London Pass Review – See London Attractions
This is a short post on the pros and cons of purchasing a London Pass when you visit one of the world’s greatest cities.
Samuel Johnson, probably the most famous Londonophile opined that ” When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” and I think he was right. The sheer number of things to see and do in London is seemingly inexhaustible. No matter how many times you visit London there will always be some museum you haven’t visited before, some neighbourhood you’ve never wandered into or some great pub you’ve somehow overlooked in your search to find the ultimate London watering hole.
For the first time visitor, London can be a daunting place – what are the must sees, what can I save for next time, where are the hidden gems that I can brag to my friends about visiting because they haven’t? Just as importantly is – how the hell can I afford to visit all these places and still have spending money for afternoon tea at the Ritz? This where the London Pass comes in. If used properly it can offer tremendous savings over visiting and paying for each attraction separately, but it does have its drawbacks as well.
Cost of a London Pass
The cost of a one day pass is £79, which seems steep, but the cost drops dramatically for two and three day passes – £100 and £121 respectively. Now compare the cost of visiting some of the must-see attractions that the first time visitor will almost certainly have on the agenda – Tower of London £25.00, Westminster Abbey £18, Hop on/off tour of the city £29, Thames River Cruise £20.50. Now add on some of the must-sees just outside London – Hampton Court £8 and Windsor Castle £23.50 and add in the London Zoo for good measure £22.50 and the multi-day packages are very appealing. Also the fact you already have a ticket means no waiting in potentially long lines to buy one at the most popular attractions.
Pros and Cons
So why wouldn’t I unhesitatingly recommend the London Pass for first time visitors? Well I do recommend it with the following caveats. Some of these are actually tips for getting the most out of the London Pass rather than reasons to be leery of buying one. So here they are in no particular order.
- If you have not had the pass mailed to you, picking it up in London is an unnecessary pain in the ass. You can buy the London Pass online and if you do, make sure you opt to have it mailed to you. Otherwise, you and hundreds of others who have made the same mistake have to pick it up at the ridiculously understaffed London Pass office on Charing Cross Road. This is actually a giant kiosk just back of Trafalgar Square where they sell passes on the main floor. However, if you are picking up a pass you need to go down a set of tiny spiral stairs, wait in line for the one person on duty and then get your card after showing ID and the same credit card used to buy the card and try to make your way back up the stairs. Inevitably someone in the line in front of you will : a) not have the same credit card b) not have the printed confirmation # or c) have accidentally deleted the confirmation info from their iPhone. To add to the problem the opening hour of 10:00 AM is way too late and there will be a queue, possibly a long one. Considering that after getting your pass you need to get to the first attraction to activate it, a good portion of the day is gone before you even start using it. This complaint could easily be fixed with better hours and more staff.
- The Hop on/ Hop Off bus tour is a bit deceiving – If you look at the home page of London Pass it advertises 80+ attractions (true), Fast Track entry (true) and Free Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour (true), so what’s the problem? I suspect most people read it as offering all three benefits simultaneously – in other words if you buy a three day pass you get entry to the 80+ attractions, get to use the Fast Track entry and get to use the Hop on Hop Off bus while going from place to place. I know that was my assumption, although if you delve deeper on the site you learn that the Hop on Hop Off bus is really a one-day attraction and not something that you can use with a multi-day pass. Therefore you need to be plan ahead for the day you will use it if you have a multi-day pass. On the days you aren’t going to the attractions by way of the bus you’ll need to find another way. I suspect that’s why they offer Oyster Cards in addition to the London Pass. These cards are good for almost all public transportation in the city and make getting around a cinch. The cost is £15 for two days and £30 for three days.
- The Hop On Hop Off bus is very slow – I suggest that you use the Hop On Hop Off bus tour as a means of seeing most of London’s major highlights for the first time and not as a way of getting around. London’s traffic is notoriously congested. There is always construction everywhere and more red lights than you’ll find in De Wallen in Amsterdam. Other delays are less predictable – things came to a total standstill today because the Queen was attending church nearby. If you are just looking to enjoy the city from the open top of a double-decker bus then fine, but if you are rushing to get the most out of that one day pass, take the Tube instead.
- There’s so much free stuff in London you might not want a London Pass – What do the British Museum, National Gallery, the Changing of the Guard and some of the world’s greatest urban parks and gardens have in common? They are all free, along with dozens of other great London attractions. By purchasing a London Pass you might be tempted to pass these up in favour of getting your money’s worth (sarcasm) at less worthy sites.
- Many of the major fee based attractions are not included – St. Paul’s Cathedral, Madame Tussaud’s, the Harry Potter studios, the London Eye and others are not included in the London Pass. If you want to visit these you will have to shell out dearly.
So the bottom line is that I recommend first time visitors to London by a one-day pass and use it to ride all three of the Hop On Hop Off routes, visit the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey and in between these visits squeeze in a Thames boat tour. You will see the best of London and certainly come out ahead financially, but you will be exhausted.
What Samuel Johnson forget to mention was that, while you might not be tired of London, after this tour you will be as tired by London as you have been in your life.