Cheap Thrills in a Notoriously Expensive City

Gloomy skies don't stand in the way of London's many cheap pleasures.

LONDON, Oct. 23, 2008— -- Think of London and it's highly unlikely you'll think cheap.

For years, the British capital has consistently topped the lists of the world's most expensive cities and the influx of foreign wealth has helped make the city a billionaire's playground.

But now, with a recession looming, the hardiest of Londoners are often found moaning about the price of, well, just about everything.

But all is not lost. If you want to keep up with your beauty or fitness regimens, there are some options that won't have you digging too deep into your pockets.

There are some luxuries to be had on the cheap in London that will leave you feeling less of a pauper and more of prince -- or princess -- in no time.

So, what is the best way to de-stress from the credit-crunch blues? Luckily, London has a few hidden gems that won't have you breaking the bank for a little indulgence.

Among them are the Turkish baths. Back in the 19th century, London was filled with Turkish baths. Male bonding and a predilection for the exotic drew Victorian men by the hordes for a thorough detox and rubdown in Oriental surroundings.

These days, hardly any Turkish baths of that age remain. But one of the most notable examples is the Porchester Baths. Tucked away in a quiet corner of central London, this art-deco public bath is one of the best ways to enjoy the full benefits of a heavenly steam and massage without costing you the earth.

For $40 you can wile away the hours in the various steam and sauna rooms and, for an extra cost, help yourself to one of the treatments on offer, such as a Moroccan body scrub or a full-body massage.

The week is split into men- or women-only days with Sunday afternoon offering mixed sessions as well as a full-on platza oak-leaf massage.

If you need to fight the flab and can't face the expense of joining a gym, London has parks and glorious walks to take in the city while getting fit.

From open heaths to royal parks and, of course, not forgetting romantic riverside walks, there are more than enough options to walk or jog your way to fitness.

Cycle paths have sprung up all over town, making it a safer place to ride your bicycle. If you're after a swim then both Hampstead Heath and Hyde Park have natural ponds that you can take a dip in during the warmer months (or, if you're brave, in the colder ones as well). Prices range from $4 to $8, depending on what time of year you go.

Upping the ante, there are more risque ways of getting fit for free.

Poledancing for Beginners

The London Academy of Poledancing offers free initial lessons at the Waldorf Hotel in Central London for those who want to gyrate their way to a taut body. You can burn up to 400 calories per session and, needless to say, it may do wonders for your dance-floor repertoire.

Cut-price haircuts, facials and manicures are always highly sought after. Internationally renowned hairdressing salons such as Vidal Sassoon offer $8 haircuts on their student practice nights.

The London Esthetique Student Salon and the London College of Beauty Therapy also offer bargain beauty delights -– for $30 you can get a 1½ hour full aromatherapy massage or choose from a number of other treatments such as a body lift or cellulite therapy.

With this many options devoted to the body, it's important to remember that London is also a perfect city to refine the mind.

Many museums and galleries are free. The world-famous Egyptian gallery at the British Museum draws many crowds that come to witness the mummies on display. The National Gallery, a haven for art lovers, charges no admission fee to view its permanent collection so you can take in the nudes across the ages and brush up on your Monet for no money.

With this much indulgence offered, London has something to suit every budget.

The economy may be going to rot and the weather may be gloomy but it's no excuse not to appreciate what's on the cheap in the capital. Just don't forget your umbrella.

Things to do in London on a budget

Porchester Baths:

London Academy of Poledancing:

Vidal Sassoon:

London Esthetique Student Salon:

London College of Beauty Therapy:

The British Museum:

The National Gallery, London: