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Where To Stay In… Brighton: Bed and Breakfast Snooze

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Usually, when you book a B&B in England, you know what to expect – a traditional British home, with a few lovingly decorated old-fashioned rooms that evoke a homey feel. I love staying in B&Bs – you usually get to talk to the owners because they’re so small, and the experience is much more persona than a large, anonymous hotel. Sometimes, however, I feel that the rooms have a bit of a grandma feel and be decorated in a funkier way.Brighton Snooze Bed and BreakfastWhich is exactly what Tony and Paul, the minds behind Snooze in Brighton, did. Instead of your traditional British B&B you get a B&B experience with a twist here: I would call it B&B extravaganza. Brighton Snooze B&BFrom the moment you enter the B&B , you can’t escape the funky vibe that is maintained throughout the entire building. There is original artwork on the walls, painted in bright colors, even street art, with the center piece being a giant mural on the ceiling of the breakfast room, and a hotchpotch of random furniture and accessories placed around the house, collected over the years in various flea markets and antiques shops in Brighton and beyond.Snooze Brighton DecorationI particularly loved the collection of old bottles in the breakfast room. snooze b&b brighton bottlesAt Snooze, no room is like the other, each one has a different theme, mostly related to music. My bedside table for example was a drum, and the walls were decorated with album covers.
snooze brighton bed and breakfast bedI had the chance the peek into one of the suites, and see for yourself: snooze brighton bed and breakfast roomIsn’t that a fabulous place to spend the night in? I feel like that’s where rockstars in the 70s would have loved to stay!
snooze brighton bed and breakfast bedNo matter where in the house you looked, the one thing that was obvious everywhere was just how much love and attention to detail had been invested here, how much effort and thought had been put into making Snooze what it is today. The owners’ love of music, art and design is visible in each and every little nook and cranny at Snooze, and it was fun to explore all these little details, to reminisce about bygone eras and to wonder what Brighton must have been like in the times of the mods and rockers.   Brighton Snooze Bed & BreakfastWhen Paul and Tony (and their spouses) took over Snooze in 2006, it was a run-down B&B, not known as Snooze yet, and in urgent need of renovation. It has taken years of renovations and collecting of the memorabilia to give Snooze the retro look it has now, and I am sure more artwork and little gems of bygone decades will be added in the future, adding to its quirkiness. snooze brighton bed and breakfast roomSnooze is small, with only 6 rooms and 2 suites, which gives it a cozy feel, and enables you to get to know the other guests in the breakfast room while munching on eggs, beans and toast and everything else that goes into a traditional breakfast. In addition to a full hot breakfast, guests can fill their tummies with yogurt, muesli, cornflakes or porridge, fresh fruit, toast and jams.Brighton Snooze B&B breakfastThe vintage feel of the B&B also fits in wonderfully with the kind of town that Brighton is: eclectic, weird, and funky. A place like Snooze feels right at home here, and sitting right in the Kemptown neighborhood with its quirky eateries and bars, it is the perfect place to get the perfect ‘quirky Brighton’ experience.Brighton Snooze RoomsAnd speaking of the neighborhood- not only are you right funky Kemptown, but Tony and Paul also make sure that you aren’t accidentally walking into a mediocre bar or restaurant, by leaving an extensive folder with a number of detailed restaurant and pub recommendations in each room. snooze b&b brighton we love brightonI’ve never stayed in a B&B that felt as trendy and young as Snooze, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to – simply because Snooze feels so unique that I doubt there’s anything like it out there.snooze b&b brighton viewIf you’re looking for a B&B experience out of the ordinary, Snooze is your place!

Details

  • Location: 25 St Georges Terrace, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 1JJ, England
  • Price: Double rooms start at £75, twin rooms at £80. The suites start at £95. Please note that prices increase during the high season (in the summer)
  • LGBT Friendly: Yes, very much so!
  • Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
  • Amenities: Free wifi, breakfast included in room rate, tea & coffee making facilities and hairdryer in each room, TV and an extensive free dining guide in each room
  • Website: SnoozeBrighton.com

Brighton Snooze Bed & Breakfast England

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Where to stay in… Brighton: YHA Hostel Brighton

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The minute I set foot in the new YHA youth hostel, I knew I would have a splendid time there. I saw the tasteful, stylish decor on the walls and I wondered: Am I in a hostel or in a boutique hotel? Instead of walking up to the reception, I was drawn to the bar & restaurant area, because they were so pretty.

I mean look at this:YHA Hostel Brighton restaurantEven though I had such an amazing first impression, I had no idea if my room would be equally as nice. Upon opening my door with a key card (also more hotel-like than hostel-like!) I was blown away by how spacious and how gorgeous the room was! Located on the top floor, not only did my room come with jaw dropping vistas over the promenade, but it came with a bathroom nearly as big as the room itself. It was among the biggest bathrooms I have seen anywhere I’ve ever stayed! And the best part: it came with a freestanding old-fashioned tub. Despite the old-fashioned look bathtub and shower (yes, there was an additional shower) were brand new, as was the sink. Added bonus: There even was a hairdryer!YHA Brighton private roomMy room had a little area with two cushions confined by a waist-high wall, but in all honestly, I just wanted to lay on my bed and enjoy these amazing views.YHA Hostel Brighton private room viewIn addition to private rooms, the hostel has 3 and 4-bed rooms and several dorms, categorized in 4, 6 and 8-bed rooms. If you opt for a private room, you are provided with towels and soap, there is a dressing table, and some bathrooms come with a bathtub like I had. And if you want to indulge in the amazing sea views I got to enjoy, I recommend splurging on one of the 12 deluxe rooms, all of which come with a view and truly feel like a hotel rather than a hostel.YHA Hostel Brighton private roomOn the ground floor, there is a big breakfast room and the aforementioned bar/restaurant, which got quite lively in the evening and would be the place to mingle with other travelers. The prices for drinks are very reasonable which makes it easy to convince travelers to stay here and have a drink instead of going out, with glasses of wine for around 3.25, bottles for around 10 and pints of beer for around £3.25.YHA Hostel Brighton sofaA full English breakfast can be purchased for only £5.25, and if you prefer making your own food, there is a fully equipped self-catering kitchen.YHA BrightonWhat makes the YHA Brighton stand out besides its excellent interior design and hipster factor is, without a doubt, its location. It took me about one minute to walk down to the beach, one minute to get to the Lanes (where most of all Brighton’s amazing restaurants, pubs and cafes are), and two minutes to the Royal Pavilion. If you want to go out at night, Kemptown’s gay bars and clubs are just a couple of minutes away, and so are all the other bars close to the beach.YHA Brighton communal areas

Details

  • Location: Old Steine, Brighton, E Sussex, BN1 1NH Price: Dorm beds start at £16 per night, 5-bed ensuites start at £95, 6-bed ensuites at £115. Double ensuites start at £40, premium doubles at £50,single ensuites at £25, twin ensuites start at £40, triple ensuites at £60
  • LGBT Friendly: Yes
  • Digital Nomad Friendly: Comfortable communal areas with good wi-fi
  • Amenities: Free wifi, breakfast (£5.25), bar and restaurant, luggage storage, kitchen, towels provided in all private rooms
  • Website: www.yha.org.uk/brighton

YHA Brighton collage

 

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Polaroid of the week: Colorful Notting Hill, London

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polaroid of the week england london notting hillWhen my friend Shannon told me she would be in London in September, I knew I had to squeeze in a week in my former adopted home. After all, I had spent a week with her niece not even two months ago but hadn’t seen her in a year. For some reason, I never made it back to London in all these years of travel, except for a short layover last November, nearly five years after saying goodbye to England. And I had already vouched to spend some more time in the city I used to love so much this year – now I had an excuse to make it finally happen. A week was far too short, but it was enough time to show Shannon some of my favorite hangouts, catch up with friends, see how the city has changed over the past few years and even fit in a not-so-ordinary Afternoon Tea.

The first few days were so rainy and cold that I already had to wear the warm clothes I had packed for Iceland, where I was headed next, reminding me why I had gotten tired of London in the first place. But then, when the sun finally came out the last couple of days, London was shining in all its glory again, making me think that moving back here at some point might not be such a bad idea.

A day spent strolling through Camden’s markets and along Regent’s Canal to Primrose Hills to take in the new skyline (the Shard changes it quite a bit!), meandering along the Southbank from the London Eye all the way to Millennium Bridge to see what’s new in the Tate Modern, neighborhood explorations in Mayfair, Marylebone, Notting Hill and Shoreditch brought back many great memories of the years I spent here. Especially our day in Notting Hill, where we marveled at quirky antics in Portobello Road Market, had me think of all the times I used to go to that market on Saturday to pick up fresh produce when I lived at the end of Portobello Road.

Once again I left London feeling I didn’t spend enough time here, and that I should make more than a half-hearted effort to spend more time here again – rather sooner than later. The city has changed so much over the past five years, and a week was by far not long enough to explore all the new places that have popped up everywhere.

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5 fantastic weekend getaways from London

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This post is brought to you in partnership with Flybe.

One thing I loved when I was living in London was how easy and cheap it was to get out of the city. Sure, London itself is fantastic, and I don’t think there was a single weekend in my years spent there that I wasn’t doing anything, because there is always something awesome going on, but sometimes the city can get a bit too much. After all, it is a hectic place, and with 8 million people in Greater London, sometimes you just want to escape. And the travel industry must know that, and luckily makes it super easy for Londoners to leave town for the weekend.

Budget airlines like Flybe that connect London not only with other UK destination but also with mainland Europe make it so easy to spend the weekend somewhere else – even when I was on a lousy graduate salary I was able to escape the city every other month! Here are five examples for weekend getaways from London and how little it costs to get to these places:

Edinburgh

Edinburgh with its wonderful medieval architecture in the Old Town and grand Georgian houses in the New Town is one of my top three places in the UK. I have spent several weekend getaways in this Scottish treasure and am thinking about my next visit all the time. Going for a stroll on the Royal Mile up to the castle, hike up to Arthur’s Seat for the views over the city and the scenery around Edinburgh, go on a spooky cemetery tour at night and feel like you’re back in the 15th century – I dig it all. Not to mention the cozy pubs for a pint and the hearty Scottish breakfasts in the morning!

  • Flight duration from London: 90 minutes
  • Flights from: £39.99

edinburgh

Newquay

Ah, Cornwall! This incredibly scenic slice of England, down in the far southwest of the island, with beaches that are sometimes even too pretty for people to believe they are in the UK! Newquay, albeit a surfing hot spot, still hasn’t lost any of its old-time English charm, with plenty of little tea houses that invite to stop for a scone and a cuppa. While Newquay is nice, it is also quickly explored, and I recommend venturing further into Cornwall on your weekend getaway – either with a rental car or by foot, hiking one of the many coastal hiking trails. Even though summer is obviously the best time to visit Cornwall, it is an absolutely gorgeous spot year-round.

  • Flight duration from London: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Flights from: £37.34

cornwall beach england

Amsterdam

It seems like I can’t stop gushing over this oh-so-picturesque city! Quaint tree-lined little streets that line a maze of canals that cut their ways through the city, imposing 17th century historic merchant buildings with hoists, the smell of fresh waffles that made their way into the Dutch cuisine from nearby Belgium, and yummy Dutch cheese – what’s not to like? Amsterdam feels downright relaxing compared to bustling London, (only if you can block out the hundreds of bicycles that whiz by you constantly, of course). There is just no better way to spend an evening strolling by the canals, crossing the lit-up bridges and finding a sidewalk café from which you can watch the boats glide up and down the canals. Add some art (the Rijksmuseum), history (Anne Frank House) and some quirkiness to the mix (the porn or the sex museum, for example), and you’re set to have a blast on your weekend in the Netherlands.

  • Flight duration from London: 1 hour
  • Flights from: £39.99

Amsterdam

Newcastle

Newcastle, often overlooked as a bland city in northern England, has actually seen an amazing transformation over the past few years. I have always loved Quayside and the great architecture of the city, plus the fabulous Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art which I visited several times when I lived in nearby Durham. Newcastle itself doesn’t have a whole bunch of sights to offer – but it is noteworthy that the castle has just reopened after extensive renovations, and the views from the top are stunning – and yet, the city was recently voted the ‘UK’s best city’ by readers of the Guardian newspaper. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Newcastle so special – a mix of the architecture, the river and riverside bars, the pub and club scene, and the friendly Geordies, I guess? – so you’ll have to go visit and find out for yourself!

  • Flight duration from London: 75 minutes
  • Flights from: £34.99
Newcastle
Newcastle by barnyz via Flickr’s Creative Common License

 

Shetland Islands

I admit, the flight time can be a bit off-putting for a weekend getaway to the Shetland Islands, but it’s definitely worth the trip on a long weekend. Leaving Friday for Sumburgh and flying back to London on Monday would give you two full days to explore these remote little islands, which are Scotland’s northernmost outpost. The rugged beauty of the green, treeless islands is simply stunning, and you can get a glimpse of what life is like in such a desolate northern location in the middle of the ocean. If you need more reasons to convince you to go to the Shetland Islands, check out the Daily Mail’s One Minute Guide To The Shetland Islands. The islands are best explored by car – just hop into a rental car straight at the airport and drive up north, taking in the incredible scenery around you.

  • Flight duration from London: 5.5 hours
  • Flights from: £118.98
Shetland
Shetland by Duncan C via Flickr’s Creative Commons License

What’s your favorite weekend getaway from London?

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Brighton’s epic 25th Pride Festival: Carnival of diversity

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A gorgeous seaside location, a community known for their tolerance and diversity, and celebrating a quarter of a century of Pride Marches, which is a huge milestone – what could possibly go wrong at this year’s Brighton Pride?brighton rainbow flagsWell, with the infamous British summers, Pride can be hit or miss. I went to Pride events in England where it poured down on us, and then there were years when I went to Pride events and got sun burnt. In England, it can go either way, and when my plane touched down in the middle of a rain storm on a chilly summer morning, I was worried. Would the epic Pride weekend I was hoping for get rained out?brighton pride parade 2015 colorsbrighton pride parade pavilionBut I didn’t have anything to worry about: I woke up to bright blue skies on Friday morning and it seemed all of Brighton was already in a festive spirit, even though the main festivities wouldn’t start until Saturday.brighton pride rainbow flagUsually, around 160,000 spectators line the streets for the parade, but with the event’s big anniversary, close to 200,000 people were expected to attend Pride this year. The 2015 motto was Carnival Of Diversity, honoring Brighton’s diverse and open-minded LGBT community. I really couldn’t have chosen a better occasion to return to one of my favorite cities in England (but more on Brighton later).Birghton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015 piratesThe city had already felt super festive when I arrived on Thursday, with more rainbow flags flying around town than I’ve seen at any other Pride event I ever attended (and I am not exaggerating here!). That reminded me of just how liberal and nonjudgmental Brighton was. Kids with two mommies or two daddies were nothing out of the ordinary here, and a local friend told me her 9-year old had a boy in his class who had a gender change over the summer – and when it was announced at school, nobody even bat an eye. Brighton, as accepting as ever.brighton pride 2015 lesbian coupleSo it shouldn’t have surprised me that each and every business was flying rainbow flags and that the city is home to one of the biggest Pride festivities in the country – in fact the second biggest after London Pride – but that said, not even London has the same kind of festival atmosphere that you have in Brighton.brighton pride paradeBrighton parties the entire weekend. And Brighton parties hard. From the opening parties on Friday night until the early hours of Monday morning, the entire city feels like a huge festival ground. A massive festival ground is set up in Preston Park, complete with a funfair! That’s where the main party takes place on Saturday, and the celebrations in Preston Park feel almost more like a music festival instead of a Pride event – but more on that below. The other party hot spot is in Kemptown, Brighton’s gay neighborhood, where during the village street party on Saturday and Sunday thousands celebrate in the streets, DJs spin records outside of bars and bartenders mix drinks right on the sidewalk.brighton pride fest 2015 street partyAnd then there is the parade, which was so colorful and vibrant that I never once got tired of watching float after float go by. While there was a number of floats that were all about being jolly and celebrating how far the LGBT community had come over the past 25 years since the first small Pride March in Brighton, there were also organizations reminding us that there are still 70 countries in which homosexuality is a crime – not to mention the five countries in which homosexuality is punished with death penalty.brighton pride 2015 signsBirghton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015The range of floats was very divergent: political organizations campaigning their purposes, fun floats including gay and lesbian dance groups, cheerleaders, LGBT divers, runners, etc., and the people who came out to watch the parade were just as diverse: families, groups of friends, same-sex couples as well as straight couples – it was amazing to see how many people (and dogs!) had come out to show their support for the LGBT community. brighton pride 2015Brighton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015 cheerleadersThe parade made its way from the seafront (a slightly altered route and a delayed start due to a suspicious package that was found on the parade route) to Preston Park. After watching it for a while we made our way along with the floats towards Preston Park, as did a big part of the crowd.brighton pride parade 2015brighton pride 2015brighton pride crowdsBy the time we arrived in Preston Park, the festival grounds were already packed and the festive atmosphere was infectious. I don’t know any other Pride event that feels as much like a music festival as Brighton Pride does, and we started exploring the grounds.brighton pride festival grounds carouselsbrighton pride festival groundsPreston Park’s festival grounds are big enough to fit tens of thousands of people – some of the tents alone fit up to 8,000 people, just to give you an idea of how big the area is. In addition to various dance tents and a cabaret tent you can find bar tents here, lots of food stalls, some smaller stalls that sell Pride merch, lots of carousels and thrill rides, and the main Pride stage.brighton pride festival grounds carouselBrighton Pride festival groundsThe line-up shows how big of a festival Brighton Pride is: every year, the organizers manage to attract top acts and chart toppers like The Human Leage, Mary Lambert, Ella Henderson, and British pop stars Ms Dynamite and Tulisa.brighton pride festival grounds main stageOn the DJ front, Fatboy Slim was the biggest name and had no difficulties in making the crowds dance, and the ladies were ecstatic when Ruby Rose took over the turntables in the Girls Dance Tent, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed by her hot looks DJ skills. brighton pride festival grounds dance tentAbout 40,000 people enjoy the DJs and performance acts here, and I loved seeing how many non-LGBT people had joined the festivities. Some people might be turned off by having to pay for the festival, but at £16 I found the tickets to be more than reasonably priced, considering how much you got for it: all the DJs, the acts, the rides, and not to forget all the logistics and security necessary to organize an event like this. Brighton Pride festival grounds main stage1Brighton Pride festival grounds carousel 2015Later on, we joined the 30,000 people that were roaming the streets of Kemptown where the Village Party went on until Sunday morning, long after Preston Park had closed. Kemptown is where all of Brighton’s gay bars and clubs are located, and places like Revenge, the Terrace Bar, A Bar, Camelford Arms, Legends Bar, the Queens Arms and Charles Street Bar were all packed, with people dancing inside and spilling out onto the streets which had been blocked off for cars and limited for pedestrians. brighton pride 2015 street partyWhile Pride usually slows down on the third day, Brighton Pride was still going strong on Sunday and I was impressed with everyone’s stamina, considering that some people were still dancing when I was already having breakfast. brighton pride street party djBut by late afternoon, Kemptown was packed again, and the street party continued with people flirting, dancing, drinking and enjoying the sunny weather. brighton pride fest 2015 barbrighton pride street party 2015 crowdsWhen I left Brighton the next morning, I was still brimming with excitement, event though I was utterly exhausted after this party weekend. As a festival lover, I loved how much this weekend – especially Saturday in Preston Park – felt like a music festival, with tens of thousands of music lovers coming together to dance, sing along, drink and celebrate, no matter if gay or straight.Brighton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015 girlsBrighton Pride 2015I have no doubt that I will be back in Brighton for Pride.

Where to stay

If you want a B&B experience that’s a bit different from the traditional British B&Bs, I highly recommend staying at the funky Snooze, conveniently located in Kemptown – close to the Village Street Party, but still far away enough to get a good night’s sleep.   If you are on a tighter budget, the newly opened YHA Hostel is the perfect choice, located a 1-minute walk from the beach, right in the center of the action, and a 2-minute walk from the Kemptown Village Party. 

brighton from yha
View from my room at the YHA Brighton – love it!

 

Additional information

For up-to-date information on next year’s line-up, the parade route and other Pride events, visit Brighton-Pride.org. pride cake brightonI visited Brighton as part of the fabulous Must Love Festivals project. Many stay was organized with the support of VisitBritain and Expedia. All opinions are my own.

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Polaroid of the week: A beach day in sunny Brighton

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polaroid of the week england brighton beachAfter leaving New York heartbroken last week, I arrived in the UK on a cold and rainy 55°F /13°C morning – a bone-chilling shock to my system after leaving New York the day before in 100° /38°C temperatures. I was afraid my highly anticipated long weekend in Brighton might get rained out – including the Pride Parade I was so looking forward to.

But the weather gods were on my side and by the time I took the train down to Brighton, the sun had come out and it had warmed up again. As soon as I arrived, I made my way to the beach to enjoy the blue skies while they lasted and for some fun on Brighton’s famous pier. It seemed like all of Brighton had the same idea and the pebble beach was packed with families, young couples and summer exchange students. Everyone was so happy and relaxed, and a lot of LGBT folks had arrived early for Pride weekend, which made me look forward to a fun-filled weekend. I was not only excited for Pride, but also to rediscover the city I used to visit regularly when I lived in England, and to see how it had changed in the six years I hadn’t been there (and how Pride had evolved since I last went there nearly a decade ago!).

I couldn’t have chosen a better weekend to rekindle my long lasting love affair with the famous English seaside town that had started exactly ten years ago – I was blessed with perfect summer weather the entire five days I was in town; Brighton Pride turned out to be the best Pride Festival I’d been to in years, and I can’t wait to share more photos of the colorful parade and some ideas on how to spend a few days in Brighton with you.

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How to Visit London on the Cheap

London guards

London is rumored to be notoriously expensive and the British Pound Sterling is usually very strong, making it more expensive to visit this exciting metropole for almost any nationality. Most visitors struggle to keep their costs low when exploring England’s capital, but there are a few secrets to traveling to London on the cheap. In today’s post, I am sharing my best travel tips to stick to a shoestring London travel budget:london museum

Be smart with public transportation

Public transportation will probably be your biggest expensive while you’re in London, but there are some ways to save money on buses and subways. First of all, pick up an Oyster Card instead of paying for single rides each time – trust me, you’ll need one. There is a £5 deposit for the card itself, but you’ll get it back when you leave and return the card.

1. Get an Oyster Card

You have two choices when you buy an Oyster Card: you can buy a daily or weekly travel card, or you can simply add money to the card. That way, the ‘pay as you go’ version, is cheaper if you don’t plan to take a lot of trips during the day (but if you are staying not right in Central London, it’s very likely that you’ll be using public transportation every day). With the Pay As You Go version you’ll pay only £2.30 per ride instead of the full £4.80 fare for a single ticket.

If you opt for the Pay As You Go option, your daily fare will be capped at £6.40 (in Zone 1 & 2, Central London), which is the price of a day ticket. A day is counted until 3am the next morning, by the way. If you’re wondering how much money to put on your card: £20 will usually cover a return journey from Heathrow plus travel around Central London for one 1 or 2 days. If you are planning to stay for 3 to 4 days, put £30 on the card. If your card runs out, you can always put more on it. If you’re spending an entire week in London, your cheapest option is the 7-day travel card (£32.10 vs. £44.80 for 7 daily travel cards).London tube2. Off-peak vs. on-peak

If you don’t want to get an Oyster card, it is still possible to buy (paper) travel cards – they are considerably more expensive though, with £12 for a day pass (compared to the £6.40 cap off with an Oyster Card). If you’re a late riser, opt for a off-peak travel card, which is cheaper than a normal travel card but only allows you to travel after 9.30am, however there isn’t a difference in all travel cards – for example you pay the same price for an off-peak card in Zone 1, but if you stay further outside and need a travel card that reaches until Zone 5, it does make a £5 difference. You can see all the current London fares in this table.

3. Buses vs. subway

You can even save more money when you take the bus instead of the tube – and buses in London aren’t the grimy kind you’ve got in some U.S. city, but new, clean double-decker buses which connect the places that aren’t covered by the subway and train network, but some go on routes parallel to a subway route, and this is when taking the bus is cheaper. A bus ride with an Oyster card is £1.50, no matter if it’s peak time or not. Also: if you use only buses and use a Pay As You Go Oyster Card, your fare will be capped at £4.40, which means every day when you reach £4.40, you’ll ride the rest of the day for free.London market coffee houseSightseeing by local bus

Also – taking the bus is a much better way to see the city, so if you’re not pressed for time, I recommend taking the bus whenever possible. While hop-on hop-off tours are a great way to see London, they can cost an arm and a leg! Instead, there are several London bus routes which pass right by the most iconic sights, which are all included in the price of your day ticket or Oyster card (though there are no headsets, so you might need to do a little background research yourself.

One of the buses that goes by many of London’s sights is bus number 9 and you can hop right on in Piccadilly Circus. The bus passes Trafalgar Square, Somerset House, Harrods, the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall in West London, and finishes at St Paul’s Cathedral in East London.

Another fabulous route for sightseeing is bus RV1 which runs between Covent Garden and Tower Gateway. You can get on it on either end and the route follows the Thames passing the South Bank with the London Eye, London Bridge and even goes right over the Tower Bridge.london tower bridge

Most of London’s attractions are free!

One of my favorite things about London is that most of the city’s attractions are free – including its famous museums, such as the British Museum, the National History Museum or the Tate Modern. (A great way to spend a rainy day by the way, and there’ll be one of those most likely!).

In addition to the free museums and galleries, you can see many other things that are iconic London landmarks without paying a penny, such as:

  • Piccadilly Circus
  • Tower Bridge
  • Hyde Park
  • Portobello Road Market & Notting Hill
  • A river walk along the Thames
  • Changing the Guard & the horse guards
  • Big Ben
  • Camden Market and the canals
  • Primrose Hill
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Oxford Street (stick to window shopping though, or visit Primark)

London guardsSo while a trip to London can be pricey, if you feel like you have to do things like Madame Tussaud’s, go inside Buckingham Palace, the London Eye or the Shard for views (which you can get much cheaper when climbing the Monument in the City of London, by the way, which is only £3, or entirely free if you head up to Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath).

Free Walking Tours

I love free walking tours – they usually give you a great overview of the city, allow you to get your bearings, and at the same time you’ll get some background info and insider tips. Tour guides love to share their knowledge of the city, so don’t be shy if you’re looking for recommendations for a certain kind of cuisine or just a good pub with cheap beer. When you join a free walking tour, you’ll also notice how close most of the city’s attractions are and that most of Central London is surprisingly walkable. I recommend Sandeman’s New Europe Royal London Tour, a 2.5 hour walk that covers Buckingham Palace, No 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, St James Park and the Horseguards, to name just a few stops. London houses

Use discount vouchers

Before buying anything, check if there are any discount vouchers for the activity, food or drink you’re planning to buy. For example, browse through Groupon for the latest voucher codes before you set off on your trip.

Discount vouchers are hugely popular in the UK and many restaurants offer meal deals or 2-for-1 dinner vouchers. There are also vouchers for supermarkets if you’re planning to cook for yourself, and it pays off to compare prices in the main supermarket chains (Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose) to see which one has the items you’re planning to buy on offer.london big ben

How to save money on paid attractions

If you’re planning to see some of London’s attraction that aren’t free, consider getting a London Pass which includes over 60 London attractions, including a Thames River Cruise, the Tower Of London and Westminster Abbey. Tip: If you buy the pass through VisitLondon, the official tourist board, you’ll get a 10% discount on it.

If you only plan to visit one or two of the paid-for attractions, check online if they offer an advance booking discount. Most of the attractions offer it – the London Eye for example is 20% cheaper if booked in advanced.

If you’re planning a trip out of town on the train – to Bath or Brighton for example, you should also check out the National Rail website where you’ll usually find 2-for-1 offers for all major attractions (if you buy a train ticket). Train tickets should be purchased in advance, too, by the way: a ticket to Brighton is £22.90 if you buy it on the spot, but it can be as cheap as £11 if you buy it a few weeks in advance. This kind of travel requires planning, but it makes a huge difference on your wallet.London Eye

Cheap West End Theater Tickets

Theater is a fix part of many London visitors’ itinerary, and seeing a play in the West End is well worth the splurge. The best part is that seeing a play or musical doesn’t need to be expensive – I’ve seen plays for as little as £20! Similar to New York, London also has discount ticket booths – head to the TKTS ticket booth in the afternoon to get discounted tickets for the same evening. The Guardian just published a guide on how to get the best deal for West End Theater Tickets.London views from Primrose hill

Food and drinks

First of all: don’t ever spend water on bottled water when you are in London. The tap water in the city is perfectly fine and safe to drink, and not only will it save you some precious Pounds, but you’ll also do the environment a favor.

For a cheap lunch, head to Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Boots and pick up one of their lunch deals, which are as little as £3 and include a sandwich, a drink and an additional item (chips, fruit or something sweet). It doesn’t get any cheaper than this! If you prefer a hot lunch, head to EAT or Pret A Manger for a hot sandwich or a soup. You can get either one for less than £5. All of these places have several healthy food options.

When the weather is nice, it is always a great idea to buy picnic food and eat in one of the beautiful parks – nothing beats an al fresco lunch in Regents Park or St James Park. I highly recommend Portobello Road Market and Borough Market to pick up a quick yet scrumptious meal.

If you’re staying in a hostel with a kitchen, you can buy one of the cheap dinner deals that is offered by all of the supermarket chains for as little as £10 – this includes a starter for two, two main courses and even a bottle of wine! (Tip: If you splurge on the £20 dinner deal at Marks & Spencer, you get the best value for money with a starter, main, a side dish, dessert and wine).

If you prefer to go out, try to find a coupon for 2-for-1 meals or look for a pub with 2-for-1 meal deals. Bread selection at Borough Market

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How to Visit London on the Cheap

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Polaroid of the week: Returning to London

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polaroid of the week england london sunsetOn my way from New York to Sri Lanka, I stopped for a couple of days in London, the city I left in 2010 to travel the world. Back then, I would have never thought that it would take me nearly five years to return, because London has always been one of my favorite cites in the world. And even after traveling the world for nearly half a decade it remains one of the very few places I could see myself living in – in fact, there are only three cities in the world I’d consider settling down in: New York, London and Berlin.

Coming back after such a long time turned out to be a very emotional visit. I am not sure yet if I’ll write about it in more detail, but it caught me by surprise to be moved to tears by the view pictured above. I was nostalgic about rediscovering my favorite store brands, restaurant and coffee shop chains, and favorite foods. I was ecstatic to discover new things and that old habits were still in me (boarding the subway instinctively closest to the exit of the station, after many years of training to become as time efficient as possible), and that I’d forgotten quite a few things, including directions, which I still feel embarrassed about (I couldn’t remember the name of the street I lived on anymore, and still can’t!).

And like I said, it turned out that I had also forgotten how much I loved this city! When I made my way to the airport on a beautiful sunny autumn day I vowed that it wouldn’t be another 55 months until I return to London.

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My Top Three London Neighborhoods To Stay In

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When people plan a trip to London, I often get asked where I’d recommend they stay. Which neighborhoods are the best, the closest to the center, and the cheapest. I could talk about London’s many different neighborhoods for hours, and I have about eight that I absolutely love, but I narrowed it down to my top five places I think visitors should consider for their trip to London. Read on to find out which neighborhoods top my list, why I think they’re making for a great base and which types of travelers they are for.

london greenwich sunset
A breathtaking sunset sky over the River Thames

Before I start, a quick word on your choice of accommodation in London. There has never been a greater variety of places to stay at than now – from hostels to luxury hotels, vacation rentals and short-term lets, long-term rooms to self-catering apartments… the selection is sheer endless, and researching the perfect option can be overwhelming. Check out AirBnb for some amazing places to stay in – be it a room in somebody’s apartment (a great way for solo travelers to meet locals!) or an entire ‘flat’, as the British call their apartments. If you’re not using AirBnb yet – you can sign up here and get $20 off your first booking.

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Greenwich – also one of my favorite neighborhoods, albeit not in my Top Three

Now on to my favorite neighborhoods:

Shoreditch

Everyone who knows me knows that I need a little bit of grittiness around me – if a place is too pretty, too clean and too cookie-cutter, I am bored quickly. That’s why I love Kreuzberg in Berlin, Brooklyn in New York, and East London. There’s street art everywhere, funky bars, slightly chaotic flea markets, independent boutique and shops with a unique flair. Shoreditch doesn’t have any typical British sights (except for many many pubs, of course!) but here you’ll find the hippest people, the coolest restaurants and the most eclectic vibe.

This is for you if… you are looking for a neighborhood that is teeming with young people (you will spot hipsters here, yes), a fantastic bar scene, urban art and good transportation connections that bring you to Central London in only 15 minutes.

Brick Lane London
Street Art in East London

Notting Hill

I know, this one is pretty cliché, but there is a reason that there is a movie that focuses on this charming neighborhood – you can’t help but fall in love with this typical English and at the same time gorgeous area. Located in West London, Notting Hill has some of the prettiest streets in all of London; streets and mews (little alleyways) that invite to wander. On Saturdays, the famous Portobello Road Market flea & antiques market takes place here, but on all other days a stroll down Portobello Road is simply delightful. You are close to Kensington Gardens, one of my favorite parks in London, and you’ll have tons of cute cafes, cozy pubs and fabulous boutiques around here.

This is for you if… you want a truly British neighborhood experience with quiet, beautiful streets, lots of attractions nearby, and easy access to Central London (about 10 minutes on the tube).

London houses
Notting Hill – Colorful and pretty!

Camden Town

Much has changed in Camden Town over the past few years – while it was one of the grittier, even seedy neighborhoods in the early 2000s still, the neighborhood has been transforming into one of the most sought-after areas to buy or rent in. The massive Camden Market is a huge tourist attraction these days, but go a couple of streets away from Camden High Street and you’ll find some wonderfully peaceful streets with snuggish apartments and, one of my favorite places in the city, Regents Canal, which goes all the way to Primrose Hill and further down to Regents Park (a lovely walk). The pub scene here is glorious, and you are close to some marvelous lesser known sights such as Hampstead Heath (fantastic views over the city!), Abney Park Cemetery or Islington, another lovely neighborhood. The Northern Line brings you right into Central London in only 20 minutes.

This is for you if… you want to go shopping-crazy at Camden Lock Market, are not too fussed about the prettiness of a neighborhood, love cheapie pubs and a local flair away from Central London’s tourist madness.

London Camden High Street
The Iconic Camden High Street

Have you been to London? What are your favorite neighborhoods?

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UK Travel: Brighton For Foodies

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Brighton isn’t all fish and chips and candy floss, you know. There’s a great foodie scene here demanding something suitable for the more sophisticated palate too. If you venture beyond the classic tourist traps of the main seafront roads in Brighton you’ll find some real gems, much like in any town where tourism plays a large part. Some great places to try are:

Brighton Beach
Brighton, England

The Tea Cosy

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy name, The Tea Cosy is the place in Brighton to go for a cream tea and a glimpse at the eclectic British and Royal themed collectors items. A favourite with the likes of Tatler and The Telegraph, it seems The Tea Cosy can do no wrong. Here you can breakfast on the likes of a ‘Prince Harry’ – a boiled egg and soldiers, enjoy a ‘William and Kate Selection’ for lunch – tomato and basil, cucumber and egg mayo sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, a slice of cake and a pot of tea or a ‘Queen Elizabeth Coronation High Tea’ – consisting of a selection of cakes, cream tea style scones, pate and toast, cheese and biscuits, finger sandwiches and of course tea. If you’re a fan of the Royals, or even just a fan of cream teas, this is the one you simply have to visit.

hester street fair cakesThe Restaurant at Drakes

If you want fine dining in Brighton, this is where you come. With a reputation for using only the best locally sourced seasonal ingredients, The Restaurant is a real favourite with those looking for an excellent meal while in Brighton. Perfect for a romantic dinner, thanks to its elegant atmosphere and exquisite food, you certainly won’t forget a night here. With choices such as hand dived scallops, glazed and pressed shoulder of pork and hazelnut bavorois for dessert, it will be a real treat for the tastebuds.

british pub foodMediterraneo Delicatessen

High up on the list of top places to dine in Brighton, this great little place is a real joy to discover. Deli by day and Sicilian restaurant at night, it offers something a little bit different to the other restaurants in Brighton.  With delicious specialities such as cannolis, lemon and poppy seed cake, limoncello cake and white chocolate and almond cake to be bought from the deli by day, plus traditional Sicilian food by night, like lasagne, pizzas, parmigiana de melanzane (aubergines in a tomato and parmesan sauce), peperoni ripieni (stuffed peppers) and tiramisu, you’re bound to be stopping by both day and night.

may italy montaione pizzas & wineAnother place not to miss is the street diner in Brigthelm Garden in Queens Road. This amazing food market comes to Brighton every Friday between 11am and 3pm and you’ll find such delights as gooey brownies, gourmet fish sandwiches, Venezuelan empanadas (think Cornish pasty style stuffed pastries with a kick), American style grilled cheese sandwiches, Caribbean curries and Mexican sweet treats. Perhaps also try Agua Dulce, a great little Spanish Restaurant and Tapas Bar on King’s Road.

goats cheese tapas sevilleSo when you’re considering your foodie travel destinations, don’t dismiss Brighton. Lively and action packed it may be, but it packs a punch in terms of culinary delights too.

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