In August, the Wilde family visited London for the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (aka LonCon3), where two of us were panelists. We had a few days to travel before the convention and different ideas about what we wanted to see: I’m a literary geek (shocking, right?), a nautical geek, and a time geek; the husband is a bit of a history geek, with a particular interest in Londinium; and our daughter? She thought most of what she wanted to see in London was Platform 9 3/4. That changed. Because we were on a budget, we discovered many ways to tour London affordably, taking the tube, walking a lot, and using the London Pass. We were pleased to see that when we visited three attractions or more per day, and took into account additional discounts, last-minute promotions, and the excellent (and free) London Pass app, our 3-day London Passes* (£81 adult / £53 child) did indeed easily pay for themselves, as advertised.
Meantime, we often were able to skip long waiting lines, allowing us more time to walk around London. (And we bought several umbrellas using our London Pass gift shop discounts.) There are so many things to see and do in London (not all of them on the London Pass) that we found ourselves pretty overwhelmed at first. Using the London Pass app, we were able to mark our favorite points of interest, which let us be more organized about where we toured. Because some things we wanted to see and do were not on the pass, we took that into consideration and budgeted for them separately. We still think the London Pass was a great deal. Here’s Part 1 of our favorite five ways to geek out in London that the London Pass puts within easy reach.
• Leicester Square was our first stop near the National Portrait Gallery to pick up our London Passes, as we didn’t have them mailed to our home. We found the London Pass offices located downstairs in the ticket information booth at the center of the square. While there, we took a long look at upcoming shows, as London Pass holders can get substantial discounts off tickets. (If you’ve had your pass mailed to you, you can order tickets online too.) (Cost: Free, bonus discounts.)
• Shakespeare’s Globe Theater – We first tried to go late in the afternoon, but found tours had already ended. Not a problem, the next morning was beautiful, and we came back first thing. The Globe is, as the original was, open to the elements. Our guide was eloquent on subjects ranging from how sets were designed to the origin of the term “stinking masses.” One particular Harry Potter fan was delighted to find a brick outside bearing the name of the actress who played Madame Hooch in the movies. To sum up: this is a must go. The rebuilt Globe Theater is exquisite inside and out, and their museum of costumes and sets downstairs was of great interest to the whole family. If you can, take the opportunity to see a performance while you’re in Southwark. The ticket booth is at the end of your tour, although families with small children may balk as we did at the standing-room-only option. (Cost:
£13.50 Included. Gift shop discounts with the pass.)
• London Pass holders can also get free backstage tours at the National Theater.
• Start with Tower of London, and go early. Even though the London Pass let us skip the ticket line, we took a leisurely walk across the Tower Bridge (also on the pass) and by the time we arrived, the entrance line snaked and weaved across the pavement, despite the sudden downpours. Luckily, the line also moved at a very fast clip, so we didn’t get too wet. Once inside, we used the pass to get discounted audio tours. All three of us chose the kid’s tour. It’s very well done and, according to other members of our party, funnier than the adult audio tour. On our way out, we explored the new coinage exhibit just inside the main gate, and found it excellent, with great interactives and a look at other aspects of the tower’s history. (Cost:
£20 Included. Audio tour discounts with the pass.)
• The London Museum traces the evolution of the city from pre-history through Londinium’s heyday, all the way to modern times. It’s a little museum that packs a huge wallop. We immersed ourselves in Roman culture (Londinium) and saw a piece of the original Roman wall, peered at an Auroch’s skull, and even learned how long each of us would have survived the Black Death. Utterly fun and well done. (Cost:
• Westminster Abbey – Lines form early here as well, but with our London Passes, we were able to skip the ticket office. Once inside, the tombs and memorials of nobles, scientists, musicians, artists, statesmen, and writers (yep, you’ll see Westminster again on the Literary list) grace the outer areas while royal tombs occupy the inner circle. The adults among us were overwhelmed by it. The kids were interested in the details of the tombs because our kids are fairly creepy. (Cost:
• The Tower Bridge exhibit, Windsor Castle, The Churchill War Rooms, and many other historic buildings are also on the pass.
• Should you spend a day being a Nautical Geek (below), don’t miss the Fan Museum in Greenwich. The small museum has a great collection of vintage fans from all periods, as well as a study of the language of fans. Most important, if you can make reservations, it has an excellent and affordable tea. (Cost:
£4 Included. Tea is extra.) [Many thanks to Julia Rios, co-editor of the wonderful YA Science Fiction and Fantasy collection, Kaleidescope, for telling me about this museum!]
• At certain times of year, you may be able to visit Buckingham Palace, which we did with a discount from the London Pass. The best audio tour here is again the kid’s tour, this time conducted by the palace corgis. The artwork and architecture in the palace alone is worth the visit.
• Our London Passes got us on Thames riverboat trips all the way to Greenwich. You can take the tube, but believe me, this is the way to go. The city’s naval history is told along the rivers’ banks, and the river cruise makes for a great way to see it all. (Cost:
• The National Maritime Museum is free once you arrive in Greenwich using either your riverboat trip or a London Pass travelcard to get around on the tube. The museum contains all aspects of British maritime history, from exploration and maritime battles to modern-day racing. Everyone loved this one.
• Through January 2015, and for additional admission, the National Maritime Museum is celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act with Ships, Clocks, and Stars: the Quest for Longitude, a not-to-miss examination of the race to find accurate methods of navigation. We took some of the money we’d saved by using the London Pass and bought tickets to this exhibition and its companion exhibit, Longitude Punk’d (see below). Totally Worth It. (Cost: £8.50.)
• The Golden Hinde II, the reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon, located in Southwark, is not on the London Pass, nor is the Cutty Sark, but the HMS Belfast is. (Cost: Adult ticket
Tune in soon for Part 2 of our London Pass adventure: Literary Geek and Time(lord) Geek! *The author received a complimentary 3-day London Pass from Leisure Pass Group.