Article: Travel Britain On A Budget

London isn’t the least expensive city in the world and Britain isn’t the least expensive country. But Britain’s art galleries and national museums began offering free admission for everyone in late 2001, a huge money saver for tourists on a tight budget. Britain’s many art displays, especially those in  London, will captivate your mind and enrich your sprit. The opening of several major new galleries, as well as some older ones being renovated means that there’s never been a better time to take in British culture. You can spend many hours enjoying the works of the masters in London alone.  You should start right in the heart of London at Trafalgar Square. There, you can review over 200 years of British history. You’ll see Nelson’s Column behind you, and the British National Gallery, which holds perhaps the world’s finest collection of western European artworks, in front of you. Like most of Britain’s galleries and museums, admission is free. Right next door is the British National Portrait Gallery. Here you’ll see portraits of the famous on display, from British monarchs to musicians.  After December 2001, the list of galleries and museums offering free admission began to grow. Culture lovers have been offered a gift from the British Government, which has decided that all British National Museums will be free for all to enjoy. This will allow you to see the world’s fine and applied art that is displayed at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. You’ll have an opportunity to see the dinosaurs of the Natural History Museum, major inventions at the Science Museum, and Lord Mayor’s golden coach at the Museum of London, all for free! The industrial heritage as evidenced at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, along with the armor at the Royal Armouries in Leeds are also free, and there are many more for your enjoyment.  The National Galleries and Museums of Wales and Scotland also offer free admission.  Art lovers have numerous choices in Britain. Tate Modern created a big stir in the world of art when it opened its doors in 2000. This ancient power station located on the banks of the Thames river attracted an unbelievable 5 million visitors in its first year alone. The huge galleries display the best of modern and contemporary art from Picasso, Rothko, Whiteread, Dali, Hockney, and more. Its sister galleries, Tate Britain (the original gallery in London), Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives are also free. So what can lovers of British culture find? In London, the Victoria and Albert Museum opens its magnificent new British Galleries later this year, revealing paintings, sculpture, dress, furniture, textiles, and ceramics, from the period of time from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria. The works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, William Morris, and Robert Adam are on display in the period rooms, compete with the latest in technology.  In December, the Museum of London opened its World City Gallery, a look at important changes and growth that took place in London during the 1800s, complete with reconstructed store fronts and city streets of that period.  In the northwest of England, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool reopened in 2002 with a bright new look as well as an exhibition of paintings by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney.  Two major art galleries opened in early 2002 as well. In northeast England at Gateshead near Newcastle upon Tyne, a large former flour mill has been renovated into the Baltic Centre which is a focus for contemporary art and artists. In Manchester, another city popular with tourists, the City Art Gallery has reopened after a major refurbishment. Doubled in size, it also now includes a “theatre for decorative arts”. Admission to both attractions is free.  Simply walking down any street in London can be a fashion show. But for those interested in fashion, the new Zandra Rhodes Fashion & Textile Museum is located in Bermondsey Street near London Bridge. The extrovert designer displays fashions by fellow designers from the 1950s to the present day. There is a very reasonable admission charge. Of course, there’s a lot more to Britain than just galleries and museums! Here are a few other tips for saving money during your British vacation.  Everyone has heard about Britain’s friendly pubs, but look for chains like Wetherspoons where you can enjoy two delicious main course meals for as little as £5.99.  One of the most affordable ways to lodge in Britain is in a “YHA” Youth Hostel, found all over England (including London and most other cities). The hostels are open to everyone, young and old, business people and hikers, and indeed tourists visiting all of Britain.  As for getting around in Britain, the National Express Tourist Trail Pass offers a great value for access to the routes operated by Britain’s largest bus operator. In London, you can travel all day on the charming large red buses for just £2! And the top deck of scenic routes such as the number 11 make for a wonderful do-it-yourself sightseeing tour!  For entertainment, most large cities in Britain have a calendar of summer entertainment, including free carnivals. In London, the Royal Festival Hall’s annual “Summer on the South Bank” event offers 6 weeks of free concerts and other performances from mid July to late August. All year round, you can purchase a genuine theatre ticket at 50% off (for performance on the day of purchase only) at the TKTS booth (formerly the Half-Price Ticket Booth) located in Leicester Square.  Your British vacation (especially in London) doesn’t have to be expensive. Just choose your activities wisely and you can enjoy Britain on the cheap!

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by Lousie Wood.