Travel: You'll never tire of London... but you can do it on the cheap
Anyone who is tired of London is tired of life, said Samuel Johnson, but that doesn't make visiting it any cheaper. Indeed, London is rated as one of the most expensive cities in the world - but it is possible to make an affordable visit. Tom Kelly is our tour guide...
CHARLES Dickens was a wonderful author. Many of his magnificent stories centre on Victorian London. Dickens loved detail in all its squalid and seedy splendour.
However, he wouldn't have endeared himself to the London Tourist Board with the following: "London is shabby by daylight and even shabbier by gaslight. Old iron and fried fish, cough drops and artificial flowers, boiled pigs feet and household furniture that looks as if it was polished with lip salve."
As a one-time resident, frequent visitor and writer I don't share the dim Dickensian view of London.
To me, it's an amazing, vibrant and ever-changing city, a place where the peoples of the world converge and come together to blend in with the diverse and multicultural vitality of this great metropolitan melting pot.
Whatever one seeks as a visitor to London one will find. The spectacular and the seedy. The historical and the quirky. A city enriched by theatres. A unique skyline of spires, turrets and glass citadels. Full of hidden secrets and gory reminders of darker days.
London is also a global gastronomical fusion of traditional British classic food to the exotic delicacies of the Indian subcontinent and beyond - jellied eels and suet puddings to wagyu beef and duck tongue.
"In London," said Paddington Bear, "everyone is different and that means anyone can fit in."
So what about visiting London?
This year I made two recreational trips - the first involved dining 100ft in the sky. It was an amazing five-star experience with fine wines, finer porcelain and quality food. But the food was not the main show, it was the incredible views of the London skyline.
As an aerial experience it was much cheaper than a helicopter ride or hot air balloon. And it was certainly more comfortable than walking on the roof of the Millennium Dome, or The O2 as it is now known.
My second trip involved trying to minimise my spend. London is rated the fourth most expensive city in the world which could put off visitors struggling with a cost of living crisis.
All that said, it is possible to do London on the cheap as I discovered.
First of all, where to stay. Choose a hotel wisely. Two hotel chains I use for short (two or three days) stays in London are Hub by Premier Inn or the Z Hotels. The latter is my preference.
Both hotels have rooms which are smaller than an average city hotel. On the plus side, they are modern, tech smart and utilitarian. As for value and cleanliness, they certainly beat the plethora of cheap and nasty budget hotels in the Paddington and Bayswater areas. Storage is slightly better in Hub by Premier Inn.
The real attraction of both Z and Hub accommodations is that they are strategically located close by Tube stations, and in a large city such as London convenience is key. Functional and basic yes, but what else do you require from hotels during a short stay?
The Tube is still by far the best way to get around London and, if you avoid the rush hours, it's both cheap and efficient. The new Elizabeth Line is a huge boost for travellers to London and for reaching other destinations. A day or three-day travel pass is economical.
So what can you do in London for free? Well, actually quite a lot.
London has some amazing parks. Great for walking, exercising or for simply taking in the fresh air whist feeding the ducks. Dickens said, "Parks be the lungs of London", and that remains true.
Hyde Park is my favourite and within it is Speakers' Corner. Close to the site of the old Tyburn Gallows which operated for nearly 600 years; the tradition of allowing prisoners a valedictory is now extended to the public at Speakers' Corner every Sunday.
They can - and do - speak on every subject under the sun. It's a highly entertaining way of passing a Sunday morning. Other parks worth a visit are Regent's Park, the Serpentine, Hampstead Heath and Kensington Gardens.
Markets are a great way to pass time and also be entertained. The most impressive is Covent Garden where as well as market stalls there is array of street entertainers who change on the hour. Or for the more upmarket amongst Irish News readers, chamber musicians play inside the market colonnade.
Among my own favourites are the gourmands' choice at Borough, just south of Westminster, and the colourful Brick Lane, with its stalls and bountiful curry houses.
The largest market of all is in Camden, with a staggering 1,000 stalls and retail units. Portobello is well worth a visit but it is very touristy and expensive.
And if you have demanding children in tow, then there is more than enough to entertain and distract idle teenage minds with London's amazing museums, many of which are free.
The notion of museum visits may set alarm bells off in rebellious youth but most museums are highly interactive spaces where it's the adults who will be more bewildered by the technology.
It would be impossible to do justice to all museums in London during a short visit.
The Natural History Museum is must-do. Everyone loves dinosaurs and whales. The NHM has over 20 galleries.
Nor is the Victoria and Albert (the V&A) to be missed. Its collections are huge and a family could pass a whole day there.
The British Museum details the fascinating history of Britain throughout the ages and is also home to more than a few controversial collections such as the now infamous Elgin Marbles. Brain-boxes will love the Science Museum. These venues are all in close proximity.
The little boy in this adult writer loves the Imperial War Museum which is further out than the others but is well worth a visit.
The museum records the history of Britain at war with extensive artefacts, weapons and memorabilia from the two World Wars and other conflicts, including Northern Ireland.
Tower Bridge and, of course, Westminster are both worth a visit; as William Wordsworth wrote: "Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty: this City now doth like a garment wear. The beauty of the morning: silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, threaders and temples lie."
And all there to discover at your leisure...