London, England’s vibrant and diverse capital, is a city of endless possibilities. While it’s renowned for its rich history, iconic landmarks, and world-class dining, you could be forgiven for thinking that the city is expensive. And you would be right – or at least half right.
However, it is also a place where you can have a fantastic time without breaking the bank or even spending any money at all.
From exploring the city’s historic streets to enjoying breathtaking views from famous structures, there are plenty of free things to do in London and attractions for those watching the pennies.
Whether you want to immerse yourself in culture, explore nature, mingle with locals or just are looking for some cost-effective fun, ‘The Big Smoke’ offers something for everyone.
20. Piccadilly Circus
In the heart of London’s bustling West End, you’ll find Piccadilly Circus, the city’s answer to Time Square. This iconic landmark should be on every visitor’s itinerary, especially if you’re seeking free and unforgettable experiences in the city.
Some of London’s most vibrant streets converge in this famous intersection, including Regent Street, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue, and Coventry Street. What makes Piccadilly Circus so captivating are its dazzling electronic billboards and the iconic Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain at its centre, often referred to as Eros.
Piccadilly Circus is a hub for culture and entertainment. You can spend hours people watching, absorbing the lively atmosphere, and photographing with the bright lights as your backdrop. Nearby, the world-renowned retail zones of Regent Street and Oxford Street are excellent destinations for window shopping.
19. National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is a veritable treasure trove of British history and art that welcomes visitors free of charge. Situated just off Trafalgar Square, this cultural gem boasts an extensive collection of portraits spanning centuries. It takes visitors on a visual journey through the lives and faces of some of the most influential figures in British history.
From monarchs and politicians to artists and celebrities, the gallery’s impressive portraits capture the essence of each individual and the eras they lived in. Wandering through the halls of the National Portrait Gallery is like flipping through the pages of a history book but with vivid and evocative imagery.
Whether you’re interested in Tudor monarchs or contemporary cultural icons, the museum’s diverse exhibitions and ever-changing displays ensure that every visit is a unique experience.
18. Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection might not get the same recognition as some of London’s other cultural institutions. But it offers a delightful insight into the world of opulence and art.
The museum resides in Manchester Square, in Hertford House, which the Marquesses of Hertford once owned. It showcases an exquisite collection of paintings, porcelain, furniture, sculpture, armor and arms amassed by wealthy art collector Sir Richard Wallace.
Featured in its lavishly decorated rooms are masterpieces by renowned artists such as Titian, Rembrandt, and Fragonard. You’ll also see opulent Rococo interiors that are works of art in themselves.
However, the collection’s crowning glory is its world-class array of 18th-century French decorative arts, including Sevres porcelain and intricate furniture. Be sure to visit early to appreciate them without the crowds.
17. Portobello Road Market
Portobello Road Market, located in the vibrant Notting Hill neighborhood of London, is a bustling and eclectic market that promises visitors a delightful experience.
This world-famous market is a colorful tapestry of antiques, vintage fashion, quirky collectibles, and a vibrant atmosphere that’s completely free to explore.
On Saturdays, Portobello Road comes alive with vendors lining the streets, offering various unique treasures. From retro clothing and rare vinyl records to antique silverware and handmade crafts, there’s something for everyone amidst the vibrant chaos. The market’s antique section is particularly renowned, attracting collectors and enthusiasts from all over the world.
Beyond the shopping, Portobello Road Market offers a fantastic opportunity for people-watching and immersing yourself in the diverse and lively community that calls Notting Hill home. The charming pastel-hued houses that line the streets are captivating.
16. St. James’s Park
London is renowned for its parks and green spaces; one of the best is St. James’s Park.
This royal park, located just steps away from iconic landmarks like Buckingham Palace and Westminster, is a terrific place to enjoy a quintessential London experience. Strolling along the meandering pathways that wind through the park, you’ll encounter lush greenery, vibrant flowerbeds, and a picturesque lake home to various waterfowl, including majestic swans.
The park’s central location also provides stunning views of some of London’s most recognizable landmarks, including the London Eye and the Horse Guards Parade.
For those wanting to rest and relax in nature, St. James’s Park is the ideal spot. If time permits, enjoying a picnic by the lake at sunset is a magical thing to do.
15. Covent Garden
Covent Garden is renowned for its lively atmosphere, street performances, and myriad shops and restaurants, making it a perfect destination for budget-conscious travelers.
One of the main attractions in Covent Garden is the lively street performers who gather at the piazza. From magicians and musicians to jugglers and comedians, their captivating acts provide hours of entertainment without requiring you to open your wallet. You can also explore the charming cobbled streets, admire the stunning architecture, and soak in the vibrant ambiance.
Covent Garden Market, a historic indoor market filled with boutique shops and artisanal stalls, is another must-visit spot. While shopping may cost you, simply wandering through this bustling marketplace and admiring the unique products on display is a delightful and cost-free experience.
14. Greenwich Park
Greenwich Park is another of London’s most cherished green spaces.
This expansive park, nestled in the historic Greenwich district, was formerly used for hunting but is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting people for much gentler pursuits.
It features gorgeous manicured gardens, incorporating stunning flowerbeds and grassy slopes perfect for gazing at the majestic Royal Observatory, which lords over it from a hilltop. The sweeping vistas of the Thames River and the city skyline from this vantage point are nothing short of spectacular.
The park is home to various historical landmarks for those interested in history and culture. They include the Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House, offering rich insights into London’s maritime heritage.
13. Camden Market
Camden Market, located in the eclectic neighborhood of Camden Town, is a popular market that sprawls along the banks of the Regent’s Canal.
Exploring Camden Market is quite the adventure as you wander through a labyrinth of stalls, boutiques and food vendors. From vintage fashion and handmade crafts to exotic street food inspired by various countries worldwide, there’s something to tickle every fancy.
But what sets Camden Market apart from other markets in London is its edgy and artistic atmosphere. The area is notable for its eye-catching street art and graffiti, while live music performances of all genres often echo through the streets. The famous Camden Lock, with its array of floating market stalls, adds to the place’s unique charm.
12. Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum, a poignant and educational institution in Lambeth, offers a profoundly moving exploration of the human stories behind the conflicts that have shaped our world.
Established in 1917, this museum is a testament to the resilience and sacrifice of individuals during times of war and conflict. Visitors can observe its extensive collection of artifacts, exhibitions, and personal testimonies from World War I to the present day.
From the iconic Spitfire hanging in the atrium to the thought-provoking Holocaust exhibition, the museum provides a comprehensive perspective on the impact of war on societies, individuals, and cultures.
What makes the Imperial War Museum particularly compelling is its dedication to preserving the experiences and memories of those who lived through these tumultuous times. Ultimately, it’s not just a place for history buffs but a powerful reminder of the enduring human spirit.
11. Tate Britain
Perched along the banks of the River Thames, Tate Britain is a world-class museum that showcases a rich and diverse collection of British art spanning over five centuries. Subsequently, it is a terrific place to visit for those wanting to immerse themselves in the country’s artistic heritage.
From the works of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable to the modern masterpieces of Francis Bacon and David Hockney, Tate Britain offers an extensive exploration of the British artistic landscape. The museum’s galleries are a journey through time, charting the evolution of British art, from classical portraits to avant-garde installations.
Aside from its exceptional permanent collection, Tate Britain hosts a rotating schedule of exhibitions, ensuring that each visit rewards with something new and exciting.
10. Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens collectively form a massive green space in the heart of London that you should take the opportunity to immerse yourself in. These two adjacent royal parks offer plenty of outdoor activities, scenic beauty, and cultural landmarks to entertain you.
Hyde Park, one of London’s largest and most famous parks, is a haven for nature enthusiasts and leisure seekers. While there, stroll along the serene Serpentine Lake, rent a paddleboat, or relax on the expansive lawns. The park also hosts various events and open-air concerts throughout the year, ensuring there’s always something happening.
Kensington Gardens, seamlessly connected to Hyde Park, offers a more tranquil and formal setting. It’s home to the breathtaking Kensington Palace, the official residence of several generations of British royals, the peaceful Italian Gardens and the famous Peter Pan statue.
9. Borough Market
If you love food, you should make your way to Borough Market.
This culinary paradise near London Bridge is a cultural melting pot that promises a feast for the senses.
This historic market, dating back to the 13th century, has evolved into a vibrant hub for gastronomy, offering a range of culinary delights from across the globe. You’ll find everything here, from Brazilian feijoada to Filipino adobo.
Borough Market is also renowned for its artisanal food vendors, showcasing everything from artisan cheeses and freshly baked bread to exotic spices and gourmet street food.
Exploring Borough Market doesn’t cost a penny; you can wander through its bustling aisles, sample delectable treats, and immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere. Although, of course, if you want to buy a full serving or something to take home, it will involve a cost.
8. Natural History Museum
Located in the heart of South Kensington, The Natural History Museum showcases the wonders of the natural world.
With its stunning Romanesque architecture and grand terracotta façade, this iconic museum houses an incredible 80 million specimens.
As you step into the grand entrance hall, you’re greeted by the imposing skeleton of a Diplodocus, setting the tone for the awe-inspiring exhibits that await. From the Earth Hall’s breathtaking blue whale skeleton to the intricate geological gems in the Mineral Gallery, the Natural History Museum is a journey through the Earth’s ever-changing story.
Overall, the museum is an educational marvel and fosters a sense of wonder and curiosity for visitors of all ages. With interactive displays, immersive exhibitions, and a commitment to conservation and biodiversity, the Natural History Museum offers visitors a profound and enriching experience.
7. Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum, often called the V&A, is a world-renowned institution in South Kensington. This museum’s extensive galleries span over 5,000 years of human creativity, showcasing everything from sculpture and fashion to textiles and ceramics. Its exhibits include treasures from across the globe, celebrating artistic achievements from various cultures and historical periods. Highlights include the breathtaking Cast Courts, the opulent British Galleries and the innovative Contemporary section.
The museum’s commitment to free art access for everyone means you can explore its world-class collection, attend thought-provoking exhibitions and participate in educational programs without spending a dime.
Through its dedication to promoting art and design as forces for positive change, the Victoria and Albert Museum is a hub for inspiration and creativity.
6. National Gallery
Residing by Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery is a cultural jewel that houses an extraordinary collection of European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
With masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet gracing its walls, the National Gallery presents a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in timeless art.
As you roam through the grandeur of the museum’s halls, you’ll see masterpieces from such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet.
Overall, the museum’s galleries offer diverse artistic movements, from the Italian Renaissance to Impressionism, ensuring something to captivate every art enthusiast. The grandeur of the building that houses them – designed in neoclassical style – adds to the museum’s allure.
5. Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is an iconic landmark in the heart of London, named to commemorate the British naval victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Offering a blend of history, art, and open public space, at the center of it is the soaring Nelson’s Column. Surrounded by bronze lion statues, it is guarded by Admiral Lord Nelson himself, gazing out across the square.
As mentioned, the square is home to the National Gallery. It is also the site on December 31st when upwards of 50,000 gather to bring in the New Year.
The square bustles with activity at any given time, making it a brilliant place for people-watching. One of the best places to do this is the open-air ‘café on the square’, which has outdoor seating and a licensed bar.
4. Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace is an iconic spectacle that offers visitors a glimpse into the grandeur of British tradition and royalty. This daily event (weather permitting) takes place outside the official residence of the British monarch and is a must-see for anyone exploring London.
The ceremony, marked by precision marching, military music, and the elaborate changing of the sentries, is a time-honored tradition that dates back centuries. It is a striking display of the British military’s discipline and pageantry, set against Buckingham Palace’s regal facade.
Watching the Changing of the Guard is a visual feast and an opportunity to immerse oneself in London’s rich history and culture. The ceremony typically lasts around 45 minutes and attracts crowds of spectators, so it’s a good idea to arrive early to secure a good viewing spot.
3. British Museum
The British Museum is another world-renowned institution in London, housing a vast and diverse collection of art and artifacts from around the globe – spanning millennia of civilization.
The museum’s treasures showcase the richness and diversity of human creativity and achievement, from the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles to the Egyptian mummies and the Parthenon sculptures.
What makes the British Museum even more remarkable is its commitment to education and accessibility. Not only can you explore its permanent collection for free, but the museum also hosts various free exhibitions, lectures, and events catering to diverse interests.
With its stunning architecture, awe-inspiring exhibits, and dedication to promoting cultural understanding, the British Museum is an intellectual and artistic haven you shouldn’t miss.
2. Walk the Tower Bridge
Walking across Tower Bridge is a quintessential London experience every tourist should partake in.
Gracefully spanning the River Thames, this iconic structure was completed in 1886 and took eight years to build. Walking across the bridge is a fantastic opportunity to capture stunning photographs, admire the intricate design, and appreciate the bridge’s role as a functional crossing and an architectural gem.
The bridge is even more impressive at night when it is under illumination. We recommend visiting it before sunset to see it during daytime, dusk and at night.
While the bridge costs nothing to walk over, it is worth paying to traverse its high-level walkways. You’ll get tremendous views of the Tower of London, the Shard and other parts of the London skyline.
1. Big Ben
Big Ben, the iconic clock tower of the Palace of Westminster, is an enduring symbol of London and a must-see attraction for all visitors. Much of it has been under wraps for the past six years due to necessary repair work. However, the work has been completed, so you can view it in all its glory.
Standing tall along the River Thames, this Gothic Revival masterpiece reflects London’s architectural prowess and historical significance. Its magnificent clock face, with its giant hands and resounding chimes, has been a focal point of the city for over 150 years.
Simply gazing upon Big Ben from the adjacent Westminster Bridge or Parliament Square is a memorable experience. One that accentuates as day turns into night when the tower beautifully illuminates.