Enjoy London for Less: Introducing Bespoke Offers and Beat My Price

 

londonforless

I’ve written a lot in the past about making the most of living in London. This is a city full of amazing attractions, restaurants, and things to do. The only downside is that all this doesn’t come cheap…unless you know where to look.

Introducing: Bespoke Offers

Bespoke Offers is a new service that is one-part daily deal site, one-part personal shopping site.

For those of us who live in London, Bespoke Offers has lots and lots of deals to help us really get the most out of living in this great city. You could save on everything from fitness classes and haircuts, to walking tours, spas days, and meals for two at one of any number of fabulous restaurants.

Bespoke Offers

With my boyfriend’s birthday around the corner, I personally have my eye on the Marco Pierre White three-course dining experience and cocktail for two. At £49, we can enjoy a special night out for essentially the same price as dinner and a drinks at a regular chain restaurant.

Beat my Price

My favourite part of Bespoke Offers is its handy Beat My Price feature, which essential acts as your very own personal digital shopping assistant.

Bespoke Offers - Beat my Price

All you have to do is find a product you like from a major retailer (e.g. John Lewis, Amazon, Argos, etc.) and insert the product URL into the field provided. Through a bit of magic and digital wizardry, Bespoke Offers will search high and wide for a better deal and e-mail you within 48 with a better offer.

I happen to be on the hunt for a new camera, so I went ahead and tried the service out. I went on Amazon and found the model I’ve had my eye on – a Panasonic Lumix GF6.

Bespoke Offers Beat my Price

A few hours after I put in the Beat My Price request, Bespoke Offers found a better deal online for me:

Bespoke Offers

How easy was that? Shaving a few percent here and there off larger purchases really adds up. You can use Beat My Price for pretty much any item available at a big box retailer – from common household items to electronics, gadgets, films, and toys.

To check it out for yourself, head to Beat My Price and Bespoke Offers here.

This post has been sponsored by Bespoke Offers, but my views are all my own. 

Welcome to Limehouse

 

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Welcome to the neighbourhood everyone! Today I want to introduce you all to Limehouse, the little section of London I’ve called home for the past two and a half years.

Straddling the line between the glossy skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and The City of London, Limehouse is a cosy community wrapped around a small basin full of canal and leisure boats.

Limehouse Basin

Limehouse Basin with Canary Wharf in the background.

Canal in Limehouse

Canal in Limehouse looking towards Canary Wharf

We Limehousians (that’s what I’m calling us) get our own little DLR station that connects us to Canary Wharf to the east, Greenwich to the south, and Tower Bridge and Bank to the west. These transport connections make the neighbourhood especially popular with finance folk (my other half included), who enjoy an easy 10-minute commute to the offices in either Canary Wharf or The City.

Among Limehouse’s many charms is its maritime heritage. The architectural aesthetic in this part of London, which extends out to the Docklands, Greenwich, and Wapping, is decidedly different from the prim and proper Victorian and Georgian town homes of West London.

In contrast to the leafy residential streets that sprung up during the height of Britain’s imperial might, Limehouse was a gritty rough and tumble area where ships docked to offload goods from far away lands. Narrow Street, a pretty thoroughfare running parallel to the River Thames, keeps much of this hearty history alive through its well preserved facades.

Narrow Street

St. Dunstans Wharf, Narrow Street

Narrow Street

Sailmaker House, Narrow Street

Limehouse Wharf, Narrow Street

Limehouse Wharf, Narrow Street

While the stevedores, sailors and opium dens (this was the site of London’s original Chinatown) are long gone, Limehouse still boasts one pub that can trace its origins back over 500 years. The Grapes, a watering hole teetering on the banks of the River Thames, is one of the city’s oldest pubs and was even mentioned in a Dickens novel. It’s front door almost entirely obscured by overflowing flower pots in summer, I’ll admit to slipping in for a weekday lunch here and there.

Limehouse, of course, isn’t without its flaws. Some would probably argue that the hodgepodge of modern apartment buildings takes away from the charm of the area. Others point to the lack of amenities in the area. Aside from The Grapes, there are only one or two other pubs in the area and very few cafes. There is only one major supermarket here, one dry cleaner, and not much else on the shopping front.

As a neighbourhood to call home, Limehouse doesn’t fit the London stereotype. It’s not as chic as Kensington, not as trendy as Camden, and not as artsy as Shoreditch. With easy transport links, water views, and quiet residential streets, Limehouse is, however, just right for me 😉

The Narrow

Gordan Ramsay’s pub ‘The Narrow’ on Narrow Street

Where to Ice Skate in London

 

Now that autumn is in full swing and the festive season is fast approaching, ice rinks are starting to pop up all around London. As someone who mainly grew up in California, I’m definitely not an expert skater but find that it’s a great way to celebrate the season and spend a chilly afternoon with friends and family.

My first attempt at ice skating in 10 years.

My first attempt at ice skating in 10 years.

If you’re looking to ice skate this autumn and winter, here are the top rinks around the city:

1. Natural History Museum Ice Rink (website)

Photo Credit: www.nhm.ac.uk

One of the prettiest in the city, the Victorian splendor of the Natural History Museum serves as a magical backdrop to this 1,000 square meter ice rink. The rink is at its most picture perfect in the evening when the sky is streaked with subtle shades of pink and decorative lights twinkle in the bare trees surrounding the museum. Advanced booking on weekends and evenings is highly recommended.

Dates: 30 October  – 04 January 10

Prices (per 40-minute session):  Adults: £12.65-£15.40, Family of Four: £36.90-£42.90, Kiddies 9 and Under: £8.80-£10.45,

Location: Natural History Museum (closest station is South Kensington)

2. Canary Wharf Ice Rink (website)

Canary Wharf residents would probably prefer that their local ice rink remained a secret. It’s as close as London gets to a true city rink a la the rink at Rockefeller Ice Rink in New York. The massive 1100 square metre rink boasts London’s only ice pathway through trees. This is where I go to get my skate on, so if you see me there, say hi!

Dates: 01 November – 28 February

Prices (per hour): Adults: £14.50, Kiddies Aged: 4-12: £9.50, Family of 4: £39.50

Location: Canary Wharf (closest station is Canary Wharf)

3. Somerset House Ice Rink with Fortnum and Mason (website)

Somerset House

This is the grandaddy of all London ice rinks. Each year, the enormous courtyard at Somerset House in Central London is covered in ice and it seems that everybody who’s anybody stops by to skate for a few hours. The cool thing about this ice rink is that you can enjoy champagne and chocolate with your trip. On Tuesdays they also play traditional Christmas music and serve yuletide treats.

Dates: 11 November – 11 January

Prices: Adults: £12.25 – £14.55, Kiddies Aged 12 and Under: £8.80, Students: £10.05

Location: Somerset House (closest stations are Temple and Covent Garden)

4. Ice Rink at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (website)

Winter Wonderland

For those that have never been, Winter Wonderland is a traditional German Christmas Market, carnival, and circus all rolled into one. The ice rink here is set around a Victorian bandstand and is decorated with a canopy consisting of over 100,000 lights, making it one of the more romantic rinks in the city (take note, fellas).

Dates: 21 November – 04 January

Prices: 14.50/Peak Adult, 10.50/Off-Peak Adult, 9.50/Peak 12 and under, 8.50/Off-Peak 12 and under, 13.50/Peak Concessions, 9.50/Off-Peak Concessions, 38.00/Peak Family of 4, 34.00/Off-Peak Family of 4

Location: Hyde Park (closest stations are Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Lancaster Gate, and Marble Arch)

5. Eyeskate at the London Eye (website)

This is the closest rink to Southbank, which hosts what is arguably the best German-style Christmas Market in the city. It also happens to be the most affordable, though skate sessions are 45-minutes as opposed to 1-hour. This rink lacks the atmosphere of the other rinks but will do in a pinch.

Dates: 15 November – 04 January

Prices: Adults: £12.50, Kiddies Aged 4-15: £9.50, Family of 4: 39.50 — Discounts available is purchased online

Location: London Eye (closest station is Waterloo)

6. Winterville at Victoria Park

A new winter attraction in East London, Winterville with boast a 600 square metre rink and locals can skate here for a bargain. Located in beautiful Victoria Park, this rink is a great addition to the list.

Dates: 02 December – 31 December

Prices: Adults: £12, Teens Aged 13-15: £10.50, Kiddos: £8.50, Locals: £5

Locations: Victoria Park (closest stations are Mile End, Bethnal Green, Bow Road, and Bow Church)

Where to Meet New People in London

 

Of all the questions I get from would-be Londoners via e-mail and Facebook, the most common is how to meet new people once you make the leap to the UK capital. London can be an intimidating place, especially if you’re moving here alone. There are going to be lots of concerns swirling around your head as you contemplate moving to London, but let me assure you that meeting new people is not something you need to worry about.

London, as it turns out, is not nearly as unfriendly as it seems.

Before moving on, I’m going to tell you something about myself – I’m very shy by nature, and at times, almost cripplingly so. Given my personality, the prospect of meeting new people is terrifying, but London has helped me start to break out of my shell.

You see, these days there are so many different ways to get to know people that you don’t need to be a social butterfly to settle down in London.

Work

Your office is going to be the best place to start meeting people when you move to London. I mean, you’re stuck in a room with these people for 40 hours a week and you all have at least one thing in common :)

Meetup

If work isn’t cutting it, head to meetup.com. This is a place where people with common interests setup events and meetings throughout the city. That’s not really a great way to explain it, so I suggest you go check out the website. Weather you’re into photography, knitting, or just want to connect with other expats, there is a meetup for you.

Classes

If you’re studying abroad in London, you have your very own built-in network at your fingertips (lucky you!). For those of use old timers who are out of school, we can still take classes! They don’t need to be university-level courses, of course (I don’t think my brain could cope with that anymore), but why not take a language class? Or a yoga class? Go to Groupon or Living Social and find a discounted fitness course. Head on over and meet new people.

Use Your Existing Network

Now that we’re 10 years into Facebook and all that social media stuff, you’re bound to have a friend of a friend (of a friend) that lives in or around London. Reach out to your network. Get in touch.

Get a Roomie

Regardless of how much you’ll be earning, I suggest living in a flatshare when you first move to London (assuming you’re moving here alone). Head over to a speed flatmating event and buddy up with one or two people you click with, and get a flat! You never know, you could soon become the 21st-century London incarnation of Rachael and Monica from Friends.

Planning a train trip from London? Book in advance and save A LOT of money

 

I just came across this really eye-opening infographic on train fares from London to other popular cities across the UK. It really highlights how much you can save on train tickets if you plan advance . . . at least 10 weeks in advance to be exact. I’ll be honest, until I saw this I had NO IDEA train fares fluctuating like this. I do know that from now on I’ll be booking all my train journeys well ahead of time.

trainfares600px-2

Infographic Credit: VoucherCloud

5 Little Things No One Tells You About Living in London

 

1. Shops Don’t Open Until Noon on Sundays

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This is pretty common across Europe, but just a teensy bit annoying to those of us coming from the other side of the pond where it seems like everything is open all the time. As a general rule, if you plan on doing any Sunday shopping, double check opening times of your favourite shops. Chances are they won’t open until around noon. Some open at 11:30 for ‘browsing hours’, but you won’t be able to purchase anything until 12:00. Stores also tend to close earlier on Sundays, typically around 6pm.

2. Dryers and Dishwashers are a Rare Find in Flats

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Unless you’re looking at flats built or remodelled in the past 10 years, you’ll be hard pressed to find a place that comes with a clothes dryer or dishwasher. On rare occasions you’ll encounter the elusive washer/dryer combination. While this sounds like an excellent idea and a great space saver, I’ll tell you from experience that combination washer-dryers tend to be awful at drying. So if you’re preparing to move to London, get ready to learn the fine art of hanging your clothes if you’re not used to it already.

3. You Bag Your Own Groceries

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Seems silly, but this is the kind of little thing so one tells you when you first move to London. Not only do cashiers sit down (why are they forced to stand in the US?), but there’s no one on the other end of the conveyer belt to bag your groceries. In London that your job as a customer.

4. There are ID Checks and Purchase Quantity Limits for the Strangest Items
Would you like to buy a set of fancy butter knives? Get ready to whip out your ID. Need to stock up on a few dozen ibuprofens for your medicine cabinet? No can do. England has some pretty interesting rules when it comes to buying seemingly harmless items. The first spring I lived in London I went to Boots to buy several 14-pill packs of over-the-counter allergy medication and when I got to the register I was told that customers were only allowed to purchase two 14-pill packs at a time. I ran into the same issue when trying to buy ibuprofen.

5. The TFL Controls Your Life (Especially on Weekends)

Anyone who’s been to London knows the virtues of public transportation. The Tube is great. It eliminates the need for Londoners to drive cars and grants you access to most of the city’s nooks and crannies . . . except on the weekends. Each weekend parts of the London Underground Network are shut down for something called ‘planned engineering works’. The TFL (Transport for London)  releases their planned engineering works schedule every Thursday (you can get on their email list to receive updates). If you miss it, you could have your weekend plans ruined by running into sections of lines that are shut down. Bummer.