After arriving in London in 2006 before moving to Canada in 2009, we returned to London in 2010 with a pact to visit all of the touristy sites we’d failed to visit in our first 3 1/2 years here. Given that the majority of major sites have entrance fees upwards of £15 each (apart from the museums which are all free…and excellent) we were always on the lookout for cheap deals, which were few and far between. Enter our savior – the London Pass. A Bank Holiday weekend gave us the perfect chance to tick the boxes of all the big sites on our list (and then some) for a fraction of the price it would cost to do them on their own, and we would highly recommend it if your time or budget is limited in good old L-Town. Below is a breakdown of what we saw and what we saved to show you that being a tourist in your own backyard can be just as fun as being a tourist anywhere else!
Three day London Pass – £81.00 each
For an extra £27.00 you get a zone 1-6 travel card with unlimited travel on the tube, buses, trams, DLR, overground trains and National Rail Services, which is well worth it if you don’t have an Oyster card/travel card already.
KEY TIP: Start EARLY in the day to avoid queues and group attractions into areas, starting with the busiest ones first up in the day.
Day 1 – Saturday
1. Churchill War Rooms – £15.90 each
We arrived right on opening and there were only 2 other people in line. The War Rooms are small but excellent, and we can imagine they would get quite crowded at peak times. We’d recommend getting here first.
2. Westminster Abbey – £18.00 each
Queues get long fast so again one to get to early in the day. You can walk here from the War Rooms in about 10 mins and your London Pass gives you fast track entry so can skip the ticket queue. There is no entry on Sunday.
3. St Paul’s Cathedral – £16.50 each (£15.00 if bought online)
Unfortunately it seems St Paul’s is no longer covered by the London Pass, however it’s still not to be missed. I’ve been told you can access the Cathedral floor by saying you’re here to worship, however you won’t be able to access the crypt, tower and other areas limited to ticket holders. It’s well worth it to climb the 257 steps to the famous Whispering Gallery and the total 528 steps to the Golden Gallery for great views across town. There is also no entry to the Cathedral on Sunday.
4. Tower of London – £20.00 each
The best way to get from St Paul’s to the Tower is to head to Ludgate Hill south of the Cathedral, and wait for one of the old route master buses on route #15 to pull up. You can then jump on the back steps and tick another box on your London to-do list! Make sure you take the time to ride the travelator past the Crown Jewels and try not to get caught taking a sneaky photo on your iPhone like we did (helps if you turn the flash off)
5. Tower Bridge – £9.00 each
A short walk from Tower of London and a great chance to learn how the bridge was designed, built and how it operates. If you’re lucky like we were, you can even watch it being opened, much to the discontent of the motorists who didn’t quite make it across in time (Matt – URRRRGHHHH too many times!!!). You then get to take a lift to the top and walk across to the south of the river where you can visit the engine room.
We finished the day sat in the carpark of Borough Market watching the sun reflect off The Shard, with an eclectic young crowd and a pint from the tiny pub nearby The Rake (130 beers on offer at any one time!).
Day 1 entrance fees if not visited through the London Pass= £79.40 each
Day 2 – Sunday
1. Lords Cricket Ground Tour – £18.00 each
Even if you’re not a fan of cricket, this tour was an excellent introduction to the history of the game and particularly the importance of Lords in cricket’s history. We’d recommend getting here for the first tour of the day, as you’ve got a higher chance of being able to tour the Pavilion & the Long Room. If there is a game on, the later tours are sometimes unable to access the Long Room as it is restricted to staff and players. Surely there’s no better place to be than in the MCC museum surrounded by memorabilia and looking at the original Ashes urn whilst listening to a passionate retelling of how the famous Australia English rivalry began. Tours typically run at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm. Keep an eye out for one of London’s famous weather-vanes, a 1926 cast iron depiction of a stooped Father Time fiddling with the wicket. The tours run for 1.5 – 2 hours, and if you’re lucky you’ll be allowed to stay and watch the game afterwards like we were!
Question: Who has the Ashes at the moment? 😉
2. Abbey Road – FREE
A short walk from Lords brings you to Abbey Road studios and the famous zebra crossing immortalized in the Beatles 1969 Abbey Road album cover. Don’t expect to have it to yourself, this place is always packed, and you’ll most likely have to share your crossing photo with other tourists. Just try not to piss off the local traffic by posing in the middle of the road too long. There’s also a great 24-hour webcam setup on the intersection which can be quite hilarious.
3. Wellington Arch – £4.20 each
Climb the stairs (or take the lift) to the top for some good views. They usually have some sort of exhibition on at the top.
4. Apsley House – £6.90 each
Also known as ‘Number One London’, Apsley House is the quite stately former home of The Duke of Wellington, who is famous for defeating Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. And he doesn’t half rub it in with the huge statue of ‘Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker’ at the foot of the grandiose staircase. Napoleon holds a small figure of Nike or Victory in his right hand, unfortunately she’s turned her back to him.
5. Royal Mews – £8.75 each
Something we weren’t intending on doing but found quite interesting, and very English given the recent Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee celebrations where most of the world got to see the Royal carriages on display. Highlights are the Glass (or Bridal) Coach, which ferried both Princess Diana and Kate Middleton to their Westminster Abbey weddings, and the Gold State Coach, which has carried every monarch to their coronation since 1821. It was built in 1762 for George III, weighs almost four tonnes and requires eight horses to pull it. Given that the coach has to stop at the exact spot the Queen must step down, you can imagine it’s no mean feat to get eight horses to slow down a four tonne coach with such precision!
Day 2 entrance fees if not visited through the London Pass = £37.85 each
Day 3 – Monday
1. The London Bridge Experience – £24.00 each
Ok, so this wasn’t actually on our list, we were headed for the HMS Belfast, but since it was right outside the station and we’ve never been to any of the London Dungeon type theatrial experiences before we decided to give it a shot. The clown room was creepy and some of the history was interesting, but the best part for us was the psychadelic spinning fluro rave tunnel that actually made you feel like you were on LSD and walking on the walls. Was it worth £24.00 each? No. Was it worth a visit on the London Pass to see Matt being chased by a huge guy in a blood stained apron and chefs hat weilding what sounded (and smelled!) like an actual chainsaw. Definitely!
2. HMS Belfast – £15.00 each
A highlight of the trip for both of us, HMS Belfast gives you the chance to check out all 9 decks of a real life WWII battleship.
3. Kew Gardens – £15.00 each
A great way to end a jam packed weekend with a bottle of wine and a picnic in the famous Kew Gardens. Check out the massive glasshouses, walk through the Australian bush section and the high walk. Gardens are huge so you could easily spend a few hours on a sunny day exploring the numerous areas and habitats.