London has rightfully earned its place as one of the great cities of the world, and hosting the 2012 Olympics has propelled it even further into the global spotlight. A sprawling, vibrant mix of cultures means that visitors are never short of things to do. London has a host of attractions, but at a price. With the recent economic downturn, many are looking for inexpensive ways to enjoy the city, and here are our 10 alternative picks for seeing the capital for free.
1. Visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum
Open from Tuesday to Saturday, this intriguing museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, just south of Holborn tube is a visual feast of architecture, paintings, sculpture and antiques. The unassuming exterior hides a huge collection, accumulated by the famous architect Soanes from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Soanes combined three houses in the square, and every room is filled with artefacts, almost from floor to ceiling.
2. Get arty and window shop on Brick Lane
The 2012 Olympics has generated renewed interest in London’s East End, and visitors to this area would do well to start in Brick Lane. The adjoining Whitechapel area gained notoriety in the 1800s as the scene of Jack the Ripper’s murderous crimes, but has now grown into a vibrant Bangladeshi community, famed for curry houses, bars, nightclubs and galleries. Stroll the length of Brick Lane window shopping for vintage clothing, dropping in on the Brick Lane Gallery, Truman Street Brewery, and the East Gallery
3. Take a stroll down South Bank to the Tate Modern
It really is amazing how many London landmarks you can see along this stretch of the River Thames – walking from The London Eye to Tate Modern. From the London Eye take a stroll past the Royal Festival Hall, where in the summer crowds come to watch street performers, outdoor theatre and comedy. Stop at the National Film Theatre for a quick drink before heading along the South Bank to the Tate Modern, where you can explore 5 floors of contemporary art and design for free. While a few temporary exhibitions are pay-for, the rest of this vast building is free to wander.
4. Satisfy your curiosity at The Wellcome Collection
Billed as a “free destination for the incurably curious”, the Wellcome Collection is a fascinating venue in north London near Euston. Sir Henry Wellcome – a pharmacist and collector – amassed a collection of medical and scientific objects and this museum has become a much loved (and free) legacy. The exhibitions are always changing, and visitors can even take free guided tours. The well-stocked book shop and cafe will tempt you into parting with your cash, but you won’t begrudge it after spending a day in this fascinating museum.
5. Learn something new
For those with a studious mind, why not take in a free lecture? Gresham College in Holborn has given free public talks for over 400 years, often featuring up to five speakers a week, on subjects ranging from art to politics and from mathematics to film. Two of the subjects for the 2012 calendar include the life of the actor Cary Grant, and the science of profiling killers. Engrossing stuff!
6. Scoff some free samples at Borough Market
This incredibly popular market which specialises in gourmet and artisan food is well worth a visit. Although its free to browse, we can’t promise you wont spend a fortune on the wealth of delicacies on offer. Plenty of stalls have free samples though, so if you’re feeling peckish, dig in, before buying some of the tasty – and mostly organic- fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats and pastries. Open Thursdays to Saturdays.
7. Listen to free music
Head to St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square for free lunchtime concerts on Mondays Tuesdays and Fridays at 1pm. With a beautiful and atmospheric setting in the heart of London, the church asks for suggested donation of £3.50 that goes towards their tireless fundraising to help the homeless. Be sure to check out the free music listings for the Barbican Centre in the City of London too – the venue often hosts free weekend events featuring live music, theatre and dance.
8. Heckle opinionated people at Speakers Corner
Located in the north east corner of Hyde Park next to Marble Arch, Speakers Corner is well worth a visit on a Sunday morning. Having long been the home of public free speech, Speakers Corner is an eclectic mix of political debate, soapbox rants and theatrical loonacy. People from all walks of life can orate on any subject they like, while onlookers laugh, heckle or applaud. A thoroughly enjoyable (and free) experience.
9. Have free laughs
Angel Comedy at the Camden Head pub in Islington plays host to a free weekly comedy night on Saturdays, featuring some well known funny men and women. Their Thursday open mic night is also popular, where brave souls can try their hand at entertaining the crowds.
10. Wander Hampstead Heath
One of London’s great outdoor spaces, Hampstead Heath is an 800 acre wildlife haven and a popular retreat from the city’s smoke and bustle. With a zoo, swimming ponds, forests and fields, the Heath in north London offers superb views over the city and is around 10 minutes on the underground from King’s Cross. A relaxing retreat in the summer months, and exciting downhill sledge ride in the winter snow.
Of course this is only a taster of the free things to do in London, there are many other art galleries, museums and outdoor spaces that will keep your entertained but won’t have you emptying your wallet. London maybe a lot cheaper than you realise..
Graham Padmore is the co-owner of the travel tips and inspiration blog GlobalGrasshopper.com. He has travelled to many countries all over the world but has a special fondness for all things Japanese. He also blogs about reasonably priced unique places to stay including where to find the best budget hotels in London.