Monday, 21 May 2012

10 Free Things to Do in London

One of the best things about London (and many other capital cities, in fact) is that there is always something going on - and more often than not, this includes free events! London may be a very expensive place to live, and probably seems even more expensive if you're just passing through as a tourist, but there are plenty of worthwhile activities which won't cost you a penny! Here's a few ideas to get you started:

1. Visit some of the world's top museums for free
This is a well-known fact, but always worth mentioning: London's national museums are almost all free (apart from special temporary exhibitions). Some of the best include the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square with its extensive collection of famous pieces from infamous artists such as Van Gogh, Reubens and Turner; the Natural History Museum for that nostalgic feeling of being on a school trip looking at dinosaur bones; the British Museum for incredible anthropological artefacts such as the Rosetta Stone, and the Tate Modern for sometimes-baffling modern art masterpieces which never fail to incite opinions.

2. Relax in acres of beautiful parkland
London may be one of the largest cities in the world, but it is also full of green spaces - from the vast expanse of Hampstead Heath to the rose gardens of Hyde Park. St. James' Park is full of wildlife, including pelicans and cheeky squirrels, and although just a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace, you'll feel like you're in the middle of the countryside as you stroll over one of the bridges, the city skyscrapers and double decker bus fumes another world away. Any visit to London should take you to one of the city's wonderful parks for a picnic or a short walk.

3. Go to a free street festival
Street festivals are part of London, especially in summer. This all comes to a head next month as Londoners take to the streets to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, 60 years on the throne, in a wide range of events across London's parks and city squares. Hyde Park is putting on a huge family-friendly festival, and events will be held across the capital, including a river pageant along the Thames. The crowds will be in full strength and the atmosphere is sure to be euphoric, with Union Flags galore. Join in with the spirit and discover how friendly Londoners can be.

4. Visit the Houses of Parliament or climb Big Ben for free
Yes, you can currently book a Clock tour of Big Ben for free, provided you are a UK resident and book well in advance. To organise the tour, you must contact your local MP or a member of the House of Lords. This is an amazing experience, as visitors will be led up to the tower to hear Big Ben chime the hour, enjoy breathtaking views of London and learn all about how the mechanism driving the clock works. You may also book a tour of the Houses of Parliament through your local MP - a must for anyone interested in politics, but again, make sure you book in plenty of time. A bit of forward planning is well worth it to go behind the scenes of the national parliament and a true London icon, though.

5. Get yourself an invite to watch a BBC Comedy Radio or TV show being filmed
Many BBC shows are recorded in front of a live studio audience, and as this is national broadcasting, tickets are often free. This is not only valid for London, but as the majority of BBC programmes are filmed or recorded here, you're more likely to find an interesting show to go and watch. Check out the BBC website for more information.

6. Don't miss London's street art
Banksy is one of the world's most famous street artists. Originally from Bristol, many of his works have cropped up in London over recent years, most recently an image of a child worker seemingly sewing a string of Jubilee bunting sprayed onto the side of Poundland in Mayfair. Maps of locations where Banksy has worked his magic can be found on the internet, such as this one. London is also full of statues, monuments and other outdoor sculptures, including moving exhibitions such as the famous 'Cow Parade' a few years ago. Details about current artwork to be seen can be found here.

7. Fill up on free samples at Borough Market
This popular artisan market is located in Southwark and takes place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. With international and UK produce, there's plenty to tempt your taste buds here, and many stalls offer free samples. Of course, your budget will probably stretch to a full-sized cup of steaming hot chocolate or a freshly-baked croissant if the samples are just too small!

8. Free live music at the Southbank Centre
On Friday evenings, the Southbank centre offers free concerts, as well as other free events throughout the year. For more information, visit

9. Silver screen magic at the Portobello Film Festival
This free event was founded in 1996 and promotes independent film makers. Film buffs can attend film screenings absolutely free at various locations in Portobello and Notting Hill. The 2012 event has not yet been announced but will take place in August. Keep checking the website for more information.

10. Be at the Olympic Games without getting mixed up in ticket stress
How could I write about London without mentioning the Olympics? Everyone has heard about the near impossibility of buying a ticket for the Games, but it seems some of the events may still be viewed for free. For example, you can watch the road cycling along the Mall for free (although beating the crowds might be a slightly bigger problem). Some viewing areas are ticketed, but most of the route is free. The Olympic Marathon takes place on 5th (Women) and 13th (Men) August and also passes along the Mall. Unlike the London Marathon, this race only includes a handful of athletes, the best of the world's amateurs, so there'll be no novelty costumes - but spectators are not required to pay.

The brand new Olympic Stadium

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