24 hours in London, England

24 hours, Destinations, England, Guides

24 hours in London, England

1 Comment 31 July 2012

The 2012 Olympics are well underway and if you’re in London for the big event chances are you’ll want to take some time away to check out local sights and culture. Unfortunately, attending an event as big as as the Olympics, not to mention staying in an already expensive city during it, will leave visitors with very little spare change to spend on touring.

Not to worry. The city’s free activities and affordable food spots will allow you to have a full day of exploring for under £50. So when you have a day off between women’s skeet shooting and men’s artistic gymnastics, here’s how to see London on a budget.

8 a.m.

First things first, purchase a Day Anytime Travelcard for London’s extensive transportation system. At £8.40, this card will allow you to travel around zones 1 and 2 by Tube, bus and more. If you’re staying in the city and moving about for a longer period of time, look into their 7-day and monthly travel cards or even consider purchasing an Oyster Card. You can purchase cards online and at various tube stations.

Now that transportation is covered for the day, let’s get moving. First stop is the St. James’s Park Tube Station. You’ll exit at a roundabout, head left down Petty France toward Buckingham Gate (these are street names). At the very end of Petty France, on the right corner, you’ll see Bon Gusto, our first stop, a small cafe with blue awnings.

This Italian cafe serves Full English Breakfasts, a staple in any Brit’s diet, at £4.50, which is a great price for the meal anywhere in England, let alone one of its most tourist areas.

So what exactly is a Full English Breakfast?

Photo by JohnEWootton (Flikr)

Bacon, sausage, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, toast and fried eggs. While black pudding is the final ingredient to a full, Full English, you won’t find the pig’s blood delicacy included in every cafe’s breakfast. With or without the black pudding, it’s a hearty meal, perfect for a full day of sightseeing. The total for this meal along with a drink: £6

Total for the day: £14.40

9:30 AM

Whether rolling away or walking, it might be a good idea to get just a little bit of exercise after such a massive breakfast. After your meal head over to St. James’s Park for a quick browse around.

If there’s one thing the English know how to do right, it’s parks, and with this one being pretty much in Queen Elizabeth’s front yard, minutes away from Buckingham Palace, you can bet it’ll be in top form. While an hour isn’t nearly enough time to explore this park to the fullest, here are a few spots to start with: The Blue Bridge, Pelicans (fed daily 2:30-3 p.m.) and Horseguards Parade.

Hyde Park is nearby, but a bit too far to reach in the time allowed. It’s well-worth a visit and a great way to spend a few hours in London in the Summer.

Total for the day: £14.40

To reach St. James’s Park from Bon Gusto, turn right on Buckingham Gate and another right on Birdcage Walk and you’ll see St. James’s Park to the left.

10:30 a.m.

Don’t get too lost in St. James’s Park as you’ll need to head back to Buckingham Palace for its famous Changing of the Guard.

The ceremony kicks off at 11:15/11:30 a.m., but it would be a good idea to arrive somewhat early to find a good viewing spot. This is one of London’s most notable activities. The event will give you time to check out one of the UK’s many castles and watch a royal tradition.

Who knows, maybe Liz will even give a wave from her window.

Note: Changing of the Guard does not happen every day, so check the link above to make sure it is scheduled the day you wish to visit Buckingham Palace.

Total for the day: £14.40

To reach Buckingham Palace from St. James’s Park just head down The Mall in the direction of the Palace. It’s hard to miss.

12 p.m.

After viewing one of the country’s most famous royal traditions, it’s time to take in its political and religious icons. Only a 15-minute walk from Buckingham Palace down Birdcage Walk and right on Abingdon Street is Westminster Abbey, Parliament and of course, Big Ben. (Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the tower.) All these attractions are worth a proper visit and tour, but since we’re on a tight time and money budget, a walk around the area and a few photos will suffice.

Marked on this map is all the stops mentioned above in order from A to F.

1 p.m.

One thing you’ll notice about travel in London is that almost everything you do is a cultural, even public transit. Instead of taking the tube again, let’s grab one of England’s red double-decker buses and travel from London’s political Westminster to its old-world and artistic South Bank.

The route will be from where we left off in the Westminster area (ex. Westminster Station) to Borough Market. To avoid getting too technical now, we’ll leave planning of this route up to you on the day and hour you choose to take it. There are a few options available and you can always plan your journey online.

Photo by Danny McLaughlin (Flikr)

Borough Market is not only a great foodie experience, but a serious historical experience. A food market in the Borough area dates back as far as 1014. The current market location on Borough High Street near London Bridge has been there since the 13th Century.

It really feels like you’re visiting another century when walking through the packed market. Traders from all over go there to sell an array of goodies from specialty meats to artisan breads. The market has so much to offer and the best thing about it: free samples! You could literally fill yourself with food just sampling the goods here, but the market also sells affordable food and drinks.

The only drawback is that this place isn’t 24 hours. Closed on Sundays, only open for lunch Monday to Wednesday and offering the full market Thursday to Saturday. Check their website before visiting for updates times and events.

You could spend your whole day as well as all your money here. But since time and money are of the essence, we’re going to say £10 is enough for a decent lunch in the area, whether you buy a savory pie and coffee or a baguette and dips.

Total for the day: £24

2:30 p.m.

South Bank offers two parallels in arts and entertainment. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries people can learn about one of the country’s greatest writers by visiting Shakespeare’s Globe. Not far away, people can view some of the country’s most recent treasured masterpieces at the Tate Modern.

While this is a reconstructed version of Shakespeare’s Globe, the real one was located nearby and you can see an outline of its layout there, it will give you an idea of what it was like to be in London during the English Renaissance. The theater is still very active. It features several Shakespearean plays a year as well as tours. Unfortunately, both these things are costly so a quick look around is all for now.

Photo of the Globe by Stephskimo (Flikr)

However, our next stop, Tate Modern, is free. The museum features modern and contemporary art from 1900 to today, including works by Damien Hirst, Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse. Plus, the gallery is always featuring new, exciting and even playful exhibitions. This massive building once hosted three massive silver slides by Carsten Holler, as high as 5 story’s. Now that’s art I think everyone will enjoy. Check their website before visiting to find out what’s on now, or just be surprised upon arrival.

If the modern and contemporary art isn’t your cup of tea, the city has a plethora of museums to visit, most of which are free to enter.

To reach the Shakespeare’s Globe from Borough Market (Southwark/Borough High Street), head northwest on Bedale Street, this becomes Cathedral Street (slight right) and than Winchester Square (slight left). Turn right toward Clink Street and left onto Clink Street. Turn right onto Bank End which becomes Bankside with a left at the Thames. Continue straight until you reach the theater on your left.

Tate Modern is pretty much next door. Continue on Bankside to The Queen’s Walk and you’ll see the museum located in an old power station to the left.

The route from Borough Market to Shakespeare’s Globe. Tate Modern is next door.

Total for the day: £24

4:30 p.m.

Complete your tour of South Bank with a stroll across the Tower Bridge. You might want to call it London Bridge, but the one we’re looking for is called Tower Bridge. Built in 1894, this is the city’s most symbolic bridge, which will feature the five-colored rings on it throughout the Olympic games. While walking across check out the Thames even have a look at the Tower of London when you reach the other side.

Check out this tour by London Toolkit. For this section of our tour take the route from marker 14 (Tate Modern) to the Tower Hill Tube Station.

The walk above provided by London Toolkit offers the most scenic route which will keep you along the Thames as much as possible. Follow markers 14 (Tate Modern) to Tower Hill Station across the Thames. From Tower Hill take the Tube back to your accommodation for a quick rest and shower to get ready for the night.

7 p.m.

While there is much debate over what is England’s national dish these days, chicken tikka masala is definitely a national favorite. For this reason, instead of heading to a chippy for fish and chips or a pub for bangers and mash (you’ll have plenty of chances to do both while in London), you’ll be heading to Brick Lane for curry.

While so much of London is idyllically British, these days the city offers strong influences from all over the world, including Asia. You can sample an array of curries here and for a bargain, literally. Shop workers stand outside their restaurants throwing out deals to passer-bys.

“Free poppadoms.”

“I’ll throw in a bottle of wine.”

Test your haggling skills before sitting down for a serious feast.

We’re going to recommend spending about £20 here for food and drink, maybe less. Regardless, you’ll have enough for a pint at a bar on Brick Lane or at one of the many pubs you passed by during this day of touring London. No recommendations for this item on the agenda. London has plenty of pubs to offer. Whether it be the classic pub look or people singing inside, one is sure to lure you in.

To reach Brick Lane in East London, take the tube to Aldgate East Station. Exit on Whitechapel High Street and head northeast toward Commercial Street. Take a right at Osborn Street, which turns into Brick Lane.

Hope you enjoyed this one-day tour of London. Note that this is only scratching the surface of the British city. There is so much left to see, taste and drink, of course. You might have to stay much longer than just the Olympics.

This photo of Tower Bridge decorated for the 2012 Olympics is by roger.w800 (Flikr)

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24 hours in Wellington, NZ

24 hours, Destinations, Guides, New Zealand

24 hours in Wellington, NZ

13 Comments 22 April 2012

From calm seasides to a busy city center, 24 hours in Wellington may not be enough to see everything, but it is enough to try a bit of everything New Zealand’s capital has to offer. A budget of $60 for a full day in windy Welly might seem a bit tight, but the city has heaps of free activities and most of them are in walking distance from one another, making food and drink the only expenses to think about.

8 a.m. 

With a big breakfast in your future, it might be a good idea to start the day with some exercise by walking up Mt. Victoria, Wellington’s highest point. It’s not anything too strenuous and the reward at the end will be worth it.

Mt Victoria offers spectacular views of the city on your conquer list today. Look down on the harbour, Cuba Street and CBD on one side. Another side offers more nautical views in the form of Lyall Bay, facing this way, the next landmass is Antarctica.

Total for the day: $0

I suggest using this route from Majoribanks Street to reach the summit and return to the city center. 

10 a.m. 

Popular for its voodoo vibe and delectable dishes, next stop is Sweet Mother’s Kitchen on Courtenay Place. While the menu offers an array of NOLA favorites, I suggest sticking with the classics to get an ideal of the cuisine and stay within the budget. Po Boy with a side order of Beignets it is.

It’s always Mardi Gras at Sweet Mother’s Kitchen. The cafe has a New Orleans theme that’s popular among the locals. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The southern-style Po Boy sandwich is pretty filling yet affordable and people will wait hours in line in New Orleans for tiny donut balls with icing sugar called beignets. These two items are sure to give you a good feed. But don’t forget a coffee to wash it all down. Wellington is known for its cafe and coffee culture, Sweet Mother’s Kitchen is a big part of that.

Total for the day: $NZ15

To reach Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, continue walking on Majoribanks Street, away from Mt. Victoria. Once you cross Kent Terrace, Majoribanks Street will turn into Courtenay Place and the cafe is just to the left. 

11:30 a.m.

While you might not want to move after your New Orleans-style brunch, there’s a giant squid to be seen and Maori culture to be learnt, it’s time to visit Te Papa. Located on the waterfront, one could spend days at the Museum of New Zealand, but  you only have two hours.

Learn about how the Maori people first discovered what they call Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Friendly staff at the visitors center can help you pick which exhibitions to check out. Make sure you learn a bit about Maori culture with displays like The Marae. Learn about the land, especially its fault line, at the museum’s Awesome Forces exhibition. Last but not least, see the only colossal squid exhibition in the world and learn about the mysterious sea creature.

Total for the day: $NZ15 (Yes, the museum is free!)

From Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, continue down Courtenay Place away from Mt. Victoria and make a right at Tory Street. You’ll see the museum at the end of this street. 

1:30 p.m.

With a lengthy waterfront walkway full of benches and grassy sections, you might as well skip the pricey restaurants here and have a picnic instead. Stop in New World, which is located just across the street and to the left of Te Papa, facing away from the harbour. The affordable kiwi supermarket has an array of fresh breads, dips, even sushi. While you could spend as little as $NZ2 on lunch here, let’s set the budget at $NZ10.

From New World, head back to Te Papa and start walking along the waterfront. I suggest having lunch on one of the plots of grass near The Boatshed which has a view of the lagoon. Another great place for al fresco lunch would be on the steps by the Civic Center.

With views of the city and the lagoon, this patch of grass by the waterfront is a great place for a picnic. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The waterfront has an array of things to do, from renting paddle boats to learning about the city at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. But the nice thing about it is you really don’t have to actually do anything and most people don’t. Walk along the water, relax in the sun and enjoy the sights.

Total for the day: $NZ25

Te Papa is located on the water front, turn right upon exiting the main entrance to reach destinations mentioned above.  

3:30 p.m.

It’s time for another stellar view of the city from above, but don’t worry, you’ll be taking public transportation to this summit and the journey is half the fun. From Lambton Quay, purchase a return cable car ticket to the Botanic Gardens ($NZ6). This public transportation route dates back to 1902 and the iconic red car has been the subject of many post cards.

People still use it to reach various destinations along the hill, but most get off at the top to visit the the Botanic Garden. The 25-hectre garden contains native gardens, floral displays and more.

The Botanic Garden offers another great view of the city. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

A few walks start at the top. Avoid the longer routes that lead you downhill. Try some of the shorter routes, look around the gardens at the top and take in the view. Once you’ve had your fill, catch the cable car back to the city center

Total for the day: $NZ31

Coming from Te Papa, reach the cable car by turning left just after Fergs Kayaks on the waterfront. Follow this road until Lambton Quay where you’ll make a right. You’ll see a sign for the cable car on the left of this road a few blocks ahead. 

6 p.m.

Head to Cuba Street for dinner. One could spend all day on this busy street, hopping from cafe to cafe. It’s a great spot in the city at all times of day, but the nightlife here is especially spectacular.

There’s an array of restaurants and cafes to choose from along here. It’s hard to recommend just one place for people on a budget, because depending on the night, one restaurant could have better deals than another. The good news is that most dining establishments along this road offer great food and atmosphere.

Tulsi on Cuba Street is one option for affordable dinner options. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Some places to consider for the best food on a budget are Tulsi, Fidel’s, Heaven Pizza and Hotel Bristol. Walking along Cuba Street is an activity in itself, so take in the city while you’re searching for where to eat and walking the meal off after. You can find a good meal here and one drink for under $NZ20.

Total for the day: $NZ51

From the cable car head back towards the waterfront on Lampton Quay and turn right at Willis Street. Make a left at Manner Street and a right onto Cuba Street. 

9 p.m.

Whatever is left of your $60 for the day can go towards the night. If you’ve followed my recommendations you’ll be left with $NZ9-10, which is enough to buy a beer, maybe two, or entrance to a gig.

Wellington has a great music scene including local and international performers. Like at dinner, it’s hard to recommend just one place to spend the night here on a budget as each night offers different deals. Capital Times weekly newspaper is a great source for this or you could just rock up to a place and check it out. Either way, I recommend sticking around Cuba Street.

San Francisco Bath House has great live shows and party nights. If a big act is playing there, don’t bother as it will be out of the budget, but sometimes entrance is free or under $NZ10. The Fringe Bar has comedy nights, karaoke and gigs. Bodega features live bands and a lot of times entrance is by donation.

Let the night take you where it will, which might even be all the way to 8 a.m. the next day. Now that would be an epic 24 hours in Wellington.

Total for the day: $51-60

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