November 1999 – London, England
Okay, I’ve just been to visit my city for two weeks. Yes, two glorious weeks in Toronto. Unfortunately, this has left me feeling rather bitter about London right now. I’ve been back two days, two very long days. Now I must wait while I forget the splendor that is life in Canada. I was very silly, I should have written this article before I went.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think London is a wonderful place to visit. There is so much to see and do for people of all ages. And there’s no comparing the tourist industry in London, where it’s huge, to Toronto, where it’s a few adventurous Americans experiencing a foreign country. But when you start thinking about where in the world is good to live, I have to start questioning my sanity.
Given my mood this week, I thought I would take a different approach this month and highlight one thing London is excellent for – cheap travel.
Last year I went to Malta for one week with food, three star hotel, transfers and airfare for £89. This is one reason I like London, because it’s so easy to get away without going broke! So how did I find such a bargoon? Start with the web-sites www.bargainholidays.co.uk and www.cheapflights.co.uk. Ads on the Tube and in papers are also a great place to look, especially the Australian magazine “TNT” found free on most big street corners. Mind you I don’t claim this is normal, or can be found again, but it’s worth a try.
If it’s a flight you’re after, there are many bargain flights that fly out of London. Generally you will feel like cattle and have to purchase your sandwich and coffee, but at these prices who cares? These flights generally cannot be booked through a travel agent, only directly through the company on internet or the phone. It is probably better to book on internet because they usually offer discounts for web bookings. They do not issue tickets, your receipt is your proof of flight.
The original is Easyjet, on which there isn’t even assigned seating (something every good traveller should experience once in a lifetime). Easyjet flies to many popular destinations including Athens and Amsterdam.
It’s nearest rival is BA’s Go (currently being sued by Easyjet claiming it has been set up to run Easyjet out of business). Go flies to some different destinations than Easyjet, such as Prague, so be sure to check both before choosing a destination.
Another cheap airline is RyanAir. However, I have heard that the airports they fly to are not necessarily the nearest airport to the destination, for example flights to Oslo fly into some airport way down the road and you may end up with an hour’s bus ride to town once you get there.
Another airline to try is British Midland, who fly to many destinations in Europe at a slightly higher notch up the ladder than the super budget lines and not necessarily higher prices. They are especially cheap for flights to Dublin. As an added convenience they fly out of Heathrow, whereas the others leave from Luton or Stanstead.
There are four airports that service London, and each has its good and bad points. When choosing an airport, it may be helpful to consider where you are staying in London.
Heathrow is a big chaotic place, but is easily assessable by the Heathrow Express from Paddington, which is £12 one way, and £20 return, the journey is about 15 minutes. If that is too steep for you, you can actually get there on the Piccadilly line of the London Underground, which takes between 1-1½ hours (depending on the time of day).
Gatwick is calm compared to Heathrow, but it is fairly far from central London. Trains leave from Victoria and are £20.40 return. Journey time is approximately 30 minutes. I find Gatwick has decent airport shopping, but prices are no different from those in central London.
Stanstead is nice and new and really clean and calm. It may take a while to get there as trains leave from Liverpool Street. It’s where many discount lines fly out of, and if you have booked your ticket through Go, you should receive a discount on the train fare to the airport, just show your voucher at the booth. A return ticket is £16.10 and leaves from Liverpool Street (very convenient to the financial area). Journey time is approximately 40 minutes.
Luton is where Easyjet flies from. It is a small airport and entails probably the most hassle to get to and from London. Trains leave from St Pancras and go to Luton Town, where buses leave every five minutes for the airport (included in the fare). Total journey time is about ½ hour and the fair is £9 each way. A new train station at the airport is currently under construction and may possibly be open by the end of the month.
Another way out of London is the Eurostar (yes it’s the train that goes through the channel tunnel). The Eurostar can take you to Brussels, Bruges, Paris, Disneyland Paris, and in ski season the French Alps. Many great deals can be had on the train.
If you’re a student, student and youth fares do exist, but only through student travel agencies such as STA. For everyone else, be sure to book through directly through Eurostar as most travel agents charge an additional fee. And be sure to ask for any special offers as they will not volunteer this information, they will simply give you the standard fare unless you ask.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Europe Insiders page.