With London being such a big bustling city, it is understandable to want to book ahead so you enjoy your time here. You’re probably wondering if you will get into the popular attractions like the London Eye, Tower of London, London Dungeon, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge Experience and Tombs, and Westminster Abbey without a booking.
Do you really need to book ahead to enjoy London? Potentially but this is dependent on the type sights, restaurant, event and things you want to do. In this guide, I will cover how to look out for discounts before you book, what you should book in advance and what you don’t need to book.
Check Potential Discounts Before Booking
We all like to save a bit of money when on holiday. Before you head to an attraction, restaurant or anything in London check whether there is a discount available.
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Days Out Guide
Days Out Guide is a great way to save money in London. It offers 2 for 1 price for London attractions. To be able to use the deal you need to book the vouchers online or visit a rail station for the voucher (it needs to be a physical copy) and have a National Rail ticket for each person. I’ve used 2 for 1 on the Tower of London before which save my mum and I £15 each on our entry.
The London Pass
The London Pass has a list of sights you can enter once you have paid for the pass and often with fast track entry. They cover an impressive 60+ attractions including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge Experience and the Thames River Cruise. It’s key to plan out your days you have the London Pass so you can get the total benefit.
Groupon will have quite a few deals for restaurants and cafes for the week. It’s not uncommon to see a Michelin Star restaurant offering a Groupon deal. The times are normal weekdays but if you are visiting during the week it’s such a great way to grab a deal for your holiday.
Buying Tickets Online
Booking in advance can sometimes save you a few pounds. I mentioned in the Days Out Guide section you can get into the Tower of London under 2 for 1 but if it is the high season this option isn’t normally available. Instead of buying at the door for £25 you can buy an adult ticket online for £22.70.
This is also true of train tickets, some train companies do add discounts to their own websites. For example, a train company may offer a discount for booking on their website which others cannot provide the same ticket. It is more an incentive to get people booking with the train operator they are travelling with and away from the competition.
What You Should Book in Advance in London
When to book: 12 weeks in advance before you plan to travel.
Planning on leaving London or taking a day trip? Booking train tickets in advance will save you a ton of money. There are different types of tickets that you can buy:
- Advance (where you can save the most money) – With the advance tickets, you need to travel at the exact time and on the train stated on the ticket.
- Off Peak – cheaper tickets than any time and allow you to travel any time off-peak. There may be restrictions on routes so double check beforehand.
- Anytime – this ticket gives you the ability to travel anytime and will be the most expensive ticket available.
- Group tickets – if there is more of you travelling and these can be cheaper than the advance ticket.
The tickets will be available in standard and first class. For any short trips like Cambridge, Oxford and Brighton I would suggest not buying first class as it doesn’t give you any added value and going with the standard. If you are travelling to Birmingham, York, Leeds and Manchester and have the cash to splurge on first class then it’s totally worth it. P.s. sometimes you can get upgrades on the weekend for £10+.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
When to book: Two months +.
Just received your Hogwarts letter and ready to catch the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross? If only! Instead, you will be catching the muggle train to Watford. Although it still doesn’t take the magic away, after all, you will be going to Warner Bros. Studio Tour which is where most of the filming of the Harry Potter series happened.
Warner Bros. Studio has recently changed the entryway to include the Chocolate Frog Café, perfect for those starting early and need a coffee fix. Also, you will be able to see the newly installed Gringotts!
Before you get started there are some important things you should know about your admission to Hogwarts! Mainly when to book your tickets!
Book 2 months in advance:
For Warner Brothers Studio I would allow at least two months in advance to book tickets or earlier if you can. Getting morning slots will be harder to obtain than afternoon slots! If you want to spend a lot of time at the studio’s book as soon as you know you are coming to London to get those awesome time slots.
It’s a self-guided tour and will take about 3.5 hours to walk around the studio and take it all in.
An alternative way to get tickets is to use the Golden Tours as they seem to have tickets available when the official website does not. The downside is it costs a little more and only gives you 3.5 hours at the studio before you must return to London.
Pro-tip: Make sure you speak to the staff dotted around the tour, they are experts in all things Harry Potter.
Practical Information Warner Brothers Studio
Book Tickets: To book tickets for Warner Brothers Studio go here for the official site or here for Golden Tours.
Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR
Opening Times: Tickets are available from 9 am to 18:30 pm (Tickets are only valid for your time slot)
Price: £47 Adults, £38 Children (5 to 15), £150 Family (2 Adults and 2 Children) and children under 5 go free.
Overall Cost: ~£68.00(£10-15 train from King’s Cross Station (KGX), £3.00 bus transfer to tour, £47 adult entry, Butterbeer £3-7). The cost will change if you plan on driving.
When to book: A few months in advance for plays. A few days in advance or on the day for the tour.
Plays at the Globe can sell out so look at buying these in advance. Standing tickets are the more iconic way to see a play, as this what people did in the 1600s. There are 700 £5 standing tickets available for each performance in the summer theatre season, which runs from April — October.
There is also seating which is slightly more expensive.
The Globe also offers tours of the iconic theatre. These don’t need to be booked in advance so go with whatever works for you the best. The London Pass is accepted for entry to the Globe Exhibition and Theatre Tour.
Practical Information for Shakespeare’s Globe
Book Tickets: To get tickets to the Globe here.
Address: 21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT
Box Office: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Plays: £5 for standing tickets or £20 to £47 seats sat in the gallery.
Globe Theatre Tours: 09.30 am – 5.00 pm
Prices: Adult £17.00, Child £10.00, Senior (60 years and over) £15.50, Student(16 yrs + with ID) £13.50 and Family £46.00.
When to book: A few months to a few days in advance.
Museums and galleries in London have some pretty cool exhibitions and can sell out pretty fast. For example, London celebrated the 20th year of the first release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In October, the British Library launched an exhibition showcasing ‘Harry Potter: History of Magic’.
The event was so popular with the fans that there were no weekend dates left in the first week or so of the event opening. The British Library had assembled a room for every lesson that was taught in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There are classrooms for potions, alchemy, herbology, astronomy, charms, divination, defence against the dark arts and care of magical creatures.
It does make you wish that magic really exists!
If Hogwarts doesn’t make you excited then look out for other types of exhibitions in London that might spark your interest. Look at booking these in advance as the popular ones sell out pretty quickly. I would highly recommend the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum which is on every year.
Theatre, Ballet and Opera
When to book: A few months in advance to save money or a few days to on the day if you don’t mind paying the prices available.
The Theatres, Ballet and Opera are best booked in advance if you are set on seeing a particular show and at a certain price range. You can get last minute tickets fairly easily as theatres do get frequent no-shows and sell these spots. There’s more of a risk of being disappointed with the options available to you and if you are with a group you may not be seated together.
I would recommend buying in advance:
- Book of Mormon
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
- Lion King
To grab last minute deals try lining up at the theatre for stand-by tickets and returns. You can also visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for cheap, last minute tickets.
When to book: A few months to a few days in advance.
London has a fantastic food scene and with that, some restaurants can book out in advance. With casual restaurants, I wouldn’t normally book ahead of time and some don’t allow booking. If you have a specific restaurant you want to visit, if it takes reservations I’d go ahead and book.
Of course, busier areas will be harder to get tables and even harder if you are a big group of people. I tend to book a table when I head out to Soho, Covent Garden and Shoreditch. Generally, I will have a look a few days before or on the day.
One of my favourite places to recommend people and take people when visiting in London is Duck and Waffle. Normally to get a booking I need to do this 3 months in advance when the reservations are open. I have been lucky sometimes to get a cancellation a week before I plan on going.
A few ideas to get you started:
- Sketch – Instagram worthy pink themed 18th-century townhouse tea room turned into a restaurant and cocktail bar.
- Circus – Serves Pan-Asian food with cabaret performance during courses. It’s great fun for an evening out.
- Bob Bob Ricard – It’s an ionic Soho restaurant most famous for it’s “Press the bell for champagne” button.
- Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Sandersons – Alice in Wonderland is my favourite theme in the world and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is incredible!
- La Bodega Negra – Mexican restaurant which disguises itself as a sex shop. It’s a bit of fun walking into the door and the food is great too.
When to book: A few months to a few days in advance.
London has some quirky bars! From cool cocktail bars set in the Victorian era to SpeakEasy, you will be able to find a bar the perfect place to enjoy a drink. Lots of bars in London don’t need bookings but there are a few I would recommend booking, otherwise, you won’t get a table or will be left waiting for hours.
A few suggestions:
- Bar Termini – Great little Italian bar location is Soho. Due to the size and the fact they take booking it can be hard to get a table so it’s wise to book ahead!
- BYOC – Bring your own cocktail is a ton of fun. Everyone brings a small bottle of spirits and the bartenders make you drinks based of the spirits.
- Cahoots – Blitz spirit alive with dazzling cocktails which is set in old style London Underground paraphernalia. Enjoy your drink in one of the tube cars!
- Mr Fogg’s – Run by the same owners as Cahoots is based on “Around the World in 80 Days” and transport you back to the Victorian era. Enjoy adventurous cocktails like gin safaris to tipsy teas.
Buckingham Palace – Changing of the Guard, State Rooms, The Queens Gallery and Royal Mews
When to book: Allow a few days to weeks in advance to book.
Buckingham Palace is one of the most iconic sights of London and still the official residence of the home of Queen Elizabeth. It’s one of the few working Palaces left around the world and has the famous changing of the guards’ ceremony.
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is totally free and you don’t need a booking, you can find the dates on which there is a ceremony here.
For two months (July to Sept) of the year the state rooms are opened whilst the Queen is away allowing us visitors to explore the Palace. Whilst tickets are still available in March the tickets do start to run out towards the summer season so I recommend booking in advance.
If you don’t visit during July and September, you may get to see Queen Elizabeth drive by, after all it’s her actual home and workplace (p.s. I have actually seen her drive by once).
Alternatively, The Queens Gallery and the Royal Mews (where the Royal stables are) is open most days of the year.
Practical Information for Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace State Rooms
Opening Times: 18 July 2020 – 27 September 2020 from 09.30 am and last entry at 17:15.
Prices: Adult £26.50, Over 60 / Student £24.00, Under 17 / Disabled £14.50, Under 5 Free and Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) £67.50.
Buckingham Palace The Queen’s Gallery
Opening Times: As there are different exhibitions in the gallery opening times will vary. See the latest events in the link above.
Prices: Costs will change depending on the exhibition you choose to visit.
Buckingham Palace Royal Mews
1 February 2020 to 30 November 2020
Prices: Adult £13.00, Over 60 £11.80, Student £11.80, Under 17 / Disabled £7.50, Under 5 Free and Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) £33.50.
When to book: 3 weeks ahead.
On the 35th Floor of the Walkie-Talkie you will discover a tropical oasis, the Sky Garden. The tropical garden wraps around the spacious bar and outdoor terrace which gives you amazing views on London. You will get 360-degree views of London like the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Shard, St Pauls and other iconic London landmarks.
It used to be one of London’s hidden gems but with anything this good it has become super popular. Before you get started there are some important things you should know about your visit the Sky Garden.
Book three weeks in advance.
The Sky Garden is slightly odd where it is a free attraction but to get a guarantee you can go inside you to need to book in advance as a limited amount of tickets are available. Booking opens on a weekly basis with slots up to three weeks in advance.
When booking you will get to choose a date and time which will allow you to enter within that hour.
Pro-tip: If you go to the Sky Garden for breakfast or cocktails you don’t need to book in advance.
Watch more on YouTube here.
Practical Information for the Sky Garden
Book Tickets: Book tickets to the Sky Garden here.
Address: 1 Sky Garden Walk, London, EC3M 8AF
Opening Times for Sky Garden Bar & Restaurants
Monday to Tuesday from 7 am to 12 am
Wednesday to Friday from 7 am to 1 am
Saturday from 8 am to 1 am
Sunday from 8 am to 12 am
Opening Times for Public Ticketed Hours
Monday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm
Weekends & Bank Holidays from 11 am to 9 pm
Price: Free Entry
Shard Viewing Platform
When to book: 14 days in advance to get the discounts.
It’s hard to miss the Shard in the London skyline, after all it is the tallest building in Western Europe and in London. The viewing platform spans over three floors, 69 through to 72 floors giving you a ton of fantastic views for miles. The views make you feel like a giant overlooking a miniature town complete with toy trains, cars, miniature London landmarks and a ribbon-like river Thames.
Before you get started there are some important things you should know about your visit the Shard.
Book 14 days in advance to get discounted tickets or read on how to get free views at the Shard.
The Shard offers discounts based on when you book if you book more than 14 days in advance you can get tickets for £24.00, between 1 to 13 days £27.00 and on the day will be £32.00.
To save even further money make sure you check out Days Out Guide 2 for 1 offer or if you have a London Pass this attraction will be covered by this.
How to get free views at the Shard? At the entrance near the Shangri La hotel is the entrance to Aqua Shard, Hutong and Oblix. When you arrive just tell the staff you would like to have a drink at the bar. There is a quick security check and then you head to the bar on the 32nd floor, the Aqua Shard or Oblix. The view is amazing and you get to relax with a drink.
Practical Information for the Shard
Book Tickets: Tickets to the Shard can be bought here.
Address: 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG
Opening Times: The opening hours for The Shard can vary from day to day, so check their website for up-to-date time schedules is recommended.
Prices: Aqua Shard or Oblix bar is free entrance, drinks will be from £5.00 to £20.00. Tickets purchased 14 days in advance you can get tickets for £24.00, between 1 to 13 days £27.00 and on the day will be £32.00.
Discounts: The view from the Shard is also on the London Pass and Days Out Guide 2 for 1 offer.
When to book: A few days in advance or on the day.
I feel like so many cities around the world have tried to copy the London Eye but this Ferris wheel still takes the cake of being one of the best in the world (in my opinion). How can anything beat the views of the river Thames and view world-famous London buildings like the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben? Before you venture off the London Eye, there are a couple of things you should know.
You should only book the London Eye a few days in advance or on the day.
London’s weather can be flakey and booking ahead you could risk a day that has fog, rain or other issues with visibility, making the experience less than ideal. Leaving the booking to closer to the day will give you a better chance of beating London’s weather and enjoying your visit to the London Eye.
School holidays, summer and weekends will be the busiest times of year to go to the London Eye so it can be worth booking online to skip the queue and get the 10% discount.
Otherwise, it’s easy enough to book on the day if you would like to be flexible.
Practical Information for the London Eye
Book Tickets: Book tickets to the London Eye here.
Address: The London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7PB
Opening Times: The London Eye opening times vary throughout the year, typically the attraction opens at 10:00 and closes between 18:00-20:30. For exact details please check here.
Prices: Standard tickets prices from £30 for Adult tickets and £24 for Child tickets, Fast Track tickets prices from £40 for Adult tickets and £34 for Child tickets, Family standard tickets prices from £30 for Adult tickets and £24 for Child tickets and Student ticket £16.00.
Discounts: On the London Eye website you can get a 10% discount buying online or check out Days Out Guide 2 for 1 offer.
Tower of London and Tower Bridge
When to book: A few days in advance to on the day – mainly to get the discounts.
Mixed in with the high rises of the city of London is Tower Bridge and Tower of London. Almost every day I get to admire the Tower of London and I just think how lucky I am to see this incredibly beautiful bridge on my walk to work. It’s possibly the most famous bridge in the world!
Just across the bridge is the Tower of London. The building is from 1078 and use to run as a fortress, royal palace, prison, museum and much more of the years. So, what’s the best way to book ahead to visit two of the most famous buildings in London?
Book a few days in advance to on the day – mainly to get the discounts and skip the queues.
The Tower of London itself has a number of ticket kiosks and the chance of queueing more than five to ten minutes to purchase a ticket is low. By going early in the morning you will get the benefits of fewer people – head to the jewel room first so you get a bit of peace and quiet while admiring the jewels.
Did you know that you can enter Tower Bridge? Inside you will find exhibitions and guides who will tell you stories set during the Victorian time and learn all about its history.
I would book ahead if you wish to score the discounts. You can pick up discount’s tickets online or during the low season you can get 2 for 1 voucher. The voucher means you will need to queue at the ticket kiosk.
Practical Information for the Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Tower of London
Book Tickets: Tower of London tickets are available here.
Address: Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB
Opening Times: During the summer season (01 March – 31 October), the Tower of London opens between 9 am and 10 am, the last admission is at 17:00 and the buildings inside close at 17:30.
During the winter season (01 November – 28 February), the Tower of London opens between 9 am and 10 am, the last admission is at 16:00 and the buildings inside close at 16:30.
Prices: Adult: £24.70, Concession: £19.30, Child age 5-15 £11.70 and Family Saver between £44.40 and £62.90. Please note these are the online prices.
Discounts: Tower of London is included in the London Pass and available on the Days Out Guide 2 for 1 offer.
Book Tickets: Tower Bridge tickets are available here.
Address: Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, London, SE1 2UP
Opening Times: 09:30 – 17:00 (last admission)
Prices: There are over 15 ticket options so it’s best to check the website for the option you wish to choose. Tickets will be from £8.80+ for Adult and £3.80+ for a child.
Discounts: You can save 10% on buying tickets online. Tower Bridge is included in the London Pass and available on the Days Out Guide 2 for 1 offer.
When to book: A few days in advance to on the day – mainly to get the discount.
This beautiful church has been in London since 960. In 1245 it was decided to rebuild the church into Gothic style (after all it was the fashion) and completed in 1517. You’ve likely seen the church during Prince William and Kate’s wedding as it’s the it place for Royal weddings and also coronations.
What’s the best way to see and book Westminster Abbey? Book a few days in advance to on the day plus I will include a tip on how to see Westminster Abbey for free.
Westminster Abbey doesn’t require booking but booking ahead means you will get a slight discount of £2 and avoiding the ticket queue. The 2 for 1 discount and London Pass is available for the Abbey.
During the summer queues do get long here so make sure you arrive before the opening time to skip the wait times.
Pro tips: On Wednesday the Abbey is open until 18:00 and the tickets will be half price at the door if you head late on Wednesday.
See Westminster Abbey for free on Sunday’s. The church is open for worship only and means you can only go inside to pray but you won’t be able to visit the tombs and monuments during this time.
Practical Information for Westminster Abbey
Book Tickets: Purchase Westminster Abbey tickets here.
Address: 20 Deans Yard, SW1P 3PA, London
Opening Times: Daily from 9:30 to 15:30 and Wednesday from 9:30 to 18:00.
Prices: Adults £23, Concessions – People aged 60+ and students £20, Wheelchair users and their carers Free, Children Over 5 £10, Children 0-5 years Free and Families (1 adult and 1 child) £23 plus £10 for each additional child.
Discounts: You can save £2 buying tickets online and fast track the queue by using the book tickets link. Westminster Abbey is also included in the London Pass and available for Days Out Guide 2 for 1 offer.
St Paul’s Cathedral
When to book: A few days in advance to on the day – mainly to get the discounts.
St. Paul’s Cathedral dome is a landmark of the London skyline so if you haven’t been here, yet you’ve probably caught a glimpse of it. The original cathedral was built in 604 AD but during the Great Fire of London destroyed its predecessor in 1666. Now stands the St. Paul’s Cathedral we know and love today.
You’ll be able to explore the Cathedral Floor, the Crypt and the three Dome Galleries, Whispering Gallery and make your way to the Golden Gallery to get breathtaking panoramic views over London.
What’s the best way to see and book St Paul’s Cathedral? Book a few days in advance to on the day.
St Paul’s offers a £3 discount and fast track queue if you book ahead. Online tickets are only available to purchase the day before.
Pro tip: If you don’t have money to pay to go into St Paul’s head to One New Change Rooftop to enjoy free views of St Paul’s. During the evening there is a doorman at the elevator as there is a bar on the roof that has a dress code but just let them know you just want to go to the rooftop and not the bar.
Practical Information for St Paul’s Cathedral
Book Tickets: Purchase tickets to St Paul’s here.
Address: The Chapter House, St Paul’s Churchyard, London, EC4M 8AD
Monday to Saturday from 7:30 to 5:00
Sunday from 8:00 to 6:00
Prices: Adult price: £20.00, Concession £17.50, Child £8.50, Family (2+2) £48.50, Family (2+3) £48.50, Family (1+2) £34.00 and Family (1+3) £34.00.
Discounts: St Paul’s offers a 15% discount and fast track queue if you book ahead. Online tickets are only available to purchase the day before. You can use Days Out Guide 2 for 1 discount (check availability as it’s not available all year round) and you can use the London Pass to enter St Paul’s.
London Bridge Experience and Tombs
When to book: A few days in advance to on the day – mainly to get the discounts.
London Bridge Experience is an immersive theatrical experience taking you through 2,000 years of London’s history. Travel back in time with some of England notorious characters and experience London’s darker history like the former plague pit and London Tombs. Prepare for a few screams and jumps as the unspeakable horrors emerge.
Before embarking on your dangerous mission at the London Bridge Experience and Tombs there are a couple things you should know.
Book a few days in advance to on the day as it will save you cash!
London Bridge Experience and Tombs only requires one ticket that gets you into both the attractions. Tickets start from £19.95 which will give you general admission. To get a fast pass this will set you back around £44.95, although I would suggest getting general admission tickets as there isn’t normally a queue and you can save £20!
Practical Information for
Book Tickets: Purchase the London Bridge Experience and Tombs here.
Address: 2 – 4 Tooley St, London SE1 2SY
Prices: Tickets start from £19.95.
Discounts: If you have a London Pass this will get you entry and there is 2 for 1 option available, this option will only save you about £10.
When to book: A few days in advance to on the day – mainly to get the discounts or a show time to suit your itinerary.
Featuring 18 shows and 3 rides, the London Dungeon is a fun way to learn about London’s dark and creepy history. During the experience, you will meet so notorious characters such as Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd.
Here’s what you need to know before booking the London Dungeon. Book a few days in advance to on the day.
London Dungeon has set show times so if you need a certain time to suit your itinerary it’s best to book in advance. Booking on the day they will try and provide you either the closest slot or your desired slot.
Practical Information for London Dungeon
Book Tickets: Purchase tickets to the London Dungeon here.
Address: Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7PB
Opening Times: Open every day of the year except for Christmas Day and depending on the day London Dungeon is open from 10 am to 7 pm.
Prices: Prices start from £45.00 for VIP, £34.00 for fast track, £24.00 for standard and £22.50 for family.
Discounts: You can save up to 30% when purchasing online, alternatively, you can use the Days Out Guide 2 for 1 voucher.
What to Book in Advance in London Map
Everything mentioned in this post is on this handy map. Save the map to your phone and you will have all the locations.