Free Things to Do in London

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 18th, 2008

London red phone boothBeing in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, on one of the tightest budgets in the world, I’ve been learning how to navigate the city while spending as little money as possible. If you ever find yourself here on a tight budget, here are some free things to do in London:

Get a Free Map. The tourist office charges £1 for a map, but if you grab the pamphlets for the walking or bus tours, they contain maps. Also, the Museum of London gives away a map for free if you ask. The Lonely Planet map can sometimes be hard to read, and these other maps give you a good idea as to where all the sites and underground stops are without having to squint at a book.

Visit Museums. Most of the museums in London are free – the Museum of London, the British History Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum are all free. Get your fill of British history without spending a pence!

Visit an Art Gallery. The National Gallery and the Tate Modern are also free.

Buy an Oyster Card. This may not be free, but for 28 pounds you get unlimited usage of the bus and trains. I’m not sure why they call it an Oyster card, though. It’s not shaped like one.

People-Watch. Sunday is market day in London. There’s the Camden Market, the Portobello Market, the Flower Market, and a million more markets. People-watch, get great photos, and enjoy local London life without spending a dime.

Watch Iconic Symbols. The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace at 11:30 a.m. as well as the horse guards at Whitehall at 11:00 a.m. are both free and interesting to watch.

Free Internet. Looking for your online fix? The city libraries offer free Internet. There are five library locations around the city. You get a free half hour, but if it’s not busy you can stay on until you are finished.

Walk Around. London is a huge city and there are beautiful historic buildings all around. In fact, London beat me. I found this city to be totally unwalkable. I walked for four hours and barely made a dent on the route I was going to take (hence the need to get the Oyster Card). I’ve walked countless other European cities and never had this problem, but there is simply too much to see here. However, once you walk and get out of the tourist area around the Thames, you’ll get to see London the way the locals do.

Lounge in the Parks. Spending a day in the park is free wherever you go. London has some great parks, and when the sun comes out (which hasn’t been too often), Londoners flock outside. Join them for some fun in the sun.

See Westminster Abbey. You can get into Westminster for free. You have to cheat slightly, though. Westminster will not charge you entrance if you’re there for worship. (Maybe worshiping its beauty?) If you want to get in and not pay, say you are worshiping. I didn’t do it, but I’m just putting it out there that you can.

Get Cheap Theater Tickets. The theater in London is one of the best in the world. However, it’s also bloody expensive. A night at the theater can blow any traveler’s budget. However, there are plenty of ways to find discount tickets.

London may be expensive, but it is very possible to fill your days with free activities. If you do want to go in to see the sights, you will have to pay – sometimes as much as £25!!! So try out the above activities and save some money.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my country and city guide to England.

comments 20 Comments

I love the markets in London. I could pass days exploring them. And the museums are fantastic. Now only if you didn’t have to eat. Food, like most other things in London, is expensive!

Great practical post. Loved it.

Cris

Thanks Matt, this is all that I need to my more-than-tight budget 4 days in London. =)
I’ll be there in November, so I guess it’ll be a bit cold to walk around…

this is perfect!!! I think that i need to spend a little time in london since i have met a ton of folks from there while traveling in south america!

Good practical tips Matt :) I hope you are having a fun trip!

Jay

I am planning a trip there in 2 years.

my favorite people watching place is definitely camden town! all of the extreme londoners congregate there adorned with everything from spiked dog collars to hair in spikes like sonic the hedgehog.

can’t wait to see some of your people watching pics!

NomadicMatt

@kristy: I was out in the burbs and the food was much cheaper. I also tended to make all my food each day so that helped.

@helen: I didn’t make it to Camden town but I find some interesting people at this one sunday market.

FleeceTraveler

I don’t think I had ever walked as much on a trip as I did when I visited London. There was so much to see….the parks, the people, the architecture, and so on. I even found the grocery store interesting (another free thing to visit). It was neat seeing the different foods available and the way familiar food were packaged differently than they are in the US.

Magnus

London (the world) is your Oyster, see.

HI Matt
In summer, my favorite place is the South Bank (www.southbanklondon.com) where there’s always some street theatre happening. And, I know it’s old hat but Covent Garden’s buskers often go on to do greater things.

I think the Southbank is a great place to visit as most tings to see and do there are free and you can always watch all the performers without paying

Big Smoke

Some great ideas here as the prices in London are getting ridiculous, I especially like the quirky free event like small art gallery openings that offer free food and alcohol.

Enjoyed reading this Matt, and it’s always good to hear how differently people experience London. I do think though that London is a GREAT walking city. If you stroll for a couple of hours you can be in open parkland, pass through trendy neighbourhoods, walk along the riverside, visit markets, see the big ticket tourist sights and see fabulous building along the way. And, as you say, not spend a dime. We live around half an hour out of London, and on a free day we just take the train into any station and walk. There’s always something new to discover.

Laura Lawn-Hunt

One of my favourite things to do is spend a whole day in London without spending any money at all except my train fare. Its only 1/2 an hour on the train from my hometown, so its something I did a lot when I was younger – thanks for this post its reminded me just WHY this is still my favourite city in the world even after having travelled to many more.
Also just to add, my favourite free thing to do in London is to just get lost. Basicly you’re always near a tube station so you can always get back to somewhere you know relatively easily, so just take a wander left/right/straight on – whatever direction or street takes your fancy and see what you find. I’ve discovered tiny art galleries, amazing sculptures, cute cafes and lots more this way :)

Sharon

Good to repost this! I also highly recommend the iPhone apps (Tube map, TimeOut gives you a map and wificafespots to get free internet – Starbucks charges you in London! And of course, the Lonely Planet chapter). Great walk is Piccadilly to Hyde Park, takes you through heaps of good spots.

A trip to Buckingham Palace to watch Changing of the Guard remains one of the most popular free attractions. With a bit of planning you can even see inside the Tower of London at night free at the Ceremony of the Keys.

SB

Just like to point for tourists that don’t know, the oyster card is free. You pay a £5 deposit and then can load it up with cash. After a certain point (maybe £8) journeys become capped and then it becomes unlimited.

A cheaper and more fun way of getting around London would be Boris’ Bikes which are pretty much everywhere in central London. For one day, the hire charge is £2 and the first half hour of cycling is free, so you can cycle to the next bike point within half an hour, wait 5 minutes, then hire another bike and keep doing this! Some of London’s roads are hectic, but found the bikes a fantastic way to get around. (Especially Hyde Park- Covent Garden through Green Park/ St James’s Park).

SB

sorry forgot to include that the £5 deposit for the oyster you can get back if you go up to the desk, but usually only at the bigger, busier stations (i.e. King’s Cross)

Walk along River Thames’ bank and admire the architecture, the bridges!
It’s free… and there’s a lot to see. Even though the river itself is dirty and dark, the area around is very beautiful.

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