25 Free and Cheap Things to Do in London
London can be an expensive place to visit, especially for Americans, who get only 65 pence to the dollar. But there are so many cheap or free things to do in London that visitors can fill an entire trip on a shoestring. Cheapism.com recommends adding these 25 items to your itinerary.
Special exhibits may come with a charge, but entrance to many of the large and famous museums in London is free. This includes the British Museum, Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, and National Gallery.
Although it's occasionally a venue for massive protests and concerts, those looking for a quiet place to enjoy nature and escape the hustle of the city should head to Hyde Park. Be sure not to miss Speakers' Corner in the northeast of the park, where people come on Sunday afternoons to debate, preach, and speak their minds.
The Hackney City Farm gives urban children a sense of farm life. This nonprofit center offers visitors a chance to get up close with animals and explore a large garden. It's free to enter, but donations are appreciated.
A popular tourist attraction, Covent Garden feels a bit like Harry Potter's cobblestone Diagon Alley, according to one recent visitor on Trip Advisor. But the magic here is in Apple, Disney, and Dior stores. Enjoy street performances throughout the day, or people watch over a cup of coffee from one of the cafes.
Watch more than 2,500 free movies and TV shows from the British Film Institute's archives at BFI Southbank. With films dating back to 1895, there's sure to be something that interests everyone. Visitors can reserve private viewing booths ahead of time or enjoy a pre-selected film on one of BFI Southbank's four large screens.
Open Monday through Saturday, Borough Market is one of the most famous outdoor food markets in the city. Stroll among the stalls and find ingredients for a picnic lunch, or attend a free class and learn something from chefs in the demo kitchen.
Visit the House of Commons and watch a debate in the Grand Committee Room. Entrance is free, but there's a first-come, first-served system that can lead to a wait. Debates take place Tuesday through Thursday and some Mondays.
This medical museum is free to enter but not for the faint of heart. Jars line the walls and visitors can peer at preserved two-tailed lizards, the skeleton of Irish Giant Charles Byrne, fetuses, and more. The museum also showcases thousands of bones, surgical instruments, and human and animal parts. There is a suggested donation of 3 pounds at the entrance, and free tours are available at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Buckingham Palace's Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place at 11:30 a.m. on the dot. This is one of the top tourist attractions in the city; arriving early is a must to secure a spot with a good view.
Another theatrical and historic tradition, the Ceremony of the Keys -- a 700-year-old ritual that secures the Crown Jewels and other national treasures for the night -- takes place at 9:53 p.m. at the Tower of London. Although tickets are free, they must be reserved months in advance.
At the Olivier and Lyttelton, two of three permanent theaters within the National Theatre, tickets are available for 5 pounds each. The tickets must be bought the day of a performance (including by phone), with a limit of two per person, and buyers must stand and watch from the rear.
Visitors can explore the Tower Bridge and peer through the glass floor to watch the iconic bridge open or close from above. Discount tickets are available for small groups, such as one adult and two children (14.10 pounds) or two adults and one child (18 pounds).
This 160-foot column from 1677 commemorates the Great Fire of London. It offers panoramic views of the city to visitors who climb its 311 steps. Tickets are just 4 pounds for an adult (2 pounds for children), or visitors can buy a two-in-one pass with entrance to the Tower Bridge for 10.50 pounds (4.70 for children).
This AstroTurf-covered rooftop with a garden, bar, and restaurant is one of London's well-kept secrets. Membership is required, but a summer-long membership costs just 5 pounds, with the money donated to a local nonprofit. Film screenings, dances, yoga classes, and cooking parties are all hosted on the roof.
The British Library is the largest library in the world based on catalog size (about 170 million items in total) and stunning to see. The permanent exhibit "Treasures of the British Library" features the earliest complete copy of the New Testament, Shakespeare's First Folio, da Vinci's notebook, and more than 200 other awe-inspiring pieces. Rotating exhibits are often free or inexpensive, and individual tours are available for 10 pounds each (8 pounds for students and visitors under 18).
Cross the Thames River in a unique way: via cable car. A round-trip adult ticket costs 9 pounds (children are 4.60) and a refillable "Oyster card" used for transportation around London includes a discounted rate (3.40 to 6.80). Between the end of March and September, trips after 7 p.m. take an extra couple of minutes (10 to 12 each way) so riders can soak up the view. At the peak, riders are suspended about 300 feet above the ground.
Cross the Thames by walking beneath it in this 24-hour tunnel connecting Woolwich to North Woolwich. Photography isn't allowed inside the tunnel, but many people enjoy the walk and marvel at the engineering feat -- the tunnel was built in 1912.
Watch a BBC TV or radio show live. Tickets are available for free online (search by date or venue). Popular shows can fill up quickly, so consider booking in advance. It's also free to apply to be a contestant or guest on a show.
Get a new view of the city from Primrose Hill in Regent's Park, one of six government-protected London viewpoints where trees are pruned to keep sightlines clear from 207 feet above sea level. The park is also home to the London Zoo.
This underground marketplace holds more than 30 independently owned silver shops. Some sellers have been in the business for generations, and all sorts of antique and modern wares are available. Entrance is free, but photos aren't allowed. Reviewers on Trip Advisor say visiting is like walking through a silver museum, and they recommend taking a few hours to admire the goods and chat with the sellers.
From this breathtaking observation point, visitors take in a 360-degree view of the city while enjoying domed, manicured gardens, viewing decks, and an open-air terrace. Although entrance is free, tickets are limited. They are valid for only 1.5 hours and must be reserved at least three days in advance. Two restaurants take separate reservations, but the prices can be steep. A cafe serves reasonably priced coffee and snacks.
Open from 9 a.m. to dusk, Coram's Fields was made for children. Entrance is free, but adults are allowed only when accompanied by someone under 16. Inside the site's seven acres are a petting zoo, playground, sand pits, pools (in the summer), and sports fields.
A covered marketplace that dates back to the 14th century, Leadenhall Market is bustling during the week, especially during lunch hour. Cosmetic boutiques, salons, chocolatiers, pubs, and restaurants line the walkways inside. Although prices can be high, it's worth a visit just to admire the architecture, and public areas of the market building are generally open 24 hours a day. Take a stairway to a basement and you can glimpse the ruins of a Roman basilica and forum built originally in 70 A.D.
Harry Potter fans will delight in visiting Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station. A nearby shop sells Potter-themed trinkets, but it's free to take a souvenir picture with a cart, bags, and owl "disappearing" through a brick wall. Be prepared to wait for the photo op; it's a popular attraction.
Near the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square is filled with history and photo opportunities. It's a must-see for tourists on any budget. Eleven statues in the square commemorate historical figures, including Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, and, as of March 2015, Mahatma Gandhi.