London is a city with a rich tapestry of history, culture, and entertainment. However, the prospect of enjoying all that this magnificent city has to offer can be daunting for travellers visiting London on a budget. The good news is that there are plenty of incredible experiences you can enjoy in London without spending a single pound. In this guide, I’ll take you on a journey through London, highlighting 24 free things to do in the city.
Read on for the top free things to add to your London bucket list!
London, the vibrant and sprawling metropolis along the banks of the River Thames, is a city that seamlessly weaves its rich history into the fabric of its modern identity. With origins dating back to Roman times, London has a storied past that encompasses monarchy, political upheavals, and cultural revolutions. From the era of Shakespeare and the Tudors to the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz during World War II, London has endured and thrived. Its historic landmarks, such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, stand as testaments to its enduring legacy. As a global centre for finance, culture, and innovation, London remains a thriving and diverse city, where ancient cobblestone streets lead to gleaming skyscrapers, and historic traditions merge with cutting-edge trends, creating a city that is both deeply rooted in its past and constantly evolving towards the future.
How to get around London
Getting around London is relatively easy, thanks to its extensive public transportation system and various other options. Here are some of the most common ways to navigate the city:
- London Underground (Tube): The London Underground is one of the most efficient and popular ways to travel within the city. It comprises several lines that cover most of London. You can purchase an Oyster card, a contactless smart card, or use a contactless debit/credit card to pay for fares. Consider getting a Travelcard for unlimited travel within certain zones for a set period.
- Buses: London’s iconic red double-decker buses are an excellent way to explore the city, especially if you prefer a surface view. Buses are well-connected and run 24/7, making them a convenient option. Oyster cards, Travelcards, and contactless payment methods are accepted on buses.
- Dockless Bikes: London offers a bike-sharing program known as Santander Cycles. You can rent bikes from various docking stations across the city, providing a convenient and eco-friendly way to get around.
- River Transport: The River Thames flows through London, and you can take advantage of river transport services, such as the Thames Clippers, which offer a scenic and unique way to explore the city. These are not covered by the Oyster card system.
- Tourist Buses: Hop-on-hop-off tourist buses are a convenient way to explore the city’s top attractions, offering informative commentary and easy access to key landmarks.
When using public transportation, consider using contactless payment methods like Oyster cards or contactless debit/credit cards, as they can offer cost savings and convenience.
Free Things to do in London
Borough Market, nestled in the heart of London, is a food lover’s paradise and a cultural melting pot. This renowned market is a vibrant culinary hub, where the aromas of freshly baked bread, exotic spices, and international street food waft through the air. The market’s history dates back over a thousand years, making it one of London’s oldest and most cherished food markets. It has evolved into a bustling, diverse marketplace where local and international vendors come together to offer an array of high-quality, artisanal food and drink. From artisan cheese and charcuterie to mouthwatering street food and specialty ingredients, Borough Market is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore London’s gastronomic treasures.
Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Flower Market is a vibrant and iconic flower market located in the heart of London’s East End. Every Sunday, this bustling street transforms into a riot of colours and fragrances as traders and florists from all over the city gather to sell an astonishing variety of flowers, plants, and gardening accessories. The market is a treat for the senses, where the aroma of fresh blooms mingles with the enthusiastic chatter of both locals and tourists. Strolling through the market, you’ll find an array of seasonal flowers, from tulips and roses to exotic orchids and succulents, all at reasonable prices. Beyond the flowers, the market also boasts charming independent shops, quirky boutiques, and cosy cafes, making it a perfect destination for a leisurely Sunday morning outing in London.
Camden Market, located in the heart of Camden Town, is a dynamic and eclectic marketplace that captivates both locals and tourists alike. It’s a vibrant hub for alternative culture, art, and street food. What sets Camden Market apart is its kaleidoscope of stalls and shops, offering an array of unique and handcrafted goods, from vintage clothing and accessories to contemporary art and crafts. However, it’s the food scene that truly shines here. The market boasts a dazzling array of international cuisine, making it a gastronomic paradise for those seeking diverse flavors. As you wander through the labyrinthine streets and alleys, you’ll encounter live music, street performers, and a distinct energy that embodies Camden’s rebellious spirit.
Portobello Road Market
Portobello Market, located in the heart of London’s eclectic Notting Hill neighbourhood, is a vibrant and world-famous street market that has been captivating locals and tourists alike for well over a century. What started as a modest fruit and vegetable market in the 19th century has evolved into a sprawling, diverse market that now spans several streets. Portobello Market is renowned for its antique stalls, where you can find everything from vintage clothing and rare books to retro furniture and unique collectibles. On market days, the air is filled with the enticing aroma of street food from around the world, and the lively atmosphere is enhanced by street performers and live music.
Things to do
Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard is one of London’s most iconic and ceremonious events. Taking place in front of Buckingham Palace, this daily tradition showcases the precision and discipline of the British military. The event involves the formal handover of responsibilities between two sets of guards, with the new guard’s arrival accompanied by a regimental band playing stirring music. As the old guard marches away, the new guard takes its position, all while donning their distinctive red tunics and bearskin hats.
Skygarden at Sunset
Sky Garden, also known as the Walkie-Talkie building due to its distinctive shape, is a breathtaking and unique attraction in the heart of London. Located at 20 Fenchurch Street, this iconic skyscraper features a lush and vibrant indoor garden on the upper floors, offering visitors a one-of-a-kind experience. What makes Sky Garden truly special is the 360-degree panoramic view of the London skyline that it provides. From here, you can admire iconic landmarks like the Shard, Tower Bridge, and the Thames River, all while surrounded by a tropical oasis of plants and flowers. Visiting the garden is completely free, just book your time slot in advance online. For a truly magical experience, be sure to go at sunset!
Parks & Gardens
Hyde Park, a verdant oasis nestled in the heart of London, stands as one of the city’s most beloved and iconic green spaces. Covering 350 acres, it offers a respite from the bustling urban landscape, providing locals and visitors alike with a tranquil escape. The park’s lush green lawns, shaded pathways, and the serene Serpentine Lake create a perfect backdrop for relaxation and leisurely strolls. Hyde Park is a place where one can enjoy a picnic, take a peaceful boat ride, or simply bask in the sunshine on a lazy afternoon. It’s also a hub of activity, hosting numerous events and concerts throughout the year, making it a dynamic and vibrant space where London’s diverse communities come together.
St Dunstan in the East
St. Dunstan in the East is a hidden gem in the heart of London, tucked away amidst the bustling streets of the financial district. This tranquil and enchanting place is a garden of ruins, nestled within the remnants of a medieval church that was originally built in the 12th century. The church was severely damaged during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and later in the Blitz during World War II. Rather than rebuilding, the decision was made to transform the space into a picturesque public garden. St. Dunstan in the East offers a peaceful retreat from the urban chaos, with ivy-covered archways, lush greenery, and the haunting beauty of the old church’s stone walls, creating a unique blend of history and serenity that’s perfect for reflection and relaxation.
This royal park, covering 395 acres, offers a refreshing escape from the bustling city, providing a sanctuary of tranquility and natural beauty. The park is renowned for its stunning rose gardens, wide-open lawns, and a serene boating lake. It’s also home to the world-famous Regent’s Park Zoo, where visitors can encounter a diverse array of wildlife. The park’s grandeur is further accentuated by the elegant Regency architecture surrounding its perimeter, adding a touch of historical charm to this urban oasis.
Museums and Galleries
The good news is that the vast majority of museums in London are free to enter, so that adds loads of things to do to your itinerary! To narrow it down, I’ve listed some of my favourites below:
The British Museum, located in the heart of London, stands as one of the world’s most renowned institutions dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of human history, art, and culture. Founded in 1753, it houses an astonishing collection of over 8 million objects spanning across millennia and continents. Visitors to the museum can explore an array of artefacts, from the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles to ancient Egyptian mummies and treasures from civilisations around the globe.
Tate Britain, located on the banks of the River Thames in London, is a renowned art museum that holds a distinguished collection of British art dating from the 16th century to the present day. The gallery, which first opened its doors in 1897, offers visitors a remarkable journey through the evolution of British artistic expression. With a comprehensive array of paintings, sculptures, and other artworks, Tate Britain serves as a cultural treasure trove, showcasing the works of iconic British artists like J.M.W. Turner, William Blake, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
If modern art is more your thing, head to the larger Tate Modern instead!
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum, located in the heart of South Kensington, is a treasure trove of the Earth’s natural wonders. This iconic institution houses an extraordinary collection of specimens from the natural world, spanning millions of years of Earth’s history. From the towering skeleton of a Diplodocus in the main entrance hall to the dazzling gemstone exhibit, the museum’s exhibits offer a captivating journey through the planet’s geological and biological diversity. Visitors can explore a world of dinosaurs, marvel at rare and exotic minerals, and discover the intricacies of our planet’s ecosystems. With its beautifully designed architecture and an unparalleled dedication to education and research, the Natural History Museum stands as a true testament to the beauty and complexity of the natural world.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, often referred to as the V&A, is a world-renowned institution located in the heart of London. Founded in 1852, it is the world’s leading museum of art, design, and performance. The V&A’s vast and diverse collection spans over 5,000 years of human creativity, making it a treasure trove of artistic and cultural heritage. Visitors to the museum can explore a wide range of exhibits, including sculptures, fashion, ceramics, photography, textiles, and more.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery, located in the heart of London, is a cultural gem that celebrates the art of portraiture and the people who have shaped the history and culture of the United Kingdom. Established in 1856, the gallery houses a remarkable collection of portraits, spanning from the Middle Ages to contemporary times, showcasing individuals from all walks of life, from monarchs and artists to actors and activists. With over 11,000 portraits, the gallery offers a captivating journey through the nation’s history, allowing visitors to connect with the faces and stories of those who have left their mark on the country.
Places to see
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Big Ben, often used to refer to both the iconic clock tower and the great bell housed within, stands proudly beside the majestic Houses of Parliament in London. This architectural duo, located along the banks of the River Thames, is one of the most recognisable symbols of the United Kingdom. The neo-Gothic grandeur of the Houses of Parliament, officially known as the Palace of Westminster, has been the centre of British politics for centuries, where the country’s laws and policies are debated and legislated.
Trafalgar Square, located in the heart of London, stands as a bustling public square steeped in history and culture. Dominated by the towering Nelson’s Column, commemorating Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, the square is a hub of activity and a popular gathering place. It’s adorned with stunning fountains, statues, and historic buildings, creating a picturesque urban oasis.
St. Pauls Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral, an iconic masterpiece of English architecture, stands as a symbol of London’s enduring history and spiritual significance. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century after the Great Fire of London, the cathedral’s majestic dome and breathtaking façade are a testament to Wren’s genius. It has played a central role in the city’s life, hosting important events such as the funerals of British luminaries and royal weddings. Inside, the cathedral’s interior is a blend of grandeur and tranquility, with its awe-inspiring dome, intricate mosaics, and the Whispering Gallery that beckons visitors to climb the spiral staircase for panoramic views of the city.
While visiting the interior of the cathedral is paid for, the cathedral itself and the surrounding area has some of my favourite architecture in the whole of London and is well worth a visit!
If you do want to look inside, book a skip the line ticket in advance to avoid queues.
Covent Garden is a vibrant and iconic district located in the heart of London’s West End. Steeped in history and culture, this lively area is a must-visit for tourists and locals alike. What was once a bustling fruit and vegetable market in the 17th century has transformed into a thriving hub of entertainment, shopping, and dining. The cobblestone streets are adorned with charming boutiques, artisanal shops, and lively street performers.
Nestled within Covent Garden, Neals Yard is a hidden gem with a colourful and bohemian charm. This enchanting courtyard is a burst of vibrancy in the midst of bustling London. Lined with an eclectic array of health food stores, holistic therapies, and artisanal boutiques, it’s a sanctuary for those seeking natural remedies, organic products, and unique, handcrafted items. The focal point of Neal’s Yard is its captivating architecture, which features buildings painted in an array of striking hues, each complementing the other, creating a visual feast for the eyes.
Leadenhall Market is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of London’s financial district. This historical covered market, with its stunning Victorian architecture, exudes charm and character. It’s often regarded as one of the city’s most picturesque markets, and for good reason. With its cobbled pathways, ornate wrought-ironwork, and a vaulted glass roof, it feels like a step back in time. What makes Leadenhall Market particularly special is its connection to the world of Harry Potter, as it served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley in J.K. Rowling’s famous series.
This bustling district is a tapestry of colour, taste, and tradition, where you can explore a plethora of Asian markets, restaurants, and shops that exude a distinctly Chinese charm. As you step into its lively streets, the scent of aromatic spices and the visual feast of intricate decorations and lanterns hanging overhead immediately transport you to a different world. Chinatown is not only a culinary haven, where you can try delicious and authentic Chinese cuisine, but it’s also a place where you can experience the warmth and hospitality of the Chinese community, making it a must-visit destination for those looking to immerse themselves in London’s multicultural tapestry.
Tower Bridge, an iconic symbol of London, is a marvel of Victorian engineering and architecture. This stunning bascule and suspension bridge spans the River Thames, connecting the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark. What sets Tower Bridge apart is its ability to lift its roadway, allowing tall ships and boats to pass through. The bridge’s two sturdy towers, adorned with intricate details and elegant blue accents, make it a picturesque sight, especially when it’s illuminated at night.
If you like, you can even climb to the top of Tower Bridge and watch the cars pass below with a see through floor!
Tower of London
The Tower of London, a historic fortress situated on the northern bank of the River Thames, is an iconic symbol of London’s rich history. Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has served various roles over the centuries, including as a royal palace, prison, and treasury. Its most famous function, perhaps, was as a place of imprisonment for notable figures such as Anne Boleyn and Sir Walter Raleigh. The Tower is also home to the Crown Jewels, a priceless collection of regal treasures that continue to captivate visitors from around the world.
While entrance is paid for, the area itself is stunning and the tower is so impressive from the outside.
If you’re interested in visiting, you can book your ticket in advance here.
Greenwich, a historic district located on the southeastern outskirts of central London, is a place where time and history intersect. This picturesque neighbourhood is renowned for being home to the Prime Meridian, which marks the division between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, and the Royal Observatory, where you can literally stand at the center of time. Greenwich is a captivating blend of old-world charm and modern vitality. Stroll through the scenic Greenwich Park, which offers breathtaking views of the city’s skyline, or explore the captivating architecture of the Old Royal Naval College.
London offers a multitude of free experiences, allowing you to enjoy the city’s history, culture, and diversity without breaking the bank. Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, or simply looking to soak up the vibrant atmosphere, there’s something for everyone in this remarkable city. So, pack your walking shoes and embark on a budget-friendly adventure in London