Exactly a year ago, at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, London.
It was our first day out and about in London. Our friends had asked us where we wanted to go and we’d said we’d like to see their favorite places in town, so Adam took us to Greenwich. The Painted Hall was one of our first stops. Originally conceived by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining hall for naval pensioners, the Painted Hall has since been described as “the Sistine Chapel of the UK,” and its painted walls and ceilings by Sir James Thornhill are indeed a sight to behold. Mirrors, such as the one pictured above, are strategically placed around the building, enabling visitors to examine Thornhill’s masterpiece without having to keep their necks in perpetual hyperextension.
Fast forward a year later. I haven’t traveled overseas in a while — and I haven’t written much lately either. There’s just been so many things going on, responsibilities, old and new. Travel while you’re young, they say; travel while you can, before life’s commitments start weighing you down. But oddly enough, I don’t feel chained by my responsibilities at all. In a way, I’m glad that there’s more to my life than just me, than just what I want. I’ve said travel is the food of my soul, and it still is, and it always will be, but now my spirit draws sustenance from many other things too. And just like a simple dining hall can end up being a grand work of art, the little things in life, if you pour your heart and soul into them, can turn out to be a greater adventure and give you greater joy than any trip in the world.
It’s surprisingly easy to eat cheaply in London — one of the most expensive cities in the world — if you’re not too picky and don’t mind convenience store food. It’s a big if, but when traveling you have to work with what you have, and if what you have is a food budget of £70 a week, you’ll be surprised how quickly Tesco and other convenience stores can become your best friend. To my plebeian tongue, Tesco food is sufficiently filling and tasty and, most importantly, cheap. Here’s a sample menu for the entire day.
London lodgings are expensive — even Sherlock needed someone to go halves with him on 221B! — but these 15 hostels strike a good balance between comfort, location, and most of all, price. Here are 15 London hostels with beds less than PHP 1,500 ($33/£23).
This is Part 2 of The Best Cheap London Hostels: 15 under 1500 php. (The list is in alphabetical order.) Please see Part 1 for the first 8 accommodations, and read until the end of the post to see a summary of the best hostels, as well as my personal pick. *
London lodgings are expensive — even Sherlock needed someone to go halves with him on 221B! — but these 15 hostels strike a good balance between comfort, location, and most of all, price. Here are 15 London hostels with beds less than PHP 1,500 ($33/£23). *
“What are you up to now?”
“Looking for lodgings,” I answered. “Trying to solve the problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.”
It was Dr. Watson who actually said that — in a conversation in the beginning of A Study in Scarlet with Stamford, his medical colleague who introduced him later that day to Sherlock Holmes — but Watson might as well have been talking about what I’ve been up to.
I’ve been trying to put together a budget trip to London — not for me, for a challenge — and it’s been, well, a challenge. When my sister and I went to London last year, we were incredibly lucky because a high school friend invited us to stay in his flat. (Thank you Rey and Adam!) Unfortunately, not everyone has friends or family in London, so I set out to find lodgings within a Pinoy backpacker’s budget.
Here’s what I did:
I ran a search in Booking.com for accommodations in London (I used my birthday as a sample booking date) and filtered the results to reflect only those properties that had a rating of 7 (Good) or higher. I then sorted the results from lowest to highest price. All rates under PHP 1,500 were for beds in hostel rooms that accommodated anywhere from 6 to 33 people per room — but none of us were exactly expecting a suite at The Goring for that price, right?
I cross-checked the Booking.com ratings with each hostel’s rating and ranking at TripAdvisor.
Finally, I opened Google Maps and determined the distance of each shortlisted hostel to its nearest Tube/rail station.
So here it is: my 15 under 1500, in alphabetical order. A summary of the best hostels in each category — price, ratings, distance to Tube, etc. — as well the hostel I would personally choose to stay in if I were to go to London right now are at the end of the post.
There isn’t really much I can say about Hampstead Heath except that it’s beautiful in an intentionally not-totally-tamed sort of way, and that, if I lived in London, I would probably come here a lot. Londoners are so lucky to have such a wealth of green spaces that they can visit for free — actually, one of the things about London that surprised me was how many park benches remain empty, even on weekends. Well, Londoners probably have better things to do with their time than sit on a park and enjoy the sun, I don’t know. What I do know is that we have one park near our house that isn’t even a tenth as beautiful as any park in London and we have to pay for admission (nothing backbreaking but still) and yet it’s always full of people on weekends. That’s why I think Londoners are lucky.
There are several Tube stations near Hampstead Heath — you can see this page for detailed information on how to get there. We took the Overground line from Clapham Junction and got off at the Hampstead Heath station, where the entrance to the heath is only a very short walk away. Some of the first things we saw:
After painstakingly mapping out an itinerary that would let me make the most of my one-day London Pass, I bailed and went to a place that wasn’t even on my short list: the Royal Mews, the Royal Family’s stable/garage/carriage house right beside Buckingham Palace. And while most other people there flocked to the grand and fancy state coaches — there’s a free guided tour for everyone — after a cursory glance at the royals’ rides I went straight to what I was really interested in: the stable.
I can’t accurately call myself a horse afficionado because honestly I’ve only been around them a couple of times in my entire life, but I’ve always found the idea of them fascinating. I’m a big fan of Dick Francis books and horses almost always figure prominently in them. They seem like such strong, noble creatures and it’s interesting how they can form the closest bonds with humans.
The Royal Mews doesn’t stable all the royal horses but I got to meet a few of them.
Sleeper trains can save you time and money, but of the ones I’ve had the opportunity to try, the most that can be said about their comfort level is that they’re tolerable. I’ve been on one of the top bunks of a 6-couchette compartment and I can tell you it’s no fun not being able to sit upright and sleeping with the ceiling barely a foot above my nose.
The Caledonian Sleeper, the overnight train service between London and Scotland, is by far the most luxurious sleeper I’ve ever been on. My sister and I took it both ways — from London to Inverness, and from Fort William back to London. (The photo above was taken at Fort William.)
On the Caledonian Sleeper, you actually feel kind of pampered. There’s a steward who comes to your compartment and orients you if it’s your first time on the sleeper. He also asks you what time you would be like to woken up, what drink you would like to have in the morning, and whether or not you want breakfast.