I’m a lifelong tennis player and have always dreamed of going to Wimbledon; so when we had flights booked to London during the tennis tournament, I had to go, right?
The only problem? No ticket.
I spent easily 50+ hours over the months leading up to Wimbledon trying to figure out how to get tickets to the event. I read hundreds of articles, websites, blog posts, forums on TripAdvisor. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to cough up the $1000+ to spend on a ticket for the famous Grand Slam tennis tournament. I wanted to bring my son, if not my whole family, and the value just didn’t seem worth it for a single day of tennis.
Stubhub Tickets and Amex Tickets to Wimbledon Were Too Expensive
When I originally booked our flights over the weeks Wimbledon is played, I had put my name in the public drawing for tickets. Of course, I didn’t get tickets (and rumor has it no foreigners ever do). After that I started looking at hospitality suites. A few years ago, I attended the French Open by purchasing Hospitality Suite tickets and, while they were very expensive, they weren’t astronomical, which is how the Wimbledon hospitality tickets seemed. I couldn’t justify the expense this time.
As the event drew nearer, I started scouring for tickets with increased earnest. Stubhub ticket prices came down to a “reasonable” $600-700 for early rounds. Amex had a “special” for cardholders – but tickets were nearly as much as Stubhub. I still wasn’t willing to stomach it. I considered showing up at 6:30am to “queue.” But knowing this would be just after flying in from the United States, and that 6:30am would feel like midnight, I wasn’t sure that I was ready for such a desperate act. (That said, had I not gotten tickets my secret way, this might have been on the path to queue early morning the next day.)
Finding the Secret to Getting in to Wimbledon without Queuing
At some point I came across one random post on TripAdvisor. The poster said that if you show up between 3-4pm in the afternoon, particularly toward the end of the first week of play, many folks may have gone home by then and you can get grounds tickets. The person suggested that the line might be an hour or so long. Grounds tickets are 25 pounds, just over $30 at the current favorable exchange rate. This sounded like a risk I was willing to take. If that didn’t work out, I read there are a number of pubs in the town of Wimbledon that show the matches on TV in their garden areas, so I would head that direction.
The Day We Tested the Theory on How to Get Cheap Grounds Tickets to Wimbledon
I had low expectations of actually getting grounds tickets, thus I didn’t want to bring my 5 year old daughter, who might not be up for the change in plans and adventure. But I did bring my 7 year old son. We rode the bus and then the Tube to Southwick (which is the stop to get off at for the queue, don’t make the rookie mistake of going to Wimbledon Club stop, of heaven forbid Wimbledon on the tube, because then you will have a much further walk ahead of you.)
On the train there was a group of six or so 20-something men who were drinking their beers and clearly headed to the event. The tube stopped at Southwick and the anticipation immediately grew. The seats at the Tube station were decorated in Wimbledon Purple, Green, and White, and the Tube station floor had fake tennis grass. My son and I joined a pack of people and blindly started following them towards and unknown destination.
As my excitement grew, my son’s excitement clearly started to wane. The walk from the Tube station to the queue area was easily 15 mins (and in the back of my head all I could think was, what if we have to turn around and go back without getting in.) Then suddenly in the road there is an area to cross for those joining the famous queue. (Ticket holders could proceed straightaway). We saw the tents sent up in the lawn for folks who were already queuing for the next day’s matches, then started zigzagging our way through an empty line. In a way, it was comical to be moving so quickly through so many zigzag ropes. It’s like when you’re at the airport security line and no one is ahead of you. But the line area is at least 10 times as long. You begin to feel as if you must be in the wrong place. But sure enough, there are plenty of advertisers with fun activities set up along the queue area. A giant chair made out of tennis balls. Mini tennis courts. Photo booths and more.
Wimbledon officials handed out stickers saying, “I queued in the sun. Wimbledon 2019.”
It was probably about 5-10 minutes of walking through an empty line, never being able to see all the way to the front, and I kept wondering where the line would start — would it be an hour or more or less? Should we turn around or keep going? At some point, as we got closer we got queue cards. These are cards given out to folks waiting in line so you can leave and return to the line if needed. If you have tickets in the low hundreds you can generally get center court tickets, up to the low thousands you may get tickets for one of the top 3 courts. Our queue numbers at 3:5pm on the third day of Wimbledon? 10957 and 10958. Would we be able to get in?
Next we went through security. Maybe 2 people were in line ahead of us. This was the longest we ever waited. Going through security still wasn’t a guarantee we would get tickets though. So I kept wondering, anticipating, would we get in?
Suddenly, we were at the ticket counter. I handed over my queue cards and for 50 pounds, was given two grounds passes to Wimbledon. I was stunned. Was it really so easy? Were we just lucky? Or was getting tickets to Wimbledon really this easy? After all of the hours of research, deliberating whether or not to spend thousands on tickets, and in the end just taking a risk? (Note, Based on the timestamp photos of my phone, exactly 8 minutes passed between the time we got our queue cards and the time we actually entered the stadium. These 8 minutes were filled with the anticipation of a 5 year old on Christmas eve.)
The answer, I can only conclude is that it is that easy. It’s Wimbledon’s best kept secret. How do I conclude this? Henman Hill; the famous Hill on the grounds with the big screen where folks sit and watch the match being played on Center Court, was filled with families and friends and picnic baskets. British children in their school uniforms and parents with bottles of wine who had clearly just left school and were winding down their days with a picnic watching tennis. Scattered as though this was just another summer day headed to the nearby beach.
To them, this wasn’t a once in a lifetime event or even an event where they had any lack of certainty that they would get grounds tickets. They knew when they showed up they could walk right in. If they weren’t having a picnic, they could watch in front row seats, the world’s top tennis players competing on any of the 12 other courts (besides the 3 main courts which require reserved tickets). They could buy strawberries and cream, Pimms, and plenty of crisps or cider. (Another surprise, unlike the US where stadiums mark the price of food up astronomically, I recall a $15 Dodger Dog; Wimbeldon’s famous strawberries and cream are a reasonable $3.5.
My son and I enjoyed our afternoon and evening of tennis. The sun doesn’t set until after 9pm in early July in London. We bought plenty of souvenirs. My son begged for a matching bright orange baseball hat and t-shirt so he “can play for the Wimbledons.” And we enjoyed Britain’s best-kept secret: you don’t always have to queue for Wimbledon tickets.
So how do you get a cheap ticket to Wimbledon?
Show up late afternoon during the first week of match play and walk to the front of the line. And if, for some reason, you don’t get in, go sit in a nearby pub and watch the match on a big screen. The risk is one worth taking.