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Extensive travel and tourism guide for Britain

Steps to good value Britain

by Michael Leech

On every step of a holiday in Britain it is possible to obtain excellent value-for-money. Whether it’s accommodation, visiting attractions, travelling around or going to the theatre, there are all sorts of deals available to those in the know. Here are just a few.

Your first step: If you’re coming to London (especially if intending to travel around the country) your first stop should be the Britain and London Visitor Centre at 1 Regent Street (just south of Piccadilly Circus) which offers free advice and comprehensive booking services for the whole country. A useful place to get your bearings and some impartial travel information.

Great British Heritage: A vital new aid for visitors is the four-day Great British Heritage Pass from VisitBritain (formerly the British Tourist Authority) which gives unlimited admission to 600 historic houses, castles and gardens for four days for only £22 (or local currency equivalent). Previously available only in seven, 15-day and one-month versions – which are still available, incidentally – the new shorter duration pass makes it ideal for those coming on a short break. It is a deal so good it’s only available to visitors from overseas and will pay for itself very quickly. Among the places accepting the pass is Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Edinburgh Castle and the prehistoric monument Stonehenge. VisitBritain offices have details, or look on www.visitbritain.com/heritagepass.

Bus (coach) bargains: National Express, Britain’s main long-distance coach (bus) operator, has cut ticket prices in half for those aged 60 or over. The offer, which also applies to people registered as disabled, is available every day except Friday and summer Saturdays. Other age groups (those aged 16-25, students and the over 50s) can enjoy a 30 per cent saving by buying a Discount Coachcard, which costs £10. Website: www.nationalexpress.com.

Economic entertainment: London, of course, has a marvellous range of theatre throughout the year. Visit the ‘Tkts’ ticket booth in Leicester Square for bargain seats on the day of performance at up to half-price on a wide range of shows – but don’t expect all the big musicals to be available in this way. Both the National Theatre, on the South Bank, and the Coliseum (English National Opera) offer cut-price tickets from 10 o’clock on the morning of performances. www.tkts.co.uk.

The National Theatre has an annual summer festival of outdoor performances – all free. In 2003 it ran from mid May until August 25 and encompassed 75 varying acts at lunchtimes and evenings. Farther along the river, you can watch a Shakespeare play at the replica Globe Theatre for £5 as a ‘groundling’ – you’ll be close to the stage but don’t expect a seat for that price!

Free museums: Admission to all of Britain’s great collections, from the British Museum (250 years old in 2003), the Victoria & Albert, the Science and Natural History museums to the smaller Theatre Museum in Covent Garden – is now free. Admission is also gratis to the capital’s big art galleries: Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery among them. Outside the capital the story is the same at the National Railway Museum, York; the Burrell Collection and Glasgow’s other magnificent museums; the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Newcastle – all among the best museums of their kind and all free.

Liverpool, the fascinating port-city in North West England (to be European Capital of Culture in 2008) has modern art at the Tate Liverpool, and maritime history (including details of the slave trade and the emigrants who set sail for the New World from here) at the Merseyside Maritime Museum: both are free.

To the east, Manchester has a stylish new arts centre, the Lowry in Salford, its theatres and galleries providing a year-round schedule of special events – many of them free; and its new Imperial War Museum, housed in a landmark aluminium-clad building by Daniel Libeskind, is also free.

Accommodation: Most hotel groups have special offers when you are staying two nights or more – especially over a weekend in city hotels – ask your travel agent or check the latest deals on the Internet. Travel Inn and Travelodge are two examples of nationwide budget family hotel networks. With 300 locations, Travel Inn (starting at £45 per night for a family-sized room) offers free breakfasts for children. www.travelinn.co.uk; www.travelodge.co.uk.
Among a growing number of low-cost (but clean and friendly) backpackers’ hostels is St. Christopher’s Inns. Its latest location, in the centre of historic Bath, costs as little as £12 per night and others can be found in London, Edinburgh and coastal resorts such as Brighton and Newquay, too. www.st-christophers.co.uk.

More than 60 of Britain’s universities and colleges provide excellent budget accommodation. This is often in central locations and, thankfully, is plentiful during peak holiday periods when the students are away. Bed and breakfast costs from £14 per person per night (£20 for an en-suite room). www.venuemasters.co.uk.

Wherever your travels take you, you will find seeing the best of Britain won’t break the bank. It is just a matter of taking your first step…