We’ve found 25 things to do for free in London. Got your own ideas? Post a comment below…
London is well known for being Britain’s largest, and most expensive city. But a day out in the nation’s capital does not have to empty your bank account.
There are plenty of things to do in London without spending a penny, from enjoying its famous museums and galleries, to experiencing some of the lesser known gems.
Climb the 334 steps of Big Ben
Guided tours take UK residents up the 62 metres, or 334 steps (to be precise) of the famous structure to hear The Great Bell strike its famous chime. Go behind the clock-face, and visit the mechanism room of the Elizabeth Tower, more affectionately known as ‘Big Ben’. (www.parliament.uk/bigben)
Scour the London skyline
Perhaps not quite as spectacular as views from the Shard or the London Eye, but a darn sight cheaper, Primrose Hill, located in the northern corner of Regents Park, offers fantastic panoramas of the London skyline for absolutely free, and is an excellent place to enjoy a picnic (weather permitting of course).
Sit in a TV or radio show audience
You can sign up for free tickets to various radio or TV shows that require an audience, with plenty of opportunities across the nation’s capital to listen or watch anything from Russell Kane to Nick Robinson. Witness the shows you love first hand, recorded live and unedited. (www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/tickets or www.tvrecordings.com)
Marvel at the Elgin Marbles
One of the British Museum’s more controversial exhibits, the Elgin Marbles, purchased in 1813 for just £35,000, are on display alongside other fantastic treasures including the Rosetta Stone and a colossal 9ft tall bust of the Egyptian Pharoah Amenhotep II. All housed in a rather splendid building, complete with a wonderful modern court, topped by a breathtaking glass ceiling. (www.britishmuseum.org)
Roam around Richmond Park
London’s largest Royal park has miles of paths and trails to explore by foot, bicycle, or roller skates if you so wish. With plenty of places to eat, and an ornamental woodland garden, the park is also home to hundreds of Red and Fallow deer – so keep your eyes peeled. (www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park)
Pay homage at the Memorial of Self-Sacrifice
From one of London’s largest parks, to one of its smallest. Postman’s Park, just a short distance from St. Paul’s Cathedral, is home to the Victorian Memorial of Self Sacrifice which honours those who died whilst trying to save others. The wall includes 54 separate plaques commemorating tragic heroes, the most recent of which is dedicated to Leigh Pitt, who died rescuing a drowning child in 2007.
Watch a trial at the Old Bailey
For those who fancy themselves as a modern-day Sherlock, the Old Bailey’s public galleries are open daily on a first come, first served basis, to anyone wishing to experience all Britain’s legal system has to offer, all at Her Majesty’s pleasure. (www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/OldBailey)
Annoy the drivers on Abbey Road
The iconic zebra crossing at Abbey Road still exists, and for most of the day a constant battle is waged between those trying to replicate the famous album cover, and motorists desperately trying to edge their way across the ever-busy crossing. For Beatles enthusiasts who do not wish to hold up the traffic, take the safer option of watching the Abbey Road webcam. (www.abbeyroad.com/crossing)
Remember WWI at the Cenotaph
Special attention should be paid to London’s WWI memorial, this being the centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War. The Cenotaph, located in Whitehall, is London’s memorial for those who lost their lives between 1914-1918, and still demands a great deal of respect.
Skate at the Southbank
[Picture: Nicholas Massé / Flickr / CC]
Home to skateboarders, BMX riders and graffiti artists for over 40 years, the Southbank Undercroft Skatepark is known as the birthplace of British skating. Plans for a £120 million development of the area have threatened the skatepark’s long heritage, but many are fighting to retain its vital cultural legacy. For those whose experience of skateboarding stretches no further than watching Back to the Future, there’s plenty of space to stand and watch others graze their knees.
Laugh out loud at the Comedy Cafe Theatre
Every Wednesday the Comedy Cafe Theatre hosts free ‘New Act Nights’, where viewers can experience the best Shoreditch’s budding comedy scene has to offer, in a place where both Jimmy Carr and Mickey Flanagan started their careers.(www.comedycafetheatre.co.uk)
Become an art critic
London has some of the best art galleries in the world, and with the Tate Britain, Tate Modern, V&A, National Portrait Gallery, Serpentine Gallery and Camden Arts Centre all offering many of their exhibitions free of charge, there is no shortage of fine art on display. Between classic Turners, a portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge and Picasso’s Weeping Woman, there is something to cater to most tastes. (www.tate.org.uk, www.vam.ac.uk, www.npg.org.uk, www.serpentinegalleries.org, www.camdenartscentre.org)
Bag a bargain at a boot sale
With a population of over eight million people London’s car boot sales offer far more than broken golf clubs and Monopoly boards minus their money. Bag a bargain at various locations across the capital and look out for some real hidden treasures. (www.carbootsales.org/county/london)
Race the locals
In a city that rarely sleeps, it can be difficult to find suitable running routes across the nation’s capital. Parkrun offers free, weekly, timed 5km races at over 40 locations inside the M25. These events take place every Saturday in pleasant parkland surroundings, with runners of all abilities encouraged. (www.parkrun.org.uk/events)
Enjoy London’s newest architecture
The skyline has changed hugely over the last two decades, with some of London’s most recognised structures cropping up in recent years. Buildings such as the Gerkin, the Shard and the London Eye now dominate the skyline, as does 20 Fenchurch Street, affectionately dubbed by the media as the ‘Fryscraper’ for its rather unfortunate design fault of reflecting the sun into a James Bond-esque style death ray. All can be experienced during a casual walk through London.
Visit the… farm
Yes, you heard it, deep within the M25 on the Isle of Dogs is the 32-acre Mudchute Farm, complete with all of Old Macdonald’s favourite animals, as well as open parkland, horse riding and plenty of events for both kids and adults throughout the year. (www.mudchute.org)
Take a candlelight tour of a museum
A mighty collection of antiques and curiosities can be discovered from Tuesday – Saturday at Sir John Soane’s Museum, but, for an extra special treat, the first Tuesday of every month the museum is lit only by candlelight, and offers anyone willing to queue beforehand the chance to experience the eclectic displays in a beautifully illuminated setting. (www.soane.org)
Scrutinise the changing of the guard
Certainly one of London’s better-known free attractions, no trip round the capital would be complete without watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, every day in the summer, and every other day in the winter.
Listen to free live music… everywhere
London might have some of the country’s premier music venues, but it also has plenty of free ones. Soho stalwart Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues Bar serves up some of the best blues this side of the Atlantic, and The Scoop, an 800-person sunken amphitheatre, located right next to Boris Johnson’s office, stages free opera, music, fringe and dance events all year round. Or, for those more classically inclined, the rather expensive entry fee to Westminster Abbey can be avoided on Sunday afternoons by watching the weekly organ recitals.
Watch live sport all year round
London offers plenty of opportunities to experience world famous sporting events for absolutely free. The London Marathon (April), The London Triathlon (August), and the quintessential Boat Race (April) are just some of the free events people can line the routes to enjoy. This year will also play host to the finish of stage three of the Tour de France. Watch Wiggins, Cavendish, Froome et al. compete for glory down the mall.
Tour the markets
Even those who find window shopping a mere warm-up to the act of spending money will be fascinated by all that London’s various street markets have to offer. One of the best is Borough Market. Food lovers should head down on a lively Saturday to catch the market at its bustling best, and take in the sights and smells of all its various gourmet treats and artisan foods.
Experience a 700 year old tradition
Every night for over 700 years Yeoman have performed the same ceremony for locking The Tower of London, known as the Ceremony of the Keys. Members of the public can experience this ritual by using a similarly ancient tradition of applying by post for tickets. (www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/WhatsOn/theceremonyofthekeys)
Sniff out the seven noses of Soho
In 1997, one of London’s lesser known street artists, Rick Buckley, provoked by the introduction of CCTV cameras to the capital, placed dozens of replicas of his nose around the city, on famous buildings and landmarks. Now it is believed just seven remain. Can you sniff out their locations?
Re-kindle your inner child
Right next to each other in South Kensington are the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, the best and most interactive of museums that London has to offer, and whether you are six or 60 the quality and imagination of the exhibitions is still thoroughly enjoyable. The Science Museum also offers a series of ‘Lates’, for adults, which promise themed evenings spanning issues as far apart as sex, alcohol and climate change, but always contain science shows, a pub quiz, Punk Science comedy shows and the best silent disco in town (underneath real space rockets). Dubbed ‘drinking and thinking’ by visitors. (www.sciencemuseum.org.uk, www.nhm.ac.uk)
See what is roosting on the fourth plinth
Rumoured to be reserved for a statue of Elizabeth II, the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square currently hosts an alternating range of commissioned artworks. In recent years it has supported a statue of a boy on a rocking horse, a ship in a bottle, and members of the public, each given one hour to do whatever they wanted. Adorning the plinth at the moment, is a giant blue cock…