As a travel blogger and a born and bred Londoner, I’m always looking for new and exciting places to explore. When offered the chance to become a tourist in my home town, I couldn’t resist! And, as it turns out, there are plenty of free days out and things to do in my fantastic city.
I’ll share my personal list of top free activities in London with you in this blog post. So whether you’re a seasoned Londoner or a first-time visitor, a family or a couple looking for a romantic break, I have something for you. Why not check out these great options and get to know hidden free London?
Let’s start with the basics – the best and easiest way to get around London.
Easy Travel Tips
Getting to London from the airport is easy but not cheap. However, there are plenty of options for getting around without spending a fortune when you’re here. The Tube is the most obvious choice but can be expensive if you’re not careful.
My top tip is to invest in an Oyster Card, which will give you access to all public transport in London. It will definitely save you a lot of money in the long run. If you’re staying longer and travelling extensively, consider getting a Travelcard. It will give you unlimited travel for a set period of days.
Walking is another excellent (and free) way to see the city. London is full of hidden gems and secret places that you’ll never find if you’re underground. Plus, walking is an excellent way to burn off all those delicious calories you’ll be consuming.
If you’re time poor or want to see as much of the city as possible in a day, I recommend taking advantage of the free walking tours available.
Walking tours typically last around two hours. They will show you all the major sights and hidden gems that you might not have found on your own. Check out the details here.
Several Free Bike Tours are available if you fancy something more active. Bike tours are great for those who want to see the city at their own pace while exercising. The cool cycling kit company, Rapha, regularly organise a free-to-join ride with an expert cyclist at the London Chapter of the Rapha Cycling Club based in Brewer Street, W1.
Here’s a top tip that the tourist bus companies would rather you didn’t know. The RV1 is a regular public London bus route that links Covent Garden with Tower Gateway. The London bus is a great way to see some of the most popular tourist attractions without spending a fortune. You can actually hop on and off as you please.
TFL (Transport for London) will charge your oyster card or a contactless card a maximum of £4.95 per day, so it’s well worth taking advantage of this little known service.
Other great routes include the number 11 bus. The 11 bus service starts in Liverpool Street and goes west down the King’s Road to Fulham Broadway. Also, the 73 travels between Oxford Circus and Stoke Newington, taking in the British Library and Kings Cross station.
How about a spin on the Boris Bike or Santander Cycles? At £2.00 for a 30 minute hire, cycling might be the easy answer to getting around London quickly.
Once you’ve sorted out your transport, it’s time to explore. Here are my top picks for free things to do in London:
Museums in London
One of the best things about London is that there are so many free museums to enjoy. My personal favourite is the British Museum, which houses an incredible collection of artefacts from all over the world; visitors have photographed the inner atrium of the museum so much that the atrium almost has its own Instagram account.
London is a treasure trove of free museums. But did you know The Natural History Museum is a mecca for free events? Go and enjoy all sorts of free stuff! It is perfect for families with young children or teens, a go-to venue and not just because of the dinosaurs.
Check out the summer schedule, from yoga workshops to a silent disco and everything in between. After all, who wouldn’t want to dance the night away under a massive skeleton of a Diplodocus?
Free Art For All
If you’re arty, then make sure to also check out the free exhibitions at the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain.
My top tip is to take the Thames Clipper, the RB1 or RB2 service between the Tate Modern and Tate Britain. The RB1 and RB2 are public river bus services, travelling from the Embankment to Bankside. You will see the best views of some of London’s landmarks. A family roamer ticket is the cheapest way to travel.
The Tate galleries have gorgeous skyline bars that are entirely free to enter. You can buy a drink or a coffee and stay to enjoy the view. If you can’t get a table at the Tate Britain’s Terrace Bar, head to the Morpeth Arms on Millbank. Here you can sit upstairs in the Spy Lounge with views of the MI6 building. The pub is haunted (so they say) and houses a former cell corridor. True or not, the food is tasty, and the views are outstanding.
Some smaller galleries are also worth visiting, like the Serpentine Gallery. It is located in Hyde Park, which often has free exhibitions and installations by contemporary artists. The Saatchi Gallery is another excellent option that’s always free to enter and has an impressive collection of modern art. The space outside the Saatchi Gallery often hosts free events, weather permitting.
If you’re looking for something free and off the beaten track, check out First Thursdays. The event is called First Thursday because many of London’s galleries and museums stay open late and promote free entry on the first Thursday of every month. First Thursdays are a great way to explore some of the lesser-known galleries in the city. It’s also an excellent opportunity to mingle with other art lovers.
Free Street Art
Street art is alive and well in London, and there are several great spots to see it. Walking street art tours are a great way to learn about the history and meaning behind some of the pieces. My personal favourite is the Alternative London Street Art Tour.
The tour takes you to see works by some of the most famous street artists in London, including Banksy, Stik and Invader, and it’s a great way to explore some of the more off-beat parts of the city. While the Alternative London Tour isn’t free, here’s a link to inspiringcity.com, which has a rundown on the best free street art in the city right now.
Free Live Music
If you’re a fan of live music, London is your place. Countless free gigs are happening all over the city every single night. Check out visitlondon.com for a comprehensive list of all the free live music in London over the next few months.
Located in Shoreditch, East London, Rich Mix is my favourite spot for catching some live tunes. Some gigs are free, and others you can enjoy on discounted tickets.
The Royal Parks
London has more free public green spaces than any other city in Europe (apart from Berlin), and they are perfect for picnics, walks, or just relaxing after a long day of sightseeing. Without a doubt, Hyde Park is the most famous park in London, and it’s easy to see why with its picturesque views and tranquil lakes and the unforgettable Diana Memorial Fountain.
If you’re seeking something a bit more lively, then head over to Regent’s Park, where you can enjoy free or discounted open-air theatre performances during the summer months.
I love Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, it’s one of the largest parks in London, and it has a charming vibe. It’s also home to some festivals throughout the year. Now called All Points East, which is worth checking out if you’re looking for live music and free community events.
Finally, don’t forget about Primrose Hill, perfect for a summer’s day. The park has stunning views of the city, and it’s a great place to people watch, especially from the bench made famous by Bridget Jones in the iconic 2001 film Bridget Jones Diary.
Free Wild Swimming
The coolest thing to do when the weather heats up is head for the number of heavily subsidised wild swimming locations in the city. Hampstead Ponds, Tooting Bec Lido and the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park are great options for a cooling dip. If you’re looking for a free wild swim site, I recommend the River Wey in Surrey, located just outside London.
Just remember to take your towel and swim at your own risk as there are no lifeguards on duty.
Heading back into town, let’s go to see the queen or at least her garden.
Buckingham Palace and Other Free Attractions
Of course, no trip to the smoke would be complete without seeing Buckingham Palace, and luckily for you, it’s free to enter the grounds. It’s also free to watch the changing of the guards, which happens at 10.45 am every day.
There are plenty of other great attractions that won’t cost you a penny, like the Houses of Parliament tour (only free if you’re a UK resident), Westminster Abbey on non-service days and of course, the free to view art on the plinths at Trafalgar Square.
I suspect you’re looking for something quirky. Then, why not visit the Free Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition or London Mithraeum, a well-hidden Roman temple that architects discovered during the construction of Bloomberg’s European headquarters.
Another favourite of mine is the Barbican Conservatory, which is free to enter and home to over 2000 tropical plants and trees species. Sitting in the middle of a brutalist urban structure in the centre of London, The Barbican Centre is another exciting venue that often holds free events.
Green thoughts take me to Kew Gardens in southwest London, an oasis of calm, and while it’s not free to enter most of the time, you can join the Kew Run, your family can get into the gardens for free, and you can stay all day.
More Free Events
As you can see by now, I love a free or discounted event, and luckily London has no shortage of them. Free yoga in Trafalgar Square, open-air cinema screenings, pop-up art exhibitions and street food markets are just some of the marvellous events you can enjoy without spending a penny.
Some areas offer more free events than others. Camden Lock or Hoxton, for example, are home to free street markets, which are perfect for picking up some souvenirs or grabbing a cheap bite to eat.
While in Camden, why not visit The Hawley Arms, Amy Winehouse’s favourite pub? You can soak up the atmosphere and check out the rock and roll memorabilia. You can get away from the crowds in the terrace bar for the cost of a pint.
Columbia Road flower market is another excellent place to spend a Sunday morning, bustling with life and the smell of fresh flowers. You don’t need to buy anything. Just experiencing the hustle and bustle will lift your spirits. Stallholders sell off anything left at the end of the day for next to nothing.
I have saved my best tip until the end when London opens its door to visitors by offering free behind the scene tours to some famous and infamous venues that are usually off-limits to most people – The Open House London Festival.
Open House London
Suppose you love buildings and architecture as much as I do. In that case, September is the time to visit London, especially during the Open House Festival.
The Open House Festival is when over 800 buildings of architectural interest across the city open their doors for free to ticket holders. This includes some iconic landmarks like Buckingham Palace, City Hall, the Bank Of England and The Gherkin.
The festival is free, but you must book your tickets in advance and believe me, the hot tickets get snapped up super fast. The good news is the schedule changes with new exciting venues added every year.
I hope you have enjoyed my round-up of the best free things to do in London and that you get to experience some of them for yourself soon. Just one last thing – if you love Indian food (curry is almost a national dish), you must visit YMCA Indian Student Hostel in W1. The kitchen at the YMCA serves delicious food, cheaper than anywhere else in London – what’s not to love.
It’s been a joy taking you around London. While I could stay here and write for hours on the subject, I’m off to Camden to grab a pint and a packet of pork scratchings and revel in London’s unique vibes.