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How to Solve a Problem Like a 25th Wedding Anniversary

In January of this year I arranged a weekend break to London for my husband and myself in celebration of our twenty-five year wedding anniversary. (Wow I'm getting old!) Having not been to the capital since our honeymoon all those years ago it seemed like the perfect time to visit again. But with only a modest budget of £300 and wanting to spend the nights in a hotel rather than a hostel, I decided it was finally time to get to grips with our newly brought family laptop, and dig up the best deals I could find on the interweb for travel and Theatre Tickets 😉

The following article is a detailed account of my progress and what I found out so that you other technophobes might discover a few shortcuts when planning your next trip to the capital.

During the search my first stop was usually Google, plus a few sites suggested by some of my more computer geekish friends. These are the four main areas of research:

  • Transport
  • Accommodation
  • Site seeing and Attractions
  • Theatre Tickets

=>Tip 1 - Get Advice from Real TravelersFirst things first - I got onto trip advisor and made a big list of all the many things there are to do in London. (Soooooooo Many!)Trip advisor is a great site because you're able to enter the details of your upcoming trip, and then read the opinions and marks out of five from real people who have been there and brought the t-shirt. The review to the right is typical of the site.Hopefully this list will give you some inspiration as I have also included links to some reviews, descriptions and rating for each.

Long list of London Attractions

They say if you're going to make any great decision first you need choice, so being a little anal I used trip advisor to find every possible attractions that sounded vaguely interesting. Without further ado this is what I came up with:

Tower of London / National Gallery /London Eye / Tower Bridge Exhibition / Madame Tussauds / London Dungeons / Kensington Palace /London Zoo / Hampton Court / Shakespeare's Globe / Dali Universe / Buckingham Palace / Cabinet War Rooms / Chinatown / Trafalgar Square / Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain / Speakers' Corner / London Aquarium / Sherlock Holmes Museum / Nelson's Column / Oxford Street / Natural History Museum / Science Museum / V&A / Portobello Road Market / National Gallery / St. Paul's Cathedral / Tower of London / Westminster Abbey / Borough Markek / Apsley House / British Museum / St. Pancras Station / Covent Garden / Abbey Road / Camden Market / Houses of Parliament / Imperial War Museum.

Now obviously had we tried to get around all these attractions in one day we would have keeled over from exhaustion and spent our life savings. So the next step was to get on the internet and find the best deals and offers we could. We also needed to do some serious prioritising to get the most from the day.

=>Tip 2 - Train Travel to London

There were two aspects of traveling to plan and the first was to find a cheap return train ticket down to London. After that was traveling around whilst in London which will come later.

We decided to book the train tickets through the discount provider Train Line as we found we could save £30.00 compared with the main National Rail site. The National Express coach is cheaper again but we could not face the seven hour road journey crushed into a little seat.

  • National Rail Enquiries £104 - This site is the most expensive way to travel to London.
  • Trainline £70.00 - The Trainline site is very user friendly and they have a great Journey planner feature.
  • National express coach £50.00 - (7hrs hour journey.....NO WAY!)

Tip 3 - Separate Booking or Package BookingSeparate Booking1) HotelWe found our hotel using the LateRooms web site. The hotel of choice was "Jury's Inn Islington" as it gave us good access to the west end without having to travel too far at the end of the day. You can view great looking room pictures and the price proved really affordable. (See below.)

  • Hotel Web site £129.00 per night
  • LateRooms £99.00 per night.

2) Theatre - My husband Jeff is a massive fan of Queen so I really wanted to take him to see the musical "We Will Rock You" as part of our anniversary treat. After a bit of research I found there are two main ways of booking West End Theatre tickets:

  • Booking through the main show web site £89.00 -If you click "Tickets" on the main We Will Rock You web site you're then redirected to Tickemaster where you pay full price and a small booking fee:

  • Discount Theatre web site £50.00 - After typing "London Theatre Tickets" into Google and hitting lots of web undesirable looking web sites I finally came across They have a really professional feel and offer secure on-line booking for London Musicals at discounted prices. As you can see they offer big discounts on loads of London shows and I was able to book in Real-time through the West End reservation system.

  • Taken at the time of writing:

    We Will Rock You - WAS £39.50 NOW £25.00

    Billy Elliot - WAS £60.00 NOW £45.00

    Sound Of Music - WAS £55.00 NOW £37.50

    The Lord of the Rings - WAS £44.00 NOW £27.50

    Avenue Q - WAS £35.00 NOW £28.50

    Spamalot - WAS £55.00 NOW £37.50

    Les Miserables - WAS £50.00 NOW £37.50

    Buddy - WAS £55.00 NOW £25.00

    Chicago - WAS £52.50 NOW £35.00

    Grease - WAS £55.00 NOW £37.50


  • West End Ticket Booth £50.00 - Another options is booking when you arrive from a ticket booth in Leicester square. But this can be risky as often the shows are sold out.

3) RestaurantDinner in London can be an expensive business with a three course meal easily costing £50.00 a head. You need to do your homework here and sniff out all the options if you want to save some pennies. I would suggest you start with a site called Top Table where once again you can easily input details of your trip and find user ratings and reviews from an extraordinary number of eateries. Using Top Table we decided to book a restaurant near the Dominion Theatre called Bertorelli. Example review below:

  • Options 1: Turn up and Order £50.00 - This is the most expensive way to eat out in the capital as you will usually have to choose from the "a le cart" menu and you would be lucky to pay less than £25.00 per head.
  • Options 2: Book in advance on the restaurants web site £39.00 - Many restaurants in London have their own web site where you can pre book and choose from a discounted set menu. Bertorelli offer a two course meal for £19.50 per head.

Separate Booking - Total Price

Total £287.00£13.00 left for travel and attractions - Our budget is in tatters!

Package Booking Before making my final purchases I also wanted to look into another option I noticed on the Discount Theatre site about a special offer. As you will read below I'm glad I did because this proved to be better than any other offer I found:

  • Package deal, hotel FREE! - This was an offer running throughout January and February this year and as the headline suggests when you book theatre tickets you get the first night at the hotel FREE! Luckily we were able to choose Jury's Inn from the list and add an additional night for just £55.00.
  • The available shows at the time were:
  • We Will Rock You, Blood Brothers, Buddy, Cabaret, Chicago, The Lord of the Rings, Stomp,39 Steps, Stomp, The Importance of Being Earnest, Sound Of Music, Wicked, Billy Elliot, Les Miserables, Spamalot , The History Boys, Dealers Choice, Rent, Absurd Person Singular, Showdowlands, Fiddler on the Roof.

  • Additional night only £55.00 - I know what you're thinking "Here's the catch, they offer the first night free then charge triple for the rest of the time!" Well think again my slightly cynical friend; I was able to book an additional night for only £55.00 for both of us, saving a massive £44.00 from the usual hotel rate.
  • Add a restaurant for £14.50 - The icing on the cake! - In addition there was also an opt-in to add a dinner before or after the theatre and add it to the booking. This was the biggest Bertorelli saving I could find at £14.50 per head.

=>Package Offer - Total Price

  • London Hotel - First night free, and second night £55.00
  • London Theatre Tickets - Best price £100.00
  • Dinner - Best price £29.00

Total £184.00A massive saving of £118.00 leaving us plenty of money to cover transport costs and a bonus flight on the London Eye!

=>Tip 4 - Book Attractions Online before you Travel

Houses of Parliament I was amazed by this: It's a little known fact in London that you can actually sit in public gallery and watch Prime Minister's questions for free! All you have to do is turn up on a Wednesday before 11.00am and register.

London Aquarium save 25% on-line

This will come straight after the Houses of Parliament as the Aquarium it's just over Westminster Bridge and is half price entry with Oyster cards. Plus I love turtles.

*Bonus* The London Eye save 10% on-line

Having saved £118.00 on the hotel booking we decided to go a little wild and treat ourselves to a spin on the London Eye. The best saving I could come up with was a mere 10% saving from the main London Eye web site.

Museums Free

The Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the V&A are all within five minutes walking distance from one another, and once again it's free entry so this will help out with our tight budget.

Borough Market Free

We are both massive fans of Jamie Oliver and cook from his recipe books every night, so obviously when we were planning the trip Borough Market was a must. (This is where Jamie gets all his fruit, veg and fish.) Plus you can go round and sample the all the food which meant we could skip lunch and save a bit more cash. (Cheapskates!)

*Tip for internet payment security*

Jeff is always worried about giving his credit card details out on-line, so one thing I did to make him feel a bit more comfortable was to open another bank account separate from our main one just for internet transactions. We keep a small amount of money in there for the kids' eBay stuff and trips to London.

=>Tip 5 - Travel around London

Oyster Card - Friends who have been to capital recently have come back with horror stories of astronomical tube travel prices if you fail to tap an Oyster Card. I decided to take the initiative on this one and sign up before hand even though we don't live in London. There is no rule against doing this, and once signed up you can also visit a lot of London attractions at discounted prices.

Google Maps - Create your own city guide

The other thing I did was to go onto Google Maps where you can create a custom map with all the places you plan to visit so you don't get lost. (I always get lost!)

=> The Final Spend

So what can we learn from this rather astonishing and expertly well conducted price comparison? ;-p

Well in the words of a Chav; you would have to be "A bit of a Muppet" not to realize that I was able to totally eclipse any saving a separate booking could offer, after stumbling luckily across this package deal. I would guess that there are lots more saving on the web just like this one, and also that this kind of thing would be much more frequent around the festive seasons when fat cat money men are trying to take advantage of your generous heart! (I think I'm getting paranoid!) Easter, Valentines Day, Christmas and school holidays should be a hotbed of MONEY SAVING MADENESS...... so keep your eyes peeled and your cash card handy for the next big offer, and make your plans flexible so you can jump in when savings are at their best.

Finally we can see if it's possible to spend a weekend in London for £300 even with all the discounts I found? (Drum roll please.)

  • Travel to London - £70.00
  • Aquarium - £13.50
  • London Eye - £30.00
  • Theatre + Hotel + Dinner - £184.00

= Total £297.50 - Within budget by the skin of our teeth and an absolutely fabulous weekend in prospect!

About the Author

It is so nice to have a page where you can tell the world how wonderful you think you are! No, I am not going to read the comments of those who disagree... I am a granny, 54 years old, pretending to be the accountant in a family business. I am a friendly, getting along with everybody, witty old girl. Love to dance, to stroll on the beach, drink coffee in coffee shops, listen to bands in pubs. You can pretty much take me anywhere.

Originally posted 2010-01-30 14:43:40.

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