THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE WHERE SPAIN'S NATIONAL ANTHEM WAS PLAYED IN MEMORY OF THE VICTIMS OF MADRID BOMBINGS
David Bebber  /  Reuters file
Tourists gather as members of Britain's Regimental Band of Her Majesty's Coldstream Guards attend the Changing of the Guards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London on March 14. 
By
NBC News
updated 3/24/2004 4:40:53 AM ET 2004-03-24T09:40:53

Fancy a trip to London to get the full British experience? Tea at the Ritz, Harrods shopping and front-row theater tickets to the hot West End shows? Most Americans visit London eager to accomplish everything that their guidebooks suggest.

However, as the British sterling continues to pound away the American dollar, many visitors are concerned about spending too much during their stay. 

Don't let the poor exchange rate — one pound is worth around $1.85 — deter you from visiting London. Here are 10 ways to finding an alternative to exploring London on a budget and still experiencing it in true British style.  

See the shops, buy at the markets
Between Bond Street, Harvey Nichols, and Harrods, London has some of the most exclusive, extravagant and expensive shops one can imagine.

Visitors easily get drawn to the city's sense of high fashion until they hit the racks and gape at the out-of-control price tags. Suddenly, the free Krispy Kreme doughnut offered at Harrods is all a tourist feels he or she can afford.

However, the markets located throughout London offer a good alternative to high-end shopping. In fact, even the famous stars can be spotted at these day markets. Three markets that should be visited are Portobello Market, Camden Market and Spitalfields Market.

Portobello Market extends the length of a long road in Notting Hill and is characterized by its numerous antique dealers. Camden Market, for the more youthful crowd, is filled with vendors selling inexpensive clothing and jewelry. Spitalfields is an indoor market and is the best bet for discovering the most fashionable clothing for less.

Lunch in the park
Lunch in London might just be one of the best deals you can get. There are two delicious fast and healthy food restaurants in and around the city for cheap. 

Visit either Prêt A Manger or Benjy's outside any major tube stop or along a major road.  They both offer a wide selection of sandwiches, fruits, salads and coffee. You will spend less than £10 per person, and avoid the VAT (value added tax) by eating out. 

Also, visit a local grocery and put together a picnic lunch of British delicacies. Then, take your food to dine outside at Hyde, St. James, Green or Batteresa Park. 

Tea- time
Sipping afternoon tea like the London posh will cost anywhere from £28-30 if visiting the luxurious Ritz. However, just down the road in Piccadilly at Fortnum and Mason you can sip the tea Brits have gone crazy over even before Americans had a party with it in the Boston harbor. 

For around £18-20 per person, Fortnum and Mason offers the same quality afternoon tea goodies as the Ritz.

The store has been around since 1707 and has over 100 rare and exotic teas to choose from. There is no formal dress code and you can enjoy a visit the rest of the store.

Visiting Speaker's Corner
Guided tours of Parliament will cost £7 for one adult and £22 for a family of four. Visiting times are inconvenient since opening dates run from July 24 to Sept. 4 and Sept. 18 to Oct. 2. Don't plan on getting to see the Clock Tower and Big Ben because space is limited and Brits get priority by writing to their Member of Parliament.  

It is easier to visit the Parliament galleries when they are in session and won't cost you a pound. But, the lines for the House of Lords and Commons are long, and heated discussions vary. Plus, don't plan on visiting during the day because most debates carry on in the evening.

If heated discussions are your bag and you hate waiting in lines, journey down to Speaker's Corner any Sunday in Hyde Park. It costs nothing, and there is always a spectacle to see when orators stand mocking the politics of various institutions. 

Forget the stadium for football, head to the pub
The Brits absolutely love a good football match. Watching club teams such as Chelsea or Arsenal play is so popular that most of the time games are sold out. If not, plan on shelling out £40 to shout team chants from high up in the stadium starring at ants kicking around the football.

Alternatively, jaunt down to a local pub where the action extends beyond the stadium. Grab a pint or two or three and watch Arsenal and Chelsea battle it out. It will cost you at most £10  if you engage in just recreational drinking, and you might meet some football chaps that will ensure great conversation.

Take the Tube
Planning to take a famous black cab across town from Harrods' in Knightsbridge to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square?  Stop by the ATM (not many cabs take credit card) to pull out at least £20 because it will cost you about that, maybe even more in traffic.

Instead, opt for public transportation to save a trip to the ATM. The London Underground, or Tube as the Brits call it, is just as famous as the black London cabs, but will save you some cash. One return ticket is 4 pounds (for the central zone one). A week travel card costs about £20 (zones one and two).             

The underground is divided into a total of six zones, and the further you depart from the city the higher the price is for tickets. But not to fear, all you need to see in London is in zones one and two.

Walking tours
Taking the Underground can be an inexpensive and efficient form of transportation. However, it prevents any tourist from gaining a clear sense of the geographic make up of London. Taking a guided walking tour, like London Walks, reveals the city's map and explores the idiosyncrasies of London.

The walks are theme-based and explore London's architecture, history, pubs, myths and famous indigents (such as the Beatles and Shakespeare). London Walks tours are reasonably priced at £5.50 for an approximately two-hour walk and often do not require advanced booking. 

Buy theater tickets the day of
A night out at the theater is a must for any visitor to London. London's theater district in the West End is packed with 51 venues showcasing a variety of outstanding performances.

While ticket prices can be extremely expensive (think “Jerry Springer the Opera” where tickets can be £50) same-day ticket purchases are an inexpensive option.

Same day, half price tickets to shows not sold out can be purchased at kiosks in Leicester Square. Typical prices for same day tickets are between £20 and £22.50 for musicals and £17.50 to £20 for plays and comedies at The Society of London Theatre's kiosk.

Prince Charles Cinema
After a long day of touring the city, you might yearn to kick back and relax at a London cinema. However, when watching a flick is more expensive than touring a museum packed with Monet, Renoir, and Seurat, finding an alternative to a £10 tickets is a must.

Visit the Prince Charles Cinema located in Leicester Square. Just a few minutes' walk from the more expensive cinemas, Prince Charles Cinema is newly refurbished and offers a diverse selection of films at about half the price. It even houses a trendy bar with an extremely friendly staff.

The films change daily and range from artsy films to the previous month's most popular blockbusters. A visit to Prince Charles costs a maximum of four pounds and offers a personal touch to any filmgoer's experience.

Night on the town
Finding the "best" club around London is a bit daunting given the extensive selection of venues. Very often, partygoers base their club choices on the price of the cover charge and drinks. There are alternative ways to enjoy a night out in a posh setting while beating the high prices.

First, pick up the latest issue of Time Out. This magazine spells out the week's events throughout London and reveals some great specials at area clubs. Also, many clubs require guests to be on a guest list.

Getting your name on the list often takes as little effort as calling the club earlier in the evening or signing up at the club's website. In addition, arriving at clubs before 10 or 11 pm is beneficial as there is often no cover charge this early in the evening.

With these alternative activities in mind, any tourist with a tight budget can easily assimilate into the London lifestyle. Give yourself enough time as these activities will definitely give you a run for your money.

Emilie Gullans and Ashley Moore work in the NBC News London bureau.

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