London calling

London calling

Cheerio Cornwall. Goodbye Brighton. So long the Lake District. The spotlight this summer is on London. Kaye Holland  lets you in on how to enjoy the capital on a credit crunch budget

Culture fix
From the big shows to fringe events and street performers, London has all sorts of different theatre going on and you don’t have to pay a small fortune either. Many venues offer free or low cost entry – like the aptly named ‘Pay what you can’ sessions at the Tricycle Theatre on Kilburn High Road. For a real bargain on the big shows, it’s worth standing in line at the ticket booth in Leicester Square; here you can nab tickets for same day shows at half the normal price…

Alternatively why not see how a TV show is recorded? Free tickets are available for TV recordings around London, though you may join a long waiting list. The BBC is the best bet, offering punters the opportunity to be part of a live studio audience for a variety of shows like the Lottery Live. Just don’t forget to set the video to capture your 15 minutes of fame… An alternative is Granada; the South bank studios play host to shows such as Tarrant on TV and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Check out:

Eating out
When it comes to cheap, tasty Thai fare, Busaba Eathai comes up trumps every time. Established by Alan Yau, formerly of Wagamama fame, this bustling venue is both reasonable on the purse strings and enviably central. Located in the charming, hippy haven of Neal’s Yard, Neal’s Yard Bakery is a valued vegetarian joint where you can feast on fresh, healthy nosh in cheerful, unpretentious surroundings for little more than a fiver. Likewise Leon’s dishes are all made using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Pop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner from as little as £3.50. If all that sounds too virtuous, Islington’s agreeable S&M café serves sausage and mash in many permutations. Comfort food heaven. Elsewhere, check out F Cooke – the family run pie shop that has become an East End institution. Close by, Brick Lane Beigel Bake is a favourite haunt for weary clubbers heading home in the early hours of the morning. Little wonder; a plain bagel will set you back just 15p.

Okay so if you want to catch a concert at the 02 or Wembley, don’t expect to see any change from a £50 note. But there are plenty of other venues – the lion’s share of which are in North London – where you can catch the music that matters for very little.

The Barfly is a grungy pub that has been entertaining the Camden crowds for years with a wide range of quality acts. Also in the area is The Underworld which charges affordable prices to see hopefuls who 10 years from now might be charging a King’s ransom. The Water Rats is a gritty joint but it does deliver some gems; that said, be prepared to listen to lots of frogs before finding a Prince.

South of the river, the atmospheric Bedford in Balham is an institution and for good reason; fun is always on the menu. The enormous four storey Victorian building encompasses everything from comedy through to club nights and live jazz sessions making it a safe bet for a storming night.

Fancy a dip?
Wen the sun starts to shine, few things are as appealing as London’s open air swimming pools, with the Art Deco lidos – built in the first 30 years of the 20th century– of particular interest. Hampstead Heath’s classic Parliament Hill Lido is a fantastic place to venture for a swim in the summer months. Best of all, it’s absolutely free! The sunbathing area and paddling pool only adds to the attraction.

Built in 1966, Tooting Bec was London’s first ever outside swimming pool and remains one of the largest in Europe. Given a face lift in 2002, it now includes Jacuzzis and saunas. Brockwell Park Lido has also been subject to restoration in recent times. People flock to this Dulwich Road spot as much to admire the beautiful 1930s art deco design as to actually enter the water.

Shop ’til you drop
For sensational shopping, wander west to Westfields; the largest shopping centre in Europe has enough shops to clothes you for life. Meanwhile thrifty fashionistas should hot foot it to Oxfam in King’s Road. If your luck’s  in, you could find yourself snapping up classics from Jaeger, Harrods, Marc Jacobs and Versace. When it comes to markets, London comes into its own. Camden offers six different open air and indoor markets – each retaining its own distinctive flavour. For antiques try the famous Portobello while Spitalfields on a Sunday is another must.

Getting around
The London underground or the tube as it is universally known to Londoners is the quickest and easiest way of getting around London. The first tube operates around 5.30am Mon-Sat and 7am come Sundays, while the last train tends to depart around midnight – although this depends on day, station and line.

If you have the luxury of time, travelling by bus is a much more enjoyable way of getting about and exploring the capital. Black cabs have become as much a feature of the London landscape as the red bus but aren’t cheap by any means. Similarly unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, avoid bringing your car to the capital: parking space is at a premium with the congestion charge only adding to the expense. Cycling is one way of cutting costs but the teeming traffic and fumes might deter any potential cyclists. Still keen? Contact the London Cycling Campaign. By the far most pleasant way of travelling is to travel along the Thames by boat which allows access to river sights such as Tower Bridge and Tate Modern.