London has it all, nobody can argue with that. Unfortunately, it also has a reputation for being one of the world’s most expensive cities to visit or live in. The cost for a family of four to enter a popular attraction in London can easily rise above £100 and the cost of a week in the UK capital can be immense. Add food, accommodation and other little bits and pieces and the cost of a break in London can seem daunting.
This should’t put you off, as for every overpriced attraction there is an equally good one that will cost you absolutely nothing. From some of the most popular museums in the world, to urban parks and free tours, London has much to offer the thrifty traveler. If this sounds too good to be true, read on to find out 15 fantastic things to do for free in London.
1. The British Museum
The British Museum in Bloomsbury is one of the oldest in the entire world. The collections here are vast and varied and including permanent exhibitions focusing on the age of discovery and a morbid exhibition exploring death and disease throughout the past centuries.
Other items include a prosthetic toe from the year 600BC and the legendary Parthenon ‘Elgin’ Marbles. The museum can easily keep you entertained for a few hours or even a full day which makes it great value for (no) money.
2. Free Walking Tour
Walking around London is one of the best things to do in the city and, of course, costs absolutely nothing. If you have a good guide book and like an adventure, why not plan your own route including a number of attractions that you would like to see up close.
If this all sounds too complicated then check out the free walking tour courtesy of New London Tours. The tour starts at Covent Garden and ends at the Houses of Parliament, lasting over two hours and taking in Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square along the way.
3. The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum in London opened in 1888 and has been fascinating visitors ever since. The building looks stunning from the outside but the stars of the show lie within the grand building. The attractions here include a full sized Diplodocus skeleton, an animatronic t-rex and literally millions of insects covering a whopping 17 miles worth of shelves. The museum is a great place for families and it really excites children of all ages. The permanent exhibitions are free but the temporary exhibitions often charge.
4. Hyde Park
If the hustle and bustle of the streets of London are all getting too much, why not visit Hyde Park which is arguably one of the greatest urban parks in the world. The park covers an area of around 350 acres with plenty of grass, trees and its large lake at the center. There are areas for sports such as tennis and team games. If all of the activity makes you hungry, there are two licensed restaurants in the park which serve great food ranging from full sit down meals to a quick cup of coffee.
5. Camden Lock Market
Although a market is only free if you don’t buy anything, the Camden Lock Market deserves a place on this list due to the atmosphere here alone. The place is always buzzing with trendy, quirky locals and the markets are great to browse even if you don’t want to spend a penny. Stalls range from vintage clothing and music to artwork and jewelery. The lock was opened in 1970 as a timber yard and the history is still apparent. The market is a great place to experience a London market and take some great photos.
6. Changing of the Guard
This is a must do and should be on everybody’s “London Bucket List”, luckily it is also free. The display takes place at different times in different areas of Buckingham Palace but it is usually around 11:00am.
The changing of the guard is a great example of British tradition gone mad and makes for a great photo souvenir of a trip to the capital. The guards are of course dressed in classic Beefeater attire and complete the ceremonial changing to music. Changing of the guard also takes place at Windsor Castle.
7. The British Library
A library may not sound like a thrilling day out for most people but the British Library is a library with a difference. The building, which is the national library of Britain, holds some of the most prized books and pieces of literature in the world including Shakespeare’s First Folio and the original manuscripts of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Music fans will also be interested to note that the library is home to the Holy Grail of Beatles memorabilia, lyrics handwritten by John Lennon himself. The library also houses a number of exhibits throughout the year making it worth visiting more than once if you get the chance.
8. The Southbank Centre
The Southbank Centre is the largest of its kind in the world and is also one of the most popular. The center offers a large variety of performing arts from dance and spoken word to theater and musical performances. Throughout the year, the center sees around 22 million visitors who gather to watch a total of around 1,000 musicians. A number of the performances are free and provide a great opportunity to see great music in a fantastic environment at no cost whatsoever. The Southbank is also the location of a legendary skateboarding park and is a great place to sit and watch some high-risk maneuvers.
9. National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery houses an immense collection of portraits ranging from the middle ages all the way to present day.
The subjects in the portraits include past kings and queens in all of their royal glory, popular musicians and movie stars all of which are portrayed across a variety of media from classic paintings to photography and even film. The permanent collections at the gallery are totally free for everyone.
10. Somerset House
This impressive and beautiful Georgian building is a popular place to stop for a picnic and/or coffee whilst admiring the dancing water fountains. The attraction doesn’t end there however and visitors should be sure to check out the stunning crafted staircases and the equally stunning views from the buildings balconies.
Occasionally, the catacombs of the building are open to visitors making the building even more of a must-see. The building is also home to a gallery of impressionist art but a fee does apply to visit this.
11. The Bank of England Museum
The mysteries of the financial crisis and the billions that disappeared may not be explained in this museum but it sheds light on a host of other interesting aspects of the banking world. Items on shows include a host of vintage notes and antique bank furniture.
There is even an opportunity to life up a solid gold bar (although you won’t be able to go anywhere with it). The museum is a good way to spend a few hours and has a small but well stocked collection that is bound to keep you intrigued.
12. Big Ben
One of the most iconic sights in London, Big Ben (the name given to the clock tower’s bell) is an obvious free attraction to enjoy in the capital. When the houses of parliament burned down in 1834, they were rebuilt ten years later and included a clock tower which is now known across the globe. Listening to the clock chime and taking photographs of the tower and the houses of parliament are one of the most popular and easily accessible things to do in the city. The tower makes a great sight at night with its four faces illuminated.
13. Platform 9 3/4
Although sadly, the Kings Cross platform marked 9 3/4 will not whisk you off towards the Hogwarts Express and on to Hogwarts, it still provides a great photo opportunity for Harry Potter fans.
Also at King’s Cross station, Harry Potter fans may recognize platforms 4 and 5 which were used as locations for filming. There is also a Harry Potter shop at the station which is built to represent the shop of Olivander the wand maker.
14. Hunterian Museum
If you have a morbid curiosity for dead things and the London Dungeons are out of your price range, then the Hunterian Museum is a free alternative worth considering.
The museum has a collection of creatures pickled in jars, deformed and crippled skeletons and exhibits exploring the past, present and future of surgery. Entrance to the museum is free with a suggested donation of £3.
15. Science Museum
The Science Museum in London is the most visited in Europe and is also totally free. There are a number of great interactive exhibits here that will fascinate and educate adults and children alike.
Amongst the 15,000 plus items on display are the actual Apollo 10 command capsule and the early Stephenson’s Rocket steam engine. The museum is free but the Imax theater and the Red Arrow’s flight simulator will cost you.
This post was written by the supremely talented Jan Meeuwesen from The Crazy Tourist. If you’re thinking of taking a break somewhere make sure to check out his site first as it will be an invaluable resource for any traveller. For another great list that focuses on the capital make sure to check out the 25 Best Things To Do In London, it might give you some creative inspiration 🙂
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