“Nothing is certain in London but expense”
– William Shenstone
When it comes to sightseeing around London, William was right. A quick search of “what to do in London” is invariably followed by the gasp of shock and horror at some of the entrance prices. For visitors, a full day or two of sightseeing around the UK’s capital can easily set you back a pretty penny.
London is set to be the world’s most visited city in 2014. So we decided to try a cost saving alternative and look for a way for the cash strapped tourist to cover the best London has to offer.
Introducing the London Pass.
The London Pass comes in various formats, from a one day pass (£49) to mammoth six day option (£166) or for an extra cost, a pass that includes a daily travel card on London public transportation. There is a “cap” on how much you can see depending upon the length of your pass and everything is explained in a very thorough and well put together little handbook. For those of you who are a little more tech savvy there is also a great App for your smartphone which we used as we traversed London. Here you can check out opening times and even favourite certain landmarks as you plan your day.
The London Pass gives you access to over 60 different London attractions. They include everything from the big-ticket sights such as Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London and Kensington Palace to further flung, but equally as impressive, sights such as Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle. For sporting enthusiasts the pass also grants you access to Wimbledon, Stamford Bridge (the home of Chelsea football club) and the Emirates (home of Arsenal). Most of the attractions are free with the pass and others offer a discount rate for pass holders.
So armed with our handbook and our App we decided to see just how much we could see of London in a day and the London Pass certainly proved to be excellent value for money. We researched some of the things that should be on every visitors must see list and a couple of off the beaten path sites that appealed to us as Londoners. First on the list, Westminster Abbey.
It is embarrassing to say it, but in 12 years of using London as a base and now calling it home I had never been to Westminster Abbey. We arrived early, or so we thought and joined the queue to enter. One of the bonuses of the London Pass is not having to line up to buy tickets, only for the necessary security check. After having my bag less than thoroughly searched we just handed over our Pass and in seconds it was scanned and we were in!
To say Westminster Abbey was amazing is an understatement. The audio guide poured over the history and after leaving the church we wandered through the cloisters including seeing Britain’s oldest door! After just over an hour we had exhausted the audio guide, wandered the cloisters and it was time to move on. (Attraction value so far for N&D £18, London Pass £49).
Just around the corner from Westminster we decided to visit another attraction that was free on the London Pass and was more up my alley than Natalie’s. The Churchill or Cabinet War Rooms (£17.50) were the underground headquarters of the UK Government during WWII. Left in their original condition the museum shows the former living quarters, conference rooms and map rooms where the D-Day landings were planned and where the British planned the downfall of Nazi Germany. To be totally honest we probably could have spent a little longer there but we had a plan for the day and had to keep moving. This was just a bonus visit – something that you can easily do when you have a ‘pass’ to get you into places! (Attraction value so far for N&D £35.50, London Pass £49).
Now from the Westminster area we had two options, we could have taken a Thames River Cruise, free with the London Pass (normally £18) or Tube down to our third destination, the Tower of London. For the sake of speed and a few other things we wanted to see we chose the Tube. According to tourism statistics, 2 million people visit the Tower every year, or approximately 6,000 a day! No lining up for tickets for us it was straight to security and in we went.
The Tower was packed, school groups galore and every nationality you could imagine (and lots of Australians!). Despite the crowds, there is plenty of space to explore and the only thing we had to line up for was the Crown Jewels. With plenty to see the Tower easily ate up the majority of our time, but luckily enough our next site was only a stone’s throw away. (Attraction value so far for N&D £55.50, London Pass £49).
Natalie has always raved about the Tower Bridge Experience, so we thought why not take this opportunity to visit the top of one of the most iconic bridges in the World. Sadly only part of the bridge is open to the public until the end of the month as the other half (with the best views of London’s skyline) undergoes a facelift and new glass-bottomed floor (you heard it here first). That being said it was a great little visit and certainly complements the Tower. Best of all even when the second walkway is reopened it does not take a long time to visit, so a great inclusion on your pass. (Attraction value so far for N&D £62.50, London Pass £49).
So from the banks of the Thames we decided to finish our day up at the Olympic Park, bur first we made a brief stop at the Monument to the Great Fire of London. After a lung busting 311 steps to the top we were greeted with an amazing vista of…. Cranes! Nestled in the heart of the City of London the view from the Monument dating back to 1677 showed us just how much construction was taking place across the capital. (Attraction value so far for N&D £66.50, London Pass £49). A short walk to Bank and it was a chance to get off our feet as we Tubed away from the city centre.
The Orbit is the UK’s largest sculpture and during the 2012 Olympics it was virtually impossible to get tickets to the top. Natalie had said during the Games, we would have to come back and do it one day. Today was the day. The park was like a ghost town, bereft of the pulsating energy that London 2012 was so famous for. However a few locals strolled amoung the now well established trees and gardens. We made our way to the entrance and The Orbit itself. When we reached the top we looked down upon the skeletal remains of the Olympic stadium as it is transformed into a future football stadium. The scene is like something from the run-up to the games, and it seemed hard to believe we sat in the stadium and cheered on our athletes. Further round we were treated to views across London and inactive displays to help point out what your are seeing. The experience was great fun, and would be amazing to visit when the stadium was in full swing. (Attraction value so far for N&D £81.50, London Pass £49).
As we strolled down the circular ramp of the Orbit our day exploring London was drawing to an end. Without a doubt the London Pass worked out to be great value for money. In fact our day full of sightseeing ensured we saved £33.50! Now in all fairness we did have to push a little and your average tourist would have taken a lot more photos in between destinations, but still if you had a plan the one day pass was certainly a great option.
If we were asked by friends visiting the capital, we would recommend perhaps the two or three day pass. You could easily see everything we saw and with the extra time you could add a Hampton Court Palace tour, a Thames Cruise and throw in a Kensington Palace tour as well. For those of you short on time, budget conscious and desperate to see as much as possible then the London Pass is for you. Most importantly, if you are organised, have a plan of what you want to see then, like us, you can prove poor old William Shenstone wrong!
The London Pass can be bought online or at the museums/attractions as well as numerous souvenir stands throughout London. Just look out for the ‘buy the London Pass here’ flag!