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The London skyline|©bvi4092/Flickr
The London skyline|©bvi4092/Flickr
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The Top 10 Free Things To Do In London

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 9 February 2017
Nothing in life is free, or so the saying goes. Londoners, however, know this to be nonsense. London may be one of the most expensive cities in the world but that doesn’t mean it has to cost an arm and a leg to take advantage of all the cultural capital this city has to offer. So put away the plastic and take a look at our guide to the best free activities, with live music, top-notch galleries, public lectures, meditation classes and much, much more.

Catch A Show

You don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts of money to see a theatre show in London. The Scoop Theatre in Southwark is an innovative, stone amphitheatre that hosts a mix of free entertainment during the Summer months, including film and sport screenings, live music, theatre and community events. It’s well known that London boasts a great collection of live music venues but it’s less known that many don’t charge entrance fees. The Bedford, Balham, is a great example hosting free live music most nights of the week (Ed Sheeran got his start there), as is Borough’s Gladstone Arms, billed the ‘biggest small venue in the world’, which hosts free gigs in its downstairs bar three nights a week. The Blues Kitchen, which has three London venues, is a great shout for catching some free live rhythm and blues — their Sunday night jam sessions are legendary. Frugal Londoners have also been shunning the Royal Opera House for years, in favour of the free opera performances that take place in the sunken courtyard outside Covent Garden’s Crusting Pipe, while the city’s churches are always a fantastic place to catch some free classical, chamber or choral music. St James’s in Piccadilly offers free lunchtime recitals three days a week, as does St Martin-in-the-Field, though donations are always appreciated.

Image Courtesy of The Bedford
Image Courtesy of The Bedford

Get Up Close With The Animal Kingdom

Forget London Zoo, seeing the fruits of Mother Nature shouldn’t cost the Earth. Thankfully, London has a variety of options for animal-lovers that won’t cost a penny. Richmond Park is famed for its resident deer population and is a great spot for autumnal photography accordingly, the nature reserve is home to 630 red and fallow deer who have roamed freely since 1529. London also boasts fantastic wetland areas for bird watching, many of which are open to the public for free, while Camley Street Natural Park and the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park are two of the best free nature reserves. If you want to get truly up close and personal with the animals, you can’t beat a trip to a city farm. There are tonnes of great ones but Mudchute farm is a local favourite and entrance won’t cost you a thing.

A photo posted by Emma Kennedy (@emmamayiow) on

Visit A World-Class Museum

From the iconic institutions to smaller niche options, London’s museums are the jewels in the cultural crown. South Kensington may be a swanky neighbourhood but it’s also one of the best areas to head to for a free day out thanks to the likes of the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the V&A, all of which are free to enter. Elsewhere, the Imperial War Museum, the British Museum and the National Maritime Museum are other bigtime history haunts. Alternatively, steer clear of the tourist taps at one of the city’s smaller players, learn about the history of the home at the Geffrye Museum, discover more about a legendary socialist and designer at the William Morris Gallery, get to grips with the city’s fascinating history at the Museum of London, or check out an eclectic exhibition at the Wellcome Collection.

The British Museum|©Eric Pouhier /Wikicommons
The British Museum | ©Eric Pouhier /Wikicommons

Amble Around A Gallery

Equally as renowned are London’s galleries, which are among the most visited in the world. Leading the pack is the National Gallery, home to over 2,300 paintings from the mid-13th century to the 1900s, and since they belong to the British public, entry is free. Just around the back is the National Portrait Gallery, home to a massive collection of famous faces from throughout British history. Across the river, the Tate Modern has long ago overtaken its older sibling, Tate Britain, in terms of visitor numbers but both are fantastic free days out. And just as with the museums, there are number of great, lesser-known options: the Guildhall Art Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, Wallace Collection and South London Gallery that are all free.

An interior wing of the National Gallery|© National Gallery, London
An interior wing of the National Gallery | © National Gallery, London

Go For A Walk

Give your wallet a rest and stretch your legs with one of London’s fantastic, picturesque walks. The fifteen-mile-long, self-guided Jubilee Walkway takes in some of the city’s best sites including Parliament Square, Buckingham Palace, the British Library, Barbican Centre, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Royal Opera House, but can be broken down into bite-size chunks for less keen trekkers. The Thames Path is over 184 miles long, following the river from its source in the Cotswolds, but the popular section traversing London from Richmond to the Thames Barrier is about 28 miles. For something more low-key, try the Parkland Walk, London’s longest nature reserve, which follows the old railway line between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace, through Crouch End, Highgate and Muswell Hill.

Parkland Walk, North London|©Brian Adamson/Flickr
Parkland Walk, North London | ©Brian Adamson/Flickr

Go Celeb Spotting At A Graveyard

A bit of a macabre way to spend a day perhaps but a surprisingly serene one, too. London boasts some beautiful graveyards, filled with impressive sculptures, tombs and famous names. Some of the most well-known make up the Magnificent Seven, a series of large, private cemeteries set up in the Victorian era, when space for the afterlife was premium real estate. None are so well known as Highgate Cemetery, home of Karl Marx’s tomb, which unfortunately charges an admission fee. Brompton, Nunhead, Kensal Green and Tower Hamlets Cemeteries, however, are free, as is the Golders Green Crematorium, home to the likes of Marc Bolan, Enid Blyton, Sigmund Freud, Doris Lessing, Bram Stoker and Keith Moon.

Brompton Cemetery|©Jeremy Weate/Flickr
Brompton Cemetery | ©Jeremy Weate/Flickr

Catch A Free Lecture

An education these days comes at a premium, but Londoners are blessed with many forward-thinking organisations who are happy to share the wealth. The British Academy, the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences, has been running a series of public lectures for over 100 years. The lectures cover politics, law, art, literature, history, science and more. The Gresham College in Holborn was founded upon the principle of accessible, free education for all and has been hosting cutting-edge lectures for over 400 years. Other institutions in London offering free lunch-time or evening lectures include the National Gallery, Royal Society of Arts and LSE.

Spend A Day At One Of The City’s Cultural Centres

London has several world-class cultural centres that are free to the public. The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank operates an ‘open foyer’ policy, with the public free to roam around the building all day, seven days a week. The centre is a fantastic place to hang out with various study and meeting spaces, and with any visit there’s a good chance you’ll catch a free exhibition or concert. Likewise, the Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts space, offers regular free exhibitions in its foyers, free historical tours of the building, a tropical conservatory and public libraries that host regular free events and house practice pianos. The BFI Mediatheque offers visitors the chance to browse the entire National Film Archive for free, while the British Library offers plenty of free exhibitions and displays.

The Barbican Centre|©Loz Pycock/Flickr
The Barbican Centre | ©Loz Pycock/Flickr

Learn About Another Religion

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (otherwise known as the Neasden Temple) is a beautiful Hindu temple in North London, considered the first authentic example in the UK. The stunning, substantially sized site is free to enter and explore, and visitors can learn about the Hindu religion, watch religious rituals in action, admire the building’s intricate design and take a stroll in its tranquil gardens. The London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green offers Buddhist, Meditation and Yoga classes, most of which are on a donation basis — we reckon a cheeky taster freebie would be totally within reason, though if you make a habit of it you should probably loosen the purse strings. The Church of Scientology also offer free self-guided tours of their Blackfriars site. Why not?

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden|©Knut Hellesvik/Flickr
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden | ©Knut Hellesvik/Flickr

See Some Justice Served

While almost all trials in the UK open to the public, there are few courts in the world as famous as the Old Bailey. Some of the nation’s most prolific criminals have been sentenced in the various courts in this iconic building, under the watchful eyes of London citizens who are able to view proceedings from the public galleries. In a somewhat related vein, why not pop by and watch as Sadiq Khan is put on trial by the London General Assembly? Mayor’s Questions occur ten times a year at City Hall and are open to the public.

The ominous façade of the Old Bailey! #AuthenticLondonWalks

A photo posted by Authentic London Walking Tours (@authenticlondonwalks) on