Free Things to do in London

The very name of the city makes wallets around the world groan. London can be a very expensive place to spend time. However there are also lots of events taking place each day that cost nothing. I’m not going to tell you to visit Buckingham Palace and Westminster; that’s what guidebooks are for. Here are some free things to get up to in London that guidebooks often forget.

London sightseeing

For an iconic London photo opportunity, head to the Changing of the Guard, which takes place at 11.30am (daily in summer, every other day in winter). The Prime Median is the line of longitude defined as 0 degrees. It runs through Greenwich at the Royal Observatory (in the courtyard up the hill) and is an interesting place to ponder the world’s different time zones. If you time it right you can find yourself part of the crowd at a film premiere in Leicester Square. I have happened across Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts attending premieres by chance in fact, but if you keep an eye on the media and upcoming movie releases it is fairly simple to do a bit of celebrity spotting this way. London is a city of interactions. Nowhere is this truer than amongst the street performers of Covent Garden and the South Bank. They love a crowd and may involve you in their acts if you are in the front row.

Walking Tours

I’m not talking about organised tours. The key sights in London are in a pretty compact zone. Street signs are common too, so get yourself a good map (the London A-Z is on sale everywhere) decide which places you are interested in and walk the city. Easy!


Open House weekend takes place in September each year and is an annual weekend opening of prominent London buildings which are usually off-limits to the public. Most buildings you can just turn up for, but visiting some of them requires booking ahead. The programme is online on the Open House website from August each year. Get nosey and get exploring. The Criminal Courts (aka The Old Bailey) are interesting if you fancy seeing Britain’s legal system in action. The public gallery is open to anyone but no bookings can be made. Check their website for daily case listings. Kenwood House is a neo-classical villa on Hampstead Heath, formerly a stately home. It is set in beautiful grounds and if the house is not enough climb to the top of Parliament Hill and take in the view across the whole of London beneath you.

London Museums

London has a lot of museums, offering a lot of variety in their exhibits. South Kensington is an area famous for its museums, most of which are on appropriately named Exhibition Road. The Natural History Museum with exhibits of Earth Sciences including Zoology is here, as well as the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, commonly referred to as the V A and dedicated to art and design. The British Museum’s Ancient Egypt exhibit has always been popular. The Imperial War Museum is a National museum with branches across the UK, three of which (The Imperial War Museum, The HMS Belfast and the Cabinet War Rooms) are in London. The war museum has a terrifying air raid simulator and the cabinet war rooms are the underground offices from which Churchill ran Britain during the war. There is an impressive collection of video and photo coverage of the war too.

London Art Galleries

For years the Brits have been travelling the world collecting art as they go, so London has a huge collection, most of which is free. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square is good for European art. The National Portrait Gallery is tucked just behind. The portraits vary from Tudor royalty to modern day film stars. The Tate Britain is a mixture of classical and modern art. The Tate Modern focuses on modern art (or meaningless paint splodges and piles of stuff, depending how you see it) The Wallace Collection, so-named after the collecting family, contains porcelain, furniture and paintings, all housed in a spectacular building just off Oxford street.


The British Academy, The Tate and the Royal Society all offer a program of lectures (on humanities, various subjects and science respectively) One of the most varied programs is that offered by UCL in their ‘Lunch Hour Lectures’ Upcoming lectures at the time of writing were:

  • Lisbon 1929-45: the untold story of Portugal and the Jewish refugees
  • Would you give your right arm to protect your heart?
  • Landing on a planet at 600 miles per hour Sex education via the media: promises and pitfalls
  • Will robots take over the world?
  • Great 2 meet u IRL :o) Twitter and digital identity

If you’d prefer to be speaking rather than listening, there is always a lively debate going on at Speaker’s corner in Hyde Park. Be prepared for heckling though. This area, close to Marble Arch is the original and most famous Speaker’s corner. There are now speaker’s corners across the UK and also overseas.

Carnivals and Parades

There are many street carnivals and parades throughout the year including the New Year’s Day Parade, the City of London Festival in June, The Mayors Festival in September, but my favourite is the Notting Hill Carnival in August which is Europe’s largest street festival.

Have you got any favourite things to do in London that are free? If so, please share them in the comments below this post.


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