I always feel torn whenever I visit a new city. On one hand, I want to cross off as many bucket list items as possible since I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back (or if I’ll be able to come back at all). But on the other hand, I also don’t want to blow my budget on one trip.
Finding the right balance between the two is always a struggle! And the level of difficulty to stay within budget increases tenfold when you go to a city that is expensive to begin with.
I learned that the hard way during my recent trip to London, where the cost of basic expenses (such as food and transportation) is pricier compared to other major cities. With that taking up a significant chunk of my limited travel fund, I got worried that I wouldn’t get a chance to visit all the must-see sights that ooze of history, heritage and culture!
Luckily, I came across The London Pass® while I was working on my itinerary (and trying not to cry as I was also doing my cost estimates). And let me just say, The London Pass® saved my life! And my wallet!
What exactly is The London Pass®?
The London Pass® is a sightseeing travel card that gives the holder free entry to over 60 tourist hot spots in London as well as fast-track entry, special offers and exclusive discounts to select attractions. It’s available for 1, 2, 3, 6 or 10 consecutive days and can be purchased with an Oyster Travelcard. You also get the option of having the pass sent to your smartphone, to your home/office (for a fee) or to a redemption desk in Charing Cross Road (for pick-up).
The London Pass® comes with a free detailed guidebook to help you plan your trip. This book is quite thick and bulky though, so I don’t think you’d want to bring this with you everywhere you go. I suggest you just download the guide app, which is available for iOS and Android phones, for ease and convenience while you’re on-the-go.
I purchased the 3-day adult pass without an Oyster Travelcard for my trip. (I already had a standard Oyster card — the one with a refundable GBP 5 deposit — on hand.) The London Pass® website was on sale at the time of my booking so I got it for only GBP 80.10. The original price was GBP 95. Awesome, huh? I got to save even before I started using my pass so do watch out for those flash sales. If you’re wondering if it’s okay to purchase months in advance, don’t worry. A pass is valid for 12 months from purchase date.
Of course, The London Pass® will only be worthwhile if you get to visit as many attractions as you can within a specified period so proper planning is key.
In order to get the most out of my 3-day pass, here were my main strategies:
1. I only used my pass for paid attractions. General admission to some attractions (such as museums and art galleries) is already free without The London Pass® so I saved them for a different day.
2. I started my days early. I made sure I arrived at the first destination of the day as early as 8-9AM and would wait for it to open. This also helped in case I needed to queue.
3. I grouped the attractions that were close to each other. I saved a lot on transportation costs that way since I could just walk from one place to another.
4. I allowed myself to spend at least 2-3 hours in one site. While I wanted to see as many places as I can, I wanted to truly appreciate each one too. Quality is always better than quantity!
5. I brought my smartphone (for apps like The London Pass® and Google Maps) and my pocket Wi-Fi with me for easy navigation. The last thing I wanted was to waste time, money and energy from getting lost.
My 3-day itinerary:
9.00AM - 11.00AM: Tower of London
Your first stop should be the Tower of London, located near the Tower Hill Station (Circle and District lines) of the London Underground, to check out the Crown Jewels. Get completely awed by the priceless treasures as well as the coronation videos that showcase the wealth and opulence of the British monarchy. Taking photographs inside the Tower is prohibited, though, so you’ll just have to commit the images of the beautiful gems to memory. After you’ve had your fill of the precious royal possessions, set off to see the Royal Mint, the Royal Menagerie and the ravens. End your tour by heading up the White Tower to get a peak of the armoury.
If you want a guided tour, look for a Yeoman Warder near the main entrance. He’s got lots of royal secrets and tales to share! Tours depart every 30 minutes.
Price: Adult: GBP 22.50, Child: GBP 10.50
Opening Hours: March - October: Sunday - Monday: 10.00am - 5.30pm Tuesday - Saturday: 9.00am to 5.30pm November - February: Sunday - Monday: 10.00am - 4.30PM Tuesday - Saturday: 9.00am - 4.30PM Closed on 24 - 26 December and 1 January
11.00am - 1.00pm: Tower Bridge
Just a few steps from the Tower of London is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, the Tower Bridge. If you’re not afraid of heights, climb up to the Tower Bridge Exhibition to see its iconic structure up close and gaze down at the River Thames from its new glass floor. After which, descend to the Victorian Engine Rooms to learn about how the original steam engines were used to power the bridge’s “bascules” during the old days.
Price: Adult: GBP 9, Child: GBP 3.90
Opening Hours: April to September: 10.00am - 5.30pm daily October - March: 9.30am - 5.00pm daily January 1: Open from 10.00am Closed on 24 - 26 December
1.00pm - 2.00pm: Lunch
2.00pm - 3.00pm: HMS Belfast
In the afternoon, fast forward to World War II for a bit and visit HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy light cruiser turned museum ship. It’s permanently docked on the River Thames so you can climb onboard anytime to explore all nine decks, including the boiler and engine rooms, and to get a glimpse of the hardships encountered by the soldiers during the war.
Price: Adult: GBP 14.50, Child: GBP 7.25
Opening Hours: March - October: 10.00am - 6.00pm daily November - February: 10.00am - 5.00pm daily Closed on 24 - 26 December
3.00pm - 5.00pm: Shakespeare’s Globe
Also on the banks of the River Thames is Shakespeare’s Globe, an Elizabethan theatre replica that showcases Shakespeare’s plays on open air. The exhibition and tour will give you an opportunity to learn more about the world’s greatest playwright as well as give you a unique insight on what it was like to watch an indoor performance during the Elizabethan period.
As this is a working theatre, the exhibition and tours are not always available, especially during the summer, to give way to events, rehearsals and performances. So be sure to check before you head out. If you can’t visit Shakespeare’s Globe, the London Bridge Experience is a good (albeit frightening) alternative as it is just a short walk away.
Since you just spent your day by the riverbanks, you must cap it off by actually weaving through the great River Thames. The London Pass® offers a River Red Rover pass, allowing holders unlimited hop on, hop off access to the river for 24 hours. Cruises depart every 30 minutes at the following piers: Westminster, London Eye, Tower of London and Greenwich.
I strongly urge you not to miss this experience! It’ll give you fantastic views of the city and allow you to capture dozens of Instagram-worthy shots of London’s icons.
Price: Adult: GBP 16.65, Child: GBP 8.33
Opening Hours: 10.00am onwards daily
9.00am - 11.00am: Westminster Abbey
Get up bright and early for your second day! You should be stepping off the Westminster Station (Jubilee, District and Circle lines) of the London Underground as early as 8.00am. Why? Westminster Abbey is just a stone’s throw from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament so while you wait for the famous abbey to open, you can take zillions of selfies with Big Ben and from a distance, the London Eye.
If you take too long capturing the perfect selfie, don’t fret. While there’s usually a line at the entrance of the Westminster Abbey, it shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes to get in. Visitors flock to this beautiful Gothic church as this has been the British monarchy’s coronation church for decades. It is also the burial and memorial place of many famous British historical figures, poets and scientists. As this is a working Christian church, daily services are still held here so be respectful at all times. Keep in mind that taking photos and videos are not allowed inside.
Price: Adult: GBP 20, Child: GBP 9
Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday (except Wednesday): 9.30am - 3.30pm, Wednesday – 9.30am - 6.00pm Closed on 24 - 25 December and Good Friday
11.00am - 12.00pm: Lunch
12.00pm - 2.00pm: Royal Albert Hall
Spend your afternoon touring the Royal Albert Hall near South Kensington and High Street Kensington Stations of the London Underground. Since it was formally opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria, this concert hall has become the country’s premier venue for entertainment. It hosts hundreds of shows every year — concerts, ballets, operas, film showings, award ceremonies and the like — and is known globally as many of the world’s greatest artists have graced its stage.
Tours depart every 30 minutes and last for about an hour. However, since this is a working auditorium, closures are common so please check online before dropping by.
Price: Adult: GBP 13.50, Child: GBP 6.50
Opening Hours: April - October: 9.30am- 4.30pm daily November - March: 10.00am - 4.00pm daily
2.00pm to 4.00pm: Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace has been the residence of many royals for over 300 years. Queen Mary, Queen Victoria and Princess Diana have all called this magnificent place home. Now, it is where William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, reside with their two children.
Be inspired by the private and public lives of the royals, who lived here, as you make your way through the exhibits, relax in the peaceful palace gardens and go for high tea in The Orangery.
Price: March - October: Adult – GBP 16.30, November to February: Adult – GBP 15
Opening Hours: March to October: 10.00am - 6.00pm daily November - February: 10.00am - 4.00pm daily Closed on 24 - 26 December
9.00am to 12.00pm: Windsor Castle
On your third day, travel all the way to Windsor Castle in Berkshire for free using The London Pass®. Just show your pass to the ticket controller at the London Paddington Station and off you go. Board the Great Western Railway train to Slough and then transfer to a train bound for Windsor & Eton Central. The trip will take around 45 minutes so wake up extra early.
Windsor Castle is the official residence of HM The Queen. It is also the largest inhabited castle in the world so reserve at least half a day if you want to explore the entire area. Don’t miss the lavish State Apartments, the Gothic St. George’s Chapel, the Royal Library and Queen Mary’s Dollhouse!
The trip back to London Paddington from Windsor & Eton is also free so you get a really awesome deal!
Price: Adult: GBP 20, Child: GBP 11.70
Opening Hours: March - October: 9.30am - 5.30pm daily November - February: 9.45am - 4.15pm daily
If you’d like to know how much I saved, here’s the breakdown:
Tower of London
River Thames Cruise
Royal Albert Hall
Hampton Court Palace
The London Pass®
Was it worth it?! Oh, yeah! Without The London Pass®, I would’ve shelled out GBP 166.45. But with it, I was able to save GBP 86.35! And this doesn’t even include my savings from discounts at stores and restaurants plus my free roundtrip train ride to Windsor Castle. Thus, I highly recommend The London Pass® for first-timers in London.
Note: Prices and opening times are correct as of the time of writing. As they are subject to change, please double-check if they’re still the same before leaving for your trip. Also, if the information you need is not covered in this article, I suggest you visit The London Pass® website for more details. Happy travels!