As one of the BSO’s resident northerners, I understand that the idea of living and studying in London can be worrying, especially from a financial point of view. But I’ve lived in London for over three years now and although I am occasionally still shocked by the amount of change I get when buying a round, I’ve found that so long as you don’t expect to be dining at Claridges every night, you can still find really good deals. In fact, some of the cheapest nights out I’ve had have been in London!
Eating out on a budget
London has so many restaurants that you could eat out at a different one every night for a year and still not be close to going to them all. It stands to reason that some of these will be affordable. I can also say that I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for a meal out. Here’s how:
Toptable is an online restaurant booking site that has some amazing deals at non-chain restaurants. You can search by area, cuisine, best-rated, most booked, ‘best for’ and of course by deal. There are lots of 50% offers, set menus for £12, free bottles of wine etc. Best of all, you get reward points every time you book somewhere which you can redeem for more nights out.
All the main chains such as Pizza Express, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Café Rouge and the like always have deals on this website. In exchange for signing up to their mailing list, you typically get 50% off the food bill or say, two courses for the price of one.
Although curry aficionados may debate whether Brick Lane is the best place for curry, it certainly is one of the cheapest and close to good bars in the Shoreditch/ Liverpool Street areas. This street consists of wall to wall curry houses each with their own ‘touts’ standing outside trying to lure you in. Haggle with them and you could even eclipse my greatest ever Brick Lane curry deal (£8 for any curry, naan bread, rice, pappadoms and half a bottle of wine).
Yes, the £5+ pint does exist but not everywhere. If in doubt, you can always go to a Wetherspoons pub (there are 169 to choose from within the greater London area). But if you prefer a bit more atmosphere, I would recommend you go one of the Samuel Smiths pubs. The pubs are amazing, often in historic buildings including one of London’s oldest pubs, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on the Strand. Best of all the pints are cheap and good quality! Here is a map with all the Samuel Smiths pubs but please don’t spread the word too far. Sam Smiths pubs are one of London’s best kept secrets.
If you aren’t a pub person and prefer something a bit fancier, you won’t be short of places to go. Most cocktail and wine bars have a happy hour where you can get half price drinks and wine. Ball Brothers in Hays Galleria (close to the BSO) has a happy hour between 5 and 7pm with 50% off cocktails, selected wines and platters of food. Dirty Martini in Covent Garden is also good if you fancy going west. But generally, if you are looking for bars with offers, you should head to the financial areas around Bank, St Paul’s and up by London Bridge. They are all competing for lucrative after work drinks traffic and their happy hours can last all evening. Although these bars will contain many suited and booted clients, they are quieter and have better drinks than the more touristy areas (e.g near the theatres.)
Don’t get me wrong, these are most certainly not the coolest places to go and you won’t be spotting any celebrities but you can get a decent drink without maxing out your credit card.
The SU Bar
One of the cheapest places of all is the SU Bar right within the BSO. You really can’t get more convenient than this.
Most museums and art galleries are free, with the exception of some special exhibitions. If you plan on going to lots of exhibitions, it might be worth looking into becoming a member of the museum or gallery as this works out cheaper than buying individual tickets for events.
The Borough/Southwark Area
We are lucky to be based in one of the best areas for bargains in London. The SE1 website should be your new best friend. They post exclusive offers on local restaurants etc. and provide a comprehensive guide to what’s on in and around Borough.
Read our upcoming blog on finding cheap accommodation. This will be posted next Friday.
Trains, buses and tubes
Getting around London on public transport is relatively easy. The cheapest way to do it is via an Oystercard, which is a plastic credit sized card used instead of tickets. Students can apply for a Student Oyster card, which is cheaper than a standard one and people with disabilities may be eligible for a Freedom pass which provides users with free travel throughout London. Standard oyster users can choose pay as you go or purchase a weekly, monthly or annual travel pass.
Many students and staff cycle to the BSO. We are close to one of the Cycle Superhighway schemes and have secure facilities for locking your bike. However, it is advisable to attend a course or read up on safer cycling techniques if you are a nervous cyclist. The BSO is also located near a bank of ‘Boris bikes’. These are free to ride for half an hour.
Driving into the city centre on a regular basis isn’t really worth the hassle paying for and finding car parking not to mention the congestion charge fee. However, if you are a blue badge holder and rely on driving, the congestion charge is free. The BSO also has a private car park that you can apply to use.
London is such an enormous place that I’ve barely even touched the tip of the iceberg, choosing to focus on the local area around Borough. I haven’t even gone into detail on deals that happen in the more residential areas, so feel free to comment with your own tips and hints.