I've discovered this place that offers very competitive rates for US dollars and Euros, with no commission charge or service charges. They have 2 branches in London, one in Victoria and one on the Strand.
Bypass currency exchange businesses and use your ATM. You're likely to get better exchange rates and there's no risk of incurring heavy commision charges.
ATMs are everywhere so it's also the fastest way to access your funds.
If concerned, check with your bank before you go to make sure your card will work. I believe you need a 4-digit PIN.
London is one of those places that will drain your wallet very quickly. This is one place which requires me to be very budget minded. Just about everything in this city is expensive to locals and foreign visitors alike. Here are some things which helped me out.
(1) Use ATMS to withdraw cash whenever you can. Your bank will likely give you a better exchange rate than the airport, the train station, or the exchange kiosks.
(2) Do not take a taxi. Avoid this at all costs. A ride on one of these could cost you more than a day's wages. Take the tube or a train from whichever airport you fly into. Also make use of the city's excellent transportation system, most notably the tube--mind the gap!
(3) Dont feel like you have to splurge on food. Paris would probably be the place for that. London does have good restaurants, but they are very expensive. Fish and chips, a ploughman's lunch at the pubs, and fast food will do your wallet the least amount of damage. I would even consider bringing some snacks from home so you will not have to eat out as much. No really, I am serious. Wait until you see how much it costs.
(4) This is a good place to research hostels. Hotels are going to cost you a bundle. However, I got a decent rate in the middle of winter at a small hotel near Victoria Station. The bathroom was shared, but the room did not cost me an arm and a leg. You might want to check with the tourist bureaus at the airport when you arrive. There was a place that could find you something in your price range just before getting to the trains at Gatwick airport. They found me a decent hostel for the night.
Fondest memory: Coming home not broke because I avoided the most expensive stuff.
I know, I know. Just stand still in London and the money seems to evaporate.
Still, seven million people manage to live quite happily there, by no means all of them multi-squillionaires, and many many more commute in every day, so it must be possible to manage. Here's some ideas...
Remember that most of the big museums and galleries are free. That should help a lot for starters. For a while in the 1980s and 90s, charging exhorbitant admission fees was considered de rigeur, but the institutions and government realised their mistake when the punters failed to turn up.
Look out for free or low-cost entertainment. City churches do lunchtime recitals of a high standard, and there is good music to be heard for free in the foyers of the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Centre.
Avoid buying anything from street traders in tourist haunts. Many of them are out to fleece you.
Make the most of your Travelcard - you should get one of these that best matches the length of your stay.
Choose restaurants and pubs away from - not necessarily too far - obvious tourist centres. Go for independent places rather than big chains, and make the most of local food specialities, which are part of the experience after all.
Buy food for picnics from street markets and check for bargains in big supermarkets like Tesco rather than convenience stores.
Stay overnight in small hotels, guest houses and B&Bs outside the Circle Line. Don't despise places like Ealing or Richmond, it's easy enough to get into the centre in the morning if you avoid the horrendous rush hour.
Other tips will be added when I think of them!
Bring mondo $$$...as a Canadian, I had to make sure I have enough $$$ for the conversion to Pounds. Think the rate's about $2.25 CDN to 1 Pound. YIKES!!!! It's safe to assume that I didn't spend too much in London.
Fondest memory: Hanging around at Picadilly.
Well, each time I have been to London, I have always come away with the impression of how expensive it is. Understand I am not trying to be negative about it, just realistic. I had a good time and all but I found it too expensive in the long run to facilitate my staying there for any extended period of time.
You should go to the Tower though simply because of its history. the same is true for Westminster Abbey.
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