July 17, 2014

Travel Series - Chaos Theory of London

While Portugal can be referred to as an under-appreciated gem, laid back, friendly, and affordable; the opposite can be said about London, England. London tends to be a fast paced city with people addressing each other in a more formal manner by always using sir or madam. While there is no shortage of things to do, many of their tourist attractions are not that great. Before leaving for Europe, I was told by several friends London is an expensive city and they were not kidding!

So, how expensive is London? To use public transit, it costs £4.70 ($8.70 Canadian) for a one way fare or £8.90 ($16.50) for a one day travel card! Compare that to the $2.00 – 3.00 charged for one way transit fares virtually everywhere else in North America and Europe, including those with similarly expansive systems such as Paris and New York City.[1] Another example of expensive transit is the express train linking Gatwick Airport to London’s Victoria Station, which can cost £20 ($37) for a one way fare. One final transit note is the London Underground ticket machines do not accept Canadian VISA cards, even if they say they accept VISA.
For many other items, you could picture something priced in Canadian Dollars in Canada and see a similar amount in British Pounds in London. Case in point: their classic fish and chips meal. In Canadian restaurants, such a plate can go from $7 to $14, compared to £7 to over £12 ($12.95 to over $22.20) in London. While a pint of beer in London at the low end can cost similar to what it does in Toronto at £3.50 ($6.50), it could cost over £5.00 ($9.25) in certain pubs. If you don’t do your homework ahead of time, it’s possible to end up paying over £20 for a meal and a pint!
In spite of the city being expensive, there are ways you can save money while in London. Using the Barclays Cycle Hire (a.k.a. Boris Bikes) is a cheap way to get around at £2.00 ($3.70) for 24 hours, which is one of the few things they do cheaper than Toronto. (Their bike share costs $7.91) While London is not as bike friendly as elsewhere in Europe or Vancouver, you should be fine if you can handle Toronto’s lack of cycling infrastructure. Certain attractions worth visiting are available at no charge such as the National Gallery by Trafalgar Square and Tate Modern near Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The British Museum is also free, but I didn’t go there. Regents Park, with its vast Queen Mary gardens, is a good park and I recommend walking near Parliament Square and Buckingham Palace. Aim to be at Buckingham Palace at 11:00 AM in order to see the Changing of the Guard.
If one place epitomizes fast paced craziness and you want an interesting shopping area, look no further than Camden Town in northern London. There is no shortage of vendors selling various interesting goods, situated next to a canal. You can find some good deals there and while I didn’t have any issues, Camden Town can be notorious for pickpockets. Another crazy aspect of London is pedestrians outright ignore the walk and do not walk signals more often than in North America.
There was only one attraction where I did pay admission and that is the Tower of London; home of England’s monarchy before Buckingham Palace. The Royal Mint and the Royal Armoury used to be kept there, and is also where the Crown Jewels are kept. I didn’t check the Crown Jewels due to the persistent long lines, though the Martin Tower in the northeast corner showcased a few royal crowns. The Tower of London was OK, but at £20, key attractions in other cities cost less and offer more bang for your buck such as Versailles Palaces near Paris. If you had a week in London and wanted to check out several attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and the inside of Westminster Abbey, you should consider getting the London Pass to save money and skip the lines.
After factoring in how expensive the city is, the underwhelming attractions (compared to elsewhere), and fast paced environment; it is little wonder why London is an overrated city. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend sightseeing in London more than once.

The next post takes me on the high speed train to Amsterdam, the world’s capital for vices and bicycles.

Bloody hell!
Rob Z (e-mail)

[1] Vancouver has three fare zones and they charge $5.50 for a three zone fare.

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