Londoners are getting back to business-as-usual following the tragic events of July 7th. Visitors are still flocking to the city and its many attractions after an initial 30% drop in tourist arrivals immediately following the attacks. Summer is the busiest time for tourism in London, and this one is no exception. Even with the slight drop in reservations, most hotels remain quite full and restaurants and pubs are hopping with people. With the dollar still quite weak, it's harder than ever to find a bargain in London. We've sniffed out some great last-minute deals for you and found a couple of elegant but affordable restaurants.
Most of your budget dollars in London go to the hotel. A majority of visitors are looking for a budget hotel, usually a three-star at less than £150 a night. But with the hotels so full, the budget hotels are charging their high season rates and it doesn't make them very affordable. And with a hot summer predicted in London, many of us prefer to sleep in air-conditioned comfort that only luxury hotels provide (very few budget hotels in London have air-conditioning). But the luxury hotels are expensive. What to do? Head to Canary Wharf, the most up-and-coming area in the city. Since the area is a corporate headquarters to half the media outlets and banks in the city, it offers excellent modern accommodations and elegant restaurants. Of course, in the height of summer, most everybody is on vacation and many deals are to be had. At the spanking new and refreshingly modern Marriott London West India Quay (tel. 800/228-9290; www.marriott.com), you can score a spacious air-conditioned bedroom (with floor to ceiling windows) for a mere £99 per night on summer weekends. The area around the hotel is teeming with nice pubs and restaurants that are busy for lunch but almost empty for dinner when the workers go home. In nearby Wapping, you'll find Lilly's Restaurant Bar & Grill (75 Wapping High Street,tel. 0207/702-4828) , a friendly neighborhood restaurant serving fresh, lovingly prepared dishes such as a tender lamb steak with a stew of peas and garlic or corn-fed chicken breast with red-pepper relish. Two-course lunches (with a glass of wine) will only cost you an amazing £10. A la Carte dinner specials start at £8.25 for a linguini with crab and garlic sauce. After your meal, stroll up the riverbank for spectacular views of the city.
Back in central London, there are two spectacular hotel deals this summer. The very understated but terribly chic Athenaeum Hotel & Apartments (116 Piccadilly, tel. 0207/499-3464; www.athenaeumhotel.com) overlooking Green Park is offering a pounds for dollars summer rate. A double room that normally goes for £295 is now $295 dollars (which translates to less than $150 per person). And during the month of August, a free upgrade qualifies with this rate. The Athenaeum is one of London's top luxury hotels with plush rooms (including Bang & Olufsen televisions) health club and spa, a fantastic restaurant and a whiskey bar. The hotel is located only a few minutes walk from Buckingham Palace, Mayfair and all the theaters in the West End.
London's oldest grand hotel, The Langham, (Portland Place, Regent Street, tel. 0207/636-1000; www.langhamhotels.com) is offering a guaranteed dollar rate until December 31, 2005. A double room including tax is now only $358. The rate is a special one to celebrate the hotel's 140th anniversary. The Langham is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World and first opened in 1865. It has a colorful and long history. Mark Twain loved to stay here at the turn of the 20th century and Oscar Wilde and Napoleon III have both dined here. The hotel has been undergoing extensive renovations and now has a complete Health Club and Spa available to its guests. The beautiful indoor swimming pool (located in what was once a bank vault) is perfect for doing laps. There are two bars and a grand restaurant, The Palm Court, where the infamous British High tea is served.
If you're heading out to the theater, we've found the perfect dining spot open late and offering an elegant meal for a very affordable price. Soho Spice (124 Wardour Street, Soho, tel. 0207/434-0808) opened in early 2005 in the heart of the West End and boasts a Kebab menu in addition to mild curries and home-baked naan breads. Try the Salmon tikka (marinated overnight in lemon rind and secret spices) that comes with dal, rice and naan for £10.50. Skewered Duck breast with vegetables is £11.95 and chunks of boneless lamb marinated in garlic and yogurt and grilled on an open flame will only set you back £12.95. The delicious curries are priced from £8.95 to £10.95 for a complete meal. There are affordable selections of wines -- either by the glass or bottle, in addition to a variety of Indian beers. The restaurant is open daily from noon to midnight (until 2am on Fri and Sat). There's usually a short wait between 8 and 10pm, but otherwise you should be able to score a table fast.
To get there, look to 1-800-FLYEUROPE (tel. 800/359-3876; www.1800flyeurope.com), the consolidator that's been maintaining some of the lowest fares to London and other major European cities for the past several months. Currently, the outfit is offering a base-price of $499 for round-trip flights between NYC and London good for travel through September 5, 2005. Prices from other gateways vary with flights out of Miami starting from $659 and San Francisco from $727, for example. Expect to pay an additional amount of around $200 for taxes and fees. When booking, you'll find the best fares on off-peak departures (aim for midweek and early morning flights). If you can fly later in the year, the prices drop precipitously - in some cases more than half as much as they're going for now. For the full matrix of prices and itineraries, go to www.1800flyeurope.com/summer-airfare.cfm. Also be sure to click "Special & Packages" on the site to get a rundown of FlyEurope's affordable fly-and-drive packages that allow to land in a London airport, pick up a rental car and head out into the British countryside; three days with air starts from $249 before taxes and fees for winter travel.
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