Sunday, October 2, 2011

Free Tours Across England: London, Bath, Stonehenge, Cotswold, Windsor

Looks like I've becoming a walking trip advisor.  Shall I be flattered or it's a wake-up call that I've been wandering too much.

I just got back from a quick trip to England and there are quite a lot of good bargains and freebies, all things to be grateful for on this trip, for ten days, 500 pounds was more than enough to live by and even took home four long champ bags.

Thanks to HSBC for flying me there, it was not a joke spending early mornings and weekends going around the city swiping.

Thanks to my host, who met me at the airport, toured us for a day or two and graciously allowed me to stay at her place.  Every night was a good night's sleep on the couch.

Thanks to my travel companion, who flew all the way across the globe.

Thanks to BDO for complimentary Marco Polo Club membership, no queues!  I love the priority check-in and boarding, feeling first class on economy ticket.  Without it, I would be running off to the boarding gate as the check-in counters are really long.

Thanks to lots of free tours!  History isn't my cup of tea and visiting historical places don't exactly excite me.  Thanks to free tours, it made everything more interesting.

Here are some tips how we availed of free tours and great bargains while visiting England: London, Bath, Windsor, Stonehenge and Cotswold.
  • The London Pass
The London Pass has to be purchased outside of London.  It is a smart card with a computer chip inside - which allows you completely cash free entry to your choice of over 55 London tourist attractions.

How to purchase? Simply purchase the London Pass online through and have it mailed to your home address or pick it up at the British & London Visitor Centre.  I opted to purchase it over at  The latter was selling the three day pass for $64 while the former was selling it at 64 pounds.

If you choose to collect your order in London you will need to print and bring with you the London Pass voucher which is emailed to you on completion of your online order.

Your London Pass order can be collected from:
The Britain and London Visitor Centre.
No.1 Regent Street,
London, SW1Y 4XT.

(Nearest Underground Station: Piccadilly Circus, take the Southside exit)
Please note that if you opt for the London Pass with travel and you choose to collect it in the UK, you must purchase a separate London Underground fare to get from Heathrow into Central London.

Britain and London Visitor Centre Opening Times:
Monday 10.00 hrs to 16.30 hrs
Tuesday to Friday 0930 hrs to 16.30 hrs
Saturday to Sunday 10.00 hrs to 16.00 hrs
Saturday (June to September) 09.30 hrs to 16.30 hrs

show the attendant at a London Pass attraction your card, they will swipe it through a special machine and you will be allowed entry. View the full list of London attractions where you can get in free with the London Pass .

  • London Travelcard 
London Travelcard is valid for unlimited use of Public Transport in all or selected London Zones for the validity period of your ticket (Rail, Underground, Buses, Trams and Docklands Light Railway).

A 7 day Travelcard valid on all zone (50 pounds) costs twice as compared to the one that is valid for only for zone 1 and 2 (27 pounds).  Zone 1 and 2 was sufficient to visit all the major tourist spots in London.  The only time a tourist goes out of zone is when heading to the airport; one way trip on the tube costs 5 pounds (1 hour ride) or 15 pounds on the Heathrow express (15 minute ride from Paddington Station).

The travelcard however is not valid on the train that heads to Bath, Stonehenge, Windsor, Oxford...

What's included on the London Pass: 

1.  Yeoman Warder Tour at the Tower of London
    When? Every 30 mins (last tour 15.30 in summer, 14.30 in winter). Tours last approximately 60 mins and start near the main entrance.

    Admission to the Tower of London is included with the London pass.  Included in the admission ticket, is a free tour where Yeoman Warders (popularly known at ‘Beefeaters’) will entertain you with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution, torture and much more.   These Yeoman Warders are definitely entertaining and has character.

    The Tower of Lodon is a fortress built in 1080s.  Several generations of the monarch are associated here from William the Conqueror to Queen Elizabeth I.  At present, it is Her Majesty's fortress which house the crown jewels.

    2.  Tower Bridge of London

    Tower Bridge on a sunset taken during the River Thames Boat Cruise

    Located outside of the Tower of London, is the Tower Bridge, often mistaken as the London Bridge.  The Tower Bridge is a bascule and a suspension bridge over River Thames.  The bridge opens up when bigger vessels pass.  The Tower Bridge Exhibition is the high level walkway between the two towers,  during our visit, they exhibited pictures of the bridges of the world.  It was a disappointment that it is enclosed in glass, for safety perhaps.  Well, I wasn't the only one disappointed, the kids blurted it out loud.  My take on this: a visit to the Tower Bridge Exhibition is not a must.

    3.  River Thames Boat Cruise

    London Eye and the Aquarium

    After the Tower of London, cross the Tower Bridge, and you're led to a walk by the River Thames towards the Westminster Pier to board the Thames River Boat Cruise.

    Highlights of a Thames river cruise include a view of the Cutty Sark (soon to be the tallest building in the world), Canary Wharf (the financial district), the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the retired battle-cruiser - HMS Belfast; St Paul's Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. From the boat you get pass under the Millennium Footbridge and the new London Bridge.

    The Red Rover Ticket on the Thames River is included on the London Pass and valid for a day of hop-on hop-off between Westminster Pier, London Eye Pier, Tower Hill Pier and Greenwich Pier.  Taking the cruise is a good way to slow down and recharge those tired feet after a long walk.

    4.  Admission and audio guide to Westminster Abbey

    Westminster Abbey received more audience during the recent royal wedding of the future king of England, Prince William and Kate Middleton.  For me, Westminster Abbey will be and always be for Princess Diana's memory,  it was here where she received her final funeral rites before finally being laid to rest in their estate.  Fourteen years has passed,  Elton John was quoted saying,
    "The last time we were in Westminster Abbey, my heart sank when I saw those two boys walking behind the coffin... And the next time we are in the Abbey it's to see him walking up the aisle with a beautiful woman and the love of his life, I think it's the most joyous result and I'm sure Diana would be very, very happy about it."

    Aside from weddings and funerals,  Westminster Abbey, is particularly important in English history as it witnessed the 38 coronations from the time of King Edward the Conqueror in 1066 upto Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

    We found ourselves on queue before the abbey opened at 10am.  Admission fee and audio guide is included on the London Pass.  Upon our entry, we chanced upon a bulletin that says guided tours for 3 pounds and the first  tour will start in a few minutes.  It was a no brainer to join that tour.

    Verger-led tours of the Abbey are available, in English, for individuals or family groups only (and not for larger parties or school visits). They start at the North Door, last for approximately 90 minutes and include a tour of the Shrine (containing the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor), the Royal Tombs, Poets' Corner, the Cloisters and the Nave.  Priced at 3 pounds per person (in addition to the entrance charge), limited to 25 persons per group.  It was definitely worth it.  It gives special access to areas not open to the public like the chapel of St. Edward and an opportunity to actually sit on the Quire, right next to where the knights and her Majesty sit.  It definitely felt like we're VIP walking pass the thick crowd inside.  Our guide was no less than the person who escorted Prince William and Harry to the altar on William's wedding.  He gave a comprehensive history and story of the abbey, including the many names whose body lay there, the information was overwhelming.

    Here's a schedule of Verger-led tours:

    Summer: April to September

    Monday-Friday 10.00am, 10.30am, 11.00am, 2.00pm, 2.30pm
    Saturdays 10.00am, 10.30am, 11.00am

    Winter: October to March

    Monday-Friday 10.30am, 11.00am, 2.00pm, 2.30pm
    Saturday 10.30am, 11.00am

    We did not book ahead, we just went early.  If you require further details and to confirm a booking please contact the Abbeys Information Desk on +44 (0)20 7654 4834

    5. St. Paul's Cathedral

    St. Paul's Cathedral architecture reminds me of St. Peter's Cathedral in Vatican.  Although it was the intention of this anglican church to keep it less lavish than that of the catholic church,  it's size and it's  intricate ceiling works says otherwise.   We climbed up and down 700 steps to the whispering gallery and stone gallery.  It's not called the whispering gallery for nothing, whisper to the wall and it will be heard across the dome, amazing!

    Westminster Abbey is where Prince William wed,  St Paul's Cathedral is where his parents Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana wed.  The hundred year old Queen Mother was also laid to rest here beside her husband.

    most awesome audio guide, it's an ipod touch!
    at the whispering gallery, whisper and it is heard across the dome, amazing!
    6. Admission fee to Windsor Castle

    Windsor Castle is located outside of London,  admission fee is included on the London Pass but transportation to get there isn't included on the travel card.  From Paddington Station in London, we took the First Great Western train to Windsor.  Train fares spike up during peak hours, you can check train schedules and fares online with  We chose the cheapest times and purchased it at the train station on the same day for 18 pounds round trip for any time return trip.

    The foreign exchange counter at Windsor Station gave a much better rate than anywhere else in London  (at least compared to those we asked).  We got a free map and some heads up at the visitor center, at the mall connected to the station.

    we timed our visit to witness the changing of guards
    Windsor Castle remains to be her Majesty's home away from London, it has become her favorite weekend home.  Access to the public is limited to the castle grounds, the church and some exhibition areas. For me, the royal collection of Queen Mary's doll house was the highlight of the visit to Windsor Castle.  It is any girl's dream to own a doll house but this one is something beyond my imagination, it was larger than life.  My jaw dropped with all it's intricacies, I can stand there for hours and adore it in all angles.  (My barbie doll house is a ragged doll house compared to this.)  Photography wasn't allowed inside, but I found this on the net, but doesn't do much justice:

    Windsor Castle also offers free guided tour scheduled almost every hour.

    Aside from the Windsor Castle,  Windsor (the city) itself is a pretty town,  Eaton College that produced the most number of prime ministers is located 30 minutes away by foot.  Legoland is also in Windsor.  For more information about Windsor, check out

    7.  Admission to Enchanting Kensington Palace

    Kensington Palace has been shaped by generations of royal women from Queen Mary to Victoria and, more recently Diana, Princess of Wales.  Kensington is also Prince William and Kate's home whenever they are in London.

    From spring 2010 Kensington Palace will be transformed into the Enchanted Palace, inspired by the stories of the princesses who once lived at Kensington – Mary, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret and Diana.  The theme is quite eerie but not that impressive.  The palace gardens is under renovation during our visit.  The rest of the palace grounds, a park and a lagoon, is a good place to hangout.  There are quite a number of locals laying on the grass, chancing upon the bright sun, a luxury for the people of London.

    What struck me during our visit was the gates of Kensington Palace that was filled with personal messages and fresh flowers for the late Princess Diana.  Fourteen years has passed, she remained well loved by many.  Kate Middleton has some big shoes to fill.

    8.  London Bridge Experience and Tombs

    The London Bridge Experience is a bonus to the London Pass, other than it's name, it doesn't really have anything to do with London in substance.  The first half of the London Bridge Experience tells the history of London Bridge by artists in their most hideous make-up and skit, setting the mood of a terrifying experience.  I was already terrified even before we could go in, I was exceptionally jittery on this horror booth.  The props, the artists, the lighting was just perfect to scare me away,  I was eager to find the exit but it was a long way, I practically hid behind my companion's back most of the time and screamed everytime someone comes, hears a sound, sees a chopped head from nowhere.

    Nearby, there's also London Dungeon, it looked more interesting with 5D experience, this I gotta try next time.

    What's not included in the London Pass:
    • Admission to Buckingham Palace
    • Budget Guided Tours with London Walk's
    • Inner Circle Tour of Stonehenge
    • Free Walking Tour of the Heritage City of Bath
      to be continued...

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