Ex-Pat Yankee's Guide to London on a Budget

With cheaper flights and fun events, September is an ideal time for a weekend getaway
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Forget the terrible exchange rate and tired jokes about the food.

September is one of the best times for a getaway to London.

As an ex-pat American living in London, I wince at paying the British pound equivalent of nearly $5 for a Starbucks latte and close to $8 for a single ride on the subway.

But there are ways to beat the steep prices and have a brilliant time in London.

Plenty of fascinating events take place in September. And the weather forecasters say we're in for an Indian summer this year. This means nice weather minus the maddening summer crowds.

September is also one the cheapest times to fly to London. It's the so-called shoulder season, between high and low seasons, and you can expect to pay around $520 for a round-trip ticket, compared with upward of $1,000 for high-season summer travel.

So after you sort out the airfare, it's time to map out your plans.

Here are some picks:

How to Save Money

Let's face it, the exchange rate is painful right now. So anything that can be done to shave costs is welcome.

A one-stop shop for discounts is

LondonTown.com. You'll find dinner and theater deals, as well as sightseeing passes. Cut your travel costs by purchasing a Travelcard for the London underground -- and avoid black cabs at all cost. Buy a Travelcard

here. A three-day pass is about $40.

No doubt, eating three meals a day in restaurants can do serious damage to your bank account. But you don't have get gouged each time you gorge.

During the day, stick with chain sandwich shops such as Eat and

Pret-A-Manger and sushi-on-the go outlet

Wasabi for cheap and tasty meals. All three places have locations all over the city.

For dinner, head to one of my favorite streets in town: Charlotte Street. This area is absolutely chock-a-block with quirky, cool little restaurants. At the Brazilian restaurant Boteco Carioca (93 Charlotte Street, 020 7637 0050), sling back the mojitos and tuck into the feijoada, a hearty stew.

Sophie's Steakhouse in South Kensington is also a good bet for well-priced, solid brasserie fare. (Warning: The steak sauce is highly addictive.) Check out

Top Table for restaurant deals as well

Where to Eat

When you're not counting calories, here are a few restaurants to try out.

Any visitor to London should take in that great British tradition, the Sunday roast. If you want to indulge in meat and all the trimmings, try

Roast. This sleek, airy restaurant is at Borough Market, East London's foodie mecca.

All its dishes are seasonal and fresh, and September is game season. Try the stuffed squash with field mushrooms, lentils and spiced breadcrumbs (about $25) for a starter, before tucking into Spatchcocked partridge served with pine nuts and rosemary (about $40). Keep in mind, though, that Roast does not serve Sunday dinner.

The other great British tradition is fish and chips.

You can buy a greasy plate of fried fish and chips from any corner chip shop (known as a chippie), but for a nicer take on it, book a table at

Geales. This high-end chippie in Notting Hill offers fried cod, sole and haddock from Cornwall, and there's also a champagne bar. Expect to pay about $18 for a main course.

And for a twist on afternoon tea, try

The Berkeley hotel's swanky Prêt-a-Portea. The cakes and savories are all inspired by catwalk fashions, such as a Marc Jacobs pale mint green chocolate slice, and a Valentino bright yellow mousse.

An all-new range will be unveiled for the autumn, and The Berkeley's pastry chefs will visit London fashion week shows to get their inspiration. In addition to your tea, wash it all down with a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne. Prêt-a-Portea is around $95 per person and is served on Paul Smith-designed china.

What to See

Head to the

British Museum for "The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army" exhibition which opens on Sept. 13. Thousands of terracotta soldiers were buried with the Emperor of Qin in 209, and the life-sized soldiers were only discovered in 1974. The British Museum exhibit will be the largest collection of the soldiers ever loaned abroad. Visitors can see around a dozen terracotta warrior figures of different ranks, and each one has a completely unique face. Tickets are about $25.

OK, so you haven't been invited to have tea with the queen. The next best option for getting inside

Buckingham Palace is to buy a $30 ticket to view the State Rooms.

The rooms are only open for a few months each summer; this year's dates run through Sept. 28. You'll see the

royal art collection, which is full of Rembrandts and Rubens, and tour the rooms still used by the royal family to entertain guests.

My favorite part of the tour was a special exhibit in honor of Queen Elizabeth's 60th wedding anniversary. The queen's dress is on display, as well as her magnificent jewelry and tiny, tiny slippers.

Here's your chance to find out what goes on behind the doors of London's most famous buildings.

Open House Weekend lasts from Sept. 15 to 16, and is the one chance of the year where the public can tour iconic buildings such as The Gherkin, the Foreign Office, the Bank of England and the BBC World Service. Best of all, the event is free.

Fashionistas, mark your calendars and get the credit cards ready. London Fashion Weekend takes place Sept. 26 to 30 and is at the Natural History Museum. This is your chance to pick up clothing from Allegra Hicks, shoe diva Beatrix Ong and suit maker Daks at greatly reduced prices. There will also be a catwalk show, a nail bar and makeovers on offer. Tickets are about $31 and can be booked

here.

Design aficionados should plan their visit to coincide with the

London Design Festival, Sept. 15 to 25.

All over the city, you'll find more than 200 shows, talks and conferences all focused on design. The Chelsea Design Centre will showcase products from 120 prestigious interior brands that will be shown for the first time, Armani Casa will unveil its new kitchen, while around the city, talks will be held on topics such as how art influences cities.

Where to Stay

London isn't short on fabulous places to stay. But if you'd rather spend your money eating and drinking, book a room at the cheap and chic

Base2Stay. The design ethos is part boutique hotel and part serviced apartment. Rates start at about $200 per night for a stylish double room with a mini-kitchen. In lieu of an in-house restaurant, the hotel provides guests with a list of restaurants that deliver to base2stay.

The newest and coolest hotel in town is

The Haymarket, in the theater district. There are 50 individually designed rooms in eye-popping colors, and the hotel also has a gym and a pool (a rarity in London). The in-house restaurant, Brumus, is named after the owner's dog. Double rates start at around $490.

If you want a taste of English eccentricity, head to

Miller's Hotel . The owner, Martin Miller, is a former antiques dealer turned brewer (he makes Miller's Gin). His hotel is crammed with antiques and the eight bedrooms are named after Romantic poets. The look is charming and just a bit kooky. Rates for a double start at around $300.

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Christina Valhouli is the London-based editor of

iTravel iShop. She has also written for The New York Times, Forbes.com, Town & Country and Fodor's.