Free Things To Do In London
Last Updated: 7th January 2019 | Main image: Pop Brixton
A brief rejoinder on pricing in London:
1 tuna belly hand roll at Sushisamba: £16.
1 Eggs Benedict at The Ritz: £40.
Access to daily concerts, a 900 year old Parliament building, a subterranean vault full of silver, a buried Roman temple, a vast warehouse filled with neon and a museum housing some of the world’s most treasured works of art going back centuries: £0.
If you thought London was one of Europe’s most expensive cities to explore… you’d be right. But there’s also an impressive amount of things to do for free here too, and here are the most valuable amongst them…
Winter Lights Festival
The people at Canary Wharf must have been scratching their heads over how to make the place a bit brighter.
Then they had that lightbulb moment.
Five years on, and the Winter Lights festival is back with 21 pieces of illuminated artwork scattered throughout the area, from glowing plastic bottle sculptures floating along the canals, to a bench that pulses with light in time with your heartbeat.
Details: 15th-26th January | Across Canary Wharf
Lady Celeste’s Parisian Rooftop at Queen of Hoxton
In case having a giant wigwam on top of the roof isn’t enough of a draw, Queen of Hoxton has themed their whole fairy-lit terrace around the bohemian world of Belle Epoque Paris. And sure, if you want to dabble in any of the surrealist life drawing classes, hot tarte tatin cocktails, fondue, absinthe fountains or cabaret shows, you’ll need to splash out a little extra – but taking in the views before hitting the table football, retro arcade games and ping pong downstairs is just as good.
Details: Open daily, 4-10pm until April | Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Road, EC2A 3JX
Head To An Art Gallery
Almost every single art gallery in London has a free permanent collection to look around. Catch famous faces from Elizabeth I to Mick Jagger at the National Portrait Gallery, find cutting-edge sculpture at the Pangolin, or interrogate the delicate fragility of existence itself in front of a blank canvas at the Tate Modern.
SEE EVERY EXHIBITION RUNNING IN LONDON RIGHT NOW
Take A Tour of London Museums
London is completely spoilt for free museums. There’s the V&A (focussed on art and design from around the world); the Natural History Museum (home to animatronic dinosaurs, an earthquake simulator and a dimly-lit library of preserved Victorian worms in jars); and the Science Museum (rockets, steam engines, iron lungs). There’s more unusual ones, too, like the Horniman Museum (which wins points for name alone, if not the overstuffed walrus) and the Wellcome Collection’s unsettling collection of 18th century surgical instruments.
SEE LONDON’S BEST MUSEUMS | SEE UNUSUAL MUSEUMS IN LONDON
£1 Comedy at The Secret Comedy Club
£1 for a whole night of comedy?
You must be having a laugh.
Because it’s here that you’ll find line-ups of top-quality comedians off the TV and stand-up circuit – plus drinks so well-priced for London that you’ll find anything funny by the end of the night.
Details: Every Monday, Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday night | The Top Secret Comedy Club, 170 Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5PD
Free Concerts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Just your typical free concert in an insanely palatial church, from haunting violin solos to improvised 17th century dance music on a lute.
Details: Mondays, Tuesdays & Fridays, 1.45-3.45pm | St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 4JJ
Walk the Sherling High Level Walkway
Watch set designers and prop makers beavering away from the National Theatre’s backstage high-level walkway. Resist the urge to shout “LOOK OUT”.
Details: Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-7.30pm, just turn up | National Theatre, Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PX
Pay What You Can For Theatre Tickets
Every Tuesday evening, Hackney’s Arcola Theatre sells Pay What You Can tickets on a first-come, first-served basis – and you fork out whatever you can, no judgement.
Details: Every Tuesday from 6pm (but aim to queue before then) | Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL
Dance To Live Music at Hootananny Brixton
Brixton’s perennially packed live music dance hall, with street food outside and a stage inside, where you can bop along to anything from Balkan gypsy folk to Bhangra hip hop.
Details: Free entry most weekdays and before 9pm on weekends | 95 Effra Road, SW2 1DF
Learn Something Niche on a Lunchbreak
Swap actual food for food for thought at one of London’s many lunchtime lectures – pick up a bit of art history at the National Gallery, attend a philosophical debate at Conway Hall or learn about 19th century ‘tuberculosis chic’ at the V&A.
UCL | V&A | National Gallery | The British Museum | Conway Hall | Gresham College | The British Academy
Catch a Free Lunchtime Concert at the Royal Academy of Music
Totally free weekly concerts from some of the city’s most talented musicians, from guitar trios to accordion chamber music.
Details: Every Tuesday from 1.05pm, just turn up | Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, NW1 5HT
Explore London’s Secret Gardens
A guide to greenery in London: 1) Hyde Park. 2) Regent’s Park. 3) Hidden walled gardens, canal boat rooftops and an urban community garden on a former railway track…
FIND LONDON’S SECRET GARDENS
Browse London’s Food Markets
They’re all free to enter, and there’s usually samples to be had if the sight of mountains of cheese is too much to resist.
READ ABOUT LONDON’S BEST FOOD MARKETS
Free Stand-Up Comedy In A Victorian Pub
The Roebuck in Borough is already one of the area’s lovelier taverns. And alongside their regular poetry nights, quizzes and life drawing classes, they also throw in a monthly free stand-up night – after which it would probably be advisable to grab something at Padella, most of whose mains are under a tenner.
Details: Last Thursday of every month | The Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street, SE1 4YG
Get A Free View Over London
The One New Change shopping centre in St. Paul’s has a huge viewing platform that manages that rare combination of being both free and relatively uncrowded – head up for a great view of the cathedral dome and sunsets over the Shard.
Details: Open daily, 6am-midnight | 1 New Change, EC4M 9AF
Free Events at Pop Brixton
Dancing in a village of shipping containers.
It’s a crate night out.
And surprisingly for a night at such an atmospheric, al fresco venue – packed with pop up street food kitchens and bars – you won’t have to part with any pennies to catch the live musicians and DJs taking to the Pop Brixton stage. And if you’re in need of some restoration the morning after, there’s also regular free tai chi and urban gardening classes.
Details: Mondays 12.30-1.30pm, Thursdays 10am-12pm, Friday & Saturday nights | Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PQ
Get Lost In The Sir John Soane Museum
The eccentric home of 19th century architect Sir John Soane has been kept exactly the way he left it – with moving walls, a 3000 year old mummy in the basement, and a gothic hideaway for his monk alter-ego, Padre Giovanni.
Details: Open Wed-Sun, 10am-5pm | 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP
God’s Own Junkyard
Essentially the modern-day equivalent: a huge, glittering warehouse space crammed with neon signs and artwork collected over decades.
Details: Open Friday & Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 11am-6pm | God’s Own Junkyard, Unit 12 Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, E17 9HQ
Visit London’s Silver Vaults
A subterranean treasure trove occupied by expert silversmiths, where you can browse through everything from contemporary jewellery to flamboyant Georgian salt pigs.
Details: Open weekdays 9am-5.30pm, Saturdays 9am-1pm | The London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane, WC2A 1QS
Oh, just a secret chapel hidden amongst some Fitzrovia apartment blocks with a completely gold ceiling.
Details: Open Wednesdays 11am-4pm | Fitzroy Place, 2 Pearson Square, London W1T 3BF
Stepney City Farm
You can cuddle rabbits, baby goats and lambs. For free.
Details: Open 10am-4pm, Tuesday-Sunday | Stepney City Farm, Stepney Way, E1 3DG
Surprisingly for one of the world’s most famously secretive organisations, you can have a snoop around the grand art deco Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden whenever you like.
Details: Monday-Saturday, check ahead HERE | 60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ
A grand stately home filled with priceless artwork, insanely beautiful rooms, and no less than 112 acres of gardens.
Details: Open daily, 10am-4pm | Hampstead Lane, NW3 7JR
Columbia Road Flower Market
If you can resist the urge to buy multiple succulents, you can enjoy all the bustle of London’s biggest flower market for free.
Details: Sundays 8am-3pm | Columbia Road, E2 7RG
Take A Stroll Along The Thames
By a convenient fluke, many of London’s most interesting sights can be found along the river – take the Nudge’s walking tour here.
Over 900 years old, Westminster Hall is not just the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament, it’s also the free-est.
Details: Open 9am-8pm when Parliament is in session | Houses of Parliament, SW1A 0AA
Watch the Ceremony of the Keys
Every night, the Tower of London is locked up in the same elaborate way as it has been for the past 700 years. And it’s an excellent way to get a glimpse of the castle while swerving the usual £25 entrance fee.
Details: Every night, must book ahead HERE | Tower of London, EC3N 4AB
Head Underground To Roman London
It’s an ancient Roman temple. In London. Plus you can see how much lower the ground was 2000 years ago.
Details: Open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 12-5pm | 12 Walbrook, EC4N 8AA
See London From 500ft In The Air
Granted, you need to be fairly organised booking tickets for Sky Garden (they’re only released a few days in advance) – but the view is totally worth it.
Details: Weekdays 10am-6pm, weekends 11am-9pm – must book ahead HERE | Sky Garden Walk, EC3M 8AF
Climb Brixton’s 200 Year Old Windmill
You can even volunteer to mill some flour while you’re at it.
Details: Second weekend of every month, March-October | Windmill Gardens, West end of Blenheim Gardens, Off Brixton Hill, SW2 5EU
Perambulate the Hampstead Pergola
As elevated walkways built by the aristocracy out of rubble from the Northern Line go… this is probably one of the loveliest.
Details: Open daily from 8.30am (closing times vary) | The Pergola, Inverforth Close, NW3 7EX
Climb Hackney’s Oldest Tower
That lone tower by Hackney Central station is the only remaining part of St. Augustine’s Church, demolished in 1798. And today you can climb up it for a free bird’s eye view over Hackney.
Details: Last Sunday of every month | Mare Street, E8 1HR
Looking for more things to see in London? Check out our roster of 100 London Date Ideas