A Budget Backpacker’s Guide to Wimbledon
Going to Wimbledon sounds like a break the budget event. Large crowds, in-demand tickets, expensive but mediocre food. It’s enough to make any budget traveler think twice about attending the oldest and most prestigious tennis event.
It doesn’t have to be a drain on your bank account (or your sanity) as I was lucky enough to find out when I attended the men’s semi-final day at Wimbledon this year. If you’re interested in attending Wimbledon on a budget, give my budget backpacker’s guide to Wimbledon a read.
Pages to Passport Budget Backpacker’s Guide to Wimbledon
Apply for Tickets Early or Very Very Late
This advice is confusing, but the Wimbledon ticket system can be a confusing thing to navigate. Let’s clear a few things up.
Wimbledon uses an early ballot system to sell a large majority of tickets to the tournament. This system is certainly designed for planning types like me. The deadline to apply (at least this year) was more than 6 months before the tournament began! There is also a different ballot for UK citizens and an overseas ballot for non-UK citizens. If chosen, you have the option to purchase the tickets offered to you (which may not be the day or court you were hoping for). I was not lucky enough to be chosen in the ballot so it was the very very late option for me.
If you aren’t a big planner or don’t get lucky in the ballot, you technically could buy tickets outside of the ballot (debenture tickets) but it’s best to join the queue on the day you’d like to visit Wimbledon as debenture tickets are extremely expensive.
The queue is the notorious line of people who wait for day-of tickets to Wimbledon. It even has its own twitter feed. When you join the queue, you are given a queue card which you will later exchange for a ticket to Wimbledon.
When to join the queue is a big debate and definitely depends on a few factors. The day of play, weather, and players still in the tournament all affect what time you should join the queue. If big names (or UK players) are still in the tournament, it may be necessary to join the night before or very early on the morning of.
The weather forecast was less than ideal and both Roger Federer and Andy Murray were out of the tournament on the day we queued. We also were lucky in that England was still in the World Cup and the Brits were distracted. Even though we didn’t join until about 6 a.m. on the day of, we were #310 and #311 in the queue.
Each day, they sell in a few thousand grounds passes and a limited number of tickets for Court No. 1 and No. 2. They also provide a limited number of tickets to Centre Court (except on the last four days of play). My grounds pass ticket was only 15 pounds and Court No. 1 tickets were sold for 40 pounds the day we went to Wimbledon. You can check updated pricing here.
Stay along the District Line
London is a big, big place. If you want a shot at inexpensive tickets to Wimbledon, you’ll need to choose your accommodations wisely, wake early, and stay near a London Underground station serving the District Line which goes directly to Wimbledon.
I stayed here, and would recommend it for budget travelers who prioritize location over comfort on occasion. While it doesn’t have first world creature comforts like air conditioning or outlets near every bed, it is situated well. It’s within a 10-minute walk to three different London underground stations, a bus stop and attractions like Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, the Natural History Museum and the V&A Museum.
Wake Up Early
They say that the early bird gets the worm. If you want to stick to a budget and see Wimbledon, you’re going to need to wake up even before the birds do. Our alarms went off at 4:45 a.m. to give us time to get ready, walk to the underground station, and catch the first train. You can find the earliest train times for each station on any London Underground line here. We took the second train (yep, you read that right.. we weren’t great speed walkers at 5 a.m.) from South Kensington station.
Pack a Picnic
Anyone who has ever been to a sporting event knows that food prices inside the gates are expensive. They are rarely worth the bill and even prestigious Wimbledon isn’t above that general rule. Thankfully, Wimbledon allows its visitors to bring in their own supplies for the day, including alcohol. There are some restrictions but they seem very generous to me. More on those here.
Pack enough for a very long day. I’m talking breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon AND midnight snacks. We happened to witness the longest men’s semi-finals match in grand slam history so my perception might be slightly skewed, but your budget will thank you if you pack a few extra granola bars. Head to the nearest Marks & Spencer Food Hall the night before your Wimbledon visit and peruse their prepared foods section. It’s a treasure trove of British delights.
Get Off at the Correct Underground Station
The station that’s named “Wimbledon” station, right? Wrong. The Southfields station is closer to the start of the queue. That’s you, if you are a budget traveler or just someone who doesn’t want to spend an arm and a leg to spend a day at Wimbledon.
Prepare for All Types of Weather
This is one of those pieces of advice that I give after making the mistake myself. We checked the weather the night before and the morning of. It looked like we were in for a cool and possibly misty day. We prepared with raincoats and long pants and layers for warmth.
Mother Nature decided to make us sweat instead. We ended up with a day of full sun and temps above 27°C / 80°F. We were certainly a few pounds poorer after a visit to the gift shop for hats and shorts.
Use What You’ve Got
If you join the throngs of folks on Henman Hill (and you should), you’ll be surrounded by Brits serving elaborately themed meals with silver cutlery on specially designed picnic blankets. It’s enough to make a budget traveler go green with envy. Don’t fall to the comparison game though. A large travel towel, a lightweight turkish towel or even a jacket works just fine to claim your spot on the hill and cost.. absolutely nothing if you’ve already packed them in your bag.
Bring a Book
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give you this advice, would I? When you go the queue route, you pay in time rather than money. You’ll be waiting hours and hours in one line and the next. It’s a lot of fun to get to know the people in the queue around you (we met a couple from Texas that we talked with for nearly two hours!). Even so, you’ll want some form of entertainment with you.
Let me recommend a few of the best books to read before going to Wimbledon.
Open by Andre Agassi I consider this the best tennis related book ever written. It’s raw and honest. It doesn’t always paint Wimbledon in the prettiest light, but it does give an interesting perspective on the sport that built (and possibly broke) Agassi.
Game, Set and Match: Secret Weapons of the World’s Top Tennis Players by Mark Hodgkindon An especially good pick if you’re hoping to improve your own tennis by osmosis, this book highlights the “secret weapons” of some of the players you may get the chance to see. It’s like a window into their inner workings and a fun way to view each player at the tournament in a unique way.
String Theory by David Foster Wallace This is considered some of the best sportswriting about tennis. A collection of five pieces, this book provides a competitor’s insight and a fan’s obsession all in one.
Serious by John McEnroe You’re living under a rock if you don’t have an opinion about John McEnroe as a tennis fan. His autobiography is an interesting look at his successes and failures, including the legendary 1980 Wimbledon final between McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. There is also a new movie about the rivalry that might be of interest.
Don’t Let Your Budget Bully You
Going to Wimbledon certainly won’t be your cheapest day of travel, but don’t let your budget keep you from experiencing this quintessential British sporting event if you’re the slightest bit interested in tennis (or England for that matter).
What did you think of the Pages to Passport Budget Backpacker’s Guide to Wimbledon? Would you add any of your own tips for making a big event like Wimbledon both affordable and enjoyable?
If you’re heading to Wimbledon, you’re probably spending some time in London too. Give my list of Best Books to Read Before Traveling to London a read.