London, England, can be an expensive place to visit. Many of its attractions are well worth splurging on, but there are also wonderful things to do that are completely free.
Here are our favorite ways to enjoy the capital city without spending a dime.
Explore On Foot
A walk through Westminster will take you past some of London’s most recognizable landmarks: Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Big Ben, and the Parliament buildings.
In the City of London, you’ll find the famous Fleet Street, which was once the home of London’s newspaper industry; Saint Paul’s Cathedral; the Temple Church, a 12th-century church built by and for the Knights Templar; the Museum of London; the Bank of England Museum; Leadenhall Market; and the Tower of London.
Across the Thames in the Bankside district, a riverside walk will take you from Borough Market to the Tate Modern and past Southwark Cathedral, Winchester Palace, the Clink Prison Museum, and Shakespeare’s Globe.
You can see the Speakers’ Corner, Kensington Palace, the Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the famous Harrods department store on a walk through Hyde Park and Kensington.
There are plenty of great free self-guided walk maps online (by London Toolkit, Free Tours by Foot, City Walks, and others), but you could also simply follow a map in a guidebook or build your own route. Just put on a good pair of walking shoes and start exploring! You can see many landmarks and historic buildings for free, but note that if you decide to go inside some of these landmarks, there may be an entrance fee.
Visit London’s Free Museums
London is a museum lover’s delight. It is packed with museums, many of which offer free admission to their regular exhibits. Collections cover a wide variety of topics, including natural history; London’s history; art, design, and decorative arts; science; world culture and antiquities; war; and maritime history.
Note that any special exhibits will have entry fees. Unless you have a strong interest in a particular special exhibit, save your money and stick to the extensive, world-class regular collections.
Watch The Changing Of The Guard
You can watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony, in which the Queen’s guards clad in scarlet uniforms and bearskin caps hand off responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace, for free. A detachment of the Old Guard marches with musical accompaniment from Saint James’s Palace to join the Buckingham Palace segment of the Old Guard. The New Guard, led by a regimental band, marches from Wellington Barracks to Buckingham Palace. At Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard ceremony takes about 45 minutes.
For the best view, stand along the Buckingham Palace railings or on the steps of the Victoria Memorial. The ceremony is very popular, especially during the summer peak tourist season. You may want to arrive early.
The troops begin moving between 10:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. The official ceremony starts at 11 a.m. The ceremony occurs daily during June and July, but only a few days a week during the remainder of the year. Check the dates and times on the website before you go.
Browse The Markets
For a fun and free experience, consider browsing one of London’s many markets. Note that while the browsing is free, the goods and food on offer may tempt you to spend some of your hard-earned cash!
Covent Garden Market dates to 1835. Today, in the current market building, you’ll find fresh fruit, vegetables, meats and cheeses, specialty shops, and restaurants, as well as buskers performing in designated areas. The Apple Market, located inside the building, features handmade crafts on Tuesday through Sunday and antiques and collectibles on Mondays. At the East Colonnade Market on the east side of the market building, you’ll find handmade soaps, sweet treats, and jewelry stalls. You’ll find the street performers in the cobblestoned West Piazza.
Borough Market, located near London Bridge station, is London’s oldest food market. Here you’ll find a variety of fresh produce, meat, fish, artisanal food, specialty products, food trucks, and places to eat lunch. It is open Monday through Saturday and closed on public holidays. Note that not all traders are present on Mondays and Tuesdays. The full market operates Wednesday through Saturday.
Head to Brick Lane Market in the East End on a Sunday, when outdoor vendors sell a wide range of secondhand furniture, clothes, and bric-a-brac. You’ll find other markets inside the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. The Sunday Upmarket features more than 200 stalls of fashion, food, and art. You can find vintage clothing at the Vintage Market.
Portobello Market is located on Portobello Road in Notting Hill. The market is actually several markets in one and offers bric-a-brac, clothing, fruit and vegetables, and antiques. It runs Monday through Saturday; Saturday is the busiest day, since that is when the full market is running and the antique stalls are open. In addition to the colorful stalls, you’ll likely encounter a variety of street performers.
Discover London’s Street Art
London’s impressive street art can be found throughout the city, but certain areas, such as Shoreditch and Brick Lane in London’s East End, are particularly known for their concentration of street art. You’ll walk down streets-turned-outdoor galleries with colorful painting after painting. The Leake Street pedestrian tunnel underneath Waterloo station has become known as the Graffiti Tunnel because of its legal graffiti walls.
Here’s our guide to exploring the street art of London.
Sample Tea At The Oldest Tea Shop In London
Twinings is one of the oldest tea companies in the world. At its 300-year-old flagship store on Strand Street, you can sample a variety of teas at its tea bar.
Thomas Twining began selling tea in the early 1700s after he bought Tom’s Coffee House. Coffee was the drink of the day, and coffeehouses were popular. Twining began offering tea at his shop, and his knowledge of tea gave him a competitive edge. Tea became increasingly popular during the 18th century. In 1837,Queen Victoria granted Twinings its first Royal Warrant for tea, and the company has supplied tea to every British monarch since then. In the 1830s, Twinings began creating its own blends.
At the tea bar, you can taste a variety of teas in porcelain sampling dishes. You’ll smell the loose leaves before they are brewed with water at just the right temperature and steeped for just the right amount of time. Your server will tell you where and how the tea is grown. The store also has a tea exhibit, a mini-museum showcasing 300 years of tea history.
Sampling the tea and viewing the tea exhibit are free, but you may wind up spending money before leaving the store. Many loose-leaf teas and tea bags are available for purchase.
Relax In A Royal Park
The green space amidst the historic buildings and modern skyscrapers in the heart of London’s tourist area includes numerous royal parks. Admission to these is free.
Hyde Park is a 350-acre park in the heart of London. The Speakers’ Corner on the northeastern edge of the park has been the site of public speeches and debates since the mid-1800s. Visit on a Sunday morning to hear soapbox orators. Hyde Park also houses the Diana Memorial Fountain with three bridges you can use to cross the water and go to the heart of the fountain.
Kensington Gardens was once a part of Hyde Park. In this green space, you’ll find the Italian Gardens, a 150-year-old ornamental water garden believed to have been a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. There are a number of notable memorials and statues throughout the park.
Saint James’s Park is surrounded by three royal residences: Buckingham Palace, Saint James’s Palace, and Clarence House. Walk down the tree-lined Mall, see the formal Buckingham Palace flower beds, and watch the pelicans that were introduced to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian ambassador.
Green Park, located next to Buckingham Palace, is the smallest of the eight royal parks. It is a tranquil space of mature trees and grasslands where more than 350,000 daffodils blossom in the spring.
Victoria Tower Gardens in the heart of Westminster contains a number of memorials celebrating freedom.
Get Great Views Of The City At The Sky Garden
The 38-story building at 20 Fenchurch Street is known locally as the Walkie-Talkie because of its distinctive shape. An enlarged glass dome on the top features three stories of public gardens, observation decks, and an open-air terrace. The space offers 360-degree views of London.
Access to the Sky Garden is free, but visitors typically have to book in advance. Walk-in guests will be accommodated subject to availability, but access isn’t guaranteed. There are a few walk spaces reserved on Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and between 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
You can wander through the Sky Garden and take in the views for free. If you’d prefer to pay for refreshments while taking in the views, book a spot at one of the restaurants or bars located within the Sky Garden. Advance booking is generally required, although the Sky Pod bar does welcome walk-in guests at certain times. Check the website for all booking and walk-in details.