London can be an expensive city to live in but don’t let that put you off exploring the sights in England’s beautiful capital. You don’t need money to make the most of these 32 things to do in London – because every single one is totally free
Visit London’s Parks
As a capital city London is spoilt for choice when it comes to green spaces and parks. It might be hard to know where to start, but if you just stroll out of your house and follow Google Maps to the first green patch you’ll be bound to find something going on there.
1 For starters, Battersea Park has a brilliant Adventure Playground that costs nothing to visit and is ideal for the little thrill-seekers in your family.
2 Kensington Garden’s Princess of Wales Memorial Playground has a pirate ship, make-shift beach and tepees, which will keep children occupied for hours.
3 Richmond Park will make you feel miles from London surrounded by roaming deer, thick bushland and acres of sprawling parkland to explore.
4 Hyde Park often has special events on, which cost nothing. From 18-19 February it is running a Brilliant Birds Discovery Day (11am – 3pm), which includes making a bird feeder, following the Bird Discovery Trail, bird watching in the centre’s grounds, painting a bird picture and building a wooden bird box to take home with you.
5 If nature is your thing, Camley Street is a lovely oasis in the centre of the renovated King’s Cross, it hosts pond-dipping and nature-watching sessions for children and its wood-cabin visitor centre is used by the Wildlife Watch Club.
6 For pre-historic nature, head to Crystal Palace to visit the five dinosaur sculptures that hide around the park’s lake and are the remains of a Victorian theme park.
7 A steep walk up Parliament Hill will reward you with panoramas of the whole of London.
Free London museums
We are very lucky that there are so many free museums in London, and as such there is one to suit everyone, from specialist children’s expos to world-class displays.
8 Exhibition Road’s holy trinity of museums, The Victoria & Albert, The Science Museum and The Natural History Museum, are all free to visit and house some of the best art, antiques, relics and exhibitions in London. The Science Museum’s interactive exhibitions are particularly popular with families, especially the Launchpad, which has over 50 demonstrations aimed at 8-14 year olds plus every Saturday and Sunday at 2pm and 4pm there are free Cockroach Tours, when you can get a bug’s eye view of humans, while dressed as a cockroach!
9 Around the corner in Holland Park is Leighton House Museum, one of London’s few hidden gems. The décor in the former artist’s home is a work of art in itself, but Leighton House Museum also runs great exhibitions and courses.
10 South east London is home to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, which, along with art, photography and anthropology exhibitions, has a farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.
11 The interiors and exterior of Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum will blow you away, and while expoloring you may wander onto the middle of a film set (the site is often used for movies). Also worth visiting while you’re in Greenwich is The Queen’s House, an Italian Renaissance-style mansion built in 1616.
Explore the best of London’s cemeteries
It might seem like a morbid way to spend an afternoon, but London has some pretty spectacular cemeteries filled with famous names, intriguing tales and beautiful sculptures.
13 Bunhill Fields in Islington is the resting place of historic names including Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe and poet William Blake. 38 City Road, London EC1Y 1AU
14 Not far from Bunhill is Highgate Cemetery, which houses the much-visited tomb of Karl Marx and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wife Elizabeth – whose grave he opened in 1869 to retrieve a book of poem he’d put in her coffin. Swain’s Lane, London N6 6PJ
15 In Kensal Green you’ll find the newsagent W.H.Smith’s grave, computer pioneer Charles Babbage and novelists William Thackeray and Wilkie Collins. But one of Kensal Green Cemetery’s most curious inhabitants is a soldier who served in the British army as a surgeon but on his death in 1865 it was discovered that he was a woman. Meanwhile, a more modern resident is iconic British fashion designer Ossie Clarke. Harrow Road, London W10 4RA
16 West Norwood Cemetary is a nice spot for a walk around on a crisp day, it contains 164,00 graves in total and 64 listed monuments, including the tombstones of cookery book writer Mrs Beeton, Tate Museum founder Henry Tate and architects William Burges and Sir Horace Jones. There is also a Greek section with 17 listed tombs. Norwood Road, West Norwood, London SE27 9JU
17 If you’re particularly into the afterlife, head to Golders Green Crematorium where the ashes of Dracula author Bram Stoker, Rudyard Kipling, actor Sid James and Keith Moon from The Who have been scattered, it’s not so much about the architecture here but there is certainly an air of history and mystery. Hoop Lane, Golders Green, London NW11 7NL
Inner city farms
Get up close and personal with farm animals without venturing to the countryside at London’s many city farms.
18 Mudchute in east London is one of the largest inner city farms in Europe and has over 100 animals on site. There are cows, pigs, sheep, horses and smaller petting animals. Plus, if you want to learn more about them, there are hourly farm tours and horse riding lessons.
19 Also in east London is Hackney City Farm, which has been around for 30 years. Along with the farm animals there are often events running such as jumble sales and courses including bee-keeping and vegetable growing.
20 You wouldn’t expect to find Vauxhall City Farm tucked away behind Vauxhall’s busy roundabout, but that’s where it is, along with rabbits, sheep, ferrets, ducks and horses.
21 Also in south east London is Surrey Docks Farm, a 2.2 acre city farm on the south bank of the Thames in Rotherhithe. The farm works with local communities to provide opportunities for people to learn about farming and food production, and to be actively involved in the ongoing work of the farm. There is an orchard, herb garden, dye garden and vegetable plots, along with the farm animals, as well as a bee room and blacksmith’s forge.
There are almost as many markets in London as there are parks and they range from antiques, furniture, vintage clothes, to food, cheese and flowers. Here’s our pick of some of London’s best markets.
22 You may have heard of some of the more touristy markets such as Notting Hill’s Portobello, which stretches the whole length of the road and more, and Borough Market, which has almost every variety of food you can imagine, but there’s a reason they’re so popular.
23 Perhaps lesser-known though is Columbia Road Flower Market, where you’ll pick up a bargain bunch of hydrangeas or New Covent Garden flower market, where you’ll get an even bigger bargain bunch – the Nine Elms market supplies most of London’s top florists.
24 Street food aficionados mustn’t miss a chance to visit Kerb to try oozing chocolate brownies, gluten free falafels and pizzas straight out of stone ovens.
25 Lots of neighbourhoods have their own farmers’ markets and South London is particularly abundant in them, including Blackheath Farmers’ Market.
Visit London’s landmarks
Taking in London’s top tourist sights might seem like an obvious choice but even hardened Londoners might not know about these little gems.
26 Did you know that as a UK resident one of your rights is to climb up the 334 stone spiral steps to the top of Big Ben for a view over London? Technically Big Ben’s real name is The Elizabeth Tower but we all like to call her Ben. A special tour of the tower will allow you to hear Big Ben strike the hour, as well as giving you one of the most special views in London from 62 metres high. You will go behind the clock face and visit the mechanism room to see how the 154-year-old clock works in the 21st century. Tours are generally booked up six months in advance; they depart at 9am, 11am and 2pm Monday to Friday and there are also tours at 4pm from May to September. Tours up Big Ben are free and you need to contact your local MP to book.
27 Be part of the 700-year-old ancient Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at the royal palace, the Crown Jewels do. Tickets are free, but there is a £1 booking fee. Visitors will be admitted to the Tower under escort at 9.30pm and the ceremony ends at 10.05pm, after which all visitors will be escorted to the exit.
Free exercise classes
You might be bored of hearing everyone bang on about health and fitness but hear us out because we’ve got some fitness ideas that might just grab your interest.
28 First up is the free Nike Training Club, a full-body training programme for women designed by world-class trainers, which takes place on Clapham Common and at Westfield Shepherd’s Bush among other London venues.
29 Children of the nineties might prefer to blade their way to fitness with a group of other like-minded rollers. The roller-blading and skating troupe meets every Friday evening at 8pm at Wellington Arch and at Serpentine Road on Sunday afternoon at 2pm, then they take to the streets of London on a rolling mass.
30 If you’re looking for inner peace in a busy city, find solitude at Inner Space, a meditation and personal development centre in Covent Garden. Inner Space runs courses and talks in its centre, as well as at various others around London, and they cover everything from self-esteem, positive thinking and time management, to courses on love lives and how to keep to New Year’s resolutions.
31 It will be more than just the endorphins that will make you feel good when you work out with the Good Gym. The innovative project encourages people to get fit and help the local community by running in packs to community projects, which could include one-off missions to help vulnerable people or visiting the elderly. In return you will get the help of a qualified trainer to achieve your fitness goals.
Free movies in London
32 It’s not quite as sociable as going to the cinema but it’s an outing nonetheless. Head to BFI Southbank’s Mediatheque and tune into old cult favourites, strange and unclassifiable films and art-house masterpieces. There is over 1,000 hours of film available to watch at the BFI. Admission is free and the booths have space for more than one, so grab a friend and cosy up on a winter’s afternoon for a unique viewing experience. Because the BFI Mediatheque can get very busy, time slots are restricted to two hours to avoid over-crowding.