Taking the bike is much cheaper than using a cab in London. It really is possible to pay up to S$160 for a trip from Heathrow Airport to Central London, and the system used for calculating fares is insanely complicated. In fact, we’d say you should just be ready to fork out at least S$40 every time you get into a cab.
So unless you are ready to blow hundreds of dollars on cab fare (and that within a week), you are strongly advised to bike or use public transport.
3. …Or Buy an Oyster Card
Don’t even think about relying on standard price tickets if you want to use the tube. The London train system is not the MRT. Many Singaporeans have taken a short single trip on a standard ticket and balked at the S$9+ price tag.
But it’s about half that price if you have an Oyster card. In addition, the Oyster card caps the maximum price for a trip at around S$16.
A common trick, by the way, is to take the Picadilly Line from Heathrow Airport to Central London. This is around S$7, as opposed to using the Heathrow Express (around S$42). If you are not loaded down with too much luggage, that’s a good way to save money.
The Tube is more confusing than our MRT and mistakes can cause some expensive travelling. Plan your trips in advance, or through a Tube app on your phone (there’s a good one for Android phones).
4. Watch Your Back Pockets and Backpack
Petty crimes, such as pick-pocketing, are common on the tube and in certain parks. Keep your wallet in an inside coat pocket.
When watching street performances (dances, magic shows, etc.), keep an eye on your valuables too. Pickpockets often use these events to steal from the distracted.
If you are walking around with a backpack, we suggest you invert it (carry it the wrong way around, with the front of the pack against your back) when in crowded areas like a packed mall. This makes it harder to open the pack and lift your items.
5. Buy Alcohol and Drink at Your Room
This works the same way it does in Singapore. There’s a high markup when you drink in a bar or pub. If you and your party decide you want to drink a lot more, consider buying from a liquor store and then drinking back in your room.
Note that you cannot drink in areas under a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), or on public transport like the tube. So bring it back to your room.
6. Buy Theatre Tickets Far in Advance or at the Last Minute
Tickets for West End Theatre performances can be as much as 50 per cent cheaper, if you buy at the last minute.
Try the TKTS booth at Leicester Square – in the hour or so before a performance starts, they may try to clear out the tickets. You can also get S$10 standing tickets at The Globe if you don’t mind, well, standing.
Alternatively, book your tickets far in advance via online sites. This also results in around the same discounts as if you turned up at the last minute.
Mind you, particularly popular shows may not be discounted at all. Wherever you buy tickets from, the booking fee should not be more than 20 per cent of the ticket price.
7. Shop at the Markets, Not the Malls
London’s markets offer a variety of things you won’t find in malls. And we assure you, if it’s in a mall in London it’s in a mall in Singapore.
Market stall holders are also often ready to bargain with you. If you are buying in a sufficient quantity, or are buying something they intend to clear out, the real price is often lower than the indicative price.
So look to markets instead, like the Brick Lane market, Portobello market, or Old Spitalfields market. These are also treasure troves for antique hunters. If you know your vintage goods you may be able to turn a profit on eBay (in fact, some shoppers frequent these markets to do just that).
That being said, do note that some of the stalls like to prey on tourists. Listen in to the prices being negotiated with the locals, before you step in and try.
8. Don’t Feel Pressured to “Donate” to Street Artists
Occasionally, street musicians or artists can get a bit aggressive. They may befriend you or press their CD, painting, etc. into your hands, and tell you to take it and enjoy it. They may talk a bit about where you’re from, and get you to agree that you like their work before requesting a “donation”, or outright asking you to buy.
Do not feel cornered or obligated. Many a tourist has blown S$20 to S$40 on a CD or painting they don’t even like, out of fear of being impolite.
Keep your wits about you, and don’t let politeness deplete your vacation fund.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.