London is a monster of a city, simply huge, and although it is considered a fairly walkable city, that’s just referring to a very small section of it where most of the major landmarks are situated. If Greater London is on the agenda for exploration, then the fact that it covers an area of 607 square miles needs to be considered.
An area of 607 square miles contains a lot of things to see and travel expenses could start to rack up before the costs of the attractions themselves are even considered. This is one of the reasons why it is always good to have things to do which don’t cost a lot.
London is expensive, it’s not the most expensive city in the world (unless you’re trying to buy a house there) but as with any capital city it certainly isn’t cheap.
It might be surprising to some that there are actually plenty of free attractions in London. For example, London has some of the most famous and well-respected museums and galleries to be found anywhere in the world and the vast majority of them are free to enter.
Here are a selection of some of the best free attractions in London.
The National Gallery
For art lovers, this needs little introduction. This is a place that is home to some of the world’s best known masterpieces by some of the world’s best known artists, including Michelangelo, van Gogh, Renoir and da Vinci.
These masterpieces, and probably because of the fact that it’s free, means that it is one of the city’s most popular attractions, seeing over six million people come through its doors every year.
Weekends are the busiest times; the quietest times are in the morning during the working week or Friday evenings.
Alongside the museums, London’s other premier free attractions are its parks. Hampstead Heath, covering 790 acres, is one of the largest of these and can be found, mostly, in the London Borough of Camden.
One of the most significant things about Hampstead Heath is its height. This makes the ancient park a fantastic place from which to view the city, especially from the famous Parliament Hill.
Other things in the park include a zoo, picnic areas and ponds to swim in when the weather is warmer. Officially there is a charge for the latter but it is often overlooked.
The British Museum
One of the most popular attractions in the capital and one which could be revisited day after day and still leave people with a feeling that they haven’t covered everything.
This is largely due to the 80,000 artefacts that are on display at any one time. What is staggering, however, is that the museum actually has 8 million artefacts in its possession, but only ever displays 1% of them at a time!
The collection is made up of all sorts, not just from the British Isles but from across the entire world. There’s plenty of Anglo-Saxon treasures to behold but the real attractions are things such as genuine samurai armour and Egyptian mummies.
The British Museum is also home to the hugely important Rosetta Stone.
The Science Museum
Seven floors of button pressing, lever pulling, interactive fun. A fantastic place to visit with children after visiting a traditional museum with a ‘don’t touch’ policy.
Here, on the most part, touching is actively encouraged.
Some of the most popular exhibits involve the evolution of transport including steam locomotives, cars, hot air balloons, gliders and aeroplanes.
Houses of Parliament
Not just the seat of British politics but a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Having a look at the wonderful 19th century building from the outside costs nothing and taking a picture with the Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben to most people) in the background is a sure fire way for people to prove that they’ve actually been to London in the first place.
British parliament is made up of two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. What some visitors don’t realise is that both Houses have viewing galleries from which democracy can be seen in action. It’s completely free but reserving spaces ahead is a must.
Portobello Road Market
A visit to London is not all about seeing works of art at famous galleries, it should also be an opportunity to see a more authentic London in action.
There are many markets in London and this is probably the most famous. It is open seven days a week and sells everything from vintage clothes, to antiques to fruit and veg, although some parts are only in action on certain days.
To see the market in full swing visit on Saturdays, although this is also when it’s at its busiest.
Portobello Road Market is located in Notting Hill. Fans of the eponymous film will remember the market which features in it, but will also remember the famous blue door. The blue door is still there and is predictably a popular tourist photo.
The fact that this is the most visited attraction in London will certainly baffle a lot of people who may find modern art a little difficult to digest. Though it has to be said, most visitors cannot praise it highly enough.
The building in which the museum resides is impressive enough. It was previously known as the Bankside Power Station. As well as the very latest in modern art there are also classic pieces from Picasso, Warhol, Pollock and Matisse on display too.
Failing that, plenty of people enjoy the cafe upstairs with its fantastic views of the River Thames.
St Paul’s Church
When looking up St Paul’s Church, remember not to confuse it with the far more famous St Paul’s Cathedral. They are very different in location, size, look and cost, with the cathedral charging for entry and tours.
St Paul’s Church can be found in Covent Garden in the heart of London’s theatre district. This is what gives the church its nickname of the ‘actor’s church’.
Covent Garden is worth a visit in itself. Once there St Paul’s Church can’t be missed as it is the place where all of the street performers congregate and display their talents.
In fact, the world’s first Punch and Judy show took place outside the church in 1662. That is commemorated by the name of the pub opposite.
Don’t forget to go inside the church too. Inside there are memorials to quite a few legends of the entertainment business, including Vivien Leigh, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Peter O’Toole and Boris Karloff. The latter having been born in London as William Henry Pratt.
A beautifully manicured park that offers so much more in its vicinity than just greenery.
The park is on a hill and from the top gives a great view of the Canary Wharf/Docklands area of the city which is home to the financial district.
It is the oldest of the Royal Parks and is famous for being divided by the Meridian Line, giving Greenwich Mean Time its name but also enabling visitors to straddle the east and western hemispheres.
Over things that can be enjoyed in and around the park are the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Planetarium, a boating lake, the Cutty Sark and a deer park, amongst many other things too.
There are some great views of London to be had, from the London Eye and The Shard for example, but neither of these are free. Probably the best free viewing platform in the centre of London belongs to the Sky Garden, an area located at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street. The building itself is better known locally as the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ due to its distinctive shape.
Up there, there’s not only a fantastic view, but restaurants and bars too.
One of London’s longest running markets, Borough Market has been around since 1814. It’s worth visiting just to see the unique location, in the maze of arches and bridges located next to London Bridge Railway Station.
People travel from far and wide to get a taste of the food on offer here which features cuisines originating in all four corners of the globe.
There are some of the best ingredients available in order to make up meals for later, or there are also meals to eat now, no matter what the time.
There’s some pretty good wine and beer merchants too.
Browsing costs nothing of course but beware, it’s all pretty tempting and almost impossible to come away empty handed. Have a lookout for free samples if you’re on a budget!
The Changing of the Guard
Nobody does pomp and ceremony like the British and the Changing of the Guard is one of the best examples of it. It’s also completely free! All anyone has to do is rock up at Buckingham Palace on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday at 10:30 in the morning. Probably best to get there a little earlier in order to get a good vantage point.
The soldiers in their splendent red coats and tall bearskin hats are unmistakable, and the display of pageantry truly unforgettable.