The London Pass: A Cheapo’s Guide

TL;DR:

  • The London Pass tends to provide the best value for solo, fast-paced travellers.
  • If you are traveling in pairs or in an even-numbered group, the 2-for-1 travelcard promotion might work better for you (see here).

After a fourth visit to London in March 2017, I (shamelessly) consider myself a seasoned veteran of this delightful city.

London reminds me of Singapore in many ways: it is cosmopolitan, has excellent food and it also happens to be notoriously expensive. If you thought SMRT adult fares were bad, wait till you take London’s Tube, which can cost unsuspecting tourists up to 4.90 pounds PER RIDE.

London’s Tube: one of the newer trains operating in London’s Underground network.

But you are not here to find out about London’s public transport system. While planning your itinerary, you may be considering if the London Pass is worth your hard-earned money.

With a 3-day London Pass that costs about £90 (I was fortunate that there was a 10% discount then), I visited a total of 12 attractions which would have otherwise cost over £200. The London Pass was worth every cent for me, but you may not reap the same benefits from it if you aren’t as crazy as I was.

Some of these factors will help you decide if you should get a London Pass:

  • If this is your first trip to London, the London Pass is NOT WORTH IT.

There are numerous free attractions available in London, such as the world famous British Museum and the intriguing Natural History Museum. For modern art fans, apart from the paid exhibitions, the rest of Tate Modern is free to visit. Also, you might want to note that the London Pass DOES NOT include admission to the London Eye. In all honesty, London has enough street markets, free attractions and shopping areas to last tourists for at least a week. Don’t ruin your first experience of this beautiful city because you want to make your money’s worth with the pass.

Natural History Museum: the many interesting exhibits include a full skeleton of a Diplodocus named Dippy!
Borough Market: at over a thousand years old, it is one of the largest and oldest markets in London!
  • If you are traveling around London as a group, the London Pass is NOT WORTH IT.

Your group is as strong as its weakest member. If your weakest member is NOT into running from point to point to visit as many attractions in a day, DO NOT BUY A LONDON PASS. You might want to visit the attractions with the 2-for-1 travelcard promotion instead (which I will write about in time to come).

Travelcards: With each valid railcard, one person is entitled to enjoy a 2-for-1 travelcard promotion!
  • If you enjoy slow and relaxing holidays, the London Pass is NOT WORTH IT.

This is self-explanatory. You do not kill yourself with a London Pass if you want to take your time at the different attractions.

So under which circumstances is the London Pass actually worth your money? If you like rushing around from point to point, seeing everything there is to see; if you have already been to the free attractions that interest you AND if you are traveling alone, the London Pass is PERFECT for you, as it was for me.

After careful consideration, if you have also decided to embark on a crazy 3-day London Pass journey, here are some tips to aid you on your money-saving expedition.

  1. Do take note of the opening hours of ALL of the attractions you intend to visit.

Most attractions open at 9–10am and close at 5–6pm, save for the night walking tours. This means that you only have a timeframe of about 7–9 hours to play with each day. You might want to download the incredibly useful London Pass app, which helped me keep track of the opening hours of each attraction. Using the app also made it easier for me to pinpoint the attractions that I really wanted to visit. It works offline too!

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: I managed to catch the last tour at the globe theatre at 4.30pm!

2. Plan your days beforehand and not change your plans on a whim.

Everyone knows that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Make a list of the attractions you want to visit each day and make sure you know how to get to each attraction (ie. Tube stations to get off at, specific walking directions there, etc).

Chelsea Stadium Tour: Stamford Bridge, for instance, is a short walk from Fulham Broadway (zone 2).

3. Each London Pass Day does NOT last for a 24-hour period.

This means that if you visit your first attraction at 3pm, for example, you’ve basically wasted one day because your days expire at midnight and not at 2.59pm on the following day.

4. Do your research!

You should allocate at least two to three hours for the Tower of London exhibition, for instance, to fully enjoy the Yeoman Warder guided tours which typically go by the hour and lasts for an hour or so and to see the Crown Jewels and the other exhibitions as well. On the other hand, the Tower Bridge exhibition may only require an hour or so if you are only going up for the view and you have no intention to visit the engine room.

Tower Bridge Exhibition: a short visit is not doing the place justice!

Also, do note which attractions tend to be more popular with tourists. If you intend to head to Westminster Abbey on a weekend, for example, you should plan to be there before opening hours, because although the queue moves relatively quickly, waiting to get in may still take up quite a bit of time. Other popular attractions include the Tower of London and Churchill War Rooms.

Westminster Abbey: there was already a queue when I arrived at 9.15am!

The order in which you visit the attractions are also rather important. For instance, while you do NOT need to book a slot for the Chelsea Stadium tour beforehand, do note how often the tours run on their website and the number of slots available for the particular date and time you’re looking to visit. On the other hand, as the Arsenal Stadium tour is a completely self-guided tour, there is no need to reach the stadium at any particular time. If it is possible, do try to visit attractions that are nearer to each other within each particular day, as that will save a lot of traveling time.

Arsenal Stadium Tour: the whole tour is basically a self-guided one, with an audioguide and a personal pair of earphones issued to all visitors!

Let me reinforce this point further with a personal story. Although I had made plans to visit the Wembley Stadium, as a result of insufficient planning, I only realised on the very night before that the stadium was closed on the day I had intended to visit it. Do make sure that the attractions are open on the day of your visit!

5. Download the London Pass onto your smartphone.

Initially, I’d chosen to pick up the physical pass from the London Pass office. However, later on, I realised I’d be wasting precious time as I could be spending these precious few minutes at the attractions instead. As the office only opens at 10am, if you are only visiting London for the duration of your London Pass, I strongly recommend opting for a mobile download of your pass or for your pass to be mailed to you instead of choosing to pick up a physical pass.

Entrance to Churchill War Rooms: for all qualifying attractions, just show your London Pass QR code to the counter and they will take care of the rest!

6. Pack lunch — and you may even want to pack dinner.

This is optional of course, but if you want to make the best out of your London Pass, this is a MUST. Either grab a bite on the go (eg. Sandwich, hotdog), or pack a lunch beforehand. One of the highlights of my London Pass experience was having lunch at the top of the Monument. I’m not sure if that is even allowed, to be honest, but the view definitely made up for the meal I had there.

Lunch on top of the Monument: pesto pasta with kale and scotch eggs.

7. Question: Should I purchase London Pass with travel or can I do without it?

Generally, the answer is no, as using a contactless card (a Singaporean Visa Paywave or Mastercard Paypass works) or an Oyster card, daily travel on the Tube around zones 1–2 — where most of the attractions are — is capped at £6.60. A corresponding 1 day London Pass with travel, on the other hand, costs £13 more than the 1 day London Pass without travel. Even if you were to travel to Wimbledon and Greenwich, the tube stations for the Wimbledon Tour Experience and Royal Greenwich Observatory respectively which are in zone 3, the raised daily cap of £7.70 is still cheaper than the Pass with travel.

However, do note that this ultimately depends on your choice of attractions. If you were to travel from outside London daily (as I did) or if you are interested in the attractions that are much further away from the city centre, it might make more sense for you to get the London Pass with travel. You might want to refer to the table here, which provides all the information you need regarding the daily travel cap (valid as of 01/05/17). The bottom line is: do your research!

8. Purchase the London Pass at the right time.

I did a quick Google search and discovered that the promo code “lon10se” (valid as of 01/05/17) offers 10% off a 3-day London Pass and 15% off a 6-day London Pass! I purchased the 3-day London Pass when there was a 10% discount for it, which made it a lot more worthwhile. As your London Pass only expires after a year, if you know you intend to visit London with a London Pass, you might want to plan ahead and purchase it while it is still on sale, otherwise it may not be discounted when you actually want to buy it!

Now that you are armed with a couple of golden tips, here is the itinerary I followed.

Day 1:

  • Tower of London (3 hours)
  • Thames River Cruise (from Tower Pier to London Eye Pier, 20 mins)
  • Tower Bridge Experience (30–45 mins)
  • London Bridge Experience (1 hour)
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (1 hour)

Day 2:

  • Westminster Abbey (1.5–2 hours)
  • Churchill War Rooms (1.5–2 hours)
  • The Monument (30–45 mins)
  • Royal Observatory Greenwich (2 hours)

Day 3:

  • Chelsea Stadium Tour (1.5–2 hours)
  • Wimbledon Tour Experience (1.5–2 hours)
  • Arsenal Stadium Tour (1.5 hours)

I didn’t visit any attractions at night as I chose to have dinner with my girlfriend instead, who happened to be studying for her exams while I was out playing during the day (poor thing). Even so, I was already incredibly exhausted by 5pm or so. Case in point: although I had made plans to visit the Arcelormittal Orbit on the third day, on my way there, I turned around and headed home instead, as I had a bigger craving for a slow, nice hot meal after a third exhausting day.

In summary, if you want to get the best out of your London Pass, be prepared to plan ahead, rush from point to point and have your meals on the go/eat really quickly, amongst any other creative ideas you come up with to cover as many attractions as possible or to maximise the time you have at each attraction.

If you have other tips, do share them with me so that I can update this post. I hope this helps you in one way or another!