London has got world class museums, beautiful parks, busy markets, stunning churches and extraordinary viewpoints! And for some people seeing, hearing and breathing in the sights and sounds of London is the culmination of a life-long dream. I often feel so lucky that this incredible city is right on my doorstep and more often than not, take London for granted. London can be expensive, but it can also be done without breaking the bank. Here are 30 free things to do in London.
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1. Tate Britain
Located in what was once Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the Thames, Tate Modern is one of the city’s most loved attractions. You can enjoy the permanent collection, which includes works by Pollock, Warhol, Matisse and Picasso, for free. The upstairs cafe has wonderful Thames views, and the building itself is amazing.
2. British Museum
One of the world’s oldest museums, The British Museum, houses a vast unrivalled collection of antiquities that spans millennia. In fact, the collection is so big, only a smidge of it is actually on public display at any time. Remarkably, the 80,000 objects on display at any one time only make up 1% of the eight million objects in the museum’s possession.
3. Science Museum
There’s something for absolutely everyone with seven floors of exhibits, including the Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator. The in-house cinema shows scientific films in 3D, where visitors can explore the depths of the ocean and never-ending outer space. The Energy Hall highlights the first steam locomotives, which date from the early 19th century, while the third-floor exhibits, which include old gliders, hot-air balloons and flight simulators, are popular with kids.
4. Imperial War Museum
The draw of the Imperial War Museum is its overwhelming sense of truth; this is not a place that glorifies or celebrates war, it simply documents it. Conflicts since 1914 are covered – there’s a Spitfire, a 14 metre high V2 rocket bombs, a harrowing (and award winning) Holocaust exhibition.
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5. National Gallery
Housing masterpieces by painters including van Gogh, Renoir, da Vinci and Michelangelo, the National Gallery is home to one of the world’s most impressive art collections, and sees over six million visitors every year. The Gallery itself has thoughtfully listed 30 of the top must-see paintings on their website including: Johannes Vermeer’s ‘A Young Woman standing at a Virginal’, Van Gogh’s ‘The Sunflowers’, Ingres’s ‘Madame Moitessier’, van Eyck’s ‘The Arnolfini Portrait and Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’.
6. National Portrait Gallery
Another free museum is the world-famous National Portrait Gallery. Highlights include portraits of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth II, the latter courtesy of pop art sensation Andy Warhol.
7. Saatchi Gallery
The Saatchi Gallery displays contemporary art from lesser-known international artists who have mostly not been exhibited in the United Kingdom. The interest in contemporary art has steadily grown and the thirty-year-old gallery now records a 1.5 million-visitor footfall per annum.
8. British Library
According the number of catalogued items this is the largest library in the world. Highlights include the exhibition rooms where there is a single room dedicated to the Magna Carta, also a Gutenberg Bible, Charles Dickens’ manuscript of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’, Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ just to name a few.
9. Natural History Museum
One of the most well-known and popular tourist attractions in London is the Natural History Museum. It owns an outrageously large collection (around 80 million items) of all things nature in a lovely Gothic Revival building, which opened in the late 19th century. A wildlife garden is open March to November, and the main hall is dominated by an enormous blue whale skeleton.
10. Victoria & Albert Museum
With over 2.3 million objects, multiple visits (and some comfy shoes) are required to get a handle on the V&A’s enormous collection. Whatever your passion, you’ll find part of its history here, with displays dedicated to fashion, furniture, sculpture, ceramics, jewellery and performance to name but a few.
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11. Borough Market
Having celebrated its 1000th birthday in 2014, it’s fair to say Borough Market is one of London’s more established haunts. However, in truth, any trip to Borough Market is unlikely to end up being free because there’s too much that’s too tempting. It is a hive of some of London’s best producers and throbs with crowds looking to get their fix of fresh pasta, or cured meats, or coffee from countries you’ve barely heard of. It is also a good place for a simple wander.
12. Portobello Road Market
Wander down the iconic Notting Hill street like you’re a foppish man in a rom com. Portobello Road has everything from food stalls to vintage clothing, records to antiques. You don’t even have to buy anything, just enjoy the brightly coloured houses and wonderful atmosphere. Take a camera and snap away.
13. Columbia Road Flower Market
One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is visit Columbia Road Flower Market. Come rain, wind or shine this east London gem is open every Sunday from 8am-3pm. Take a stroll through the botanical paradise that is Columbia Road as traders set out their blooms to sell. There’s all kinds of floral goodies to look out for from herbs and shrubs to flowers and houseplants.
14. Spitalfields Market
This lively east London market has an eclectic mix of stalls that will satisfy the likes of any shopper. It’s open seven days a week, so naturally it’s one of London’s busiest shopping destinations. There are antiques, clothes, jewellery – you name it they’ve got it. Entry is completely free too so just rock up and have a wander around.
15. Houses of Parliament
Home to the world’s most famous clock, Big Ben (officially the Queen Elizabeth Tower, but no one calls it that), the Houses of Parliament is a neo-Gothic wonder built in the mid-19th century. It is made up of two houses – the Commons and the Lords – and if you reserve ahead (or just try your luck on the day) you can go inside to watch British democracy in action.
16. The Changing of the Guard
Another tourist attraction is the Changing of the Guard which takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 10.30am outside Buckingham Palace. The Queen’s Guard walks around in time to music in a display of incredible pageantry, as they switch responsibilities with one another.
17. Performers in Covent Garden
The best seats in the house can get pretty pricey in Covent Garden. Unless, that is, you step outside the auditoriums and into the market square, where street performers have been entertaining crowds since the 17th century. From comedians to escapologists, opera singers to mimes, you can get a front row seat for free.
18. East London Street Art
East London is a hub of creativity with music shops, restaurants, vintage stores and more. It’s ever-changing with new murals popping up throughout the year — but it’s always a pleasure to wander to streets, seeking out the best. The buildings of Shoreditch are covered with the stuff, so that’s a good place to start, but Hoxton, Hackney, Bethnal Green and all the various places in between are ripe for exploring.
19. Daunt Bookshop
London is a treasure trove of independent bookstores and second hand bookstores. The shop opened by James Daunt was intended to provide an alternate browsing experience for the reader. All the books are arranged according to their country, irrespective of the genre they hail from: an experience similar to going around the world in many, many books.
20. Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross
Every true Harry Potter fan visits this coveted King’s Cross hotspot for a selfie in front of the now iconic Platform 9 3/4. In a nutshell, it’s literally the holy grail of all profile pictures. If you visit unprepared, don’t worry because there’s a cute little Warner Bros shop right next to it which sells all the merch – Gryffindor scarves, wands and Nimbus 2000’s included.
21. Walk along the Southbank
Art, culture, indie bookstalls, Instagrammable views and an endless supply of booze and street eats: the Southbank is unquestionably, the BEST place for you and your mates to hang out in London.
22. Abbey Road zebra crossing
If you’re a fan of the beatles, this one if for you! Half a century after The Beatles took that iconic photo walking over the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road studios, people are still trying to recreate it. Bare in mind though, it is a real road, and it’s busy so don’t get run over!
23. Sky Garden
Offering perhaps the best free vantage point in Central London, the Sky Garden is a free indoor viewing deck with restaurants occupying the top three floors of 20 Fenchurch Street. It is open daily, and you’ll need to book your tickets in advance. Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden, filled with greenery and boasting panoramic views of the capital.
24. God’s Own Junkyard
This showroom in Walthamstow is the late neon artist Chris Bracey’s personal collection of work. Walk around the small space taking in the vibrant displays of neon signs. It really does contain all sorts of goodies, from Soho club signs to ones that have featured in Hollywood films.
25. Vauxhall City Farm
This spot is a little slice of the countryside, right in the middle of the city. It’s home to over 14 different types of animal, including ducks, pigs, horses and even alpacas. There’s smaller creatures too for petting, such as guinea pigs and rabbits.
26. Hampstead Heath
One of the city’s wildest green spaces, Hampstead Heath spans a huge proportion of north London. Elsewhere in the park you’ll find a zoo, three swimming ponds (nominal charge which is often ignored) and plenty of quiet spots for a back-to-nature-in-the-heart-of-London picnic. You can also get amazing views across London from Parliament Hill. If you fancy a dip, the lido is on one side of the hill and the bathing ponds on the other. Just make sure you’re prepared: they’re very cold.
27. Greenwich Park and Observatory
Head to the top of the hill in the centre of Greenwich Park and you’ll be treated to a spectacular free view of the city: the skyscrapers of Canary Warf loom up behind the 17th-century Queen’s House, and beyond, the Thames snakes its way into the heart of London. You can also find the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, associated with the country’s navigational and maritime history. A laser projected from the observatory marks the Prime Meridian Line at night.
28. Hyde Park
As well as green spaces abundant enough to dodge the crowds, you’ll find historic monuments to explore, fountains to both splash about in and admire, myriad art installations, and free exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery a short walk away from its namesake lake.
29. Kensington Gardens
The western half of Hyde Park, known officially as Kensington Gardens. There’s plenty to see and do there — the magnificent Albert Memorial, the Peter Pan Statue, the Serpentine Gallery, the Round Pond and the Diana Memorial Playground. The palace is even the official residence of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, so you’ll be in good company.
30. St. James’s Park
This beautiful park is a favourite with many regulars to London and locals. The Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens in Regent’s Park is stunning and I would also recommend St. James’s Park as it offers one of the best views of Buckingham Palace. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are also close by for easy access and are home to the Diana Memorial Playground.