Free Things To Do In London
Last Updated: 30th August 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…
FREE THINGS TO DO IN LONDON THIS MONTH
The Butterfly Biosphere
Set up by the dependably excellent people at Bompas & Parr, you’ll find the Butterfly Biosphere in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair. It’s free to get into, open from 10am-7pm daily, and allows you to get up close and personal with thousands of kaleidoscopically colourful butterflies. Plus, there are free “pollen-fuelled nectar shots” for both you and the butterflies.
Details: 5th–15th September | Grosvenor Square, W1
Being Human – Wellcome Collection
Do you smoke? Have you been to New York? Do you feel like getting freaked the fuck out? Then make your way to The Wellcome Collection. As part of their new permanent gallery called Being Human (which includes 50 other incredible art & science installations) there’ll be a special display by artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. She took cigarettes butts off the streets of Manhattan, harvested & sequenced the DNA, 3D-printed the faces of the people that it belonged to, then hung them up in the gallery. Yeah.
Details: Opening 5th September | The Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
The Dark Crystal – easily the best puppet-based sci-fi fantasy epic of 1982 – is getting rebooted on Netflix. And to celebrate, BFI Southbank are putting on an incredible display of the puppets, props, and sets along with workshops & screenings to back them up. Plus? It’s free. You just need to register for a time slot here.
Details: Until 6th September | BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XT
Soho Jazz Week
Sure, this particular event only takes place over the course of four days. But the ‘Soho’ and ‘jazz’ parts of the title are completely accurate: a collection of 15 of the neighbourhood’s legendary bee-bop clubs will all put on 45 shows, culminating in a huge, free, 6hr finale across Carlisle Street.
Details: 11th-14th September | Across Soho
The London Design Festival
The LDF is here to show off London as the “design capital of the world”, and when you lay down a gauntlet like that, you need to back it up with something impressive. Like, say, a huge, two-way mirrored cube designed to create an effect of looking into infinity, or a walk-in installation that magnifies & projects the galaxy-like inside of a gemstone onto the walls around you, so that you feel as you’re you standing in a Mozambican ruby or a Zambian emerald.
Details: 14th-22nd September | Across London
Prefer something a little more land-based? Well happily you can celebrate summer in the streets, too. Regent Street will be completely pedestrianised for a couple of Sundays this summer, with live music from a bandstand, street food, games and more. READ MORE
Details: 15th September | Regent Street, W1B
Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic
The Wellcome Collection are about to unveil their exhibition about deception, illusion, and misdirection.
…Or are theeey….
Yes, they are. And besides attempting to explain how magic works by ‘hacking’ our senses and playing on subconscious processes in the brain, there’ll also be live performances and an impressive collection of magical artefacts, from Houdini’s ‘bell box’ to Tommy Cooper’s fez. READ MORE
Details: Until 15th September | Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE
Open House London
The Spiral Staircase at Somerset House
Sure, at this point we’d be happy for literally anyone to come into 10 Downing Street. And at Open House London, literally anyone can – it’s a weekend that takes place once a year in which over 800 of the capital’s secret, unseen, and private buildings are opened up to Joe Public. They’re all free (although Downing Street will be limited to tickets drawn from a ballot) and include the revolving floor at the BT Tower, the Lord Mayor’s Office, and the Huntsman shop on Saville Row which inspired the movie Kingsmen.
Details: 21st-22nd September | Across London
Frieze Sculpture 2019
When you hear ‘Frieze’, your first thought is probably ‘statue’. And this summer, the renowned art fair is creating a “gallery without walls” by placing sculptures from 20 of the biggest names in modern art in the middle of Regent’s Park. There’s even a free audioguide to help you along the trail. READ MORE
Details: Until 6th October | Regent’s Park, English Gardens, NW1 4LL
Driverless: Who is in Control?
It’s only a matter of time before driverless cars finally pass their Theory Test and take over the world’s roads. And to give you a little sneak preview of what that’ll be like, the Science Museum are displaying self-driving cars, autonomous flying drones and smart underwater vehicles, including the venerable Autosub Boaty McBoatface. READ MORE
Details: Until October 2020 | The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, SW7 2DD
Sadly, Giant Steps is not a freakishly large tribute band.
But it will still bring you an equal amount of musical joy. You see, Giant Steps is in fact a collaboration between Brilliant Corners (the Dalston bar/resto) and the Analogue Foundation (international supporters of analogue sound & processes), setting up shop in a 20,000 square ft. canal-side Victorian warehouse complex until October 2019… READ MORE
Details: Until October | Swan Wharf, 60 Dace Road, E3 2NQ
Museum of the Moon
Take one small step into the Natural History Museum this month, and you’ll find a giant, illuminated, perfectly replicated moon hanging in one of its halls. It’s a 6-metre wide artwork by Luke Jerram, and it’ll be landing in its new London home just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the (actual) moon landings. It’s free to take a look, but they’re also hosting a couple of events beneath it, including cheese and wine tastings, yoga, and DJ sets.
Details: Throughout September | Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 5BD
FREE THINGS TO DO IN LONDON ALL YEAR ROUND
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. You can even visit the ticketed exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery for free after 5pm.
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. READ MORE
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
Head To The Royal Opera House at Lunch
And find free performances ranging from opera to ballet, from some of the city’s most talented artists.
Details: Regular lunchtimes from 1pm, just turn up | Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD
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. READ MORE
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. READ MORE
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 atop Hampstead Heath, filled with priceless artwork, insanely beautiful rooms, and no less than 112 acres of gardens. READ MORE
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. READ MORE
Details: Sundays 8am-3pm | Columbia Road, E2 7RG
Queen Elizabeth Hall Rooftop Garden
The perfect spot to take a picnic, the rooftop garden and bar atop the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank is free to enter, and offers a leafy oasis amidst the brutalist concrete jungle of the Southbank Centre.
Details: Open daily | Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
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
Take Yourself On A Brick Lane Street Art Tour
Street artists from all over the world come to Brick Lane to showcase their work, and with that, it’s constantly changing, meaning you can come again, and again…and again, and still be delighted every time
Details: Brick Lane, Shoreditch, E1 6QL
Go Wild Swimming In Shadwell Basin
Rules around swimming in the Shadwell Basin are a little grey. However we say as long as you’re respectful and not disturbing anyone – kids canoeing or the wildlife – it’s yours for the takin’, well, usin’.
Details: Wapping, London, E1W 3SG
Visit The Terrapins At The Barbican Conservatory
They also have tropical fish, and over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees.
Details: it’s open selected Saturdays and Sundays between 12 and 5pm | Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS
Toe-Tap To Live Blues At The Blues Kitchen Camden
Entry’s free all night on a Monday.
Details: Monday, 9.45-12pm | 111-113 Camden High Street, Camden, NW1 7JN
Take A Parkour Class
You pay by parkour-based tasks set by the coach.
Details: Days and timings vary, so check the timetable | The Commando Temple, 14, 15, 16 Resolution Way, London, SE8 4NT
Walk Your Way Through London’s Best Walks
From the Jubilee Greenway to Epping Forest.
Looking for more things to see in London? Check out our roster of 100 London Date Ideas