Money

I camped out for 25 hours for cheap Wimbledon tickets—it's the best time and money I've ever spent

Thousands of people camp out to score premium Wimbledon tickets every year
Jack Buchan
Thousands of people camp out to score premium Wimbledon tickets every year

Wimbledon, the world's oldest and most revered tennis tournament, can also be one of the priciest. A guaranteed ticket to see the big names play on Centre Court starts at £745 and can cost as much as £50,000. But there are ways to get affordable, and incredible, seats.

You can enter the public ballot, which randomly selects applicants and offers tickets to the show courts at a reasonable price: £41 to £210, depending. The only catch is that you don't get to choose the date you go or the match you see. The ballot also tends to be oversubscribed.

Knowing that we'd be in London during the tournament, my two brothers and I put our names in. None of us was selected. So we tried another option: queuing for tickets, which can land you courtside tickets on the day of play and for a fraction of the price. You'll pay between £42 and £145 to get great seats on a show court. For professional tennis, that's a steal.

But you have to be willing to wait in line overnight. There are a limited number of show court tickets available each day and the earlier you join the queue, the better your odds of landing one.

Armed with a pop-up tent, snacks from Aldi, sheets and pillows from our Airbnb in London, changes of clothes and toiletries, we showed up at 9:30 Thursday morning, hoping to score Centre Court tickets for the first Friday of the tournament.

Wimbledon remains one of the few major UK sporting events where you can still buy premium tickets on the day of play
Getty Images Sport 
Wimbledon remains one of the few major UK sporting events where you can still buy premium tickets on the day of play

The queue, day 1

The line starts in Wimbledon Park, which is adjacent to the All England Lawn Tennis Club where the tournament is played; it's marked by a big flag and managed by a team of stewards, who are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions. They check in with each tent periodically to prevent “queue jumpers” and make sure no one has left the line for long periods of time.

Having arrived 25 hours before the full grounds open at 10:30 AM, we felt pretty good about our chances, but there were seemingly hundreds of people already waiting.

The line was hundreds of people deep when we showed up
Jack Buchan
The line was hundreds of people deep when we showed up

About 500 tickets are handed out for each of the show courts every day, plus thousands of grounds passes. That meant, we thought, that we had to be among the first 500 to secure Centre Court tickets.

We couldn’t judge what position we were in but our tent neighbors John and Charlie, a father-daughter duo from Worcestershire, felt good about our chances. It was their 22nd year queuing up and it showed: They had individual tents outfitted with air mattresses and sleeping bags, recliner lawn chairs, a pop up table, coolers for their food and drinks and an iPad to stream the live matches.

Our tent neighbors, John and his daughter Charlie, have been queuing up for more than two decades
Our tent neighbors, John and his daughter Charlie, have been queuing up for more than two decades

Our other neighbors, a group from Seattle, had a similarly impressive set up, with lawn chairs, an inflatable lounger and a camping cot.

While not as comfortable, our campsite was highly economical: We spent £37 between the three of us on a pop-up tent, snacks for the day and a garden tennis set for entertainment.

We only brought the bare minimum, but it got the job done
Jack Buchan
We only brought the bare minimum, but it got the job done

About an hour after we pitched our pop-up tent, the stewards came around with queue cards, which were dated and numbered to show our position in line. We were handed cards that read 502, 503 and 504.

It seemed like we had just missed the cut for Centre Court, but John and Charlie assured us we shouldn't worry because they, along with other people in front of us, were actually queuing up for Saturday. That meant, when we entered the grounds the next day on Friday, they’d stay behind in the queue, camp out for a second night and be among the first in line to get Centre Court seats for Saturday.

Knowing that we had a good shot to be on Centre Court the next day, we relaxed and enjoyed the 85-degree weather along with the thousands of other fans in the queue. People played lawn games, lounged in the sun, cracked open beers and socialized. Not once did it feel like we were waiting in line.

Happy campers
Jack Buchan
Happy campers

The garden tennis set helped pass the time and also made us some new friends.

The tennis game was a crowd pleaser
Jack Buchan
The tennis game was a crowd pleaser

We brought enough snacks to last the day, but there were food vendors set up in the park, plus plenty of restaurants, markets and convenience stores within walking distance.

There were food vendors set up in the park
Kathleen Elkins
There were food vendors set up in the park

There were also water spigots where you could fill up water bottles and bathrooms on site.

The toilet facilities 
Kathleen Elkins
The toilet facilities 

Around 8 PM, John and Charlie packed up one of their coolers and headed to a friend's tent “to party," they told us. Over the two decades they’ve been camping out at Wimbledon, they’ve made quite a few connections.

They returned with three Pimm’s cups, one for each of us, made with fresh strawberries, oranges and mint. John and Charlie embodied the general feeling in the queue. Everyone was warm, welcoming and in high spirits, including the stewards, who were all volunteers.

Our neighbors came prepared with ingredients for Pimm's cups
Kathleen Elkins
Our neighbors came prepared with ingredients for Pimm's cups

People headed into their tents when it got dark out, around 10 PM. This is when our ill-preparedness really started to show. Quarters in our two-person tent were tight and we weren’t equipped for the temperature drop. But we made it through.

The queue, day 2

The stewards started waking people up between 5:30 and 6 AM to dismantle camping equipment. That was an easy task for our group.

Kathleen Elkins

We decided to toss our cheap tent but you have the option of checking one for £5. You can also store any luggage you don't want to carry around the grounds for £1 per bag.

After packing up our few supplies, we grabbed our first coffee of the day and found my older brother and his fiancée in the queue. They'd arrived around 5:45 AM and were about 3,600th in line, a good enough position to secure them grounds passes — essentially a general admission ticket offering access to all of the courts besides the show courts — for £25.

The first coffee of the day
Jack Buchan
The first coffee of the day

You're expected to be back in line with your area cleaned up by 7 AM. Around this time, the line tightened up and we started snaking our way through the park and towards the turnstiles, where we would get to purchase our tickets.

This is when things started to get exciting. For starters, everyone got a free donut.

The path to the ticket booths is lined with coffee stands and television screens showing Wimbledon highlights and player interviews. We passed through gates like these.

Jack Buchan

There was even a mini tennis court set up along the way.

Kathleen Elkins

Around 8 AM, stewards came by with wristbands that corresponded with each show court. The number of wristbands issued matches the quantity of tickets available for each court that day. We requested Centre Court and each got a blue wristband.

Kathleen Elkins

We went through TSA-style security around 9:30 and, just before 10 AM, we made it to the ticket booth. We were among the last people in line to get Centre Court tickets: We ended up with three seats together for £102 apiece. No. 1 Court tickets went for £78 and No. 2 and No. 3 Court for £64. Tickets for Centre Court started at £60 on Monday, the first day of play, and would cost £145 on the second Wednesday, the last day seats are set aside for day-of sales.

This was the first year you could buy tickets with a credit or debit card, which we didn’t know, so we paid in cash.

By 10 AM, we were in the grounds. By 10:15, we'd already made a few purchases.

Jack Buchan

The matches

Centre Court matches didn’t start until 1 PM, so we headed to Court 14 to catch some doubles action. Seats on all of the side courts are available to everyone on the grounds and on a first come first serve basis. If you're lucky enough to snag a seat, you'll be so close to the action you'll feel like you're in the match.

If you get a seat on the side courts, you'll be in the thick of the action
Jack Buchan
If you get a seat on the side courts, you'll be in the thick of the action

A little before 1 PM, we headed to Centre Court. John and Charlie had told us we'd be close to the court, but we couldn't have imagined we'd be just six rows away from the hallowed turf. Seats don't get much better than this.

The line up could not have been better, either. We saw Gael Monfils take down Sam Querrey in four sets. Next up was perhaps the greatest player of all time: Serena Williams.

Jack Buchan

And for the final match of the day, we saw another legend: Roger Federer.

Jack Buchan

In total, I spent just under £175: £13 for the camping supplies from Aldi, another £15 for additional snacks and coffee purchased in the queue, £102 for the ticket, £23 for a Wimbledon hat and £20 on food and drinks inside the grounds.

That's about $232. Not bad for eight hours of up-close, world-class tennis on the most revered court in tennis. Especially considering the value of our seats at any other Grand Slam. At the U.S. Open, the next major tournament, courtside tickets are already going for over $1,000 on Ticketmaster.

We stopped by the queue on our way out to say goodbye to John and Charlie. They were among the first 20 people lined up for Saturday's matches. We thanked them for their kindness and insider tips and assured them we'd be back. Next year, we promised, we'd be the ones supplying the Pimm's cups.

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