London tourism: expensive shit

London Parliament SquareSorry for another non-gardening post, folks, but I had to mention this.

I have the in-laws staying at the moment, so I’ve been doing the traditional London tourism shit. It’s been a very long time since I did this, so I was unprepared for the experience.

From a British citizen’s and Londoner’s point of view, then, here are my reflections upon London tourism:

  • Jesus Christ, but it’s SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE. The biggest rip-off I ever saw. Seriously disgraceful. A family pass to Madame Tussaud’s – a two-hour entertainment, at most – is £99. That’s after you’ve queued for THREE HOURS to get in. Everything else is as bad – Buck House, the London Eye. For a family ticket, none of them give you much change from £100, if any. Stay in London for a week and see everything and I reckon you’re looking at something like £700 per adult without bed and board.
  • The queues, the queues (see above). Westminster Abbey is just about acceptable at ‘only’ 20 mins waiting. Everywhere else sucks. Madame Tussaud’s broke my heart: Expensive and shit. Why anybody wants to see the damn place so much is utterly baffling.
  • The restrictions. I haven’t been to Parliament Square for a while, so I was shocked to see the permanent railings (see pic) keeping people out. I understand why – the riots etc. But that the central, eponymous historic public space at the heart of our democracy should deny access to its own citizens is appalling.
  • The profanity of charging £50 for three adults and a child at St Paul’s cathedral. Six years ago, when I last went, it was free. How dare they suddenly start charging? I thought St Paul’s (unlike Westminster Abbey, which stopped being a ‘real’ church years ago) was a place of proper worship?
  • The websites. As if the foregoing weren’t irritating enough, London’s various ‘attractions’ have created a new Hell in their booking systems. In this dungeon of impenetrable jargon (‘Fasticket’, ‘Freedom pass’, ‘Fastrack’), you quickly become disorientated by the conflicting price information, the combined ‘multi-attraction’ offers, the early/late savers, the ‘priority’ no-queue options and the two-for-one ‘specials’ that turn out to be pricier than certain individual tickets. It’s almost as if – perish the thought – it was all created specifically to confuse.

Anything good to mention? Well, Brits are as polite and orderly as ever – no queue jumping, and smiles all round. Plus every guide and usher is a comedian; a perennial pleasure of living in the UK.

But on the whole, the experience is depressing. I’m saddened by the overpriced and crummy commercial ‘attractions’ that our capital has to offer the world. To think that people fly thousands of miles to queue on Euston Road for three hours, then pay so much money to see something so fucking tawdry…

Well I just wish it weren’t so. That’s all I’m saying.

PS: Want ideas for things to do in London? Some of these might appeal, if you like the unusual. And many of these are must-dos: unusual, interesting and great value for money. If you’re a history nut, walking the Thames path is 100% free and the best way, bar none, to see the sights of London.

If you know any unusual, cheap and interesting things to do in London, do please add them in the comments. May help some luckless, itinerant American who is even now pacing the streets of our capital, utterly broke, and cursing these islands for their disgraceful contempt for visitors.

9 Responses to “London tourism: expensive shit”

  1. maureen Says:

    Ha Ha you make me laugh out loud, you certainly tell it like it is !!! Myself I can’t get enough of our great capital, and if you don’t do the tourist stuff that you have to pay for there really is lot’s to see and do for free, you just have to plan it well.
    I hope your in-laws enjoyed it all.

  2. Ford Says:

    The Chelsea Physic Garden is a very pleasant visit …. only £8 a head!

  3. Mel Says:

    I have to say, as a tourist, I can bear London only for a few hours at a time. I could never stay a week! Walking across London is the best way to see things, and it is free. Worst rip off? The London Dungeons. It is like someone painted a room, put some lights up and charged you £20 to enter.

  4. London Steve Says:

    I share your general grumpiness about London and you’re right of course that charging to enter our cathedral is an obscenity. Fair’s fair though, the same applies to Canterbury, Salisbury, Wells etc though. Great free stuff of course includes Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Tate Modern, Hendon RAF museum. Try getting something for free in Paris or NY! I love Dennis Sever’s House, but not free (www.dennissevershouse.co.uk).

    Thanks for the site, love it all.

  5. Mike Says:

    Speaking as a

    luckless, itinerant American African who has paced the streets of London…

    I was wondering about the price for touring the Tower.

    When we visited London (quite a lot of years ago) we had one of those tourist cards that gave us discounts at many National Heritage places, often (as you say) resulting in a higher price than simply buying single tickets. The Tower was one highlight I really wanted to see, but, coming at the very end of our trip, we took one look at the price and sloped of to a nearby pub instead.

    Thanks for a good laugh!

  6. Kathy Says:

    I highly recommend the walk along Regent’s Canal. Since you are below street level London seems to disappear and it becomes a very peaceful walk. I have visited London a few times now I mostly agree with your comments. Never been to Madame Tussauds because I can’t think of anything worth waiting in a line that long. Many locations are overpriced, but the free museums do offset that somewhat….given our lousy exchange rate I haven’t been back to the UK in 5 years and have chosen to visit other coutries.

  7. Jaette Says:

    Soilman – I know this is a bit late but I have to add my plug for the British Museum. Free admission for a tour of the antiquities of the world. That was by far my favorite experience as a tourist in London a couple years ago.

  8. Soilman Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Jaette. London’s excellent museums remain free to enter (but for how long?), and for me they’re the pride of the city.

  9. Emma Says:

    Go to Little Venice and take a canal boat cruise to Camden (or vice versa). I think it costs about £7 and you get to sail through Regents Park and past London Zoo. A very chilled way to spend an hour.