YOU OFTEN hear complaints circulating about the cost of living in London. People are always swapping notes on how much they spend on transport, going out and just everyday life. However, there is a different London available to those who want to make the most of everything the city has to offer – and do it on a budget.
This city has some of the best monuments, museums and art galleries in the world – almost all of them free. Not only that, there are parks and walking tours, or just wandering the streets, soaking up the atmosphere. Just make sure to take an umbrella.
To help you refine your options, here are our next top ten activities to do in London. All for free.
Top 10 London activities – for free | Part Two
Natural History Museum
Located in South Kensington, this beautiful Victorian building houses some of the most weird and wonderful items from the natural world. You can see the dinosaur bone collection, visit the creepy crawly room, learn about the mammals from around the world and come face to face life-sized blue whales, elephants and elk. If you want to avoid the queues (and screaming children) the museum is open on the last Friday of every month until 10pm, complete with live music and a bar.
Somerset House is a major arts and culture centre in the heart of London overlooking the River Thames, just east of the Waterloo Bridge. Somerset House features large-scale contemporary exhibitions, galleries, events, two elegant staircases and balcony views over the Thames. The famous courtyard and vast Georgian building provide a beautiful backdrop for 55 dancing fountains in the summer and an ice rink during the winter months. Open between 10am and 6pm every day, most galleries are free, as are guided tours every Thursday and Saturday.
Free entertainment in the north-east corner of Hyde Park! Speakers’ Corner was officially recognised in 1872 and allows people from all corners of the globe gather to theatrically share their opinions from atop their soap box or listen to the varied and fascinating rants and ramblings. Lenin, Karl Marx, George Orwell and William Morris are but a few who have used this spot to take a stand on their ideals and beliefs. Sunday morning was traditionally the best time to visit, but speakers can now be found on the corner throughout the week.
Harrods (free to visit)
One of the world’s most famous department store is a must. Located in London’s posh Knightsbridge (where a 27sq meter apartment sells for more than £500k), the store is a rabbit warren full of the most incredible clothing, bags, furniture, gifts and toys. It also houses more than 12 premium restaurants and cafés featuring cuisine from across the globe.
Things not to miss include the Disney themed princess room on the fifth floor where you can try on a Cinderella slipper or a princess dress. Just around the corner is the Harrods pet store and grooming centre. Here you can pick up a labradoodle for £2,100, or a hamster for £15. The Egyptian themed escalator lobby is certainly something to see, as are the two Dodi and Princess Diana memorials. In the basement you will find the food sections where you can by delicious deli items, red velvet cakes or an array of tea and coffee. Don’t forget to check out the interactive toy store!
Museum of London Docklands
This museum explores London’s history from Roman settlement to Docklands’ regeneration and observes the history of London’s river, port, trade, migration and commerce. The museum is two minutes’ walk from West India Quay DLR station in East London. With the money you save on entry, take a 10-15 minute journey on a Thames Clipper riverboat from Bankside or Maritime Greenwich Pier to Canary Wharf Pier and take in the view from the river.
New London Architecture (NLA)
London’s Centre for the Built Environment, near Goodge Street Tube or Tottenham Court Road Tube, is open free of charge Monday – Saturday. The centre features wall displays of new builds in London and a plastic model that stretches dozens of metres, displaying the Docklands and Olympic Park in the east, and Battersea in the west. This is a fantastic overview of the entire city, offering a whole new outlook on the capital.
National Maritime Museum and Greenwich World Heritage Site
Located in the beautiful Greenwich World Heritage Site, the National Maritime Museum is made up of the Maritime Galleries, the Royal Observatory Astronomy Centre, and the 17th century Queen’s House. Some of the National Maritime Museum wings are open late until 8pm every Thursday. While these are all free, charges do apply for Cutty Sark (£12), Flamsteed House and the Meridian Courtyard (£7) where you can see the Greenwich Meridian Line, which represents the Prime Meridian of the World – Longitude 0º.
Museum of London
To learn a little more about the history of London, check out the seven permanent exhibition galleries telling the story of London from prehistoric times to the end of the 19th century at the largest city museum in the world. The museum is located in the City of London between Barbican and St Paul’s tube stations. Entry is free, with the exception of several Museum Late activities throughout the year which are always themed and fun. Every Valentine’s Day the annual Valentine late (£7) celebrates the ‘roaring twenties’ with live music, authentic 1920’s talks and Charleston lessons.
One of the most visited modern art galleries in the world, the Tate Modern houses the UK’s premier collection of modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present day. It is housed in the former Bankside Power Station near the pedestrian Millennium Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe. There are seven floors of gallery space, exhibitions, collection displays, performance spaces, auditoriums, cafés, small merchandise shop and a bar and restaurant on the 7th floor. The Tate is open until 6pm most nights and 10pm Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is free, except for special exhibitions.
A number of festivals showcasing London’s sporting, artistic, musical and cultural achievements take place throughout the year and various venues around the capital. Here are the highlights:
- February – Celebrate Chinese New Year with floats and entertainment from Trafalgar Square to Chinatown.
- April – The annual London Marathon starts at Greenwich Park and covers 26.2 miles through Embankment, Tower Bridge and Cutty Sark Gardens.
- May – On the first long weekend of May Little Venice hosts a properly English affair of real ale, Morris dancers and the gathering of picturesque canal boats.
- June – Trooping the Colour celebrates the Queen’s Birthday and is carried out by fully operational troops from the Household Division (Foot Guards and Household Cavalry).
- August – The Notting Hill Carnival is one of Europe’s biggest, attracting around one million revellers each year. This three day festival is a dynamic celebration of London’s multi-cultural diversity with floats, street dancing, food and music.
- November – Lord Mayor’s Show and Fireworks along the Thames River.
- December – Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
So you see – there is an amazing array of free and fun activities in London to enjoy without breaking the bank. Get out there and enjoy.