London. I love the place. Can’t get enough. As a history buff, I could spend months in the city wandering the museums and historic sites and still not feel I’d seen enough. I’ve only been twice so far. The first was only a couple days. The second for about 10 days. It was on this second trip that I decided to get the London Pass to make the most of my time in London and save some money in the process, seeing as I was (and still am to an extent) a complete cheapskate.
The London Pass
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the London Pass, it covers entry to over 60 attractions across the city in a consecutive period of 1-day (£49), 2-days (£68), 3-days (£62.90 on sale) and 6-days (£97.20 on sale). It’s billed as a great way to skip the long ticket lines (not in my experience) and save some dosh on attractions you were planning to see anyway. You can also get the pass with a travel card for the tube and public buses, but you would have to do a LOT of travelling to recoup the cost. The travel card doesn’t make much financial sense.
I had a look at the attractions I wanted to see and compared the entry fees with the price of the pass and saw that, yes indeed, I would save money with the pass. I purchased the 6-day pass and planned to hit up as many attractions as I could in those 6 days.
Where it all went wrong
The problem was, I was so focussed on making the most of the pass that I spent half my time rushing between attractions. I didn’t feel like I could savour my time at the Tower of London because I had to make the Thames River Cruise etc. We (my sister came with) also found that the attraction opening times were limited so it was hard to fit in everything we wanted to see and do. We never made it to the Globe Theatre before it closed despite rushing to get there 3 times. And forget about visiting a museum during those 6 days! That would be a waste of time and money.
It also meant we went to a few attractions that we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise, simply because they were included with the pass and we were in the area. You might think this would be a benefit and we’d discover exciting things that we would have missed otherwise. Unfortunately no, they were just a boring waste of time – particularly the Royal Mews, where we had to wait in line for 45 minutes despite there only being about 3 people ahead of us, and the London Bridge Experience, which is a stupid horror tour thing where guys dress up in costume and jump out to scare the participants (who have to walk at a snails pace with hands on shoulders in a line through the exhibit). If swinging plastic animal parts on hooks (which hit me square in the nose by the way! Ouch) and stupid screaming teenagers is your bag, this is for you! But I digress…
The Historic Royal Palaces are the charity that maintains the five royal London palaces – the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House and Key Palace. For £46 you can support the charity by purchasing an annual membership and gain unlimited access to the palaces for a whole year. Of course most visitors are highly unlikely to be in London that long, but knowing you can go back to the palaces anytime without having to pay another entrance fee is really nice. You also get a free book, ‘The Private Life of Palaces’, a free members’ magazine subscription and 10% discount in any of the palace restaurants, shops and cafes. If you’re a history buff like I am, then you might find the Historic Royal Palaces membership a much better option than the London Pass. Sure, it doesn’t cover as many attractions, but you’re not rushing about and you still have £51 over the 6-day pass to put towards the other attractions you’re interested in.
OK, so the London Pass did save us money in the end, but not much. We could have spent those 6 days slowly exploring the sites we actually wanted to visit without feeling rushed. We could have spread out the attractions and interspersed them with London’s world-class museums and galleries and luxuriated over long lunches, people-watching and strolling about town, getting happily lost. In my humble opinion, THAT is the way to experience a city; not rushing about trying to see everything in as short a time frame as possible simply to save a bit of cash.
What do you think of city passes, are they worth it to you? Or do you prefer to take things slow and go with the flow?