It’s as much a British summer tradition as Pimms or strawberries and cream – all of which are in ample supply – as London turns tennis mad for two weeks each year for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. It started at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1877 and has become one of the world’s most famous tennis tournaments, and is the only Grand Slam played on grass.
From the queue to the Royal Box, Wimbledon’s traditions are as much a part of the experience as the actual tennis is. So whether you’re a Brit like me who’s grown up watching it on TV every summer (and still can’t believe we finally got our long-awaited British winner) or an overseas visitors wanting to experience a uniquely British tradition, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London this summer.
Read more: Alternative things to do in London
When do the 2019 Wimbledon Tennis Championships take place?
This year’s Wimbledon takes place from 1–14 July 2019. There are 675 tennis matches played on 19 courts over the two weeks of the Championships. The main events are the men’s and women’s singles but there are also men’s, women’s and mixed doubles as well as junior events (the boys’ and girls’ singles and doubles). The grounds normally open for the day at 10.30am, and matches start from 11am on the outside courts and 1pm on Centre Court and No 1 Court.
How do you get tickets for Wimbledon?
There are a few different ways to get tickets for the Wimbledon Championships, but the main way is through the ballot. There’s been a public ballot for the tournament since 1924, and UK residents can apply for a ticket in a lottery drawn at random. It’s really oversubscribed though so you might not get lucky, and it’s a long-winded process so you need to start early.
The ballot normally opens at the start of September and you need to fill in a paper form and send it off with a stamped-addressed envelope by the end of December (though there are rumours that an electronic system is in the pipeline for 2020). If you’re successful, you’ll start to hear back from mid-February, and once you get an offer letter you have a certain number of days to pay for your tickets. They range from £33–£225 depending on the day and court.
You don’t get a choice on what day or court you’re allocated, so if you don’t want the tickets they get put back into the next ballot. Ballots for returned tickets go on right up until the tournament starts – I got some a week before. If you’re not a UK resident there’s a separate overseas ballot, but it only has a few hundred tickets so you might be better off trying another way.
What if I don’t manage to get a ticket in the Wimbledon ballot?
If you don’t get lucky in the ballot, the other ticket options are debentures, corporate hospitality, Ticketmaster or the queue. At the pricey end of the spectrum are the hospitality packages and debenture seats. Debentures are a five-year season pass to Wimbledon where you get the best seats on Centre Court and No 1 Court for every day of the Championships. Owners can sell spare tickets on the Wimbledon Debenture Holders website if they can’t make it. You’re looking at £1000 plus but you do get access to their fancy lounges and restaurants.
A bit more reasonable are the tickets available on Ticketmaster, but there are only a few hundred so you need to get in there seriously quick. There are a couple of different types – returned tickets sold off 48 hours in advance and reserved tickets sold off in the morning for the next day. Otherwise there’s the legendary Wimbledon queue – an institution in its own right.
A limited number of seats for Centre Court (except during the last four days), No 1 and 2 Courts are sold off on the day of play. But if you want one you’ll probably have to get there the night before and camp in the designated area of Wimbledon Park (you can leave your camping gear in left luggage for the day). You can only get one ticket per person, so if you’re going with friends you’ll all need to queue, but there’s a great atmosphere. And this is a queue with its own special etiquette, where you get a ‘queue card’ to mark your place if you want to nip out.
If you don’t fancy camping, there are a few thousand ground passes available on the day if you arrive early. These let you watch matches on the unreserved courts 3–18 as well as the big matches on screen from Henman Hill (or Murray Mound, depending on your age!). Or the easiest way to get a taste of the Wimbledon action is to come late in the day and pick up a resale ticket, where people who’ve left for the day let their tickets be sold back on for charity.
How do you get to Wimbledon?
The Wimbledon Tennis Championships take place at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (London SW19 5AE). The roads get seriously clogged up so the best way to get there is by public transport, but be prepared for queues. The closest Tube station is at Southfields, then it’s an easy 15-minute walk straight down Wimbledon Park Road. Or Wimbledon station is slightly further away. There’s a shuttle bus from either station if you need it.
What should I wear to Wimbledon – and take with me?
Unlike the players – whose all-white outfits are strictly enforced – there isn’t a dress code if you’re visiting Wimbledon, unless you’re in one of the hospitality or members’ areas. Think smart casual though, especially for Centre Court and No 1 Court. The site’s pretty big so you’ll be doing plenty of walking, so wear comfortable shoes. Also this is the UK so you never know what the weather will do, so pack for all occasions – jumper, umbrella, raincoat, sunglasses.
If you are lucky enough to get a sunny day, there’s limited shade on most courts (unless you’re underneath the roof overhang on Centre Court or No 1 Court) so bring a hat, sunscreen and water bottle. There are water refill points around the site as well as a decent array of other services like ATMs and a pharmacy. You can’t take bags bigger than 40cm x 30cm x 30cm into the grounds, but you can leave bigger items at left luggage (which costs £1/£5).
And what if it rains?
This is England in the summer, so chances are there’ll be rain at some point during the Championships. But the days when everything ground to a halt when the rain started and we had to rely on Cliff Richard to entertain us are long gone. If you’ve got tickets for Centre Court or No 1 Court, both have a retractable roof which means play can carry on. It takes about 10 minutes to close the roof and another 20 to get the air conditioning conditions right.
But on the other courts rain still stops play. You can hide out in one of the restaurants or cafés, or there’s the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum on site which is the world’s largest tennis museum and tells the story of the sport from 1555 to today – though you do have to pay extra to enter (£13 for adults, £11 for concessions and £8 for children under 16).
Is there anything to eat other than strawberries and cream?
Pimms and strawberries and cream are an integral part of the Wimbledon experience – 23 tonnes of strawberries are served up during the Championships. Though it’s not cheap with a punnet of 10 strawberries costing £2.50 and a glass of Pimms £8.50. There are lots of other eating options though, from takeaway cafés to sit-down restaurants and Champagne bars.
Centre Court and No 1 Court have a few options each and there are also plenty of places to eat around the grounds. If you’re on a budget you can also bring in your own supplies. That includes up to a bottle of wine or two cans of beer per person too. If you don’t want to carry a picnic in with you there’s a handy M&S Foodhall opposite Southfields Tube station. You can’t take hard-sided coolboxes in but you can bring a bag as long as it’s within the size limit.
Where should I stay if I’m visiting Wimbledon?
Staying in southwest London makes things easiest – and if you’re within walking distance then even better as you can avoid the Tube crush. Hotels in Wimbledon* get booked up really early, so you might want to look at Wandsworth, Putney or Earlsfield too, or anywhere on the District Line in central London. A lot of local residents rent out their places on AirBnB. We rented a one-bedroom apartment about 25 minutes’ walk away from the grounds for £144 a night for two people, including fees (if you’re new to AirBnB you can save £30 with this link*).
Have you ever visited Wimbledon or is it on your wishlist?
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