London is full of fun free things to do – from museums and lectures to concerts and comedy shows, from parks and tours to street art and yoga classes.
London is never boring – there’s always something going on, always something new to do. However, let’s face it – London can be pretty expensive, and when you’re on a strict budget, or new in town, going to the latest musical every night just isn’t an option.
But it’s especially important to go out and have some fun even when you’re struggling with money – because these activities give you the energy to move forward in a positive way.
Luckily, London is filled with free activities. Granted, it’s usually not 100% free when you factor in things like travel costs and food, but the base activity is indeed free of charge.
In a future post, I’ll also cover CHEAP things to do in London (for now check out how to get cheap cinema tickets in London) – but today, we’re in the zero-pounds territory. So let’s dive in…
Ever since 2001, most national museums in the UK have free admission. While some of the special time-limited exhibits do cost money, the general year-long exhibits are free, and millions of people go and enjoy some free art every year.
From The National Gallery to The British Museum, the two Tate Museums, and many others – there’s always something interesting to see. And even if you’re not a big fan of the arts (I know I used to get bored in museums), you will be surprised at some of the historic and special exhibits you can see.
London is one of the greenest cities in the world, and wherever you go, even in the super-crowded centre, you’re going to see small patches of green.
But while small gardens are fun for a short stroll, the real fun starts when you go to one of the bigger parks – and there are several of those in London.
From Holland Park with its beautiful Japanese garden, to the famous – and enormous – Hyde Park, to my personal favourite – Greenwich Park, which is perfect if you live in the more southern areas of London.
Take a book with you (or a Kindle), some sandwiches, and make a day out of it. Sure, this is London and it might rain – but that just adds to the excitement.
3. Sky Garden
While most tourists tend to go to The London Eye for views of London, or The Shard, there’s a much cheaper (as in: Free) option – the Sky Garden at the 20 Fenchurch St. building, also known as London’s sixth-tallest building, also known as “The Walkie Talkie” (you’ll know why when you see it.)
The upper floors offer spectacular views of London, and there’s also a bar there, and a restaurant, but you don’t have to order anything.
Admission is free, but you have to order tickets in advance – new tickets open up every Monday for one or two weeks ahead. Note that during peak seasons (mostly July-August) it’s not easy finding those tickets – so make sure you’re near a computer on Monday morning.
4. Choral Evensong in Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral
The Evensong is an Anglican evening prayer ceremony that takes place in the late-afternoon hours, where most of the prayers are sung by a choir.
There are plenty of Evensong ceremonies in churches around London, but the two that are probably the most special (in part due to their location), take place in Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
While entrance to these two historic cathedrals usually costs money, their Evensong is free. You won’t be allowed to tour the whole place (as that’s reserved to paying guests), but you will see the magnificent interiors.
And listening to the prayers and songs in such an awe-inspiring location is something everyone should experience – and you don’t even need to be a Christian to enjoy the beauty of the place and the voices.
Make sure you arrive early enough, especially in busy months – if you arrive late, you’ll get seats that are far from the choir.
5. Open Rehearsals
Concerts and classical music performances in London can get pretty expensive – but you can often catch interesting musical performances through rehearsals which are open to the public.
For example, here’s the open rehearsals schedule of the Handel & Hendrix centre, here’s a selection of open rehearsals available via Eventbrite (though not all of them are free)… you get the point – just keep your eyes, ears – and Google open.
6. Royal Academy Of Music – Free Tuesdays
Founded in 1822, The Royal Academy of Music not only trains musicians, it also hosts a multitude of classical music concerts and performances. And, events on Tuesdays at 1:05pm are totally free – just show up.
7. Free Houses of Parliament Tour
While tourists need to pay for guided Parliament tours, as a UK resident you can go in for free – and even get a tour for free, sponsored by your local Member of Parliament (MP).
You need to contact your MP’s office and book up to 6 months in advance, for a 75 minutes tour (with an expert guide – your MP is NOT going to be the one guiding you…).
8. Street Art in Shoreditch
You can find lovely graffiti in Shoreditch (and East London in general), and just walking around and having a look can give you an enjoyable couple of hours. If you want to tour by yourself, you can use this handy map, and there are a few free guided tours as well – for example, look here, or here.
9. Free Walking Tours of London
There’s no shortage of tours for tourists and locals in London – but many of them are costly. Luckily, several companies offer “Free” walking tours, with an expert guide. The idea is that at the end of the tour, you pay whatever you see fit, depending on how good the tour was.
And while I would urge you to pay at least something – if you’re really struggling, it can indeed be free. Or at least, if you bring several family members, you wouldn’t have to pay for each one of them. There are several free walking tours operators – check out Strawberry Tours for example.
10. Changing of The Guard in Buckingham Palace
The formal “changing of the guard” ceremony, outside Buckingham Palace, is one of the staples of London – and you can watch it for free. The Queen’s Guard, dressed in their formal wear, march around to the sound of music, and it’s all quite impressing.
Keep in mind that during the summer months, the place can be pretty packed with tourists. You can find out more details here.
11. Camden Market, Borough Market, Greenwich Market, etc’
The markets are a bit of a mixed bag as a “free” thing to do. While walking around and looking at the vintage merchandise, interesting art, and exotic food, is technically free – it’s a bit pointless if you’re not going to buy anything.
Still, since you do have to eat during the day, you might as well get something interesting at one of the markets – and enjoy the atmosphere and unique stalls while you’re there.
12. The Ragged School Museum
A small museum in East London, in a building that used to house a school for poor children. It holds a reconstructed classroom from the Victorian era, and shows what education (and life) for the poor looked like back in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Still struggling to earn money? See how worse it would have been 100 years ago… Get more details here.
Wait, what? One of the most expensive department stores in London as a free pastime?
Well, yes. While I wouldn’t go to Westfield Mall just to “spend some time” (because then I might be tempted to spend money) – when everything costs an arm and a leg, you really won’t be tempted to buy anything (I hope) – but it IS rather interesting to see what the rich and famous buy.
Coats for thousands of pounds, furniture for tens of thousands, Christmas decorations for the price of 20 Christmas trees… it’s like walking inside a museum, with things that some people can actually buy. And if you MUST buy something – there’s always ice cream.
14. Hamleys Toy Store
Not quite the Children’s Version of Harrods (although, yes, they’re expensive when compared to many other toy stores), the beauty of this huge, six-floors-high toy store lies in the atmosphere.
Store employees run around the place and demonstrate how toys work – from flying helicopters to magic tricks and the latest technologically oriented toys, you’re always bound to see something that’ll satisfy your child-at-heart. Careful, though, if you have any real children – you’ll be hard-pressed to leave without buying something. Find out more on their official site.
15. Mudchute Farm and Park
Located in the middle of the Isle of Dogs, Mudchute is a working farm spread across 32 acres, with farm animals, stables and wildlife.
And best of all – admission is free. (Though horse riding lessons and a few other activities do incur an additional cost.)
16. The Chocolate Museum
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Well, now you can go to a museum dedicated to chocolate – and call it a cultural afternoon.
The Chocolate Museum is located in Brixton, and holds “objects and memorabilia acquired over many years from different merchants and collectors”. Admission is free, and you can also play a free interactive quiz inside using an app on your phone.
Tastings and chocolate-making workshops, however, will cost you some money. Find out more here.
17. The Wellcome Collection
A free museum and library located in Euston Road (North West London), that offers a variety of exhibitions, collections and workshops dedicated to health.
From historical medical tools to folk remedies and scientific knowledge, as well as a permanent exhibition where “contemporary artists respond to major themes in medicine”, it’s a museum like no other – and most of it is free. Find out more here.
18. Street Pianos
Free pianos in public? Yep – turns our there are several pianos standing in public spots in London, just waiting for passers-by to play. You can come and have a listen (and maybe discover someone really talented, if you’re lucky), or even play them yourself.
There’s something magical about delicate piano music right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle… Available in several locations (though these may change) such as the St. Pancras station, Forest Hill and others, you can find more locations here.
19. Free Gigs at “The Old Blue Last”
“The Old Blue Last” is an old-fashioned East London pub with an upstairs room that holds music performances – many of which are completely free of charge. The room is small and fills up fast – so make sure you’re early.
20. Free Gigs and Conversations At “Rough Trade”
“Rough Trade” is a group of independent record shops, established back in 1976, that operate both in the UK and the US.
Their East-London store, Rough Trade East, regularly hosts live performances as well as public talks with authors and musicians. And the good news – many of these performances are free.
21. Free Lunchtime Concerts – St. Martin-in-the-Fields
A church located right off Trafalgar Square, St. Martin-in-the-Fields is known for their candle-lit concerts, but also for their Free Lunchtime concerts.
From sacred religious music to classical performances, to international folk songs – there’s always something delightful to hear. See their free schedule here.
22. Peek At The National Theatre’s Backstage
Ever wanted to know how sets and props for major theatre productions are created? Now you can, thanks to the free Backstage Walkway at the National Theatre.
You get to walk above the theatre’s production workshops and see how sets and props are created and painted. Get more details here.
23. Events at The Scoop
An outdoor amphitheatre located right next to London’s City Hall, that can hold up to 800 people. During the summer months, you can catch public film screenings, live music and theatre performances, and more – and it’s all for free.
The popular events fill up quickly, so make sure you arrive early. You can find out more details here.
24. Free Standup Comedy Shows
Looking to have a laugh? London has several places where you can see up and coming stand up comedians (or veteran ones trying new material), performing for free.
25. Free Yoga Classes
When you’re on a tight budget, physical activities can feel like a real luxury – but they’re very important to both your mental and physical health. So, good news – you can find free yoga classes around London!
To name a few, fashion store Lululemon offers free in-store Sunday Morning Yoga, yoga studio Yogarise in Peckham offers “Yogarise community” classes which are donation-based, and Sahaja Yoga offers free meditation-based yoga in various locations around London.
26. London’s Runners Club
Love running? Looking to start? Might as well do it with other like-minded people. “London City Runners” is the largest running club in London that is COMPLETELY free to join, with runners of all levels taking part in running sessions together. Find out more details here.
27. Eat For Free As A Mystery Shopper
Becoming a “mystery shopper” can help you earn some extra money – but it can also let you dine for free (AND often get paid on top of that.) Companies pay you to act like a regular shopper and then file a report with your observations.
There are several companies out there where you can register as a mystery shopper – some a bit dubious, mind you – but the one I use and trust is Market Force – so give them a try here.
28. The British Library
The British Library is not only the largest national library in the world, it’s also a treasure trove of interesting – and free – things to do, explore, and learn from.
You can register for a free reader pass and order books from the library’s massive collection, you can tour the library’s exhibitions (where the original Magna Carta is presented), and you can even take part in courses and study days. some of which are free. See ALL the free stuff they offer via this link.
29. Watch Free Films And TV At The BFI
The British Film Institute is dedicated to the preservation of British filmmaking, and as part of its services offers the “Mediatheque at BFI Southbank” – a room with screens and comfy chairs, where you can watch (for free) archived content from British film and TV history.
30. Free Lectures And Discussions At The London School of Economics
From politics to economics to arts and even music, interesting talks and events are regularly held at the LSE in central London.
While most events are free, some do require booking a place in advance – you can do that, and check their upcoming schedule, via this link.
31. “Ceremony of The Keys” at The Tower of London
Think you’re the only one who makes a big fuss about not forgetting to lock-up your doors at night? For centuries, guards at the Tower of London have been doing the same thing, with a very strict ceremony in which they lock up the tower for the night. (And for good reason – it holds the Crown’s Jewels).
While the ceremony is free to attend, you do need to book tickets in advance. The bad news – the ceremony is VERY popular – and tickets are usually sold out up to 12 months (!) in advance. But you can book your tickets and start waiting on their website.
32. The Hindu Temple
It took me two years of living in London to find out there’s a huge Hindu temple, the “BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir”, right in the heart (well, more like the far north) of London.
The place is Europe’s first traditional Hindu stone temple, and was, for a time, the biggest Hindu temple outside of India.
The temple is free to attend, and there are free guided tours as well. Find out more here.
33. Walk Around in London
Yep, walking is free, and it’s good for you. When you can’t think of anything else to do, and just want to enjoy this great city we live in – just go outside and start walking.
I find it particularly inspiring to walk in central London, around famous places like Trafalgar Square, Waterloo Bridge and the likes – I look at all the tourists, who have to fly back to their countries at some point, and enjoy the fact that I LIVE HERE, and can walk these beautiful spots whenever I wish.