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Extensive travel and tourism guide for Britain

Bargain Britain - Vacation Guide

by Lousie Wood

London is not the cheapest city in the world and Britain is not the cheapest country. But its national museums and art galleries will all offer free admission for everyone from late 2001, a big money saver for everyone on a tight budget.

The opening of a number of major new galleries - and some older ones being given a makeover - means that there's never been a better time to be a culture vulture.

Begin right in the centre of London, Trafalgar Square. Here, you look over 200 years of history, with Nelson’s Column behind you and the National Gallery, which holds one of the world’s finest collections of Western European paintings, in front of you. Like many of Britain’s museums and galleries, admission is free. Its next door neighbour is the National Portrait Gallery, where portraits of the famous - from monarchs to musicians - are on show: also free.

From December 2001, the list of museums and galleries offering free admission will grow. Culture lovers have a gift from the British Government, which has decreed that all National Museums will be free for everyone (they are currently so for children and seniors).

This will give you the world's fine and applied art at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. It will open doors to the dinosaurs of the Natural History Museum; great inventions at the Science Museum and the Lord Mayor's golden coach at the Museum of London - for zero pounds. The industrial heritage of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and the armour at Royal Armouries in Leeds, Yorkshire will also cost nothing: there are many more.

The National Museums and Galleries of both Scotland and Wales already offer free admission.

Art lovers are spoilt for choice in Britain. Tate Modern caused a big stir in the art world when it opened in 2000. This old power station on the banks of the Thames attracted a massive five million visitors in its first year – the enormous galleries hold the best of modern and contemporary art (Rothko, Picasso, Dali, Hockney, Whiteread and more). Along with its sister galleries - Tate Britain (the original London one), Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives – it’s free.

So what's new for lovers of British culture? In London, the Victoria and Albert Museum opens its spectacular new British Galleries in November, revealing furniture, textiles, dress, ceramics, paintings and sculpture, from the time of Henry VIII to Queen Victoria. The work of Robert Adam, William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh is on display in period rooms, compete with the latest technology.

The Museum of London opens its World City Gallery in December, a look at phenomenal changes and growth that took place in the city during the 19th century, complete with reconstructed shop fronts city streets of the period.

In north-west England, Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery reopens in February 2002, with a bright new look – and an exhibition of paintings by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney follows in May.

Two major galleries open in March, 2002. In north-east England, a massive former flour-mill has been transformed into the Baltic Centre, set to become a focus for contemporary art and artists alike, at Gateshead near Newcastle upon Tyne. In another city popular with visitors, Manchester, the City Art Gallery reopens after a £25 million refurbishment. Doubled in size, it even includes a 'theatre for decorative arts'. You've guessed, admission to both attractions will be free.

Just walking down a London street can be a fashion show, but for dedicated followers, the Zandra Rhodes Fashion & Textile Museum will open in Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge, early in 2002. The extrovert designer will display fashions by fellow designers from the 1950s to the present (admission charge).

Of course there's much more to Britain than museums. Here are a few other tips for those keeping a close eye on their holiday spending.

Everyone knows about Britain’s friendly pubs – but search out chains like Wetherspoons (more than 500 pubs) where you can buy two main course meals for as little as £5.99.

One of the least expensive ways to stay in Britain is in a 'YHA' Youth Hostel – they’re found all over the country (including London and other cities). Hostels are open to all – young and not-so-young, hikers and business people, and en-suite rooms are the norm these days.

As for travelling around, the National Express Tourist Trail Pass, introduced in 2001, offers good value access to the routes operated by Britain's biggest scheduled bus operator. In London, travel all day on those big red buses with a one-day bus pass, just £2. (The top deck of routes such as the number 11 offer a great do-it-yourself sightseeing tour!)

For entertainment, most big cities have a calendar of free carnivals or summer entertainment. In the capital, the Royal Festival Hall's annual 'Summer on the South Bank' event provides six weeks of free concerts and other performances (mid July - late August). All year round, you can pick up a genuine theatre ticket for half price (for performance on the day of purchase only) at the TKTS booth - formerly the Half Price Ticket Booth - in Leicester Square.