Welcome to the London Pass.
Last weekend, my friend and I spent a day trying out the London Pass – a sightseeing card entitling its holder to prepaid access to loads of the city’s hot spots at discounted prices.
HOW DOES THE LONDON PASS WORK?
You can purchase the London Pass in advance of your trip. Then, as soon as you activate it by visiting your first attraction, you’ll be given free or discounted entry, queue jumps and VIP experiences at over 60 London attractions until it expires. You have the option of 1, 2, 3, 6 or 10 consecutive days for the price of £52, £71, £85, £116 or £146, respectively, and, for a little extra, you can add an Oyster travel card to the deal. With some planning and simple sums it means you can make huge savings.
WHAT’S INCLUDED IN THE LONDON PASS?
On the London Pass official website, your options are filtered depending on whether they’re a historical attraction, place of interest, museum, art gallery, leisure activity or tour/cruise.
Many of the city’s most popular sights are included, in addition to some that are slightly obscure (free entry to the Fan Museum anyone?).
The lovely people at londonpass.com have put together the following top 10 list, and it includes some really great experiences:
Tower of London
Thames River Cruise
London Bridge Experience
Hampton Court Palace
OUR LONDON PASS ITINERARY
There’s a reason why the above attractions made the list. They really are some of the best London has to offer. In addition, when you only have limited time in which to use your pass, and since you’re trying to get your money’s worth, it makes sense to go for the options that would usually set you back a fair few bob.
Once you start thinking about the time constraints and the location of each attraction you’re interested in, it gets easier to decide which to visit.
Our day looked like this:
9:30-10:30: Westminster Abbey (free entrance, queue jump and audio tour)
11:00-12:10: Thames River Cruise from Westminster to Greenwich (one-day pass; arrival at the pier 15 mins before departure)
12:10-14:00: Wander by the Cutty Sark, past the Maritime Museum and up to the Observatory for views of the city, picking up some delicious food from Greenwich Market on the way
14:00-14:30: Thames River Cruise from Greenwich to Tower Bridge (arrival at the pier 15 mins before departure)
14:30-15:00: Walk along the north bank of the river and across London Bridge
15:00-16:00: London Bridge Experience
16:00-16:40: Travel by London Underground to Camden and walk to Regent’s Park
16:40-18:00: London Zoo
18:00 onwards: Drinks at the Edinboro Castle beer garden followed by dinner in Camden
A REVIEW OF EACH ACTIVITY
Westminster Abbey has received more than its fair share of media attention over the years. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge tied the knot there back in 2011 when the elaborate embellishment of the abbey’s inner walls was broadcast to an estimated audience of 300 million. It was also used for the funeral service of Princess Diana. Of course, notable people throughout history are also associated with the abbey. Of note, Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were buried there.
The tour is narrated by Jeremy Irons, whose voice is easily recognisable thanks to his voiceover of Scar in The Lion King.
At the entrance, you’re provided with a map and an audio device, which clearly shows you how to navigate the naves while listening to recordings relevant to specific points of interest.
While I’m not sure the experience is worth the usual entrance fee of £20, it’s one of those places you feel you shouldn’t leave London without seeing. The tour is informative and the building itself beautifully ornate. Allow an hour to see it in some detail and make sure you check the opening times the night before in case of special events leading to its closure to the public.
THAMES RIVER CRUISE
For me, the Thames River Cruise, which is run by City Cruises, was the highlight of the day.
There are two main reasons for this. First, it’s a fantastic way to get a great view of many of London’s famous landmarks. Second, the commentary on the boat between Westminster Pier and Greenwich was comedy gold.
A ‘hop on hop off’ ticket would usually cost £18, but with the pass it’s free. Just be aware that, the British weather being what it is, your enjoyment of this experience could be significantly dampened.
LONDON BRIDGE EXPERIENCE
Perhaps the tag line ‘Horrifyingly educational fun for all the family’ should have rung some alarm bells. I really wasn’t bowled over by the London Bridge Experience, but I think it had a lot to do with its target audience including young children. For the main part, the dangling plastic limbs, occasional startling puff of air and short actor sketches were more likely to make us laugh than scream and, if we’d paid the full price of £24, I’m pretty sure the dominant emotion would have been disappointment or raging fury.
The experience does have some redeeming features though. If you pay attention, you can learn some pretty interesting facts about London Bridge and events like the Great Fire and the Jack the Ripper murders. Taken with a pinch of salt and an open mind, you will have fun. I’m just not convinced there aren’t better attractions to use your pass on.
Also usually £24, this attraction strikes a much more satisfying balance in terms of value for money. With loads of live shows and feedings, and walk-through enclosures, there’s enough to keep you entertained all day long if you can spare the time. Of course, if you’re including it as part of the London Pass, you might be trying to fit a few attractions into one day, leaving you short on time. That’s where the ZSL app comes in handy. This enables you to add your favourite animals to a zoo itinerary. It even plans the route for you and gives you a bit of information on each one as you go.
On your way into the zoo, ask one of the wardens for information on any new additions. We got to see black-capped squirrel monkey babies clinging to their mothers.
London Zoo has the additional benefit of being located next to the lovely Regent’s Park and Primose Hill, which are great places to relax on a summer evening after closing time. Nearby Camden Town has a huge variety of edgy bars and restaurants too.
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IS THE LONDON PASS WORTH THE MONEY?
The London Pass is a fantastic option for short-trip tourists who want to cram as much as they can into a limited amount of time in the city. In comparison with other cities in Europe, a day using this pass isn’t cheap, but it’s not London Pass’ fault that admission charges here are so high. The bottom line is, if you’re going to do the activities anyway, you’re much better off going with the Pass. We saved £34 using ours.
I’ve spent almost 10 years in the city on and off over the years, which I feel puts me in a good position to confirm that the London Pass is a great way to see some of London’s best attractions at much lower prices. My advice would be to spend one day with the London Pass doing all of the activities that would usually cost a small fortune, and another visiting all of the free museums and parks.
According to the London Pass website, 2.5 million people have made use of the scheme. Those kinds of numbers speak volumes, but why not check it out for yourself?
And, if the sums haven’t yet convinced you to give it a go, perhaps this will…
We were provided with London Passes free of charge in return for an unbiased review. All of the opinions in this post are my own.