07/06/2018 | July 6th 2018
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, sleep, eat, drink, or just plain live in. There’s no way to sugar coat it. London eats into your budget quicker than Homer Simpson eats into a donut. While there are many ways to visit London on a budget , one of the best ways to save money in the city is to take advantage of the plethora of free things to see and do in the city.
When you’re spending so much on food, drink, or accommodation, every little bit helps and thankfully you can spend weeks here without ever spending a penny on an attraction. Here is a list of 58 free things to do in London:
Visit the Free Museums
All public museums in the United Kingdom are free to visit, which is great because London has over twenty free museums in the city that can provide you with endless days of free exploration and learning! Here is a list of the free museums:
- The Museum of London – This incredible museum has a detailed history of the city of London and a detailed exhibit on the great fire of 1666 that destroyed much of the city. It’s open daily from 10 am-6 pm.
- The British History Museum – One of the top museums in the world, you could spend days visiting this place. Opened in the 18th century, this museum is home to over 8 million works, including the famed Rosetta Stone. I have spent hours and hours here. Open daily from 10 am-5:30 pm (8:30 pm on Fridays).
- The Natural History Museum – There are over 80 million items in this comprehensive museum, including specimens collected by Charles Darwin. It’s a really good museum for kids too. Open daily from 10am-5:30pm.
- The Science Museum – Founded in 1857, you’ll find some neat interactive galleries on aviation, space exploration, and cool sciency stuff in general. It’s fun museum to geek out in. Open daily from 10am-6pm.
- The National Gallery – This art museum was founded in 1824 and houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to around 1900. There are works by Johannes Vermeer, Sandro Botticelli, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo. Open daily from 10am-6pm.
- The Tate Modern – Housed in a former power plant, I think this is one of the best art museums in the city and is home to lots of contemporary and modern art. It’s a beautiful space and is filled with some really interesting pieces. Open daily from 10am to 6pm (10pm on Friday and Saturday).
- The Victoria and Albert Museum – Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, this museums is home to over 2,000 works of art covering over 3,000 years of human history. Open daily from 10am-5:45pm (10pm on Fridays).
- The Imperial War Museum – This museum covers British conflicts from WWI to the present. For those really interested, they also have an archive here where you can read real documents from various wars. Open daily from 10am-6pm.
- The Horniman Museum and Gardens – This museum has a comprehensive collection of historical musical instruments as well as some impressive natural history displays. It also has a huge garden you can explore as well. Open daily from 10am-5:30pm (Garden is open 7:15am to sunset Monday to Saturday and 8am to sunset on Sundays)
- The National Maritime Museum – This is one of the largest maritime museums in the world, with over 2 million items in their collection including ancient maps, ship models, and manuscripts. Open daily from 10am-5pm.
- The V&A Museum of Childhood – This is a branch of the Victoria and Albert museum, with a focus on art and crafts made for (and by) children. Open daily from 10am-5:45pm
- The Sir John Soane’s Museum – This small museum is located in the former home of Sir John Soane, a neo-classical architect. It’s home to many of his drawings and models making it a noteworthy stop for anyone interested in architecture. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am-5pm
- The Guildhall Art Gallery and Roman Amphitheatre – This gallery is home to the art collection of the city of London. It was built in 1999 to replace an earlier building destroyed in the Blitz. There are usually a few hundred pieces on display at any given time. Open daily from 10am-5pm (12pm to 4pm on Sundays)
- The Wallace Collection – This art collection contains pieces from the 15th to 19th centuries, spread out over 30 separate galleries. You’ll find paintings, armor, furniture, decorative art, and everything in between here. Open daily from 10am-5pm.
- The National Portrait Gallery – This was the very first portrait gallery in the world when it opened in 1856, and to this day is still one of the largest — there are almost 200,000 portraits here! Open daily from 10am-5pm (10am-8pm on Thursday and Friday).
- The Tate Britain – Not to be confused to with the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain is a gorgeous museum home to an expansive collection of British artwork from the 16th century to the present. It’s not as big as the Modern, but it arguably has more famous works of art, including works by Francis Bacon, Richard Dadd, and William Blake. Open daily from 10am-6pm.
- The Royal Air Force Museum – Opened in 1972, this museum is spread out over a few different airplane hangars. There are dozens of aircraft here, with displays covering the history of aviation and the Royal Air Force’s role in Britain’s history. Open daily from 10am-5pm.
- The Wellcome Collection – This is a quirky museum and library with all sorts of unusual displays, covering biology, medicine, science, and art. Open Tu-Sa (10am-6pm; 10am-10pm on Thursdays), 11am-6pm Sa, M (closed).
- The British Library – Established in the 1970’s, this is generally considered to be the largest national library in the world, with a catalog of over 200 million items. You could spend a lifetime here and not even see every book, let alone read them all! Open M-Th (9:30am-8pm), Fr (9:30am-6pm), Sa (9:30am-5pm), Su (11am-5pm).
- The Whitechapel Gallery – This gallery is home to contemporary works of art, and often displays temporary retrospective exhibits. Opened in 1901, it was also one of the first publicly funded galleries in London. Open Tu-Su (11am-6pm; 11am-9pm on Thursdays).
- The National Army Museum – This museum focuses on the experiences of the British soldier, from the English civil war to the present day. Established in the 1960’s, it recently went through a massive renovation and re-opened in 2017 with the works now presented across 5 galleries. Open daily from 10am-5:30pm (open until 8pm on the first Wednesday of every month).
- The Serpentine Galleries – Located in Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park, these two galleries were established in 1970 and are home to modern and contemporary art. Open daily from 10am-6pm.
Stroll through the London markets – Everyday is market day in London (though a lot of them happen just on Sunday) and there are countless markets you can wander through, people watch, or window shop in. Here are my favorite London markets to visit:
- Camden Market – This place is home to 1,000+ shops, stalls, cafes, restaurants, bars, buskers, and everything in between. It’s probably one of the most famous markets in the city and great for quirky things. Open daily from 8am-6pm.
- Portobello Market – This is the world’s largest antique market with over 1,000 sellers offering every sort of antique imaginable. Saturday has the busiest market activity and the most streetside vendors.
- Brick Lane Market – This market is home to all sorts of odds and ends from antiques to books to old electronics. Additionally, you’ll find a ton of food vendors lining the street. While the shops that line the street are open every day, Sunday is the main market day when the street fills with sellers and food vendors and people browsing the market.
- Borough Market – This marketplace dates back to the 1100’s, though the current incarnation dates back to 1851. You’ll find all sorts of restaurants, food vendors, and places to buy your groceries. It’s my favorite food market in the city. Open W-Th (10am-5pm), F (10am-6pm), and Sa (8am-5pm).
- Columbia Road Flower Market – This market features mostly flowers and other gardening items.Not much for the traveler, but it’s fun to look at and people watch. Open on Sundays from 8am-3pm.
- Covent Garden Market – Opened in the 1830’s, this is another good market to grab a bite to eat at as well as shop at some of the artisan craft stalls here. Open Monday to Saturday from 8am-7pm and Sunday 11am-5pm
- Greenwhich Market – This indoor market dates back to the 18th century and is home to all sorts of items, from jewelry to antiques to crafts to food. Open daily from 10am-5:30pm.
- Old Spitalfield Market – This place hosts a vintage market every Thursday and occasional vinyl markets on Fridays. Open M-F (10am-5pm), Sa (11am-5pm), and Su 9am-5pm.
- Maltby Street Market – This market opened in 2010 and is a bustling place where you can find gourmet street food and fresh produce, as well as a few bars where you can grab a refreshing pint. Open Saturdays 9am-4pm and Sundays 11am-4pm.
- Southbank Center – This marketplace is home to regular food and book markets. Open daily from 10am-11pm.
- Flea at Flat Iron Square – This weekend vintage market features the eclectic clothing, plenty of records, books, crafts, and furniture. Open Saturday 11am-6pm and Sunday 10am-5pm.
See the changing of the guard – Watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace at 11:30am as well as the horse guards at Whitehall at 11:00am.
Stroll around the city – London is a huge city and has many unique and interesting neighborhoods.For a more organized self-guided tour, Visit London has a free app that lets you create personalized maps and itineraries. Detour is another app that provides downloadable audio tours with based around different themes (the Detour app is free, but the tours will cost money to download). StrollOn is another app that lets you have personalized walking tours too.
Lounge in the Parks – London has some beautiful parks, and when the sun comes out (which isn’t too often), Londoners flock outside. With wide spacious parks filled with flowers, walkways, ponds, ducks, geese, and beautifully manicured lawns, the parks in the city are the place to be! Some of the best parks are:
- St. James’s Park – Covering over 23 hectares, it’s home to a variety of paths and trails, a lake, and plenty of birds (including pelicans!).
- Green Park – This park was first established in the 1500’s, though unlike almost every other park in the city it doesn’t have any buildings or lakes in it.
- Regent’s Park – This massive park is one of the Royal Parks of London. Established in 1811, it’s also home to the London Zoo and Regent’s University.
- Kensington Gardens – Another Royal Garden of London, this once-private garden is home to the Serpentine Galleries as well as Kensington Palace.
- Hyde Park – This is perhaps the most famous park in London. Originally the private hunting grounds of Henry VII, it opened to the public is 1637 is is a great place to stroll, picnic, or catch one of the many events that are hosted here throughout the year.
- Holland Park – This park has an eclectic mix of attractions, from Japanese gardens to a giant chess set to the ruins of the Holland House that was bombed in WWII.
- Battersea Park – This park used to be a very popular area for dueling. Nowadays it’s used for running, playing sports, having picnics, and music performances.
Visit Westminster Abbey – Westminster costs 20 GBP to visit but you can get into Westminster for free during hours of worship. If you want to visit and not pay the entrance fee, go for one of the services and you’ll get in for free.
Take a free walking tour – London is a megacity filled with a mega amount of walking tours. From free tours to specialty tours to paid tours to literary tours to quirky tea tours, London has it all – including lots of free tours. Here is a list of my favorite free walking tour companies:
- Free Tours by Foot – I’ve taken this company’s NYC tours so when I found out they had a London version I was thrilled to take a couple more. The tours are just as good as they are in NYC, covering the major highlights, well written, presented, and very insightful. Some of their really good tours are: Westminster tour, Harry Potter Walking Tour, Soho tour, Ghost tour, and street art tour. Most walks last two to two and half hours.
- Free London Walking Tours – This tiny company offers free walks from a few older British chaps that have the air of university professor. They tell silly jokes but are super knowledge about the most arcane facts of London history. They tend to cover a lot of ground – physically and factually – so it’s a whirlwind! Be sure to check out their Fire, Pestilence and Plague and Debauched London tours. Tours last two hours.
- Strawberry Tours – This tour company is a more “hip” tour company for young travelers. The guides and the attendees are younger. They run a number of free tours, specialty tours, and paid pub crawls (that might explain the young audience). You’ll see them advertised a lot. While I didn’t love their pub crawl, their Harry Potter tour, food tour, and London in a Day tour were fun and informative.
- New Europe Walking Tours – This free walking tour company has walking tours all over Europe. They are sort of the “backpacker” tour as most hostels always promote them and you see mostly young travelers on their tours. They are good for a large historic overview of the city.
Attend a Couchsurfing meet up and meet some locals – Couchsurfing is a platform that connects locals and travelers. You can stay with local hosts for free but, what I love about the platform, are the number of meet-ups and events you can attend. This is a great way to meet people, find quirky stuff, and get to really know the city. If you download the app, you can even see who is nearby in the city and free to hang out! For tips and tricks on how to succeed on Couchsurfing, you can check out this blog post.
Visit some East London street art – Shoreditch, side streets around Brick Lane, Middlesex, and Sclater streets always tend to have some really interesting street art worth exploring.
Visit a Church – London is full of free churches that you can visit. Most aren’t terribly old as they were bombed out during the war but many do date back to the 1600s! Here are some of the best:
- Westminster Abbey – See above!
- St Paul’s Cathedral – This Anglican cathedral is home to the Bishop of London and is one of the iconic sites of the city. The funeral services of many famous people have been held here, including Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher.
- Southwark Cathedral – Another Anglican cathedral, Southwark Cathedral was built in the 19th century from an existing church, though that particular site has been used by Christians for worship for over 1,000 years.
- Temple Church – This church was built in the 1100’s by the Knight’s Templar and is noteworthy for its peculiar round shape. It was heavily damaged in WWII, though it was restored afterward.
- St Mary-le-Bow – This church was rebuilt after WWII, having also previously been rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. Tradition says that the only true Cockneys are those who are born within earshot of St Mary’s bells.
- St Olave Hart Street – This is one of the smaller churches in the city, and one of the few that survived the Great Fire of 1666. The present building dates from around the 15th century, though it too was heavily damaged in WWII.
- St Magnus the Martyr – This Baroque church was one of the first to go up in flames during the Great Fire, eventually being rebuilt by architect Christoper Wren (who also designed St Paul’s). Like most of London, it was heavily damaged during the Blitz and has since been restored.
- St Bride’s – This is another church designed by Christopher Wren, who spent 7 years building it. It too was destroyed during the Blitz and has since been rebuilt.
Take the London wall walk – This walk takes you from the Tower of London around what is left of the ancient Roman wall that surrounded Roman London. You can walk along the wall, read some historical panels, and even download a booklet about the route.
Visit the Harry Potter platform – Harry Potter took his train to Hogwarts from platform 9 3/4ths at London’s Pancreas Station. Head here, get your picture taken with a luggage cart looking like it’s going through the wall and live out your Harry Potter dreams.
Crossbones Cemetery – This unconsecrated cemetery is dedicated to the prostitutes of London and is a hauntingly beautiful cemetery with plaques, music, and information about its history and that of the neighborhood. It closed in 1853 with the remains of an estimated 15,000 paupers, more than half of them children, who lived, worked in the area. (Interesting Fact: A law was proposed by a virulent anti-prostitution member of Parliament dictating that nothing should ever be built on the area. A few years back, they tried to put a railway on the land and the neighborhood used the law to prevent it from being built.)
Learn some stuff – Want to learn some stuff? Attend a free lecture at some of the best universities in the world for free! The following schools offer free lectures:
- London School of Economics – Upcoming lectures will be posted on the website (including dates, times, and locations.) You can also download previous lectures to watch or listen to.
- Gresham College – Lectures are usually held from 6pm-7pm at the Museum of London. Doors open around 30 minutes before the lecture, and seats are on a first come, first served basis.
- UCL Lunch Hour Lectures – This lecture series is usually held from 1:10pm-1:55pm with seating on a first come, first served basis. Check the website for topics and locations.
- Morley College Penny Lectures – These lectures technically cost 1p to attend, but that’s practically free! Check the website for dates, topics, and locations!
See a free comedy show – Laugh your butt off at one of these four places that offer free comedy shows:
- Angel Comedy Club – Stand-up, sketch comedy, and improv with two different locations in the city.
- Top Secret Comedy Club – A classic basement bar/comedy cellar with stand-up and improv shows.
- The Comedy Grotto – Great comedy line-ups usually for as little as 5 GBP.
Get your groove on – Listen to see some free music at some of these places:
- Royal Academy of Music – The RAM has regular free student performances as well as occasional free ticketed events. Check their calendar for dates and locations.
- Daylight Music at the Union Chapel – Pay-What-You-Can performances from 12pm-2pm every Saturday (check their website for specific performance details).
- Southbank Centre – Free lectures, poetry readings, musical events, and more! Check their calendar for up-to-date information and locations.
- “Ain’t Nothing But…” Blues Bar – They host regular free blues jams as well as ticketed blues concerts.
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