London: the home of royalty, history, and somewhat infamous weather. It is an unmissable city of intense intrigue with fascinating finds around every corner. However with all this excitement, exploring London can come at a price. The UK’s capital will usually set you back heavily in transport, accommodation, and food costs, but thankfully, a lot of activities and attractions come free of charge. So even if you’re living on chicken noodle soup for weeks like me, at least you’ll be doing it surrounded by the world’s leading cultural experiences.
Of course, just by the sheer size of this sprawling metropolis, there are countless costless experiences throughout London. It would be impossible to to summarise them all. Despite this, after visiting the capital several times and attempting to be budget-savvy, I really wanted to round up and share my favourite 20 free things to do in London with you. Some items are fast-paced and touristy, some are more for sauntering and enjoying at leisure, but all are incredible and guaranteed to be a good time.
TATE Modern Gallery + Lookout
The TATE Modern is one of the best and largest modern art galleries in the world. Based in the old Bankside Power Station in Southwark, the building has a unique atmosphere and impressively sized rooms to work with. The Turbine Hall is a particularly grand space and houses temporary commissioned large-scale installations in certain months of the year. Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds commission is one that I will remember for years!
Housing an unbelievable array of international works, it would be hard to not find something here that blows your mind. Immersing yourself in the world of Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, Monet and Rothko, is an escape from the bustling city and a welcomed chance for introspection.
Recently, the TATE opened the new Blavatnik Building which has oodles of new gallery, studio and performance space. Rising ten storeys up above the Thames gives the Blavatnik Building enviable views over London. Luckily for us, the folks at the TATE Modern knew how much we love a view and have allowed for a free-entry public viewing platform on the top floor. If you can squeeze into the lift, this is an incredible place to experience the London skyline.
Free always | Opening Hours 10:00 – 18:00 | Tube Station Southwark, Mansion House
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is a London icon. Situated in the South Kensington museum district, this striking building is home to a world of wonder. You can spend hours getting lost amongst the exhibitions here which span geology, human evolution, dinosaurs, mammals, volcanoes, oceans, and more. There is an unbelievable amount of intrigue here and you will always walk out having learned something new. Plus, it’s hard to imagine not seeing the phenomenal scale of Hintze Hall and its resident blue whale for yourself.
Free always | Opening Hours 10:00 – 17:50 | Tube Station South Kensington
Walk Across Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is one of the most internationally recognisable symbols of the city of London. Stretching over the Thames from the Tower of London, this nineteenth-century landmark is still a functioning pedestrian and traffic bridge, and occasionally you may see it lift up to let large vessels pass underneath.
If you pay an entry free you can enter the thoroughly interesting museum and climb up the towers for a magnificent view. If you have the money, I would recommend this experience. However, to keep things budget friendly, it is completely free to walk across the bridge itself and admire the view from above the River Thames. There are great vantage points along the banks of the Thames too, so it’s worth talking a stroll around the area.
Free always | Opening Hours always | Tube Station Tower Hill
Visit Portobello Road Market
Portobello Road Market in colourful Notting Hill is a bustling mix of food, clothing and antiques. Having such a variety of stalls gives the sense of being in several different markets at once. Some days only particular sections of the market run, but on Saturdays you can have the full experience as this is the main day where all stalls are in operation. After exploring the markets, it is nice to wander around the suburb of Notting Hill. Full of beautiful pastel coloured buildings and quaint cafés, the district is an attraction in itself. Grab yourself a coffee and head further away from the market to find quieter streets with fewer Instagrammers.
To be perfectly honest, when I first visited Portobello Road several years ago, the number of tourists made it overwhelming and not a pleasant experience. This time around, I visited as the market was setting up and first hour of opening to avoid the crowds. This made visiting Portobello Road much more enjoyable, and now I would go back again.
Visiting Portobello Road Market is free, but don’t blame me if you end up unable to resist the charms of all the delicious food.
Free always | Opening Hours 9:00 – 19:00 Saturday (main day), varying hours other days | Tube Station Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill Gate
Stroll Through Hyde Park
Hyde Park is the spectacular grassy park studded in the heart of London. The sheer size of Hyde Park is breathtaking, and there are always new corners to explore. Whether you are walking past Kensington Palace, watching the swans in the Serpentine, visiting the Diana Memorial Fountain, or orator spotting at Speaker’s Corner, there is plenty to discover.
The park is steeped in history too, originally serving as a hunting ground for Henry VIII, and later being the setting for several large-scale protests, important movements, and powerful concerts. Pencil in an hour or so to wander amongst the greenery and discover the different aspects of Hyde Park.
Free always | Opening Hours always | Tube Station Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge, Queensway
See Famous Faces At The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is one of my favourite places in all of London, and the fact that it is free to enjoy is a real blessing. The gallery has portraits using a variety of mediums and many are centuries old. You can find portraits of famous Tudor portraits to modern-day icons, and everything in between. Allow yourself an hour or so to meander through the extensive galleries and simultaneously learn about portraiture and history.
Free always | Opening Hours | Tube Station Charing Cross, Leicester Square
Admire Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Although Big Ben is under restoration for the next few years, a walk across Westminster Bridge is still one of the best free things to do in London. It is awe inspiring to stand at the Houses of Parliament and consider the number of important moments that have unfolded within those walls. The Westminster area is fascinating to stroll around as you can easily see the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the all-famous London Eye without having to walk far at all.
Free always | Opening Hours always | Tube Station Westminster
Visit Sky Garden
Sky Garden is one of the best free vantage points for the London skyline. As you can expect, for this reason, it is in high demand so you need to book online in advance to secure a time. If you can, try and schedule your free visit for sunset and make sure to arrive earlier than your scheduled time to make sure you don’t miss the dusk colours.
Free always | Opening Hours booking required to secure time slot | Tube Station Monument
See the Blooms at Columbia Road Flower Market
On Sundays, Columbia Road bursts into life as vendors fill the street with vibrant blooms. A healthy mixture of locals and visitors make the journey out to Shoreditch to take part in the fun and discover the latest florals on offer. There is plenty of back-and-forth between vendors and customers, and some lively selling tactics to witness.
Although the pot plants and beautiful bunches are the main attraction, there is plenty more to the Columbia Road market. Behind the stalls, there are dozens of beautiful shops selling trinkets, leather goods, records, and other interesting wares, which are lovely to peruse. There are several specialty cafés to grab a drink from as well as impressive buskers filling the air with delightful tunes.
Free always | Opening Hours Sunday 8am – 3pm | Tube Station Liverpool Street, Old Street
Get A View of St Paul’s From One New Change
St Paul’s Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill (the highest point in the city of London), and there has been a church on this site since the early 600s. The current cathedral was built after the Great Fire of London and is one of the most distinct and recognisable symbols of the city. Although it costs money to enter the cathedral itself and admire the stunning ceilings, it is free to enjoy Wren’s masterful architectural design up close. There are several fantastic ways to see St Paul’s including from the TATE Modern and strolling along Millennium Bridge, but my favourite is from One New Change.
One New Change is a new, expansive, and futuristic looking building which sits opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. From the ground floor, there are walkways between sections of the building with exceptional framing of St Paul’s. The best view is from the rooftop. There is a restaurant/bar on the terrace but simply take the glass lift up, and walk to the left where there is a public viewing terrace (which has better views than the restaurant, even).
Free always | Opening Hours views from ground floor always open, rooftop hours 10:00 – 18/20:00 | Tube Station St Paul’s, Mansion House
READ MORE: Exploring Bath: A Day Trip From London
Wander along Marylebone High Street
Walk a little further than Oxford Street and you will find the more marvellous, and much less crowded, Marylebone High Street. Teeming with boutique clothing stores, on-trend homewares, and unique design shops, there is plenty to peruse here. It is hard to avoid visiting Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street which is well-known for its fantastic collection of books. Famously, rather than being organised in a traditional manner, books are organised by country. For a given country there is a collection of travel books, history, fiction, and photography. I spent hours in Daunt Books and felt like I had explored the breadth of the earth by the time I had to peel myself away.
Free always | Opening Hours most shops open around 9:00 – 18:00 | Tube Station Baker Street, Regent’s Park, Bond Street
Get Lost in Camden Market
Camden Market is one of London’s most-loved markets and oozes cool. A collection of several indoor and outdoor marketplaces around Camden Lock, the stalls here are a mixture of vintage goods, clothing, trinkets, and food. Camden can feel like a rabbit warren to explore, with plenty of interesting stalls around every corner, and many nooks and crannies to happily distract. On a summery day, grab a cheap plate of food, sit out by the lock, listen to the buskers, and enjoy the bustling atmosphere.
Free always | Opening Hours 10:00 – Late | Tube Station Camden Town
Visit Regent’s Park in the Spring time
The Regent’s Park is in the north west of London and although smaller in size than Hyde Park, it contains the perfect mix of open parkland and manicured gardens. Within the boundaries of The Regent’s Park, you will also find the London Zoo, Regent’s University, and several sporting areas. My favourite time to enjoy the park is during the springtime, when the blossom is abundant and the colourful flower beds are emerging. In warmer days, it’s nice to sit by the lake and watch boats and birds go by. Surrounding The Regent’s Park are dozens of beautiful terraced buildings, especially nearby Park Crescent with its curved stuccoed terraces.
Free always | Opening Hours 05:00 – 21:00 | Tube Station Baker Street, Regent’s Park
Sit Peacefully in St Dunstan-in-the-East Church Garden
Near to the Tower of London, you can find St Dunstan-in-the-East Church Garden. This gothic church was mostly destroyed during the second World War, with the remains now serving as a public garden. The church was originally built in 1100, and the public gardens opened here in 1970. It is a peaceful escape in the middle of busy London, and a place to reflect on London’s history. It is always relieving to find greenery and quiet in large metropolises, and St Dunstan-in-the-East is the perfect fit.
Free always | Opening Hours 8:00 – 19:00 | Tube Station Monument, Tower Hill
Spend Hours in the V&A Museum
The scale of the Victoria and Albert Museum, more commonly known as the V&A, in Brompton is staggering. With 2.27 million items in its permanent collection, there is something for everyone at this museum showcasing arts and design. There are 145 galleries within the V&A covering art and design from a range of regions, such as Iran, Japan, and India, and time periods. There is a healthy mixture of textiles, fashions, jewellery, artwork, furniture, and sculpture which keeps the museum fascinating throughout. The V&A is one of my favourite museums and one of London’s best assets, and with free entry, you have no excuse not to check it out!
Free always | Opening Hours 10:00 – 17:45 (late opening Fridays until 22:00) | Tube Station South Kensington
Eat Your Heart Out in Borough Market
Borough Market is a foodie’s dream and the word is well and truly out. Occupying a grungy space beneath a railway line, the atmospheric market is full of stalls selling fresh vegetables, cheeses, bread, and delicious ready-to-eat fare. Surrounding the market, there are plenty of great restaurants and bars to enjoy too, including the insanely popular Padella.
Free always | Opening Hours 10:00 – 17:00 | Tube Station London Bridge
See the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Perhaps the most iconically British thing of all is the Royal Family. Anybody with a love for history and royalty will be making a beeline for London’s famous palaces, of which Buckingham Palace is the most well-known. At Buckingham Palace, you are able to walk up to the gates and see the guards with their red jackets and bearskins.
If you want to have the most spectacular Buckingham Palace experience, try and time your visit with the Changing of the Guard ceremony. This ceremony happens every day and has all the pomp, flare and tradition you would expect for royalty. With horses, a brass band, and plenty of members of the Queen’s Guard, you don’t want to miss the experience. Happening every day at 10:45am (with the actual change of the guards at 11:00), and completely free of charge, make sure you arrive a bit early to secure a good vantage point.
Whilst you’re visiting Buckingham Palace, try to check out the beautiful nearby gardens at St James’ Park and Green Park, too.
Free always | Opening Hours outside always open, changing of the guard starts 10:45 | Tube Station Green Park, St James’s Park, Hyde Park Corner
Wander Along Brick Lane Market
The busy and artistic Brick Lane Market is a must-do experience if you are in London on a Sunday. Brick Lane is lined with quirky shops and cafés which are open every day, but the street itself is filled with stalls on Sundays. This vibrant and youthful market sells a variety of bric-a-brac, clothes, antiques, and accessories, as well as a huge array of food stalls. It is easy to wander here for hours looking at what vendors have on offer, and finding hidden nooks with indoor marketplaces.
Free always | Opening Hours shops every day, market Sundays 10:00 – 17:00 | Tube Station Liverpool Street, Aldgate East
Experience the hustle and bustle of an evening London’s West End
London’s West End is a mecca for culture and bustle, full of restaurants, theatres, and hubs for the arts. Take a walk through Chinatown on the hunt for a delicious and well-priced meal before walking through well-known areas like Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Regent Street. The West End area is vibrant at night with the screens at Piccadilly Circus illuminating the crowds, something that is worth seeing.
If you have room in your budget, try to get cheap tickets for a world class theatre show. There are often cheap tickets if you book in advance or join lotteries. I saw the Book of Mormon (which was as amazing and hilarious as I’d hoped) for £15 and Come From Away (moving and entertaining new musical) for £25, and loved them both! You can also join the Hamilton Lottery on the Hamilton App for the chance to win free tickets, however don’t get your hopes too high!
Free always | Opening Hours always | Tube Station Piccadilly Circus
READ MORE: Tips For Exploring London Cheaply
What are your recommendations for free things to do in London? I would love to hear them below!
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