Back in November, I lived a theatre nerd’s dream: 6 shows, 8 nights in London, and stops at almost every major heritage/tourism site in the city.
Why London? Because I’ve always wanted to go, but the typical caveats were always present: 1) it’s expensive to begin with and 2) converting the Canadian Dollar to the British Pound is especially punitive.
But then two miracles happened: Brexit and Westjet.
Upon Brexit, the pound plummeted from $2 CAD per pound to about $1.65 CAD per pound, good for an almost 20% discount. If there was ever a time to go, it had to be then.
The other miracle? Westjet started a new route to Gatwick Airport, but as with all new routes, they struggled with delays and cancellations. To compensate for the bad press, prices dropped from the typical range of $800-$1200 to about $585 round trip direct.
As an opportunist, I seized the moment and went for it. It was also my first experience traveling alone, which was both lonely at times and freeing.
Without a doubt, this is a major hurdle for anyone traveling alone since splitting the cost of an Airbnb or a hotel is out of the question.
Instead, I stayed at my first ever YHA – a clean, comfortable, well-located hostel with a kitchen in London’s shopping district. With the cost of the YHA membership, it rang me a total of $337 for 8 nights, or $42.13 per night sharing a room with three other guys. I had also been tracking prices and knew if I booked ahead within a 3 month window, I’d get a lower price. This was a risk I was willing to take since November is considered off-peak.
Now – let’s be real: not everyone is super comfortable staying in a hostel, but my rationale was: 1) I’m a single traveler with little money, 2) I’m 27 which is a time where I can say “I’m not too old for this shit, yet,” 3) Maybe I can make friends at a hostel (which I did), and 4) I’m in London ,what are the chances I’m going to think: “Today, I’m just going to relax indoors!”
In all, the stay was comfortable. I had earplugs to drown out any snoring and I pretty much passed out at the end of each night from exhaustion. The kitchen was the added bonus since it also meant I could cook my own meals.
Safe to say, I was never going to be a huge fan of English food since it basically is what you get in Canada plus meat pies everywhere. I still dined out every day for lunch since many restaurants near the West End offer discounted pricing before shows. Those meals consisted of “cheap” cafes with giant portions (highly recommend this Café in the Crypt), Indian food, and Fish and Chips – the real English specific stuff.
For breakfast and dinner, with the exception of a few pub meals, I usually cooked at the hostel. Grocery shopping in London was especially insightful since the prices were fairly consistent with what you get here in Canada, though anything grain related was significantly cheaper. My breakfast for the week was a $3.00 box of porridge, which came to $0.38 a meal AND I still had to leave half the box behind! Dinner was pasta, chicken, and salads from the grocery store.
In all, I spent roughly $225 on food for the week.
The Things I Did
Theatre, anyone? I must admit, I think the English are spoiled. They not only have the best actors, but the best prices. I spent just £125 or $212 CAD across six shows, with good seats. That cost alone gets you one seat for a Mirvish show in Toronto!
The shows I saw were:
- Chroma / Multiverse / Carbon Life by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House (£10 for my ticket)
- Amadeus at the National Theatre (£15 for my ticket) – the best show on the trip
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National Theatre (£18 for my ticket)
- Comus at the Globe Theatre’s Sam Wannmaker’s Playhouse (£20 for my ticket)
- The Lion King in the West End (£30 for my ticket)
- Les Miserables in the West End (£32.50 for my ticket)
Talk about value! As a solo traveller, I was able to nab fantastic single seats – if you travel in groups, I recommend the same. Attempting to group together is a costly enterprise plus you shouldn’t be talking during the show anyway.
The other things I did were all the free stuff in London: National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, evensong at Westminster Abbey (services are free to attend, self-guided tours are not), British Museum, etc.
Things I paid for were the Harry Potter Studio Tour (worth the trek out to Leavesden), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Churchill War Rooms, Globe Theatre Tour, and a bus tour to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath. If you can book in advance, there can be sizeable cost savings, not to mention time savings since you get to skip the ticket lines. Lastly for our anniversary, my girlfriend got me a solo ticket to the London eye. She’s pretty great.
But what about that awful English weather in November?
I had got that comment a few times before leaving with people suggesting infinite amounts of rain and dampness – but it wasn’t that bad at all considering I’m from Canada. The temperature ranged from as low as 8 degrees Celsius to highs of 15 degrees Celsius. For me, that’s basically T-shirt weather!
As for the rain, it maybe rained all-day twice over the entire 9 days I was there and there are such inventions called umbrellas that help. The rest of the time it was a mix of overcast and sun. The weather felt just like fall ought to be.
If you told me I could jam pack a week in London for just $1875 CAD, I would’ve thought you were kidding, but I made it work. The only things I ran out of time on were the Tate Modern Museum, Natural History Museum, and seeing Phantom of the Opera. But if I want to do those things, all I need is a 2 day stopover at most.
As the English might say, “What a bloody good trip!”