London and area on a budget

Sep 24th, 2004, 11:54 PM
Original Poster
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London and area on a budget

I'm going to stay with a friend in Reading (which is about an hourish -?- west of London), for eight days at the end of November. She's promised to take me out sightseeing, but my budget - and hers - is quite limited.

I have been to London before, but mostly saw sights from the outdoors, as I had quite a tight budget then as well and couldn't afford to go in anywhere. I'd like to see more this time, though.

So, if you were in this situation (and assuming you will return to London at some point to see more) which of the sights would you give top priority to? I mean, considering many of them are a good ₤13 or more to enter... if you had to choose the top two or three, which would they be?

Worth considering, also: my friend and I will be toting along my two year old and her one year old, and she'll be six months pregnant... *lol* But at least we'll have a car!

I also know some of the art galleries are free - if you had to choose one of these, which would you choose? Tate or National... are there others?

Also, should I go see Oxford or anywhere else not too far from Reading? Other ideas?



Jenner is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 12:00 AM
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All of the British Museums are free as far as I know. Try the open top bus tour. For a day it takes you all around town and you can hop on/off as much as you want.
Cole is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 12:19 AM
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You could do the opentop bus tour, but you can also get around quite easily by public bus and tube. I haven't tried those opentop buses, but they're certainly rather more expensive than doing it yourself.

The London Walks are a good value, in my opinion. They cost 5.50 pounds each. The web site is here:

Definitely see Westminster Abbey. You can go for free if you attend a religious service. Of course you can't take pictures and blatantly gawk, but you can enjoy the presence of the place. You can do the same at St. Paul's Cathedral, etc. Nonetheless if you can possibly spare the money, I recommend a verger's tour of Westminster Abbey.

The Tower of London is a very interesting place to visit and the Beefeater's tour is very good, but this site is also about the most expensive. You can certainly occupy your time very well without seeing the Tower of London.

Greenwich is a very interesting place to visit and has free/cheap attractions.

There is the Tate Britain, Tate Modern, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are others. The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are free (or by donation). I'm not sure about the others. Figure out which type of art you like best and decide where to go.

I doubt the car will do you much good inside central London. I guess you can figure out all your routes and plans ahead of time to determine what mode of transport is best.

Look at this London for free site:
WillTravel is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 12:24 AM
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There are also inexpensive noon hour classical concerts in several London churches. I don't imagine you could attend them with the kids, but perhaps you and your friend could trade off childcare while one attends.
WillTravel is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 12:42 AM
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If you have a car, head into Cambridge which is a lot nicer than Oxford (I think anyway). you can just walk around the street & universities - beautiful place. We went there this year (2nd or 3rd time). Bath (really nice) which isn't too far from you is an option as well.
I have been on the open top buses which is good if you have limited time in London but a lot of ££ to fork out (think I paid £16 a few years ago). Some of the open top buses has a river cruise boat included which is quite nice. I love Tate Modern - worth going - I'm not an art person! Don't drive into London - parking will clear you out completely. we paid £8 an hour once in the Strand, near waterloo station. Better off getting a travelcard from your nearest train station & hop on & off the buses & tube. You should be able to get one from Reading.
Jsltan is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 04:00 AM
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If money is tight I'd skip the open top bus as you can do the same thing for much less on regular buses, just get a day pass. As stated all the museums are free which is especially great wtih kids since you probably won't want to spend a long time in any one place at a time and with them being free you can just pop in for a short while and not feel you have wasted money. My favorites are the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert. The V&A is right next door to the Museum of Natural Hisotry which is worth a short stop even if you just see the great hall. They are also very close to Hyde Park/Kensington Garden, which is free of course.

If you can afford to pay for any one thing I would do the Tower of London. It's expensive but you get a lot and since there are several buildings but you go back outside to go from one to the other the the kids could play on the grass to break it up a bit.
isabel is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 04:32 AM
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I stayed and recommend the Victoria Inn on Belgrave Road. We noticed it seemed to be a favorite with families with small children. The neighborhood is residential with parks nearby, pizza places, etc..., and the Victoria Station is probably a 15 minute walk, with Pimlico station even closer. Check their rates at
Sep 25th, 2004, 04:39 AM
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With a pregnant gal and two toddlers, the underlying issue is mobility! The first thing I would research is which places permit strollers (prams, buggies, whatever they call them)! Also, for this particular group it might actually be worth the hassle to drive and park in London, or even take the open-top bus despite the budget constraints.

As others have mentioned, most museums in London are now free. IMHO, the two things worth paying for are the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. At the Tower, the Beefeaters tour is included and very intersting; I agree with the above recommendation that the verger's tour is worth the small extra fee at Westminster. Don't forget about the British Museum, in addition to those mentioned above.

Oxford is quite charming and interesting, certainly a better choice being closer. Be forewarned, parking is terrible and you mght want to use one of the park-and-ride lots.

Try to search out the past Fodors posts that discuss the many lovely children's playgrounds in London.
Anonymous is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 08:12 AM
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I can't imagine doing the typical London sites with toddlers. The chances of them both napping during a gallery visit or a tour are small - two year olds take one mid-afternoon nap while a one year old is still taking a late morning and late afternoon nap. How will you feel if you pay for an outing and then have a toddler meltdown on your hands?

What you've got is a great group for a country visit. There are lots of farm sites and nature preserves that would suit your group. Bath is also a good recommendation - it has several nice parks and is pretty low-key, except for the weekends.

If you want to see the London sites, it might be best to hire a babysitter and go without the children.

patg is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 09:01 AM
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If you ask me I can gladly e mail to you notes I have on disc of things in London that forum parents say their children liked, and of things that are cheap or free. I am afraid I agree with WillTravel that a car is little help, as you pay a daily five pounds just to drive in central London, and then big parking charges on top of that. I expect you will drive to Shepherds Bush or so, park, and take day-long London travel cards, good for tubes, busses, and some local trains.

The seventeenth century churches that offer classical recitals free at one o clock welcome children and babies, so long as you go out with the infants if they are noisy. Jesus Christ gave Christians clear instructions on this matter. You can buy Time Out listings magazine at your arrival airport. It lists these concerts, and lists free jazz and folk at six in theatre foyers.

Things have changed since you were here: few museums are a good ₤13 or more to enter. The museums that are free are the great ones run by central or local government. If the children play up you simply leave (you will not waste a ticket), and return next day. Free art galleries are Tate Britain, Tate Modern, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Courtauld Institute, Kremlin collection in Somerset House, Dulwich Gallery, and the Wallace Collection. If you will say what period or school of painting you like I can say where to choose to go. I think art galleries of any school are equally dull for any infant. Tourist traps such as Madame Tussaud s do indeed charge heavily. An exception is the Tower, which is indeed good, but I am not sure you should all go there when two of you will be too young to enjoy it enough to justify the cost. Infants can go and see old cannon free outside (and I think sit on them), at the riverside in front of the Tower, and plenty of modern guns in the Imperial War Museum.

November is a bit cold for farm sites and nature reserves.

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ben_haines_london is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 10:20 AM
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"welcome children and babies, so long as you go out with the infants if they are noisy. Jesus Christ gave Christians clear instructions on this matter. . . . art galleries of any school are equally dull for any infant. "

LOL, Ben you write the best responses!

BTW, kids under 5 are admitted free at the Tower. They'll enjoy the ravens, but make sure they don't get too close and get mistaken as a snack!
Anonymous is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 10:43 AM
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Jen, you've gotten good advice. Not sure where it leaves you though. LOL Without knowing a bit more about your likes and interests, it's hard to chose. I agree the Tower of London while pricey is an experience to remember, but you must take the Beefeater Tour. So maybe that would be my one pick. The museums are all free, so except for the issue of the kids, you could do 2. I like the National Portrait Gallery b/c it's both a history of England through it's people as well as art and sculpture. It even includes more modern portraits like the Beatles, current fashion designers etc. The Tate modern is not everyone's cup of tea but the views of London from the cafe there are great and it's a nice walk along the Thames. If you have particular interests, you should mention them.

As to where else to go, people are tired of my recommending Woodstock but I love it there. It's where Blenheim Palace is and there are things for kids to do there is it's not too cold. It's not far from Oxford. Here's the link
mclaurie is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 11:09 AM
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1. For £9.50 (children free), you can get a 7-day All London Bus Pass. While you're at the ticket window, pick up the brochure titled "Tube & Bus - Map out your day" which shows which bus routes serve dozens of sights, many of which do not charge for admission.

2. Get backpack carriers for the kids.

2. Drive to a bus station outside the Congestion Charge zone where you can park for free.

3. Ride the bus all over town - the pass is good on any bus (no zones like the Tube), and the 188 will even get you to Greenwich.

4. I highly recommend the Yoeman Warder's tour of the Tower. If you go, get one-day London Pass, which costs about the same as normal admission, and will not only allow you to jump the line, but also admits you to dozens of other attractions for free, including a 50-minute boat ride down the Thames.
Robespierre is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 12:55 PM
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A one-day London Pass costs £23 and adult admission to the Tower of London costs £12.50, or almost exactly half as much.

Also, one can sometimes find coupons for "buy one ticket, get the second half-price". To avoid the lines, buy the ticket in advance at the tube station.
Anonymous is offline  
Sep 25th, 2004, 11:32 PM
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You need a Network Railcard (buy it at the station), which gives you 20% off all train tickets in the region (which includes London and Oxford) at weekends and after 10 on weekdays. This discount applies to the Daily Travelcard, a dynamite train+London transport package, which in effect gives you a return trip to London and unlimited use of the tubes and buses for about the same as London-based visitors pay for Zone 1 transport.

There is also a bewildering variety of other railway deals for people in London's nearby towns, which hardly any of us fully understand but which most booking office staff are usually (ie outside rush hours) delighted to explain, especially if the rest of us are trying to buy a ticket.

Do remember that driving into London requires you to pay the £5/day congestion charge Mon-Fri as well as car parking, which will rarely be less than £3/hour even at weekends, and as noted above can be a great deal more. In practice, you almost certainly need to buy a London Transport pass as well, so unless your friend is very knowledgeable about the crannies outside the charging zone with free parking (and few non-Londoners are), it's unlikely driving will be as cheap as the train.

Remember, too, that you really don't need to waste money on the hop-on, hop-off tour. Your Travelcard gives you unlimited access to the public buses, and you can see just as much for free.

Reading is a major railway town, and is the junction between the main East-west and a major north-south railway. It has direct and fast connections to Oxford, Bath, Winchester, Stratford and the Cotswolds, and you couldn't be better connected for the world outside London.

Getting to Cambridge from Reading, BTW, is messy - requiring changing buses at Heathrow, Stansted or Oxford, or a horrid cross-London train, tube, train journey. While the city is prettier than Oxford, it really would be dunderheaded to invest four or so hours each way to get somewhere that's about 10% nicer than the town 20 minutes up the line.

Sadly, the galleries at Somerset House (like the Courtauld) aren't free, though the Courtauld itself IS free on Monday mornings only. But, with time limited, the free galleries elsewhere will more than keep you busy.

By going into St Paul's and Westminster Abbey at service time, the only "must see" you need to pay for is the Tower.

If your friend has decent Ordnance Survey maps of the area round her, do remember that most of the classic local Big Houses (like Blenheim), while normally charging you through the nose, have free-entry footpaths across them, marked on the maps. If you're strapped for cash, the Duke of Marlborough (Blenheim's owner) really should be the last beneficiary of your slender resources.
flanneruk is offline  
Sep 26th, 2004, 11:13 PM
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Don't forget Covent Garden. You'll have fun shops to visit and a few good places to eat. And free/cheap entertainment from the buskers! (I assume they will be performing in the winter, as well as the summer. Perhaps the locals on this board would know.) They might enjoy the Transport Museum there as well.
Merseyheart is offline  
Sep 27th, 2004, 07:41 AM
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Correcting the esteemed ben haines is not my favorite pastime but since flanneruk has already crossed the line (Somerset House galleries are NOT free) let me add another - Dulwich Picture Gallery is not free.

I would also suggest that a donation be made at any of the "free" museums.
jsmith is offline  
Sep 27th, 2004, 09:01 AM
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Well as I live in London and spent 4 years at Uni in Reading, I think I can help a bit.

The fast train into London is a speedy 1/2 hour, but as an intercity it isn't cheap. This will drop you into Paddington, with good links to tube lines to various bits of London.

There are also slower trains which take about 1 hour and will be much cheaper. One of these certainly goes into Waterloo - there may be others.

For the cheapest fares, make sure you go after the rush hour (after 9.30, or 10am, can't remember).

So much is now free in London - all the major museums. There's lots for kids to poke and bash at the Science Museum. (There ends my knowledge of kids activities).

With a car, your options outside of London are plenty. Reading is a bit of a dull commuter town, but is situated in a very upmarket county (Berkshire) surrounded by interesting places. You're within VERY easy reach of Windsor, Oxford, Henley-on-Thames and numerous picturesque, chocolate box riverside villages.

1.25 hours on the train (or 1.5 hours in the car) and you're in Bath. An hour or so and you're in the Cotswolds.

Even the south coast in an easy day trip by car - show me a child that doesn't like the seaside.

And if the kids are really bored, then there's always Legoland in Windsor LOL
Kate is offline  

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