We certainly did a lot of ‘touristy’ things during our visit in London which came with a pretty high price tag. It is no joke when people say that London is a very expensive city, and to us personally, this is especially true when it comes to the hefty admission prices to certain attractions, and the handful of times when we purchased food/snacks from a restaurant or cafe. Unfortunately, while most of these paid activities were worth the money spent, some not so much. Here are the list of things we did and the ticket price we paid for our family of 4 (advanced online purchase). Please know that these are strictly my personal opinion/comments based on our own experience. One may easily have a completely different view or observation.
Buckingham Palace Tour – £55.30
I have written about our experience with this tour in a previous post so I won’t go into the details here. We had a good time on this tour though it was very crowded when we were there which made it difficult to see certain exhibits, especially when the staff kept rushing you to ‘move along’. But overall, I still think it’s pretty cool to see some parts of Her Majesty’s residence.
Worth the money? Yes
Tower of London – £52.10
This iconic medieval palace and fortress to me was a must-visit stop. The highlight for Hubby and I was the Yeoman Warder (Beefeaters) guided tour. We were thoroughly entertained by the Yeoman Warder’s humorous yet very informative stories and history about the palace. There was no one dull moment, though the kiddos did have a hard time understanding our guide as he had a very strong Welsh accent. This free guided tour is offered every 30 minutes and lasts about one hour. If you are pressing for time during your visit to Tower of London, this is definitely the one thing you should do.
We also got to walk through The Crown Jewels Exhibition at a very leisurely pace since there was no crowd at all, and seeing all the working royal collection was really quite an impressive sight. We wrapped up our visit by exploring the ‘Wall Walk’, the defensive stone encirclement that formed the walls along the south, east and north sides of the Tower.
Worth the money? Yes
St. Paul’s Cathedral – £39
After getting over the initial shock of finding out an entrance fee is required to enter, St. Paul’s Cathedral is quite honestly one of our favorite stops in London. Aside from the beautiful architecture designed by Sir Christopher Wren (my favorite English architect), its jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring interior, the
exhausting fun 528 steps climb to the dome, the kid-friendly multimedia guides that contain quizzes, activities and interactive games to keep the children engaged as we stopped at each section of the Cathedral, they also offer a 90-minute guided tour that’s included with the admission.
Our tour was led by one of the longtime church volunteers, and she was extremely knowledgeable about the Cathedral’s history, the origins of the interior decors and statues, and the back stories of various kings and queens. She took us through the Cathedral floor and the underground crypt. We also got to see the Geometric Staircase (Harry Potter, anyone?) and the Quire, areas not typically open to visitors.
This guided tour is offered Monday through Saturday at 10am/11am/1pm/2pm (the Cathedral is open on Sunday for worship only). If you already decide to pay the entrance fee to go inside the Cathedral, it’d really be a shame if you don’t sign up for this tour since there is no extra cost.
Worth the money? Yes
Cutty Sark & Royal Observatory Combo Tickets in Greenwich – £39
When I first added Greenwich to our itinerary, I only had 2 things on my list. One is to visit the Old Royal Naval College for its beautiful structures (also by Christopher Wren), and the other is to walk around Greenwich Park, one of the oldest Royal Parks in London. I have initially decided not to go into the Royal Observatory as it seemed very pricey to pay £22 just to take a picture with the Meridian Line. Then I’ve had a couple of friends telling me that their kids really liked Cutty Sark so I figure we’d pay it a visit during our time in Greenwich as well.
During my research of ticket prices for Cutty Sark, I found that the admission for a family of 4 is £31.50. But if you get the combo of Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory (£22 by itself), the tickets would then cost £39 which seem like a no brainer at the time. We did have a decent time at Cutty Sark and learned some interesting facts about the ship and its trading days. But by the time we walked through the town to Greenwich Park, and climbed up the steep hill to the Observatory, we had a pretty tired and hangry boy on hand. The audio guide provided with the Royal Observatory admission was very basic (and dry) so the kids had no interest in listening to it. And the red time ball on top of the Flamsteed House that is dropped daily at 1pm was getting some maintenance work done that day so it wasn’t working. Therefore just as predicted, we went in to take the obligatory photos and pretty much left shortly after.
In hindsight, we really should have just gone to the National Maritime Museum* after our stop at the Old Royal Naval College, and we probably would have much more fun, FOR FREE! Instead, we ran out of time and had to grab some quick lunch before catching the river cruise back to the city.
*I should add National Maritime Museum to the list of things I wish we had the time to do.
Worth the money? Not really
Thames River Services – around £18
There are several different river cruise companies that can take you up and down River Thames. I knew that I wanted to do a river cruise from Greenwich to Westminster, but I did not have time to do any prior research. The ticket window for Thames River Services was the first one we saw when we got out of the Greenwich DLR station that morning, and their ticket price seemed reasonable so that pretty much made the decision for us. While the ride itself was certainly nice as it cruised right by many London’s famous landmarks, I was a bit disappointed to find out that there was no guide of any sort offered onboard (I now wonder if that was the reason there were barely anyone on our boat). I’ve seen plenty other river cruises going by and can hear their onboard tour guide over the PA system with interesting facts or history as they cruise along the river. I guess this would be one of those ‘you get what you paid for’ cases. Although, it was very nice to have the entire outside deck to ourselves as all the other passengers thought it was too chilly to be out, but the temp was actually quite pleasant for those of us from the midwest.
Worth the money? More or less
London by Night Open Top Bus Tour – £50
Since we did not do the hop-on hop-off bus tour, I figured we could probably justify doing a night bus tour instead, with the vision of seeing the beautiful night lights of London. What we ended up with however was not really all that great of an experience. If I’m trying to be objective here, I was perhaps not very realistic in what I thought I was getting, or at least, I did not really think through what I would be getting.
Photo Quality – I know it’s my own fault that I use an iPhone to take all of my pictures. This may not have been an issue for someone with a professional grade camera or better photography skills. But while I know that the bus does not stop at whatever sights it’s driving by, I guess I was expecting the bus would at least slow down a little so we can snap the photos. In reality, unless we were stopped at a red light, or got slowed down due to traffic flow, the bus pretty much zoomed by everything. Therefore it was impossible for me to take any decent shots on a fast moving bus.
Temperature – It was VERY VERY cold and windy which once again was something I did not prepare well for. It was the first week of October so the temps were definitely chillier at night and we layered up the best we could. However, we did not consider the wind factor sitting on an open top (and fast moving) bus to be such a big deal, or we would’ve brought a couple of blankets to block the wind.
The Mumbling Guide – I don’t know if the guy was just tired or bored, but with the wind blowing hard as the bus picking up the speed, the dude just mumbled into his mic and he barely could finish what he needed to say before the bus already drove pass each spot. For most of the tour, we could only hear his voice in the background against the wind but rarely could hear clearly what he was saying.
Tower Bridge – About half way through the tour the guide announced that Tower Bridge has been closed to motor traffic earlier that week for a scheduled 3-month maintenance work, therefore we would not be taking the usual route to cross the bridge. Excuse me? I am sorry, but Tower Bridge is like one of my favorite things to see in London. Since it’s a ‘scheduled’ maintenance, why didn’t the tour company put a note on their booking website about this? 😡
Worth the money? No
Tower Bridge Exhibition – £20.30
In case you don’t know by now, I have a thing for bridges so of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go inside Tower Bridge. After riding the elevator up, we were able to explore the towers and the walkways connecting them. We learned why and how the bridge was created during the Victorian times via historical films, displays and modern simulations. We also walked on the glass floor in the middle of the west walkway and looked down to the ‘action’ below. Since the bridge was closed to traffic for maintenance work, all we saw was torn up pavements and ugly construction equipments. Besides, after having been on the Skydeck high on top of Willis Tower (Sears Tower) in Chicago, as well as the glass floor in Toronto’s CN Tower, we don’t really get excited about it any more.
I ended up spending most of my time going through the ‘Great Bridges of the World’ display on the walkways that figured 40 bridges around the world that are truly amazing engineering achievements. When we were ready to move on from the walkways to see the Victorian Engine Rooms, we were informed by the staff that the engine rooms were, you guessed it, closed for maintenance work. Ugh! Seriously, what is it with us and the maintenance work in London?! 😂 This was no doubt very disappointing as we had thought that it would be the highlight of this entire exhibition.
Worth the money? More or less I suppose
Have you had any similar or opposite experience from ours? Or what other paid activity you might have done during a trip that you think was money well spent or a complete waste?