Britain on the Cheap

LONDON --- God save the queen, and maybe a few pounds -- sterling, that is.

London has a deserved reputation for being royally expensive, but by taking advantage of the free museums and other sights, tourists won't necessarily leave town feeling like paupers.

MUSEUMS

The British Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria & Albert and other state-supported museums have free admission every day. They get crowded as the day goes on, so try to go early. Keep those free museums in mind when you need a restroom.

SIGHTS

If you want to experience the workings of Parliament, you can sit in on debates for free. For a taste of true parliamentary banter, go to the prime minister's Question Time, which takes place Wednesdays when Parliament is in session. Only U.K. residents can get advance tickets, so be set to wait in line.

To get an up-close look at the Tower of London without paying $30 admission, go to the Ceremony of the Keys. You won't get inside the tower, but you'll be part of the 700-year-old tradition of locking up each night.

You need to submit a written request for tickets two to three months in advance. Go to www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon.

PARKS

When you need a break from sightseeing, try venturing north of the central city to Hampstead Heath. The 791-acre park has ponds, trails and space for a picnic on Parliament Hill, which offers great views of the skyline.

Or, you can head to Speakers' Corner at Hyde Park, at Park Lane and Cumberland Gate, across from the Marble Arch Tube stop. The corner is a gathering place for people to speak their minds on politics, religion and everything else. Go on Sunday.

THEATER

London is known for its drama, but tickets for West End shows can cost more than $100. To go on the cheap, buy tickets on the day of the show at the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square.

Take in some Shakespeare at the Globe, where standing tickets cost about $10. You'll get to experience the play as a groundling -- as they were called in Shakespeare's day -- and have the performance take place around you.

Come prepared: You'll be standing for the whole play -- usually around three hours -- and you'll be exposed to the elements at this open-air theater.

If Shakespeare is not your scene, check out the Royal Court Theatre, a two-theater venue dedicated to producing new plays. All tickets on Mondays are about $20. For theatergoers younger than 27, $10 tickets are available every day for plays in the downstairs theater.

FOOD

Pop into a pub for a meal and a pint. You'll get to enjoy some iconic British grub -- fish and chips, meat pies and puddings -- at a reasonable price.

London has a wide selection of ethnic food, too. For inexpensive Indian, try the Indian YMCA's dining hall near Warren Street tube station, www.indianymca.org, where you can grab dinner for around $10.

If there's a pricey restaurant you have your heart set on, go for lunch when prices are lower.

GETTING AROUND

The cheapest way to travel is by foot, and the sights and museums are generally nearby. If you need to travel farther, take the Tube -- London's subway system -- or hop onto a bus for a more scenic journey.

The No. 11 bus goes to Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Trafalgar Square and St. Paul's Cathedral. The No. 9 will take you to Hyde Park, Harrod's and Piccadilly Circus.

To save money buy an Oyster card -- an electronic card that serves as your ticket. You get reduced fares for a single trip -- down to about $3 from $8 for a Tube trip within the central city, and $1.80 instead of $4 by bus.

Visitors younger than 11 ride free. Ages 11 to 15 can travel free on buses and trams and for a lower fare on the Tube with an Oyster photo card. You need to apply online for one at least three weeks before your trip. Go to www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets/faresandtickets/visitortickets/5185.aspx for more information.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Budget hotels are clustered near train stations, especially Paddington, Victoria, Euston and King's Cross. The Earl's Court neighborhood is another option. Book early.

If you're traveling when the universities are on break -- roughly mid-June through September -- you can rent a room in one of their dorms. The University of Westminster has single rooms in the central city starting about $70 a night, with reduced rates for travelers younger than 27. King's College has single rooms with in-suite bathrooms for around the same price. Go to www.wmin.ac.uk/page-5198 or http://kcl.ac.uk/about/structure/admin/facser/conbro/accom.

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