London, England, is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love the history and the energy and yes, even the Underground. There's always something going on in London, and always something new to see.
But, as a tourist in London, the city can be overwhelming – especially if it's your first visit. There's so MUCH to see, after all, from Big Ben to Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace and everything in between.
In London, though, everything from transportation to food to entertainment is expensive. Being smart with your sightseeing budget is therefore vital to having a good first trip to London.
Enter the London Pass.
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 £69 (about $95 USD).
That may sound like a lot of money, but if you are smart about using your pass, you'll actually save a lot (because, again, London isn't a cheap city!).
I've used sightseeing passes like this in multiple cities around the world and almost always end up both seeing a lot AND saving a nice chunk of money.
The key to saving money with a London Pass, though, it to be strategic and plan ahead. London is a big city, and there are so many attractions to choose from.
So here's where I come in! Based on my experiences using a 1-day London Pass on two separate occasions, here are MY suggestions on how to make the most out of your London Pass.
How to use a 1-day London Pass
The 24-hour London Pass is the cheapest — and therefore most popular — option for visitors. But, if you only have one 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.
Taking all that into account, here's my ideal 1-day London Pass itinerary:
Morning: Tower of London
Begin your morning at the Tower of London. It opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and I recommend getting there first thing! 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. If you have extra time after that, check out the exhibits inside the White Tower.
Recommended amount of time: 2 hours
Closest Tube station: Tower Hill (District/Circle lines)
Late morning: 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 to admire this gorgeous church sitting on the highest point of the City of London. You can walk between the two, or hop on the Tube to save your feet.
Once at St. Paul's, 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 takes 530 steps to reach, but the views out over London are unbeatable.
Recommended amount of time: 1-1.5 hours
Closest Tube station: St. Paul's (Central Line)
Lunchtime: 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 food truck, 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
(This is a 1.5-mile walk. If you don't want to walk quite this far, take the Tube to Westminster.)
Afternoon: Westminster Abbey
Continue on past Parliament to Westminster Abbey, the gothic cathedral where kings and queens have been crowned 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
Closest Tube stop: Westminster (District/Circle and Jubilee lines)
Late afternoon: Cruise on the Thames
Continue 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.
Take the cruise from Westminster back down the Thames to Tower Pier for your next stop.
Recommended amount of time: The boat ride will take about 30 minutes
Get on at Westminster Pier, on the same side of the river as Parliament.
Evening: The Shard
Many of the attractions you can visit with the London Pass close early. But The View from the Shard – the observation deck at The Shard tower – is open until until 10 p.m. April through October. Meaning it's a perfect evening activity for your London Pass day.
You can enjoy sweeping views out over London either from the indoor viewing gallery, or from the open-air Skydeck on 72nd floor. This is a great spot to be around sunset.
Recommended amount of time: 30 minutes-1 hour
Closest Tube station: London Bridge
(Note: The river cruise included with the London Pass will only drop you off at Tower Pier. Walking to The Shard from Tower Pier will take you about 20 minutes, though it means you can walk across Tower Bridge. If you'd like a quicker trip, other river boats operate between Tower Pier and London Bridge City Pier just across the river. You can use your Oyster Card on the MBNA Thames Clippers.)
Unfortunately it's difficult to fit much more than this into just one day in London. Most major attractions don't open until 9 or 10 a.m. and are closed by 5:30 p.m. 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 check out the Tower Bridge Exhibition. 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.
Does a London Pass save you money?
Even if you just fit in these 5 attractions, you will more than get your money's worth.
The normal prices for the attractions are:
- Tower of London: £24.80
- St. Paul's Cathedral: £18
- Westminster Abbey: £22
- Thames cruise: £18.50
- View from The Shard: £29.95
So even with the 1-day pass costing £69, you still save £44.25 (about $61 USD) with a 1-day London Pass if you're following a similar itinerary.
(Prices updated April 2018.)
If you have a 2-day London Pass
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 £94, and a 3-day pass will set you back £114 (a 6-day pass, in case you were curious, costs £114, and a 10-day pass £184). You really could use a pass for 10 days, too, considering there are over 80 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 a train ride, however, and therefore would make better half-day trips than quick stops on a jam-packed sightseeing tour.
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: £21.20
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: £20.90
There are plenty of other awesome things to see and do with a London Pass, both within the city and outside of it. Other London Pass attractions well worth your time include the Churchill War Rooms, Kensington Palace, and Kew Gardens. Your London Pass also gets you a free hop-on hop-off bus tour, as well as tours of several of London's famous stadiums.
Should you add a London Pass travel card?
When purchasing a London Pass, you're given the option to add on a travel card. This covers travel on all of London's public transport. But I honestly don't recommend this option. To add a travel card to a 1-day London Pass costs an additional £15. But if you get your own Oyster Card and load it up with cash, there's a daily cap of £9.80 while traveling anywhere within Zones 1-4 (and a cap of £6.80 in Zones 1 & 2) – meaning you'll never spend £15 on transport in one day in London.
Is a London Pass worth it?
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.
Have YOU ever used a city pass like this on your travels?
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