We’d heard of the London Pass before we started seriously planning our trip across the pond, so we were thrilled when the company sent us two complimentary passes to use and review.
The London Pass is a card that gives you free entry at over fifty-five major tourist attractions in London. As their website explains: “It’s a bit like an ‘all you can eat’ buffet – once you’ve bought your London Pass you don’t have to pay to get into any of the attractions covered by the pass and the more sights you see, the more money you save.”
The pass (it looks like a debit card) is activated at the first attraction you visit, and is then valid for the remainder of that calendar day. There are a few stipulations (like the fact you can’t exceed the “purse value” of the pass each day), so check out more information on how it works and what it costs.
Each of us received two one-day passes (£44 each), so we went out on two separate days to give them a try. Here’s how we did:
- Westminster Abbey, £16
- Jason’s Canal Boat Ride, £9
- Tea and Tattle, £3 (25% off the total bill)
- Tower of London, £18
- Tower Bridge, £8
- Kensington Palace, £12.50
- Crussh Coffee, £2 (one free hot drink)
- City Cruises, £13.75
- Design Museum, £8.50
- Globe Theater Tour, £11.50
- Curzon Mayfair Cinema, £12
1. Save money.
These passes really do have the potential to save you quite a bit of money. The first day we ran into a minor camera emergency (our battery died… which meant we spent a few hours trying to buy a new one, realizing they aren’t sold pre-charged, and then finally killing time in a camera store while they kindly charged our current battery for us) which really ate into our sightseeing time and limited how much we were able to fit in. We also missed the evening show time at the Curzon Soho because we were busy eating Indian food at Brick Lane (eh, compromises ). However, even with those two setbacks we still managed to exceed the ticket price by £10!
2. Many high-value attractions are covered.
I was worried the pass would only get us access to a few random museums (regular readers will realize we’re not the best museum-goers, so this was a real concern for us), but it turns out there are tons of high-value attractions included. This is important because not only does it help you recoup your costs, but it also means that by the time you’re done you’ll likely have already seen most of the London attractions you’re interested in. The only thing I was disappointed not to see on the list was the London Eye.
3. You can jump the queue at most attractions.
This is really important — since you’re trying to fit in as many attractions as possible, the last thing you want to do is spend your valuable time waiting in line! We didn’t actually encounter many long lines on our excursions, but I think that was partly due to the nature of the places we chose and partly due to the fact that we ended up venturing out on week days with relatively poor weather.
It’s worth noting that you cannot jump the queue at Westminster Abbey or on the City Cruises, however, which is unfortunate since those were the two longest lines we encountered.
4. Discover something amazing you might not have considered otherwise.
For us, this was one of the best parts of having a London Pass. We likely never would have taken a canal boat ride through central London or gone to the totally bizarre Kensington Palace if we didn’t have the passes… but those turned out to be two of our favorite London outings! The London Pass comes with a pretty hefty booklet containing a full rundown on every attraction it offers, and having them all laid out and color coded made it much easier for us to research new possibilities and ultimately decide to check out things we’d never heard of before.
1. You have to rush to fit it in as many attractions as possible.
We’re lazy tourists. We usually stop for coffee, fit in some people watching, and then spend twenty minutes or so reading our Kindles in the park before we move on to the next item on our list of things to see for the day. The majority of our days out are spent wandering around random neighborhoods, and if we snap a few good pictures along the way then we’ll call the outing a success.
So for us, using the London Pass was a HUGE change of pace. We had to set an alarm and wake up early (oh, the horror!), stick to a pre-determined schedule (gasp!) and keep focused to minimize our inevitable dawdling. Overall I believe it was well worth it, but it was definitely more stressful than our typical sightseeing days.
2. There’s incentive to rush at each attraction.
This is very similar to Con #1, but slightly different. Not only is there incentive to avoid non-London Pass activities during your outing, but you also want to fit in as many attractions as possible to make sure you get your money’s worth… which means it’s hard not to rush through each activity to get on to the next. This usually wasn’t a big problem for us, but there were definitely a few places (like Westminster Abbey) where we could have easily spent hours wandering through all the nooks and crannies.
3. Most attractions close in the early evening.
You have to get an early start and squeeze in as much as possible during the middle of the day, because the majority of the attractions close up shop sometime around 5pm.
For the majority of travelers, absolutely. Most tourists are only in London for a few days, and have already made the decision to pack all their sightseeing into a short period of time. If that’s the case, then you can enjoy all the above-mentioned benefits of the London Pass with pretty much none of the downsides.
However, those travelers who have more time in the city and who prefer to sight see at a more leisurely pace will need to weigh that against the cost-saving component. The pass is definitely still a valuable option, but for some folks the trade-offs may not be worth it.
1. Check out the list of London attractions covered by the pass.
The website has information on each attraction the pass will get you into, including the location, regular ticket prices, and a brief explanation of what you can expect to see. If you’re considering purchasing the pass, use this guide to get a sense of how many attractions you’re interested in; that way you can determine roughly whether or not it’s cost-effective for your travel plans before you actually spend any money.
2. Plan out your schedule ahead of time.
Check the hours for each attraction, map them all out, and make sure the cost of the activities you’ve chosen for each day at least covers the price of the pass. Don’t forget to schedule in breaks and meals, and consider alternating between attractions with lots of walking and those that let you rest a bit more. Know your “must-sees” and schedule those (as well as any particularly-expensive attractions on your interest list) early in the day just in case you run out of time.
3. Identify a few options that are open later, so you can take advantage of the evening hours.
The best evening option we found was catching a movie at one of the three Curzon theaters. After a long day of sightseeing, what’s better than catching a free film in a swanky cinema… with a full bar? Make sure you check movie times, though; each cinema only plays a few films, and each film is only shown a couple times per day.
4. Consider buying the pass with the travel card option.
If you buy the London Pass with Travel option, it’s about £8 more per day… but you get unlimited travel on the tube, buses, and national rail, which can definitely add up! If you decide not to go with the Travel option, at least get an Oyster Card; they’re reusable, you pay less for each journey than if you bought individual tickets, there are “price caps” for peak and off-peak hours, and you just swipe it at the turnstile on your way to the train. Saves time, hassle, and money.