This post is going to clearly indicate my age.
Rewind a fair few moons ago and you would find new-to-Europe Jessica: in Paris, fresh with a French-English dictionary, an A-Z guide to town and a pocket full of travellers cheques. I arrived in Paris the year that the euro was introduced so its fair to say that currency conversion was a headache. I would head to a local bank, cash in a few cheques and carefully count out my pennies for the month. These were the times when we all had tiny little Nokia cell phones and handled wallets-full of currencies.
Fast forward many suns later and I find myself in London, gainfully employed and doing mostly everything electronically. Which is where you’d find me when Travelex contacted me to ask if I’d heard of the multi-currency cash passport. The passport can hold up to ten currencies at a time and will always know which currency to use based on where you are. It essentially works like a debit card with pin & a Mastercard attached to it.
To make university-age Jess just a little bit jealous and a little bit nostalgic at just how much more difficult everything seemed back in the old days, Travelex invited me to craft the best day I could in London using $150 using my cash passport (that works out to roughly £100.)
Here’s my take: this is not your “touristy” London. This is your “relaxing, I want to be like a Londoner and this is how I like to spend a day when I have no plans” kind of London. Craft your day almost entirely around food, walking and culture and you are good to go. I recommend to start in Spitalfields in East London.
After you’ve had a good wander around East London, jump on the tube – or hop on the bus (you’ll learn more about how London is laid out that way) and head to the centre of town. A day pass of transport will set you back £12.10 to Holborn or Covent Garden stations, where you can spend the rest of the day wandering around between the hectic bustle that is Covent Garden, Seven Dials & Soho.
Living in London, I tend to strategically dodge in and out of these areas, but playing tourist over the weekend, I remembered the appeal that is walking around them on a lazy Sunday. You simply won’t find the same combination of restaurants, stores, people watching and architecture anywhere else besides this part of London (you also will not often find them as empty as pictured here…)
If its a rainy day, duck into the National Gallery or the British Museum (both are free) but is its sunny, take my advice: just wander and be curious and stop whenever your little heart tells you to. That is a day in London at its best.
Now this is the part where my advice becomes tricky for I am telling you to go somewhere I usually avoid… but a great secret lies in Leicester Square: the official London Theatre Ticket Booth. This might not sound like anything special, but you can find excellent prices on left-over tickets the day of a performance. It is worth lining up to see what is available. (I got tickets to see the latest Kenneth Brannagh production at the Garrick Theatre.)
Also, keep an eye out for the Odeon Theatre on Leicester Square – the day I was walking by, I ran into the premier for Kung Fu Panda 3 and spotted Kate Hudson. She is very much indeed gorgeous.
Once you have your tickets, book a table at the tiny but deliciously French bistrot, Blanchette. Their 3-course pre-theatre menu only costs £19.50. (Its a popular one, so actually, book ahead.)
In total, I spent £92 during my day and to be honest, it was harder than I thought. The way I see it, you can either be extremely efficient with your spending in London – for there is an incredible array of free things to do and see – or you can simply spend a fortune.
Either way, I learned one thing… I clearly didn’t know what I was doing as a student.
Links to fun times mentioned above:
Spitalfields walking itinerary/ Blixen / InSpitalfields / The Merchantile London / Crosstown Donuts / Poppies / Verde & Co / Farmstand / British Museum / National Gallery / Lamb & Flag
Official Theatre Ticket Booth / Blanchette
Many kind thanks to Travelex for providing me with a fun London challenge (and a useful tip for future travel. You can find out more about the cash passport here.)