10 awesome things to do in London for free
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London is a wonderful destination to visit, but… it can be expensive. Hotel prices, especially in the summer, can skyrocket. A cheeky pint down at your nearest pub can easily be $8 or more. And you could spend more on a taxi into the city from the airport than what the flight cost.
If you have money to burn, London is a great place to do it. But the city also caters well to those on a tight budget.
There are dozens of great activities you can do in the city that won’t cost you a single penny. Here are our favorites.
1. Changing of the Guard
There’s perhaps no way better way to experience the pomp and circumstance of the British Royal Family than to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony. More of a tourist attraction nowadays than serving any practical purpose, the event usually takes place four times a week at 11 a.m.
In simple terms, it’s a change where one set of the Queen’s Guards finish their shift and a new set take over. Doesn’t sound too exciting so far?
While in normal workplaces, a shift change might just involve you just logging out and grabbing your coat, this event is next level. Expect troops’ precision marching, brass bands, a sea of bearskin hats, rousing music and plenty of British celebration. It’s completely free and attracts big crowds each day, so arrive early to grab a good viewing spot directly outside spectacular Buckingham Palace.
I wish a crowd like this welcomed me into the office each day.
Nearest Tube stations: Westminster, St James’s Park, Victoria, Hyde Park Corner and Charing Cross.
Times: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from August to May, daily in June and July. The event is currently temporarily suspended due to COVID-19.
Related: How does the Royal Family fly?
2. Any of London’s fantastic outdoor markets
The capital is spoilt with plenty of markets selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, restaurant-quality meats, delicious wine and craft beer, to fresh flowers from around the world. If you’re not sure which one to pick, Borough Market is a good place to start. It’s somewhere I always take first-time visitors when they come to London and is open Monday to Saturday.
Portobello Market is also a good choice, especially if you like antiques or vintage clothes.
If you have green fingers, you should try the beautiful Colombia Road Flower Market each Sunday. You’ll find thousands of beautiful flowers and plants on sale for very reasonable prices. Try and arrive just as the market is opening or closing, as it gets extremely busy.
It’s free to visit any of these markets, though you’ll need to pay to purchase the items on sale. I enjoy just wandering through the markets taking in all of the different sights, smells and sounds rather than buying everything I can see. You’re also likely to find vendors happily handing out free samples.
Nearest Tube stations: London Bridge for Borough Market and Shoreditch or Liverpool Street for Columbia Road.
Times: Each market has slightly different opening hours — check their websites for details. Most are now operating as normal following COVID-19 shutdowns.
Related: How to spend a Sunday in London
3. Walk along Tower Bridge
Even after four years of living in London, I never tire of this spectacular landmark. The TPG U.K. office is right next to Tower Bridge, so I’ve walked past it and on it more times than I can remember and it still makes me stop and pinch myself that I actually live in London. It makes for fantastic pictures from afar, you can walk across it as often as you like for free and you will be treated to a fantastic view of some of London’s most famous landmarks including the Tower of London, the Shard and, of course, the Thames River.
You can do a paid tour where you can climb up to the top of the bridge but for me, the best part of the experience is walking across the bridge and then taking photos from the South Bank.
Nearest Tube station: London Bridge.
4. The National Gallery
London hosts one of the world’s biggest and best permanent art collections at the National Gallery, and it’s absolutely free to visit. It’s a perfect activity if the weather becomes gloomy outside. You can view stunning pieces by artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Plan to spend at least a few hours there.
There’s also famous Trafalgar Square right outside the museum, which should be on the list of any first-time visitor to London.
Nearest Tube stations: Charing Cross and Embankment.
Times: Open daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday until 9 p.m. As a result of COVID-19 safety measures, you’ll need to book in advance, though it is still free.
5. Sky Garden
Most skyscraper viewing decks charge high prices for the privilege of taking in the view. You will be in for a shock when you see how much it costs to ride to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Here’s a tip for London, though — while you’ll certainly be slugged a charge to travel to the top of the Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe, the Sky Garden is free.
This building at 20 Fenchurch Street in the City is known as the “walkie-talkie” because, well, it looks a lot like one from the outside. You can visit the indoor viewing deck for a spectacular view of London by booking your free ticket in advance.
Nearest Tube station: Monument.
Times: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends.
6. Victoria Park
This is my absolute favorite place in London. If the sun is shining, make the most of it and head to this glorious green space. There are miles of manicured grass, gardens and walking paths. You can ride a Santander bike, take a stroll or just laze about on the grass. While plenty of others will have the same idea on a sunny weekend, the park is so big, there’s plenty of room for everyone.
To keep your costs down, you can enjoy a picnic on the grass. Dogs are very welcome, and if you have restless little ones keen to let off some steam, this is a great place to do it.
I think Victoria Park is well worth the journey, even if you’re not staying nearby. However, there are plenty of other parks worth the journey, too, like Richmond Park, Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.
Nearest Tube station: Mile End.
Times: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m (or dusk) daily.
7. Barbican Conservatory
Locals either love or hate the polarising Barbican center for its unusual brutalist architecture. The design isn’t really my cup of tea — I think it looks very out of place in the center of London. What is beautiful and definitely worth a visit though is its little-known conservatory full of tropical plants on the third floor. Finished in 1984, there are now 1,500 indoor plants and trees for you to explore.
See if you can spot the Japanese koi fish in the ponds there, too.
Nearest Tube station: Barbican.
Times: Check the opening hours online, as usually it’s only open on certain Sundays. However, right now, it’s open seven days a week 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. Free tickets should be booked online — they are available from one week in advance.
8. Shoreditch street art
Brick Lane in east London is a wonderful part of the capital to experience an explosion of cultures, food, music and fashion. There’s also plenty of street art that is constantly changing as new ideas are painted over old ones. There’s no set path to follow — just wander about and keep an eye out for designs that take your fancy. Do try and swing past Rivington Street, which features work from famous street artist Banksy.
There’s always plenty going on in that area, especially on weekends, so you might miss the street art behind everything happening in front of it, so keep your eyes peeled. There are paid street art walking tours you can sign up for, but it’s just as easy and enjoyable to make your own way around for free.
Nearest Tube stations: Aldgate East, Bethnal Green or Whitechapel.
9. The Natural History Museum
There are plenty of free museums to visit in London, including the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Museum of London, Bank of England Museum and many more.
We’ve picked the Natural History Museum for a few reasons. For starters, it’s housed in a spectacular Romanesque structure that is almost 150 years old. Then there’s the enormous 85-foot blue whale skeleton diving above you that you can walk right underneath. There are around eight million specimens in the Natural History Museum from the now-extinct dodo to a tropical butterfly house.
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington.
Times: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. Book your free ticket online in advance.
10. God’s Own Junkyard
The largest collection of neon vintage signs in Europe? Yes, please. This quirky cafe is packed to the gills with every type of neon sign you could imagine. It’s an Instagrammers’ delight, and while you can sit and enjoy a snack or a coffee, you are also welcome to just visit for free and take in all of the different signs.
All signs are for sale if anything takes your fancy, too.
Nearest Tube station: Walthamstow Central.
Times: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
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You don’t need to blow your budget to experience to best of London. The number of free museums and galleries alone could easily fill a week worth of activities.
If you do want to mix it up, there are plenty of additional free activities from popping to Buckingham Palace check on the Royal Family to grungy street art and escaping the hustle and bustle of the city.
Featured photo by Mykolastock/Shutterstock
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