I’ll admit that, even though I have been to London on 3 separate occasions (and spent a week there each time), I’ve been a terrible tourist in the city.

I have yet to visit ANY of London’s museums, despite them all being free. I have yet to take a cruise down the Thames, despite copious amounts of time spent wandering along the South Bank. I hadn’t even really been to Buckingham Palace until my most recent trip.

Not that there’s anything wrong with avoiding the touristy stuff, of course. There’s SO MUCH to do in London that a person could easily spend weeks there and avoid most of the tourist traps. But, to be honest, the touristy bits of London really are worth seeing.

Buckingham Palace

In London, though, everything from transportation to food to entertainment is expensive. And, while I certainly didn’t get to enjoy any 5-star restaurants or luxury hotels during my stay in London, I didn’t want to sacrifice the things I really wanted to do/see because of my budget, either. Enter the London Pass.

Last summer when I was headed to London, I was given a set of London Passes to try out in the city. The London Pass, in case you aren’t familiar, is an attraction card that gets you free (and often fast-tracked) entry into all of London’s most popular attractions. You can buy passes for 1, 2, 3, or 6 days, with the 24-hour pass starting at £47.

That may sound like a lot of money, but if you are smart about using your pass, you’ll actually save a lot. And, in a city where everything is so expensive, saving money is really important.

South Bank

I actually failed miserably the first time I tried to use one of my passes. I was in London during the Olympics, and simply did not have a full day to dedicate to being a tourist. I made it to 2 attractions and then had other obligations to attend to. On my most recent trip to London, though, I vowed to do better and actually put my second pass to good use.

Based on my experiences on two separate occasions, here are MY suggestions on how to make the most out of your London Pass:

If you have 1 day…

The 24-hour London Pass is the cheapest — and therefore most popular — option for visitors. But, if you only have 1 day, you really have to budget your time well. You also have to factor in transport time between attractions, which can often take a while if you are relying on London’s public transportation.

Here’s my ideal 1-day London Pass itinerary:

Tower of London

Begin your morning at the Tower of London. Hop on a free walking tour with a Beefeater to learn all the history and hear all the gruesome stories associated with this 900-year-old fortress (tour lasts about an hour). Then head over to see the Crown Jewels.

Recommended amount of time: 2 hours

Tower of London

St. Paul’s Cathedral

From the Tower of London, make sure to snap some photos of Tower Bridge. Then head over the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral (an easy walk) to admire this gorgeous church. Pick up a free audio guide, wander down into the crypts (where men like Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke Of Wellington are interred), and then head up into the dome. The dome has multiple levels, but the top is definitely the goal. It take 530 steps to reach, but the views out over London are unbeatable.

Recommended amount of time: 1-2 hours

St. Paul's Cathedral

Walk along the South Bank

From St. Paul’s, cross over the Thames via the Millennium Bridge and make your way down the vibrant South Bank — my favorite part of the London city center. Grab some lunch at a cafe or pub, and enjoy the buskers and street performers you’ll see along the way. Eventually cross back over the Thames via the Westminster Bridge near Parliament. Say hi to Big Ben while you’re there!

Recommended amount of time: 1-2 hours

South Bank

Westminster Abbey

Continue on past Parliament to Westminster Abbey, the gothic cathedral where kings and queens have been crowded since 1066, and also where many royal weddings and funerals have taken place — including William and Kate’s wedding in 2011. This church is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and honestly a sight to behold. The details inside and outside are astounding, and a free audio guide will help you notice them all.

Recommended amount of time: 1-2 hours

Westminster Abbey

Cruise on the Thames

Wrap up your day of London sightseeing with a scenic cruise down the Thames. This is voted the #1 thing to do with a London Pass — and for good reason. Your pass actually gets you an all-day hop-on-hop-off cruise ticket, though after a full day of sightseeing you might prefer to just stay on board and enjoy the city slipping by.

Recommended amount of time: at least 1 hour

Thames

 

Unfortunately it’s difficult to fit much more into just one day in London. Most major attractions don’t open until 9 a.m. and are closed by 5:30. It’s difficult, then, to see more. You could, of course, rush through each attraction (or skip lunch) and then perhaps visit one or two more places. If you decided to do that, Shakespeare’s Globe theater on the South Bank would be an appropriate addition for this itinerary, or you could even check out the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, or Kensington Palace in Hyde Park. I would not recommend trying to fit too much in, though — you won’t be able to appreciate any of it if you’re rushing around.

And, even if you just fit in these 4 attractions, you will more than get your money’s worth:

Normal prices:

  • Tower of London: £19.50
  • St. Paul’s: £16
  • Westminster: £18
  • Thames cruise: £17

Total: £70.50

Meaning you save £23.50 with a 1-day London Pass.

London

If you have more than 1 day…

Ideally, if you will be in London for a decent length of time and want to fit in quite a bit of sightseeing, you would buy a multi-day London Pass. A 2-day pass is £64, and a 3-day pass will set you back £77 (a 6-day pass, in case you were curious, costs £102). You really could use a pass for 6 days, too, considering there are over 60 attractions and tours that the London Pass covers.

A multi-day pass would be ideal if you wanted to visit some sites outside of Central London. Two that I would recommend would be Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace. Both of these require train ride, however, and therefore would make better half-day trips than quick stops on a sightseeing tour.

Windsor Castle

This 900-year-old castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world — and happens to be home to Her Majesty the Queen herself. It’s actually really cool that you can visit this castle. You aren’t likely to catch sight of the Queen, of course, but you can check out the State Apartments, see St. George’s Chapel, and wander around the grounds and gardens. If you’re there around 11 a.m., you can also often catch a Changing of the Guard ceremony.

I would recommend a half-day for Windsor simply because the free audio tour alone will take you 2 hours.

(Price without London Pass: £17.75)

Windsor Castle

Hampton Court Palace

Another place I highly recommend visiting is Hampton Court Palace — a former residence of the infamous King Henry VIII. Along with doing a free audio tour around the buildings, you can also check out any special exhibits the palace has on (when I was there, there was a fascinating exhibit about the royal bedchamber), and then wander around the 60-acre formal gardens. These gardens are truly stunning, and were probably my favorite part of my visit.

You can take the train to Hampton Court from London, or you can ask about boat rides there (either one-way or round-trip).

(Price without London Pass: £16)

Hampton Court Palace

 

There are plenty of other awesome things to see and do with a London Pass, both within the city and outside of it. If I could do it all over again, I would also visit the Churchill War Rooms, tour Shakepeare’s Globe theater, and check out Kensington Palace in Hyde Park.

Add a travel card

If you plan to use a lot of public transport with your London Pass, you can add on a travel card to any of the passes (just add £9 per day). This really only saves you money if you plan to visit attractions outside London’s city center that would require a longer train ride, though. Otherwise you would be better off getting an Oyster card or buying a travel card yourself.

The verdict

So, would I recommend a London Pass? Essentially, yes. If you are organized enough to get up early and plan out your day(s) of sightseeing, then a London Pass really can save you a nice chunk of money.

And, in London, every pound saved counts.

Big Ben

——

Have YOU ever used a city pass like this on your travels?

 

 

*Note: This post was brought to you by a third party.

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20 Responses to How to Make the Most of a London Pass

  1. Patti says:

    I recently watched a documentary about Hampton Court – was really interesting and I’d love to see it in person.
    Patti recently posted..Route 66 – Independence & The Ingalls Homestead ~

  2. I totally agree that you have to do touristy London, even if you just split your time between that and randomly wandering around. It’s worth it.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Outdoor Adventure Activities at Hood River

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yeah, it really is worth it. You can skip the really expensive touristy stuff (like the London Eye, which I may never actually do), but some of it really is worth doing/seeing.

  3. You can really fit a lot in when you have a plan! Thanks for the tips :)
    Matt – Brisbane Photographer recently posted..New Lightroom Presets Available – Japanese afternoon

  4. Emily says:

    Great plan! I’ve heard mixed reviews about the London pass but this itinerary makes a lot of sense. I love the idea of ending with the river cruise. Seeing London from the Thames is essential!
    Emily recently posted..Dispatch From London: Hampstead, The Heath, and Feeling Guilty

    • DangerousBiz says:

      If you don’t plan your time out right, I could see how a London Pass could be a waste. But, as long as you do your homework beforehand, I think it’s definitely worth it.

  5. Julika says:

    This is great advice Amanda! I will definitely consider buying the London Pass next time I visit! I love that London has so many cheap sightseeing options — and free museums and free admission to St. Paul’s Cathedral during Evensong on every weekday, for example.
    Julika recently posted..Picturesque Monday: The Island of Krk

  6. Ryan says:

    Sometimes the touristy stuff is just as fun and a big learning experience! Haven’t been to London yet, but that is all I hear about it is how expensive it is. But I always fail to use passes as well, like the city pass given for Toronto at TBEX and I failed to use it!
    Ryan recently posted..What to do in Auckland – Escape from Queen Street!

  7. Loved reading this! I miss living in London so much.

    Another tip to someone who only has 24 hours and really wants to make use of their pass…
    On Friday’s, most of the popular museums (Tate Modern, National Gallery, Victoria & Albert etc.) stay open later until 10 pm. Therefore, if tourists are visiting on a Friday, they can save the free museums for later in the evening so they can make good use of their pass during the day.

    Happy travels! :)
    Lauren Meshkin recently posted..Photo of the week!

  8. noel says:

    It’s been too long since I’ve visited London, would love to go back soon and your tips are fantastic in saving time and money – thanks so much for sharing these!
    noel recently posted..Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, Sunday brunch

  9. Stefania says:

    I have lived in London for almost one year and a half and I haven’t done all the “touristy” things! I haven’t entered St. Paul’s Cathedral nor Buckingham Palace (which is open only in summer). Windor Castle and Hampton Court Palace were some of my favourite sights, as I love British history. There are so many things to do and see in London! When some of my friends visited I tried a different itinerary for them: instead of the Buckingham Palace/Oxford Street/Trafalgar Square I took them to Columbia Road Flower Market. They loved it!
    Stefania recently posted..Slovenia – a fairytale country

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I think it’s much easier to avoid all the touristy spots when you’re actually living in a place. The castles are definitely great to visit! So interesting.

  10. Sam says:

    Great breakdown, Amanda. I had no idea the individual sights were that expensive. Oh my!
    Sam recently posted..Guide to Arequipa

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