Five Fabulously Free Things To Do in London
Despite being one of the world’s most expensive cities, London has an absolute plethora of free landmarks, galleries, museums, markets, parks and historical sites to visit. The possibilities are verging on endless. However, some of the options would take days alone (I’m looking at you, British Museum), while others are packed to the rafters with tourists (again, hello British Museum). The following list is therefore a bit of a mix – a few free (or super cheap) suggestions for seeing London like a Londoner, as well as some cultural highlights and ideas for viewing some of the more touristy stop-offs from a new angle.
Ok, so this first one is a bit of a cop-out as it will undoubtedly involve you parting ways with some cash somewhere, but in return you will get some of the most delicious, fresh and fragrant street food and market produce in London. The market’s eponymous street in super cool East London has been a site for traders’ stalls since the 1890s, and it’s a great place to wander through if you want to go somewhere that still has a lovely local vibe and isn’t brimming with tourists. Pick up some gorgeous quiches, deli meats, cheeses, fresh bread and brownies and have a picnic in leafy London Fields park at the end of the street – or grab Indian, Thai and Vietnamese curries to go… You can pretty much take your pick of cuisine here. One of my favourite things to do is to sip on a deliciously strong Vietnamese coffee from Cà Phê VN whilst watching the buskers crooning to passers-by.
Broadway Market, E8 4QJ
9am-5pm every Saturday.
Cambridge Heath or London Fields overground train station.
Free guided walks
You might want to combine your trip to Broadway Market in the East End with one of the more interesting of the capital’s free walking tour options: a street art tour. There are numerous tour companies now running these ‘free’ guided walks, the idea being that there is no upfront cost, and you pay what you want at the end. This not only prevents tourists from being priced out of more expensive tour options, but also means that no-one gets ripped off by paying in advance for a tour that isn’t worth it. One of the most popular is Free Tours by Foot’s ‘London Graffiti and Street Art’ tour, which takes in some of the East End’s most infamous, evocative and culturally diverse neighbourhoods, from Whitechapel and Shoreditch to Brick Lane.
Visit the Free Tours by Foot website for up-to-date booking information.
Starting point: Whitechapel Gallery, near Aldgate East tube station.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is an excellent choice if you want to soak up a bit of culture, but can’t quite pretend to be interested in bizarre contemporary art, or gaze thoughtfully at landscape after landscape. Essentially exactly what it says on the tin, the National Portrait Gallery houses a fantastic array of artwork featuring historically or culturally significant British figures. The collection ranges from traditional painted portraits to more modern photographs and even caricatures. The nice part of visiting the gallery is that you don’t have to be an expert in art to appreciate the pieces – everyone will recognise a few of the famous faces here. Entrance to the gallery is free, but there is a charge for some special exhibits. And if you need something to bring you back down to earth after the quiet calm of the gallery, the brash, bright lights of Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus are a few minutes’ walk away.
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE
Charing Cross or Leicester Square tube stations.
Tower of London: Ceremony of the Keys
Attending the Ceremony of the Keys is a unique way to see one of London’s most famous historical attractions by night for free, as well as offering you the chance to be part of an archaic tradition stretching back hundreds of years. Visiting the Tower of London can be a rather expensive affair (one adult ticket bought at the gate will set you back £25) and the attraction can be absolutely packed. Whilst ticketed entry obviously grants you access to the Tower and Crown Jewels display along with numerous exhibitions (which the Ceremony won’t), it’s worth considering applying to attend the Ceremony if seeing a different side of the building and its history appeals to you. The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower at night – usually at around 10pm – an event which has happened every single night without fail for at least the last 700 years. The Ceremony is stupendously popular however, so book as early as possible to try to secure tickets.
Book at the Ceremony of the Keys webpage to reserve tickets.
9.30pm – 10.05pm every night.
Tower Hill tube station.
It may seem odd to put Harrods on a list of ‘free’ activities in London, what with it being one of the world’s most famous luxury department stores and all, but it is of course free to browse, window shop and people watch. The sheer size of the store alone is something else, with its 330 departments covering over one million square feet of floor space (I thoroughly recommend picking up one of the free maps on offer inside if you ever want to see daylight again). The opulence of the interior is also a sight to behold: the famous Egyptian Escalator is a must see, whilst the Food Hall is a personal favourite of mine (don’t, whatever you do, miss the chocolate room). Toy Kingdom is well worth a look even if you don’t have any kids in tow, as is the Technology section – some of the items on offer are mind boggling, just like the price tags.
Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Road, SW1X 7XL
Knightsbridge tube station.
Have any free tips of your own for London? Feel free to share below.
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