Affordable Activities in Dublin

So, I’m not claiming that Dan and I are Dublin experts, but we did spend 6 days in Dublin searching the nooks and crannies for affordable things to do.

The very first thing we did in Dublin was FREE. We actually came to Dublin to support my friend Sarah and her sister C.J. while they ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin half marathon.

That's Sarah in the middle. Go Sarah, go!

That’s Sarah in the middle of the picture, at the start of the race. Go Sarah, go!

Sarah is actually planning on running another half marathon right around Halloween this year to benefit the ASPCA! What a do-gooder! Help her out by supporting her and and the ASPCA HERE.

While they exerted themselves, we walked around a very quiet Dublin as this was relatively early on a bank holiday.

We went to St. Stevens Green which was right next to the race start, and like all of the parks in Dublin, free. We had breakfast while watching the birds.

This cutie sat next to us at St. Stevens Green. Looking for a snack, perhaps?

This cutie sat next to us at St. Stevens Green. Looking for a snack, perhaps?

According to our AirBnB hosts, Claudia and Kevin, Phoenix Park in Dublin has lots of cool animals to see including rabbits and deer! We didn’t have time to go check, but it is free and the biggest city park in Europe, so maybe you can go check for us. Also, while you are there you can go to the free Irish Museum of Modern Art, right nearby. We obviously didn’t get their either, but if we had had one more day, we would have gone to Phoenix Park and the art museum.

Now on to cheap and free things in Dublin that we actually did do. My number one recommendation would be Dublin Castle.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Don’t get over-excited, it isn’t really a castle. Well, it was at one point in history, but most of the castle part is now gone. It is, however, an extremely historic and important site in Irish history (and present). Every Irish president since the state became independent has been sworn in here.

Where every Irish President gets sworn in.

Where every Irish President gets sworn in.

Our guide was great. He answered all of my inane historical questions and entertained the group. The cost of the hour or so long tour of Dublin Castle is 4.50 Euros. Honestly, I was really under-informed about Ireland when I got to Dublin. This tour on my second day there helped me feel a little more knowledgeable and informed.

Two free things to do in the main tourist area in Dublin (at or right near Trinity College) are the Science Gallery, and the National Gallery of Ireland. There is currently an exhibit about illusion at the Science Gallery which was fun, and it’s free so you really have nothing to lose be spending some time there. The National Gallery had some lovely paintings by Irish painters, but it wasn’t my favorite national gallery ever. I did appreciate that it was well organized, though, and small enough that you didn’t feel guilty for only spending an hour there.

Also, all of the National Museums of Ireland (3 of the 4 are in Dublin) are free!

Finally, Dublin is home to many churches. Let me help you navigate which are worth the cost and which aren’t (in my opinion, obviously). Dublin’s two most famous churches are St. Patrick’s Catherdral and Christ Church Cathedral. St. Patrick’s is 5.50 Euros and Christ Church is 6 Euros. We reviewed the reviews on Trip Advisor (since I can see those without internet access. Again, I highly recommend the Trip Advisor app!) and took a peak into each church and decided that the church we were going to pay for was Christ Church. They both have fabulous history (and you can get into both for free for services), but Christ Church has a crypt full of cool things (and a cafe in the crypt. What??).

Christ Church interior

Christ Church interior

But then, as we were walking down the street from Christ Church, we spotted another church which looked mighty old. We walked down the steps of St. Audoen’s Church just to see what the deal was and it turns out it is run by the state and free to get into and view.

St. Audoen's Church

St. Audoen’s Church

We just walked around and read some of the info ourselves (we had had a long day at that point. I believe I told Dan that I was all read-out at some point), but apparently the staff will tour you for free if you ask. It really is a beautiful and interesting place.

St. Audoen's from the inside - kind of...

St. Audoen’s from the inside – kind of…

So, those are my recommendations. I’m sure I only touched on a few of the affordable things to do in Dublin (for instance, there is a ton of free outdoor stuff happening in the summertime in Dublin, plus it stays light out until after 9pm!), but I just wanted to give you a glimpse into the activities we chose to do on our limited budget. Did we miss anything big that you, dear reader, would recommend to future budget visitors?

The Big London Vegan Food Post, #3

Dan and I have been in Dublin now for 4 days, but we still haven’t finished our write ups about London! Traveling is so time consuming! This will officially be our last London food post.

If you missed parts #1 and #2, feel free to review before reading part #3 below!

We had heard good things about 222 Veggie Vegan from a few people so we trudged all the way out to West Kensington to try the vegan buffet for ourselves. They proclaim themselves as London’s favorite vegan restaurant. Well, Dan and I can definitely confirm that they are London’s best vegan food deal. Lunch is an all-you-can-eat buffet for 7.50 GBP.

222 Veggie Vegan

222 Veggie Vegan

222 Veggie Vegan buffet

Molly sampling the 222 Veggie Vegan buffet

222 Veggie Vegan - my first plate

222 Veggie Vegan – Molly’s first plate

Dan and I each had two big plates! So good and such a nice diversity of dishes. Our favorites included this bread/vegan quiche dish that tasted so good, the lentil loaf with baked tomato on top, the greens with cashews, and many others! So much food! Worth the trek, for sure.

The next day we headed to London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant for a late lunch. Food for Thought has been in the exact same spot in Covent Garden for over 40 years. The neighborhood is now super fancy. It was actually really amusing to see this old school, hippy-type veggie place on the same block as some fancy clothing stores! We headed downstairs to the eat in area and got to sample two delicious vegan mains, which come with a plethora of salads on the side. See the pictures below!

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Food for Thought - Malaysian curry

Food for Thought – Malaysian curry

Food for Thought - chana masala

Food for Thought – chana masala

That Malaysian Curry, you guys… So good. And the price isn’t too bad. For the main dish and all those sides it is 8.40 GBP for each one.

On Saturday we headed to Portobello Market to experience that madness. And madness it was. Packed with people. Tourists, mostly. But there were some nice surprises awaiting us.

Vegan churros!

Vegan churros!

That’s right! Once you fight your way past the antiques (and who really cares about those anyway), you get to the food portion of the market. We were walking the stalls and I saw a sign for vegan churros! The chocolate sauce they offered was not vegan, but sans chocolate sauce, they were delectably vegan. They were not, however, cheap. That cup of about 12 small churros was 3.50 GBP, or about $5.25. A terrible deal, but VEGAN CHURROS! Besides, we already knew where we were going to lunch and we knew it would be cheap and plentiful so we indulged.

The Grain Shop - super cheap for tons of food

The Grain Shop – super cheap for tons of food

It may be hard to tell from the picture above, but The Grain Shop really fills that container! This is a large container which Dan and I shared for lunch. The Grain Shop only does take-away, so we had to search for a park to eat in, but I believe that overflowing container (if you get it without the lid they will just stuff as much in there as possible) costs 5.50 GBP. Not all of the options are vegan, but they will happily tell you which ones are and then stuff your box with whichever you fancy. I will admit the food wasn’t the most flavorful, but it was filling and pretty healthy. Oh yeah, and affordable!

Dan and I made it to inSpiral Lounge twice for food and once for drinks while we were in London. It’s in a nice location, right across Regents Canal from the Camden Lock Market (which is where Cookies and Scream is located.)

inSpiral Lounge

inSpiral Lounge

InSpiral Lounge has all the trappings of the perfect place to hang out. Free wifi, vegan meals, snacks, homemade kale chips (with plentiful free samples), drinks, and a view. Below is the food we ate in our trips to inSpiral, not including the raw cheesecake I had, and the beverages we had with a friend there that went unphotographed (bad blogger!)

inSpiral Lounge - delicious vegan pastries

inSpiral Lounge – delicious vegan pastries

inSpiral Lounge - vegan spanakopita

inSpiral Lounge – vegan spanakopita

 

inSpiral Lounge full vegan English breakfast!

inSpiral Lounge – full vegan English breakfast!

So, that is my final roundup of all of our vegan eats in London. It is possible to eat tasty vegan food in London and not break the bank. You simply just have to limit your meals out. We have really saved the budget by cooking dinners and eating breakfast and dinner in every day instead of at restaurants. Lunch is generally cheaper at restaurants than dinner as well. But I have been happy to be able to support vegan places as well and enjoy the tasty food! It’s all about balance, no? Until next time!

London Eye Alternatives: Tower Bridge and ‘The Monument’

If you have ever visited (or have considered visiting) London, you have likely heard of the London Eye. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine a well-funded science project including a 27-story bicycle wheel with a line longer and more aggravating than LA freeway traffic. Or just look at the picture below.

London Eye

London Eye on a cloudy day 

It is beautiful to see the view of London from the top but the cost of £19.20 (about $30 US dollars – or a dollar a minute) may be too much for some.  Thankfully there are a number of alternatives that give you a similar experience with fewer tour groups.

Enter: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

“The Monument” is the tallest free-standing column in the world.  This was enough of a draw for me and the gorgeous 360° view of the city was simply a bonus.

Buyer beware: there is no elevator. You will need to walk up the series of 311 stairs pictured below. It’s not so bad.  There are periodic windows along the way which make the trip slightly more interesting than the stairwell experience of your friends’ Manhattan walk-up apartment.

The Monument, Stairs

Molly climbing ‘The Monument’ stairs

When you do make it you should expect to see views similar to those pictures below.

** London skyline spoiler alert**

View from The Monument, "Walkie Talkie Building" under construction

View from The Monument, “Walkie Talkie Building” under construction

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Overall, The Monument is a unique experience which many tourists seem to be blissfully unaware of.  It only costs a few dollars (Adults £3; Student £2) and you can take your time and quietly enjoy the view.  We went early in the morning and there were only between 2 and 6 other patrons at the top while we were there.  Upon our exit there was a small line beginning to form.

Our next stop was the iconic and much-ballyhooed Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge, London

The Tower Bridge Exhibition includes a couple of interesting videos on its construction.  The exhibit also highlights the evolution of bridge construction techniques over time and has information on famous bridges from around the globe.  If structural engineering and bridge history don’t interest you, perhaps the scenery will.

** Another London skyline spoiler alert**

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

While notably more crowded than The Monument, the Tower Bridge was a lovely stop for beautiful views directly over the River Thames. At only £8.00 for regular admission it is a real bargain, since you can stay for as long as you like. As an added bonus, your admission grants you access to the engine rooms to the draw bridge.

Tower Bridge engine room

Tower Bridge engine room

Is the view of the city from either The Monument or the Tower Bridge better than the London Eye? You aren’t as high up and you are substantially farther East, but you still have an excellent vantage point.  Are the lines and price much better? Absolutely.  At either location you can ask about getting a ‘joint ticket’ which will allow you to visit both sights for a discount. It is well worth it to package both sites together.  They are within a short walk of one another and will take you directly past The Tower of London as you go from one to another.  Make sure you check out All Hallows by the Tower on your way. This is the oldest church in the City of London and has a a historic crypt and a number of historical artifacts. Admission is free and you might even get to hear the organ being played.

2013 Pricing Information for Tower Bridge and The Monument

The Monument and Tower Bridge joint tickets: Adults £9; Students £6.20

Monument Only: Adults £3; Student £2

Tower Bridge Only: Adults £8.00, Students £5.60  

Picture of the Day: Stairs from within the Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Big London Vegan Food Post, #2

When we last left you all we had just experienced the wonder that is Westminster Abbey for free (by accident!). But food consumption continued to happen all around the date of our breaking and entering. We have pretty much limited ourselves to one meal out a day in order to protect the budget. Somehow this still means that we have a trillion places to post about from our time in London so this is part 2 of 3 of the London food posts.

Diwana Bhel Poori House - Thali

Diwana Bhel Poori House – Thali

Diwana Bhel Poori House - Dosa

Diwana Bhel Poori House – Dosa

The day after Amico Bio we had lunch at one of London’s many vegetarian Indian restaurants, Diwana Bhel Poori House. Unfortunately because of our super-busy day we missed the window for the lunch buffet so we had to order off of the menu. The prices were still good. The two meals above cost us a grand total of $23.15. The only problem with this meal was that a few hours later Dan’s stomach started to hurt. I felt fine. I fixed the problem by feeding him pepto-bismol (brought from NYC in pill form) and waiting a few hours. All better.

From lunch (but before Dan’s stomach started hurting) we hopped on the tube and headed down to Brixton where Ms. Cupcake lives.

Ms. Cupcake

Ms. Cupcake

Ms. Cupcake store interior

Ms. Cupcake store interior

What an adorable storefront. We chose 4 cupcakes to take home (we were still full from lunch). I think somehow the picture of the 4 cupcakes we took home got lost, but use your imagination. We took home a banoffee (banana toffee), a chocolate split (chocolate cake with vanilla frosting), a Ferrero Rocher (exactly what its name is in cupcake form), and a strawberry-coconut. I was partial to the banoffee and strawberry-coconut, Dan loved the chocolate split, and (don’t hate us!) neither of us was very interested in the famous Ferrero Rocher cupcake. I’m not a huge chocolate person, and Dan just didn’t really like it. But Ms. Cupcake has a mouthwatering array of cupcake flavors on her website, so maybe we are just bad at choosing flavors? It is possible.

The day of the Westminster Abbey adventure we went to lunch at Tibits. Tibits is delicious. A full buffet of vegetarian goodness with everything clearly labeled.

Tibits food boat!

Tibits food boat!

Tibits - buffet including dessert

Tibits – buffet including dessert. Molly’s plate

Tibits - buffet deliciousness

Tibits – buffet deliciousness. Dan’s plate

Tibits was one of our favorite meals in London. It is in an exceptionally fancy and touristy neighborhood and the price of the meal reflected that. I think this may have been our most expensive meal in London! But it was really good. And it was the only time I got to eat sticky toffee pudding while we were in London. I’d say that it was worth it, but if you are on a tight budget definitely go at lunch (cheaper per kg) and be careful with how much you pile on that plate.

The last place I will talk about in this post is the only place we went to more than once while we were in London. And it isn’t even a vegetarian restaurant. And we happened upon it entirely accidentally. It is Scoop.

Scoop

Scoop

Scoop is a gelato store. But Scoop is special. They label all of their gelatos and sorbets with the possible allergens that they contain. So dairy and eggs are marked on all of the items that they are in. And the dairy and egg-free sorbets are vegan! There are a bunch of vegan options and they were pretty much universally delicious.

Scoop - chocolate, melon, and strawberry

Scoop – chocolate, melon, and strawberry

Scoop - chocolate, passionfruit, and melon

Scoop – chocolate, passionfruit, and melon

We also asked if their cones were vegan and we got the okay on the cones, so we indulged. Those two giant cones didn’t come cheap – 4 gbp for 3 flavors (about $6) – but they were delicious. The first time we went to Scoop it was a freak 94 degree day in London. There is probably nothing better than ice cream on a hot day and this fit the bill perfectly. And Dan gets to keep a little bit of Scoop with him throughout the rest of the journey as he dripped a bit of the chocolate flavor on his sneaker and the stain won’t come out! I guess this is one food memory that we will have with us for a while.

Come back soon for the final London food installment!

How to save about $50 at Westminster Abbey

Now, this happened to Dan and I totally by accident today, and I’m not advocating cheating religious institutions out of their entry fee, but if you are a poor budget traveler like Dan and I are this can now happen to you on purpose!

Westminster Abbey - North Entrance

Westminster Abbey – North Entrance

Dan and I weren’t planning on visiting Westminster Abbey because it costs 18 GBP (or about $27) per person. We walked by today on our way to the House of Parliament. The plan was to go get a tour of the House of Parliament instead of Westminster Abbey (It is slightly cheaper, and more towards our interests). The East Entrance of the Abbey is where people line up to pay the big bucks and get into the Abbey. Dan and I walked past that madhouse, but as we went around the corner we spied the North Entrance. Anyone can attend church services at the Abbey for free. So at the North Entrance I spoke with a guard and Dan and I made a plan to go back to the Abbey for Evensong tomorrow night. (For some reason that I do not understand, Wednesday is the only weeknight that they have a spoken evening service instead of a sung one. We wanted to hear the choir if we could.)

We headed into a little court to the west of the North Entrance. Woops, dead end. But a beautiful dead end so we wandered around a bit. Then a church employee came over and handed us a flier. Do we have perfect timing or what? Today was one of the 6 Wednesday where Westminster Abbey’s College Garden hosts free Brass on the Grass concerts. And what time did it happen to be but 5 minutes before the start of the concert. So we headed toward the secret side entrance that the employee waved us toward and tell the guard that we are going the the concert. At this point I had every intention of going to that concert. Really people! But once we were inside we realized that we had full access to the Abbey! Well, not really as they don’t let you into the Abbey itself without tickets and the area we were in was post-Abbey (but still inside the complex. Sorry, it’s complicated…). But apparently once people were out of the Abbey itself and just walking the grounds, they were leaving their tickets everywhere. So Dan and I scooped up a couple and headed in.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

A ceiling in one of the chapels

A ceiling in one of the chapels

We may not have had the hand-held audio-guides that the people who actually paid to get in had, but most of Westminster Abbey is pretty self explanatory. Plus there is just so much to look at, I don’t feel like a guide is necessary. Some of our favorite highlights were the tombs of former kings and queens dating back as far as 1000 years ago, the Poet’s Corner, and the oldest door in Britain (also from about 1000 years ago).

Stained glass

Stained glass

We spent an hour or so walking around Westminster Abbey. I simply assumed that the brass concert would be over at that point. But Dan and I decided to go see anyway. Our luck continued as the Tilbury Brass Band had a few pieces left to perform. We walked in to the College Garden while they were playing the John Williams Jurassic Park theme song. Really funny and awesome.

An interior garden

Overall, I have to say that Westminster Abbey is amazing. Awesome enough to pay some money to see. But not over $50. Even if we hadn’t been able to see the Abbey and were just able to go to the Brass on the Grass concert, it would have been a lovely and special afternoon. Our little escapade into the Abbey, though, was awesome and I recommend trying it yourself if you ever get the chance. They have a donation jar near the Abbey entrance where you can assuage your guilt at having cheated to get into a house of god. Have fun!