[Updated July 2021]
A trip to the City doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many free and cheap things to do in London that include museums, art galleries, parks and walks as well as general sightseeing. Read on to find my suggestions, as well as ways to get the best deal for tourist attractions.
As we are easing out of lockdown, check current restrictions before travelling or organising your free and cheap things to do in London – changes may temporarily be in place.
How to Get the Best Deal for an Open Top Bus Tour in London
Now whilst it isn’t free, I highly recommend a trip on an open top bus. It’s a great way to find your bearings around London and the commentary is both amusing and informative. Your ticket fee will enable you to go round as many times as you want (some have different routes) and often include extra services such as a free riverboat cruise and free walking tours. You can also use it as your mode of transport to visit other attractions, saving on additional tube and bus fares.
There are several companies, such as The Original Tour, Big Bus Tours, and Hop on Hop Off. Look online to see which one is offering the best deals, and then check out Quidco and Topcashback as they both tend to have cashback offers which will make your trip even cheaper.
It’s also always worth looking on Wowcher and Groupon for ticket deals. Sometimes you can find offers with your car hire or coach and rail travel company. Keep an eye out in supermarkets too – there are often 2 for 1 attraction tickets on cereal boxes and confectionery packets.
Children under the age of 11 travel free on London’s buses, tubes, Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and London Overground trains when accompanied by a full paying adult using a valid Oyster Card or Travelcard, but NOT on the sightseeing tours.
National Landmarks & Memorial Statues
London is filled with iconic landmarks and memorial statues and these are mostly free to visit. If you’re using the “hop on hop off” bus tours, there are drop off points at all the famous attractions – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and enjoy a walk along the Thames to find Cleopatra’s Needle, amongst others.
Many of London’s art galleries are free to enter including The Tate Modern, The National Portrait Gallery, The Tate Britain, The National Gallery, The Serpentine Gallery, The Saatchi Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, and The Wallace Collection.
If you prefer your art to be more urban, take a walking tour around Shoreditch to discover the street art. You can book an organised walking tour fairly cheap where you’ll find out lots of information about the art and artists. Or if you want something totally free then just wander around by yourself to see what you can find.
Walking tours are not limited to street art and organised tours can often be a cheap thing to do, as the tour hosts tend to rely on tips rather than booking fees. You’ll get loads of information on the subject matter too, which is usually given in a fun, informative manner.
The Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes walking tours are a must I’m told. If you like the darker side of life, there are walking tours that focus on London’s infamous gangsters, one specifically for Jack The Ripper and the Blood and Tears walk which visits executions sites and talks of graverobbers and murders.
If you fancy something a bit lighter, there’s a cockney rhyming slang tour – the “Bowl of Chalk” walk, or a historic pub walking tour, although I’m sure that could get a bit messy and a bit expensive!
If you are a Harry Potter fan, be sure to visit Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross station.
Fans of The Beatles might like to head to Abbey Road in St John’s Wood to recreate that famous crossing/crosswalk photo. Be aware this is a public road so only pose if it is safe to do so.
Parks and Gardens
London has several public gardens such as Kew or Hampton Court where you need to pay admittance to enter, but there are many smaller gardens to visit for free. One of the most unique is the Sky Garden which gives you the best high rise view of London. This is a free attraction but you must book in advance.
I’m sure many of us imagine London to be a built up city, but there are plenty of open spaces to walk or rest. They are the perfect place to have a picnic lunch or just to rest your weary feet and snooze for half an hour. Check out Richmond Park, Bushy Park, and St James’ Park for nature, Hyde Park for its lake and statues along with entertainment from Speaker’s Corner, and the bandstand at Regents Park for live music and dancing.
If it’s free music you are after, you can also find classical performances during the day at St Martin’s in the Fields near Trafalgar Square, or visit one of the many bars and music venues all over London for cheap nighttime entertainment.
There are a huge number of museums in London that offer free and cheap things to do. You can get hours of entertainment for all the family and museums are located all over London. The Science Museum, Natural History Museum, British Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum are all well known, but what about trying the Bank of England Museum, the National Maritime Museum, or the Horniman Museum. This was one of my favourite school trips and I’d love to go back one day.
If you’re visiting the National Maritime Museum or the Queen’s House in Greenwich, you could always visit nearby Greenwich Observatory. Although this attraction is chargeable but you can save money by having a picnic lunch in Greenwich Park. Follow it up with a free walk along the River Thames where you can see the impressive Cutty Sark, several statues and experience the wonderful architecture of the Old Naval College and Greenwich University.
Here you will also find the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. This gives you a five-ten minute walk under the River Thames and finishes at Island Gardens on the other side. In reality, it’s just a tunnel but it is quite a novel experience to know that you’ve walked under the river, and handy if you want to explore other areas or use the Dockland Light Railway (DLR).
Whilst I’m not much of a shopper now, I used to spend many hours as a teen browsing the flea markets in Kensington, Camden, and Carnaby Street. Many of those have long gone, but there are still some massive flagship shops, high end department stores, open-air markets, and souvenir shops for all tastes and budgets.
No trip to London is complete without a walk around the world famous Harrods in Regent Street. If you have children then a visit to Hamleys, the seven story toy shop is a must, as is the Lego shop in Leicester Square. If you have fashion conscious teens, the flagship Top Shop and Primark stores in Oxford Street might be on the cards, although that will probably leave a dent in Dad’s credit card.
Visiting London at Christmas will be busy, but a great time to soak up some festive spirit. Be sure to visit the Christmas light displays in Oxford Street and Regent Street, take in the shop’s window displays, and of course, head over to Trafalgar Square to see the massive Christmas tree gifted to Great Britain from Norway every year.
If you’re looking for budget friendly accommodation, I can highly recommend the Aparthotel in Greenwich. I will be publishing my full review shortly.
Wherever you stay, make your hotel bookings with booking.com or hotels.com, but do it through Topcashback or Quidco as you will then get cashback too.
I have lots more posts to come about London but in the meantime, if you’re planning a trip to the capital then check out these Top 5 Wonderful Desserts in London over on Travelweekli.
You might also like to read a post on Happy Time Blog about London’s unusual museums.