[top photo: Take a day trip to Windsor Castle, the largest occupied castle in the world]
As the pound plummets with the global economy, Life! gives a five-day, four-night budget guide to the swinging city of London.
By Jessica Leow
London is one of the world's most expensive cities to live in, but one silver lining amid the economic gloom is that the falling pound exchange rate means the Singapore dollar will go further here.
With an open mind and a sense of adventure, you can have a ball for less than $100 a day. Here is a suggested five-day, four-night itinerary to get the most out of London on the cheap.
Accommodation is the main wallet-drainer. In Britain, you can pay a lot and still get a shoebox, so go as basic as possible. Also, aim for rates that include breakfast as that will save you a small sum.
St Christopher's Inns (www.st-christophers. co.uk) is a youth hostel chain with seven locations throughout London. Rates start from as low as £8.90 (S$19.50) with breakfast.
Palmers' Lodge (www.palmerslodge.co.uk) caters to those over 18 and above. From £22 (S$50), it comes with free breakfast and free WiFi.
Families on a budget can try the Travelodge chain. Prices start from a saver rate of £29 (S$65) for a double or family room. Over the Easter holiday period, you can even find a room here for as little as £19 (S$42).
The London School of Economics (www.lsevacations.co.uk) lets out its student accommodation from £33 (S$74) to £64 (S$143) Staying here, you will be well within reach of many of London's famous attractions.
Day 1 (Thursday)
Morning: Do your own tour using this guide from www.londonforfree.net/outdoors/bustour/bustour.shtml.
One of the first things you should do is get an Oyster Card, generally the cheapest way to travel on public transportation. You will enjoy cost savings compared to buying single fares, plus a daily price cap on all modes of transport, including the Tube, the London Underground.
The suggested route starts from Piccadilly Circus, covers a huge chunk of London and includes must- see stops such as Harrods, Madame Tussauds, Kensington Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and Big Ben. Best of all, you can enjoy the city at your own pace.
Afternoon: Eating in London can be expensive, so grab a sandwich for a leisurely picnic at several parks in the heart of the city such as Hyde Park, Green Park and Regent's Park. This is the best time to do so, as spring brings gorgeous blooms and sunshine.
Witness the pomp and pageantry as the Household Cavalry (above) ride their horses in St James' Park in London with the London eye in the background.
The best sandwich deal is from Marks & Spencer: Until April 13, you can grab a sandwich, crisps and drink for a mere £2 (S$4.50). Another meal deal can be found at Boots, where £3.49 (S$7.80) buys you a sandwich, salad or fruit salad, plus a drink and dessert.
Work off your picnic lunch with a visit to Madame Tussauds, the world-famous wax museum. This month, www.lastminute.com is offering a half-price ticket at £12.50 (S$28) if you enter after 3pm.
Evening: Indulge in a British meal of fish & chips at The Fish Club in Clapham Junction and Clapham High Street. Fish items cost from £4.95 (S$11), and soft drinks go for 60 pence (S$1.50). Kids can get a fish & chips meal for just £3.75 ($8.50).
For an eclectic nightlife experience, check out Covent Garden. Buskers in this famous market area will keep you entertained for free.
End the night by wandering through Soho, heading to Trafalgar Square, the capital's most famous square which commemorates Lord Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Total cost for the day: £38.95 (S$86) (includes £8.90 for room and Oyster cap of £3.30 for buses and £6.70 for Tube).
Day 2 (Friday)
Morning: Head for Buckingham Palace to witness the Changing of the Guards ceremony, which takes place at 11.30am daily from May till July and on alternate days for the rest of the year.
Lest you think the guards are just a bunch of stiff men in red tunics and bearskin hats, they are in fact among the British Army's top soldiers, who also perform duties throughout the world.
Afternoon: Generally, it is cheaper to eat lunch than dinner in London because many restaurants offer a quick lunch menu. Try Tas the Cut at Waterloo, a Turkish restaurant, whose lunch menu (comprising starter, main and dessert) goes for £5.95 (S$13.20).
Jump on the Tube and head for Richmond in the afternoon. It is a posh area but you can enjoy it for free at Richmond Park, home to some 650 free roaming deer. You can even join a free guided tour.
If you prefer a spot of indoor entertainment, watch an afternoon movie at Prince Charles cinema for ?4 (before 5pm). Despite being in the Leicester Square area, it is much cheaper than most West End cinemas.
Evening: Dine at Belgo restaurant in Covent Garden between 5 and 6.30pm and you pay whatever time is shown on your food menu. That means the most you will pay for dinner is £6.30 (S$14). This Belgium mussel chain has a devoted fan base and a great vibe to boot.
Entry to virtually all museums in London is free and many have extended hours on Fridays, including the National Gallery which opens until 9pm. Many also offer free concerts on Fridays.
You do not have to miss out on the big London musicals just because you are on a budget. You can save a tidy sum by booking online. For example, www.lastminute.com is offering Les Miserables tickets for just £16.50 (S$37), and Grease tickets for £19.50 (S$44) (plus a £1.85 booking fee).
For something different, how about a London ghost tour? Experience the spine-chilling side of this old capital for £7.50 (S$16.80). For details and bookings, check out www.london-ghost-walk.com
Total cost for the day: £51.15 (S$114) (includes £8.90 for room and Oyster cap of £9.50 for Tube)
Day 3 (Saturday)
Morning: Take a walk along the South Bank. It is simply bursting with life with some of the most iconic attractions such as the London Eye, Parliament and Big Ben. And it is free.
Afternoon: Another must-do is to visit London's famed weekend markets. From antiques to goth fashion to organic cookies, you can find virtually anything at these (usually) outdoor markets. Portobello is the best all-rounder, Borough is a foodie haven and Camden Lock is great for edgy fashion.
Markets are also the place for value meals. At Camden, you can grab a Thai meal or a freshly made pizza for just £4 (S$9). At Greenwich, £5 (S$11) gets you a delicious steak grilled on the spot, served on ciabatta with salad, a salmon teriyaki or tuna bento box.
Evening: Given that Indian food is ubiquitous in London, you have to try a dosai with a twist at Bangalore Express in Waterloo.
Here, you can get your dosai filled with exotic and delicious options such as spiced duck, lamb with coconut and sweet-and-sour prawns for £4.25 (S$9.50).
After dinner, head for the Tower of London to witness the Ceremony of the Keys, the locking up of the Tower which has gone on without fail for at least 700 years. To get a discount of £1 (S$2.20), apply online at www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon. Otherwise, an adult ticket costs £17 (S$38).
If the night is still young for you, catch some live music at the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town, where you can hear three bands for £8 (S$17.80).
Total cost for the day: £31.85 (S$71) (includes £8.90 for room and Oyster cap of £6.70 for Tube)
Day 4 (Sunday)
Morning to afternoon: Trawl the markets once more. On Sundays, Brick Lane has the best atmosphere and countless curry places where you can feast like a king for very little.
Bengal Cuisine is currently offering a 10-course menu for only £6.95 (S$15.50) when you book online at www.london-eating.com. Apart from this, most places have good walk-in deals on Sundays, anyway.
Walk off the curry by exploring the Old Truman Brewery, which offers 140 stalls selling fashion, accessories, crafts and music.
Nearby, the Spitalfields market offers eclectic fashion and gifts, and some wonderful but not-so-cheap home decor stuff.
Next, head for London's shopping belt of Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets. Do not miss Primark. From streetwear to lingerie to bath accessories, it is sheer bargain heaven, but be prepared to queue.
H&M, Top Shop and Uniqlo also offer high street fashion at attractive prices. HMV has a good selection of cheap DVDs for as little as £3 (S$6.70).
Evening: Quell hunger pangs at a kebab joint. There are some good ones at Edgware, where you can get a piping hot doner kebab for £5 (S$11).
Free concerts at the National Theatre's Djanogly Concert Pitch start from 5.45pm. The rich variety of cool jazz, upbeat ethnic and world music is a perfect reflection of London's cultural mix.
Total cost for the day: £27.55 (S$62) (includes £8.90 for room and Oyster cap of £6.70 for Tube).
Day 5 (Monday)
Start out early to the Natural History Museum's dinosaur exhibition or be prepared for long queues.
Do not leave London without visiting its museum belt in South Kensington, comprising the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert and the Science Museum.
Go early to the Natural History Museum's dinosaur exhibition because long queues form quickly. The building itself is one of Britain's most striking examples of Romanesque architecture.
For some last-minute shopping before heading home, check out London's charity shops. You can find the top 20 thrift shops at www.timeout.co.uk
When you are ready to go home, forget costly cab rides and take the Heathrow Express to the airport (£32 (S$72) return adult, £16 (S$35.50) child).
Total cost for the day: £38.70 (S$86) (includes Oyster cap of £6.70).
The writer is a freelancer based in London.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.