London on the cheap: Free things to do

Freebie. Gratis. Cheap. London can be done on a shoestring – from world-famous museums and galleries to posh parks and pop culture.

Put your wallet away with our guide to free things to do in London

History - British Museum

Get lost in Ancient Greece and Egypt without spending a penny. The glass roof is worth a look, too. Six million people visit the British Museum every year – it’d be rude not to go.      

What to see:

  • Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies. Spooky mummies and coffins can be found alongside statues and paintings buried with important Egyptian folk. Practise your best ‘I’m not scared’ face. 
  • The Elgin Marbles. The Ancient Greeks knew a good sculpture. These statues and inscriptions were once part of the Parthenon in Athens – they’re really important, and magnificent.

What to do with the kids:

  • Take them on a walking trail. Little and not-so-little ones can explore and learn about the exhibitions on an activity trail, with various options designed for 3-5 and 6-11 year olds.

Where is it? Bloomsbury

 

Art and Culture - The National Gallery

Culture vulture? Sort your Monet from your Manet at the National Gallery. Some of history’s finest paintings from the 13th-19th centuries call this home. Works by Impressionists such as Monet and Degas sit alongside Romanticists like JMW Turner and Constable.

What to see:

  • The Fighting Temeraire (JMW Turner, 1839). A painting of a battleship that fought in Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar, this colourful piece is typical of Turner’s shimmering seas and skies.
  • The Ambassadors (Hans Holbein, 1533). Two rich young chaps are dressed in finery and surrounded by objects symbolising culture and wealth. Their beards put modern-day hipsters to shame.

What to do with the kids:

  • Take the Marvellous Blooms trail. Explore some of the most famous paintings of flowers while the kids solve puzzles and discover hidden meanings.  

Where is it? Trafalgar Square

 

The great outdoors - St James’s Park

Stretch your legs in a regal fashion at the oldest of London’s leafy royal parks. St James’s Park runs alongside The Mall right up to Buckingham Palace. It’s dominated by a vast lake that almost runs its entire length. 

What to see:

  • Trooping the Colour. The royals. Immaculately turned-out troops. Magnificent horses. RAF flypasts. Trooping the Colour is a spectacular military parade held to mark the Queen’s official birthday each June. It dates back to the 18th century. 

What to do with the kids:

  • Watch the pelicans being fed. Pelicans have lived in St James’s since 1664. Watch them tucking into their lunch between 2.30pm- 3pm every day. 

Where is it? Westminster

 

Popular culture

  • London’s streets have throbbed with pop culture for half a century. Here are 2 ways to get your pop-culture fix.Abbey Road. Pretend you’re a Beatle by walking across Abbey Road outside the iconic studios. The Beatles recorded their albums here and were photographed striding across the zebra crossing outside the studio for the record named after it.
  •  Visit Doctor Who’s Tardis. Make like your favourite Dr – be it David Tennant or Tom Baker - by striking a pose outside this life-size replica of Doctor Who’s iconic Tardis. It’s just outside Earl’s Court tube station.

  

Sightseeing

  • Somerset House. This neoclassical building overlooks the Thames, and in the summer itslarge courtyard is filled with cascading fountains.Let the kids play among them while you take in the grand Georgian architecture.Find it on the Strand.
  •  Trafalgar Square. Tourists flock to this vast public square to see the towering Nelson’s Column statue and the Fourth Plinth, which has become an exhibition space for provocative contemporary art.