As one of the most appealing but expensive cities on the planet, London can appear to be a destination that will leave a hefty hole in your pocket. But the truth is, London is actually one of the easiest places to explore without spending a penny. See England’s capital on a budget with these awesome free things to do in London; from classic sights and popular free activities to hidden gems that won’t have you digging into your pockets.
Table of contents
1. The classic sights
3. Street art
6. Walking tours
8. Hidden gems
1. The classic sights
Now, I’m sure you know you can spot most of the city’s sights for free from afar, but I had to include them as they play such a big part in any visitor to London’s experience. As someone who grew up around London, leisurely walking around central is one of my favourite ways to explore London for free, and a lot of the classics are all within walking distance of each other! It never gets old - you’ll still catch me filling my camera roll with photos of the skyline and Tower Bridge every time I go into the city.
- Big Ben: Towering over Westminster Palace, Big Ben is easily one of the most iconic attractions in London. The massive (7m wide!) clock has recently had a makeover that’s lasted several years. The renovations are set to finish this year, and when it’s back open you’ll be able to go inside the clock on a free tour! But for now, you can admire the tower from Westminster or across the Thames.
- London Eye: The London Eye (or Millenium Wheel) is another familiar sight along the Thames, conveniently located opposite Big Ben (tip: you can get a great photo of both if you stand on the Golden Jubilee Bridge!). At 135m high, you can definitely take in some great views from the top, but for the sake of free stuff to do in London, I’d say get yourself a pic, and we’ll get to the free views later.
- Buckingham Palace: Only a 20-minute walk along St. James’ Park from Big Ben and the London Eye, Buckingham Palace is another must for free London attractions - even if it’s just to say you’ve been. I won’t lie, you won’t be able to see a lot beyond the gates, but if you get there at 10.45 am you’ll be able to watch the changing of the guards as they hand over responsibility for protecting the palace (every day in June and July; Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun from August to May). After you’ve checked out the palace and paid your respects to her late Majesty the Queen, I’d recommend walking down The Mall until you get to Trafalgar Square.
- Oxford Street: Less than 10 minutes walk from Trafalgar Square, you’ll find Piccadilly Circus and the beginning of Regent Street which will lead you to one of the world’s most famous shopping streets: Oxford Street. In all honestly, shopping here is busy, stressful, and something locals avoid. Still, it’s a fun free activity mooching down this iconic street for some window shopping and seeing which seasonal decorations hang above your head.
- Tower Bridge: A lot of people mistake Tower Bridge for ‘London Bridge’, as it’s without a doubt the most impressive bridge along the Thames (you can find the actual, much less picturesque, London Bridge a little further down the river). One of my favourite London landmarks, Tower Bridge is the perfect backdrop for photos and is in an excellent sightseeing location. On one side of the bridge, you can see the Tower of London, while on the other side sits the impressive old Navy ship, HMS Belfast. One of my favourite places to chill is the grassy area by the ship, with great views of all three.
Once you’ve got the main sights under your belt, the city’s museums are some of the best free places to visit in London. The fact you can browse them for free ‘til your heart’s content means you could easily spend a day or two perusing their halls without even touching your wallet. There are heaps to choose from for all interests, but here are a few favourites.
- Natural History Museum: Home to around 80 million(!!) items from dinosaurs (including the life-sized Dippy the Diplodocus skeleton!) and wildlife to earth and space, the Natural History Museum has some of the best free exhibitions in London. You could spend all day here and still not have explored every corner of this huge museum. The incredible collections and stunning building that houses them probably makes this my favourite free museum in London.
- Science Museum: Located just around the corner from the Natural History Museum (a visit to both is a great way to spend the day!), the Science Museum is another eye-opening educational experience that’s worth a visit even if science isn’t your thing. With iconic objects and stories of incredible scientific achievements like computing, space technology, and air travel - it’s pretty cool to really immerse yourself in the creation of the modern world.
- Tate Modern: The Tate Modern is the city’s home for modern and contemporary art with over a hundred years of art from around the world. But it’s not just pictures; some of the pieces here are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere, using materials and objects to tell stories in unconventional ways. After looking around the galleries, I highly recommend heading up to the free viewing terrace on the top of the Blavatnik Building for views across the city.
- National Gallery: If you’re more interested in historical masterpieces, the National Gallery is for you. With famous artworks from the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Claude Monet lining the walls, you can already get a feel for the vibes of this famous gallery. Even if you’re not into finer art, it’s incredible to see pieces that date back hundreds of years, with the oldest piece from as long ago as the 1200s!
- Design Museum: As one of the largest design museums in the world, the Design Museum in London constantly has colourful, interesting, and - to be honest - pretty random exhibitions going on in its massive space. Exhibiting everything to do with product, graphic, fashion, industrial, and architectural design, there is always something interesting to discover.
- British Museum: Contrary to its name, the British Museum is an impressive museum with one of the largest collections in existence. Around 8 million works live within its walls spanning 2 million years of human history and culture from around the globe. Experience history from the dawn of human existence all the way to the present day at this eye-opening gateway into how we came to be.
3. Street Art
If art museums aren’t so much your thing, perhaps you’d prefer to see artists express themselves on the streets of London itself. Despite graffiti being illegal in London (so don’t go thinking about joining in!) the city is actually one of the best places in the world to see creative, thought-provoking street art. With pieces from local, upcoming artists to international contributors and even the infamous Banksy himself, checking out the art on the city’s walls is a cool free way to see some colourful culture in London.
Some of the best places to see street art in London are Camden, Shoreditch, and Brixton; be sure to check out these vibrant neighbourhoods filled with both local and international talent, or hop on a free street art tour to see the best bits.
The city’s markets are some of my favourite places to visit in London for free. You’ll find an abundance of colourful markets in the capital selling everything from food, flowers, and produce to clothes, jewellery, and antiques, making great spots to look around for an afternoon as you take in the interesting sights and smells. A lot of the markets also offer up delicious street food for a very reasonable price, and with a lot of stalls offering up free samples, you might actually be able to get a good feed in if you loop around enough!
With too many to choose from, here are a few I’d recommend to get you going…
- Borough Market: If you love food, you have to visit Borough Market. It’s one of the oldest and biggest food markets in the city, famous for its variety, quality, and bustling atmosphere. Browse the market stalls selling everything from bread, cheese, and wine, to vegetables, fish, and condiments, but if you’re looking for a cheap lunch in London - make your way towards the back for delicious street food from all over the world. I highly recommend La Tua Pasta for pasta lovers, and Khanom Krok for Thai that’s gluten and dairy free!
- Camden Market: One of the most popular markets in the city, Camden Market is always busy. Famous for its vibrant image and arty scene, this huge market has hundreds of stalls and heaps of variety. It’s perfect for a budget afternoon in London - get a taste of Camden’s culture while you peruse the crafts, clothing, knick-knacks, jewellery, and grab a cheap bite to eat as you go. And if you do find something you like along the way, you’re not going to break the bank!
- Columbia Road Market: Every Sunday, Columbia Road Flower Market takes over and this quaint London street gets transformed into a flower haven as stalls overflow with bouquets and shrubs to pot plants and herbs. While this market can get very crowded, arrive when it opens (8am) to simply wander down the street and admire the florals and colours that have lined the streets every weekend for decades. After perusing the petals, I love to head down the side streets behind the stalls where there are great cafés, delis, galleries, and antiques - this neighbourhood is perfect for browsing, and you only have to get your wallet out if you want to.
- Portobello Road Market: Have you seen the movie Notting Hill? Then you may well recognise this historic market! While I can’t guarantee you’ll spot Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, I can promise you over 1,500 stalls to pick up a bargain or simply browse the endless antiques that Portobello Road is renowned for. As well as antiques, there’s food, furniture, fashion (both new and vintage), accessories, household goods, bric-a-brac, and probably just about anything you can think of. You’ll find different parts of the market open on different days, so to be sure to plan ahead if you’re into something in particular.
One of the best things about London is the green spaces that constantly pop up as you walk through the city, breaking up the concrete jungle and offering a place to chill in the sun or enjoy a picnic. Parks in London often aren’t just parks - you’ll find anything from landscaped gardens and lakes to museums and zoos within their walls, with a lot of things you can do for free once you’re done lying on the grass and - if you’re like me - shamelessly people watching. Going through all the parks in London would take me all day, so I’ve handpicked a few that give you more than just a lawn to lay on.
- Hyde Park: You’ve definitely already heard about Hyde Park - the largest, oldest, and most famous park in central London sandwiched between Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. It’s the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere of true London life as you watch people run, skate, board, cycle, and horse ride through the park, boating (or for those brave enough - swimming!) in the Serpentine lake, dipping their toes in Princess Diana’s fountain and sunbathing in the green open spaces. For something a little different, I like to pass by Speakers’ Corner - it’s been a traditional sight for public speeches and debates since the 1800s, and you can still find people sharing their views there today.
- Regent’s Park: Not far from Hyde Park, Regent’s Park is often less busy, with tree-lined pathways and formal gardens making it an extremely picturesque and lovely place for a sunny afternoon stroll. Admire the elegant flowerbeds in the Avenue Gardens and Queen Mary’s Gardens, and feed the ducks on the boating lake - or join them by renting a boat! If you have some budget to spend, Regent’s Park is also home to the Open Air Theatre and London Zoo, but one of the best free things to do (and one of my all-time faves) is head over to Primrose Hill for fantastic views of the park and London skyline (more on that later).
- Greenwich Park: Overlooking the River Thames in East London, Greenwich Park offers up a great mix of stunning gardens, 17th-century landscapes, and rich history. The park is home to several historic buildings, including the Queen’s House and the National Maritime Museum which are both free to visit. At the top of the hill in the park, you’ll find the Old Royal Observatory, which is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (you might know it better as GMT). You do have to pay to go inside the Royal Observatory, but you can see the best part for free just outside - the Prime Meridian line. Standing on this line will have you at precisely 0° longitude, exactly halfway around the world - pretty cool, right?!
- Richmond Park: This is a great one if you fancy escaping the hustle and bustle of central London for a bit, and experiencing the outskirts of the city. Richmond Park is the largest park in the whole London area, spanning a massive 2,500 acres (there’s even a golf course inside!). If you love flora and fauna, this park is for you, as it's home to 650 wild roaming deer along with tons of other wildlife, wildflowers, and ancient trees. Walking through Richmond Park transports you completely out of the city and into a haven of nature that will cost you nothing.
6. Walking Tours
As lovely as it is strolling through landscaped gardens and beautiful parks, sometimes you just want to spice up that walk a little. Walking tours are one of the best free activities London has to offer, and in a city rich in history, culture, and famous locations - you can bet there’s a tour for just about anything. Seeing the city with a guide who knows what they’re talking about can add such an exciting, interesting element to your experience of a new city. And they’re totally free! The guide will expect a tip at the end as this is how they make their money - but it is always at your discretion.
See the city with a local expert on a sightseeing tour, or drink with the locals on a London pub tour. Feeling peckish? Jump on a London food tour. See famous filming locations on movie tours and if you’re a wizard at heart, the Harry Potter walking tour is the one for you. If you’re into history, London’s full of it; from the bone-chilling Jack the Ripper tour to the eye-opening World War II tour. A free walking tour in London is an amazing way to add a whole other dimension to your experience of the city, as well as meet locals along with visitors just like you.
If you’d rather not have a guide, there are also plenty of self-guided tours and picturesque walking paths around the city. The Thames Path is a great one which takes you along the - you guessed it - River Thames, passing by numerous landmarks, both old and new.
I think we’ve established by now that one of the best free things to do in London is simply just to look at it, so where are the best places to do that? While hopping on the London Eye or going up the Shard will cost you a pretty penny, you’d be surprised how many places offer up great views of the city for absolutely nothing.
- One New Change: This is a spot I’ll always take my friends visiting me in London. Situated conveniently opposite the impressive St. Paul’s Cathedral, simply hop into the glass elevator of One New Change shopping centre and head to the roof. There’s a public viewing terrace with amazing views over the cathedral and, if you’re treating yourself, Madison serves up delicious cocktails with the view.
- Oxo Tower: Sitting on South Bank, the Oxo Tower has its very own viewing terrace that not many people know about. If you head to the 8th floor and tell reception you’re there for the public viewing platform, someone will happily escort you to the (admittedly small but cute) terrace overlooking the river. While it’s not quite the 72nd floor of the Shard, the panorama shows off St. Pauls, the Millenium Bridge, and London city beyond - for free.
- Sky Garden: An amazing free thing to do in London even without the views, the Sky Garden is the highest public garden in London with 360° views of the city’s iconic skyline. With exquisitely landscaped gardens, lush greenery, an observation deck and an open-air terrace, the Sky Garden is a really unique experience and a great way to see London from above for free (even though it’s free, you must still make a reservation online).
- Primrose Hill: Just beyond the London Zoo in Regent’s Park, over the road, is Primrose Hill. It’s a lovely green space in itself, but the summit of the grassy hill gives park-goers some spectacular views of the city’s skyline. My favourite time to visit is early evening to enjoy the last of the sunshine before watching the sun set over the city as the lights start to twinkle over the trees.
- Greenwich Observatory: Another great park view is from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. Beyond the great lawn and National Maritime Museum, you can see great views of East London and Canary Wharf, right on the bend of the River Thames. I love taking people to see the Prime Meridian line before checking out the view.
- Parliament Hill: At 98m high in the corner of Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill is one of the highest points in London, and in turn the top offers up one of the best views of the London skyline. You can see St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster, Gherkin, and Shard from the peak on a clear day. Me and my friends love coming here with a picnic on a sunny day and believe me, the views never get old.
8. Hidden Gems
In a city as big as London, you’ll bet there are heaps of gems hidden away in its charming streets. There is an abundance of neighbourhoods, activities, and experiences to discover that not many people know about but are totally free to enjoy. Even after years of exploring London I’m still discovering new spots, and I’m sure you’ll even discover some of your own - but here are a few that I love to get you started.
- Neal’s Yard: My friends probably get tired of me going on about Neal’s Yard. Ever since I found this colourful courtyard hidden down an alleyway near Covent Garden, it’s been my go-to for a coffee and a catch-up. Probably one of the prettiest streets in the city, I love that you won’t stumble across it unless you’re looking for it - its colourful walls and cosy drinking spots making it the perfect place to recharge or just have a mooch around and take a cool photo.
- Little Venice: Quirky and charming, Little Venice is a neighbourhood tucked between the Grand Union Canal and Regent’s Canal, where you can enjoy gondola rides, indie cafés, waterside pubs, and even watch a puppet show on a barge. But even without its many activities, the leafy neighbourhood by the water is a lovely place to stroll through on a sunny day. If you squint your eyes as the sun shines, you might even think you’re really in Venice, just for a second….
- Platform 9¾: This one is for all the Harry Potter lovers out there (I see you!). Okay, this one isn’t quite a hidden gem, but a surprising amount of people still don’t know that it’s there. In the concourse of King’s Cross Station, you can find the perfect photo spot as a luggage trolley (with Hedwig packed and everything!) is embedded in the wall under a sign declaring “Platform 9¾”. If you’re a HP fan it’s a fun place to get a memorable pic and it doesn’t cost a thing. Just be aware that the queue for a photo can get surprisingly long so if you can avoid going on the weekend, I’d recommend it!
- Barbican Conservatory: When showing up to the concrete Barbican estate, the last thing you’d expect to come across is a rainforest - wait, what? - but that’s exactly what you’ll find in the Barbican Conservatory. The Barbican Conservatory is a little taste of urban meets paradise, with everything from banana plants to palm trees to cacti within its walls. If you’re looking for a cool, unique place to visit in London that’s totally free - add this to your list. Note: although it’s free, you still need to book online to guarantee entry!
- London Mithraeum: This might be one of the most unusual places to visit in London for free, purely because it’s not something you’d expect to find smack bang in the middle of the city. During a building’s construction in 1954, a Roman Mithraic temple and other artefacts were discovered. As one of only 100 Mithraic temples found throughout the ancient Roman world, this temple is easily one of Britain’s most important archaeological sights. It’s extremely cool to go back 1,800 years in the London Mithraeum and get a taste of Roman London before stepping back out into the modern world.
- Lewisham’s Phone Box Library: If you think this sounds like a library in a phone box, you’d be completely right! A few years ago, someone added some shelves to the inside of a traditional red phone box and turned it into a tiny library, where anyone is welcome to bring and take books as they please. It’s such a fun way to find something new to read and give your old books a new home. This little box is definitely a gem and something worth a visit if you’re in the area.
All that free exploring making you hungry? Check out 6 of our favourite foodie spots in London where you can grab a quick, casual bite with heaps of choice and good vibes.