Great Britain’s capital city is well and truly in the spotlight at the moment, with the enthralling Olympic opening ceremony surpassing the expectations even of London’s biggest fans. Most people’s perception of the city is that it is not easy on the wallet – especially while the Games are drawing the crowds. Sure, like any city, you can spend your savings here quicker than you can say ‘Big Ben’ if you choose to, but London is a hugely diverse destination with something for everyone that really doesn’t have to be expensive. All it takes to get the most out of the city is a little research and planning. In fact, here are 25 fabulous things to do or see for free (and trust us, there are many more!)
1) Royal Parks: start your visit with a relaxing stroll or a picnic at St James’ Park which offers a fabulous view of Buckingham Palace and Whitehall; alternatively Hyde Park and Regent’s Park are both wonderful and centrally located too.
2) British Museum: one of the world’s greatest collections of world art and artefacts, including the famous Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles.
3) National Gallery: after a stroll around Trafalgar Square and a quick salute to Nelson, step into the National Gallery to admire the work of Botticelli, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Renoir, Cezanne and Van Gogh, to name but a few.
4) Borough Market: nestled on the south side of London Bridge, there has been a market here since Roman times. Today it’s an atmospheric hive of activity from Thursday to Saturday, with an array of gastronomic delights for sale and plenty of free tastings, as well as some great value stalls for grabbing some lunch.
5) Geffrye Museum: one of London’s most friendly and charming museums, the Geffrye explores the home from 1600 to the present day in a chronological sequence of period rooms. The museum is set in elegant 18th century buildings in Shoreditch, the former almshouses of the Ironmongers’ Company.
6) Changing of the Guard: a fantastic display of British pomp and ceremony, one of London’s most famous attractions is free to watch and takes place at Buckingham Palace every other day at 11.30am.
7) Tate Modern: the iconic gallery on the banks of the Thames housing the UK’s collection of modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present day and hosting special exhibitions and events.
8) Walk along the South Bank: this bustling riverside meander from Tower Hill to Waterloo is a great way to take in many of London’s most famous and historic sights, including Tower Bridge, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Millennium Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.
9) The Wallace Collection: another free national museum displaying a superb collection of art in an historic London townhouse, including works by Titian, Canaletto, Rembrandt and Gainsborough.
10) Temple Church: a medieval church located between Fleet St and the Thames, built by the Knights Templar made even more famous by Dan Brown’s popular novel, The Da Vinci Code.
11) Church Recitals: a range of free lunchtime or evening church recitals can be heard at ancient churches such as St Martin in the Fields (Trafalgar Square) or St James’ Piccadilly.
12) Imperial War Museum: founded in 1917 this south London gem houses excellent military collections and archives, telling the story of people’s experiences of war from WWI to the present day.
13) Postman’s Park: one of London’s hidden gems, this small peaceful green space is tucked in between King Edward Street, Little Britain and Angel Street, to the north of St Paul’s Cathedral. It features a unique wall of ceramic tiles commemorating ordinary people who lost their lives trying to save others.
15) The V&A: the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington is the world’s greatest museum of art and design, representing over 3000 years of human creativity, with collections unrivalled in their scope and diversity, from medieval treasures to ceramics, fashion and jewellery. The building itself is also a treasure.
16) Free Concerts: there are myriad opportunities for free concerts in London, such as at the National Theatre in the main foyer on weekdays at 5.45pm and at the National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Square on Fridays.
17) Museum of London: this museum takes visitors on an unforgettable journey, telling the story of the city and its people, from prehistoric times to the present day. You can walk the streets of Victorian London, take a stroll in recreated pleasure gardens or marvel at the magnificent Lord Mayor’s Coach.
18) Portobello Road: made famous by Hugh Grant and ‘Notting Hill’ this West London market is one of London’s favourites, and wonderful to browse around. Famous for its antiques, you can also find anything from fruit and bread to vintage clothing, music and gifts. You might even pick up a bargain.
19) Somerset House: a major arts and cultural centre where during summer months 55 fountains dance in the stunning neoclassical courtyard, Somerset House offers a year round programme of art and design exhibitions, free displays and workshops. It is also home to the Courtauld Gallery, where admission to the famous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection is free on Mondays from 10am until 2pm.
20) Ceremony of the Keys: the traditional locking up of the Tower of London has taken place every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. Visitors are admitted to the Tower at 9.30pm under escort to witness the ceremony, and tickets are issued free of charge, but numbers are limited and you must apply in writing (see hrp.org.uk). Don’t forget to take a stroll over Tower Bridge on your way there.
21) Fulham Palace: this was the riverside home of the Bishops of London for twelve centuries, and entries to the historic palace and gardens are free. There’s also a lovely cafe, a small museum and shop, and plenty of activities and events, especially in summer.
22) Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum: delve into the traditions of maritime London and marvel at the beautiful classical buildings all set in the beautiful grassy, riverside Greenwich Park .
23) Guanabara’s dance lessons: Guanabara is a popular Brazilian bar in Covent Garden, offering regular free dance lessons, from Samba to Forro, and excellent DJs.
24) Serpentine Gallery: set in the beautiful Kensington Gardens this is one of London’s best-loved contemporary art galleries.
25) Sandeman’s Royal Tour: walk in the footsteps of the rich and powerful on this free guided tour which winds its way through the city of Westminster. The tour starts daily at 11am & 1pm by Wellington Arch, and finishes up at the Houses of Parliament.