London – when we think about this extraordinary city, glamour comes to mind: restaurants, parties, raves, events and rooftop bars. For locals, on the other hand, high price expenses gloom upon them: rent, transport and bills. Subtracting all of these from your wallet doesn’t leave much, if not a couple of coupons for the meal deal from your local Tesco. It’s Thursday, and you’re planning your weekend with your friends – maybe some exploring? How about some culture with that booze? You just want to sit back and relax before going back to your frantic life on Monday, but everything seems to be a weight on your pocket. Let us help with 10 of the best free things to di in London (YES, they do exist and NO, they do not require money).
Where: Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DN
Nearest tube station: Charing Cross
For those who sleep, breath, eat art, there isn’t place more magical than the National Gallery. Situated in Trafalgar Square, this building is alive and thriving since 1824. It hosts a collection of over 2,300 paintings from the mid-13th century to the 20th. Names like Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, John Constable, Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Monet and Turner are featured in this museum. It is entirely free, every day of the week and every day of the year, but it is also possible to book exhibitions which will have a little entrance fee (Titian: Love, Desire, Death is the current exhibition, which won’t leave the National Gallery until January 2021). You can also find a café and a gift shop in which you can buy a pocket-size of your favourite painting. It is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm, except for Fridays when the closing time is 9 pm. It is definitely worth a visit; whether you like art or you are not a fan, the National Gallery will not disappoint you.
2. Greenwich Park
Where: Greenwich Park, London SE10 8QY
Nearest station: Maze Hill
This extraordinary park will leave you breathless – former hunting park, Greenwich Park is one of the largest green spaces in London, covering more than 74 acres: colossal! Gigantic! A small city in Italy! If you’re willing to take a hike and reach the top (I suggest preserving your breath and not talking too much to your friends on the way up there), you will enjoy one of the best views in London, guaranteed. In front of you, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf will provide an excellent photo for your Instagram feed, especially at sunset! Prepare a couple of sandwiches, bring with you some chips and some drinks, lay down a blanket and enjoy a picnic with a view. There are no gates, no opening nor closing hours, so you are free to have a little late nap as well – ever heard of anything better?
Where: Bankside, London, SE1 9TG
Nearest tube station: Waterloo
Talking to art lovers again, you can’t miss the Tate. Consisting of four art museums, loved by the British for its innovation and modern look on art galleries, this iconic building is situated in one of the most beautiful banks in London – the South Bank, right after Waterloo. It was founded in 1897 and, despite not being a Government Institution, its main sponsor is the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It hosts the United Kingdom’s national collection of British art, and international and contemporary art. As you might see from its Facebook page, this museum lived through some rough patches in history, including both World Wars, where it had to close for five consecutive years and move all their art to underground Piccadilly for safekeeping. Names like Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali’ and Lucio Fontana are featured in the museum – a paradise for modern art lovers, especially because it is free. Just like the National Gallery, here as well you can find a cosy café where you can enjoy a drink while typing away on your computer about how much you love art, and a gift shop as well in case you would like a Dali’ on top of your bed. Sadly, due to the ongoing virus, it is temporarily closed, so the opening and closing hours are to be decided but be sure not to miss it when it reopens!
4. Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park
Where: London Borough of Camden
Nearest tube station: Camden Town
Talking about picnics, parks and views, Primrose Hill and the adjacent Regent’s Park are unmissable – with clear paths throughout and green spaces as big as football fields, you have it all. Take a hike and walk on top of Primrose Hill to enjoy the most beautiful view of London on the platform provided with benches and chairs for your own comfort while enjoying the O2 Arena, the Saint Paul Cathedral, the Buckingham Palace and more. Also, Literature nerds like me can enjoy a quote by William Blake engraved in stone: ‘I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill’. But what makes it different from Greenwich Park, discussed above? Besides being directly connected to the famous Camden Market and Camden Canal, you can enjoy your New Year’s Eve in Primrose Hill. If your pocket feels iffy about paying the mighty fee to stand on Westminster Bridge, being elbowed by thousands of strangers, to enjoy the fireworks, you can comfortably watch them sitting on a bench in Primrose Hill with a nice bottle of wine and some friends. Highly recommended.
Where: Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG
Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road
Displaying more than 80,000 objects (that don’t even make the 1% of objects in its possession, which are eight million) the British Museum is one, if not the most famous museum in London. Completely free, it allows you to travel through time, from the Egyptian mummies, through Samurai armours, Anglo-Saxon burial treasures to the Rosetta Stone. Here is displayed even the famous Standard of Ur which we always see in history textbooks. You can also book free tours. Fun fact: if you are interested in looking at history through the eyes of your own religious believes, you can book a tour with a guide that will walk you through objects relevant to your religion’s history (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, etc). The British Museum is temporarily closed as well, so the opening and closing hours are to be decided. In the meanwhile, you can take a look at their website and have a virtual tour.
Where: Cromwell Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD
Nearest tube station: South Kensington
Situated in one of the most glamorous areas in West London, the Natural History Museum is a feast for the eyes. With its extraordinary architecture, it will take you through Natural History as you’ve never seen it before. Giant tanks with prehistorical fish, true to size reconstructions of dinosaurs, an automated Tyrannosaurus Rex with reconstructed vocal chords, and even a real-life representation of the earthquake that struck Japan in 2008. You can watch a video of falling objects in a supermarket in Japan while the ground is shaking underneath your feet, leaving you disoriented and with jelly legs. It is interactive, you can touch, feel, push, drag, draw. The right balance between educational and terrifying. Also, completely free. It will reopen on the 5th of August for the public. If you have a little time to spare and outside the cold is sharp, you can pop on your ice skates and go ice skating right underneath the museum. You can’t miss it, there is a giant Christmas Tree!
Where: 1 SKY GARDEN WALK, London EC3M 8AF
Nearest tube station: Bank
Moving on from museums and parks, we land on rooftop bars. But they are expensive, aren’t they? Between getting there, ordering drinks that are £15 each, you will spend a fortune. And sometimes, quite frankly, the view isn’t even that great. What if you can get on one of the tallest buildings in London, right in the heart of the city, for free? It sounds like fantasy, but it is very real. The Sky Garden, situated in a skyscraper that Londoners like to call Walkie Talkie for its shape, is one of the highest points where you can see London from. Completely free, you have to book in advanced because the available slots are limited. Great spot for your Instagram pictures, under these pink lights you will look wonderful and your DMs will be flooded with requests – they all will want to know where you are. It is usually open from 7 am to 1 am, excepts for weekends when it closes around 12 am. But hey, the night is young and after a little bit of sky gardening, you can always enjoy a local night club with no entrance fee.
8. Portobello Road
Where: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Nearest tube station: Notting Hill Gate
If you had a crush on Hugh Grant since your teenage years and cannot be more obsessed with him, you cannot miss Portobello Road. Setting for the renowned film Notting Hill, it is one of the most famous streets in London. With its colourful houses, quirky shops and interesting spots, it cannot be missed. Pictures are mandatory. Once again, for Literature nerds, George Orwell, author of 1984, lived here. Portobello Road hosts one of the most famous markets in London, the Portobello Market, where you can find antiques and objects from all over the world, but also fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. You don’t need to spend money though; you can also enjoy the view and snap a couple of pictures for your friends at home. Hurry up though … shops close at 6 pm, and on Sundays sometimes they don’t open. If you want the full Notting Hill effect, visit on a rainy day – you will have plenty anyway. Don’t forget to snap a picture with the Tube Station sign that says Notting Hill, how are you supposed to brag about meeting Hugh Grant with your friends otherwise?! (Totally not true, and totally will not happen, but they don’t know that).
Where: 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL
Nearest tube station: London Bridge
If you want to feel like you’re browsing through an exotic market on the other side of the world, you can’t miss the chance to visit Borough Market. Situated under a maze of Victorian railway arches, it is one of the biggest and most prolific markets in London. Are you a food-lover? Do you call yourself food-lover and food expert but just love eating? Borough Market has everything you need – from grab and go anything (breakfast, lunch AND dinner) to little stands trying to sell their food, keep an eye on free samples. Afterall there is nothing better than free food – you can’t feel guilty about something you didn’t pay; it was offered! What would you do, refuse? The entrance is completely free, and it is open from Monday to Saturday.
10. East London street art
Nearest station: Shoreditch
Street art is prolific in London, especially in the East, and especially in Shoreditch. One of the quirkiest and most hipster places in London, you can enjoy all kinds of street art in this area. You will not need to venture in the veins and the arteries of the city, just to look at a painted wall; the street art is extremely well made and it is for everyone to see and admire, existing on every building in the area. Shoreditch is famous for its nightlife and its hipster personality and you will not be disappointed. Looking like it’s wearing a giant beanie and going around by skateboard, Shoreditch is filled with young creatives and trendsetters – fashion designers and writers especially like to inhabit this area. Don’t be shy and give it a visit, it is a judgemental free zone – it does not matter if you’re not on trend or if you’re not wearing the latest Gucci collection, they will be busy making this place incredible, avant-garde and unique anyway.