HOW TO EXPLORE LONDON ON A BUDGET
London is a fun and exciting city – there is so much to see and do. However, London is also pricey. So, here is my “Free things to do in London” post – the best things to do and see for free plus some London budget tips (yes, London on a budget is possible and still fun).
When I thought about places to recommend, I did not intend to write about “free activities in London” – I actually just wanted to give you my tips for visiting London. When I started my list, I realized that many things I love in London are actually free.
Though I have visited London many times, I have hardly done any activities that were not free. Thus, I changed my plan and have created a “Top Things to Do in London for Free” post.
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Free Things to do in London
At the end of the post, I added a few things that are not free (since this was my initial thought), but here you go – great ideas for London activities for free.
If you have never been to London, these places should be on your list.
Elizabeth Tower A.K.A. Big Ben
Big Ben is my favorite building in London. Though it is actually named Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben is only one of the five bells of the clock), I still often refer to it as Big Ben (as do many others).
Visible from far and wide, the Tower holds court over London and is located at the end of Westminster’s Palace, next to the Thames and close to other main tourist attractions like the London Eye.
At the moment, there is construction work going on, so you cannot really see it in its full glory, but it is still worth checking out.
Just in front of Big Ben (I cannot get used to calling it Elizabeth Tower) is Parliament Square – a square with some greenery and statues of some important people like Mahatma Gandhi.
This view is awesome. The options to relax and chill are great, and the statues might make you – or those you’re with – curious to learn more about the UK’s history.
An absolute must-see place is Piccadilly Circus, London’s own version of Times Square (though a bit less action than Times Square). It is totally overcrowded and busy, but it is still a great place to visit at least once in a lifetime. It is close to Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and some other sights.
Buckingham Palace & Changing Guards
Buckingham Palace should be on your list and is one of the things you can easily do on your own in London whether you like the Royal Family or not. Though I have seen the Palace many times, I still visit whenever I am in London, though I cannot remember having ever watched the Changing of the Guards.
The Palace itself is not the most impressive building, but as a London first-time visitor, you need to see it, and I love the parks close by, and I haven’t given up hope on spotting the Queen or another royal family member.
Does the Queen really live there? That is a question my students actually ask me a lot, and the answer is yes, it is her official residence. If you see the Union Flag flying above the Palace you know, she is not home (if the royal flag is flying, the Queen is at home).
When I visited Trafalgar Square for the first time, I mostly saw pigeons. I am terrified of birds once they start flying above my head, so Trafalgar Square did not make a perfect first impression.
BUT this has changed by now. Nowadays, there are far fewer pigeons, and I feel much “safer.” The Square (I have a thing for squares in general) is not far from other main attractions like the London Eye, and in the middle of the square are some statues and Nelson’s Column – a great location for pictures.
Oxford Street is not a normal shopping street. Oxford Street is THE main shopping street in London. It seriously is huge – and you’ll find all kinds of shops there.
Covent Garden is a district in London known for several attractions, but I love its market the most – it seems that the theme and interior changes every time I visit, and thus it is always lovely and different each time.
Okay, I have to admit that I am not the biggest market fan – but visiting Camden Market is a lovely experience – so visiting it once was good, and I can recommend strolling around.
I actually only passed Millennium Bridge on my last trip – but walking towards St. Paul’s Cathedral is just beautiful, though also totally crowded at times.
Visit a Cathedral
Talking about St. Pauls´Catherdral: Though I am not into museums, I love religious sites and recommend visiting one in London (if you attend the mass, if not you have to pay an entrance fee).
Free Museums in London
Again, I have to admit that I am not a big museum fan, but several free museums in London, such as the Bank of England Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Kensington Garden is home to Kensington Palace (residence of royals such as Princess Diana and William and Kate). It has several playgrounds and a beautiful garden that includes a Peter Pan statue.
Okay, I actually haven’t been there yet myself – but only because it was booked out when I wanted to book. There are two great things about the Sky Garden: it is free (yeah!), and it offers great views of London.
The bad news: tickets sell out quickly, so make sure to book 2-3 weeks in advance since there are not many slots. In case it is fully booked, you can make a reservation for a restaurant, have a drink, and still enjoy the views.
If you are looking for more gardens to visit, you could check out “The Gardens of Europe” – though it is not a free activity, it is a beautiful place to visit as well.
Hyde Park & Speaker’s Corner
The world-famous Hyde Park is one of the biggest city parks globally – you can swim, jog, cycle, relax, dine, and much more.
Okay, I only visited once and, though it is lovely and fun, it did not overwhelm me, so I did not go again – however, as a first-time visitor, it should be on your list and also check out Speaker´s Corner – an area where public speaking and debates are allowed.
St. James’s Park
St. James’s Park is probably my favorite park in London. I love those animals (squirrels, pelicans, etc.) and the fact that it is super close to Buckingham Palace.
London Bridge or Tower Bridge? Which is the one to cross? I would definitely say Tower Bridge. It is a pretty and unusual bridge. If you want to enjoy a panorama view, you can get a ticket to visit the walkways situated 45 meters above the Thames.
Was it the movie that made Notting Hill more famous… or Instagram?
Notting Hill is the trendy district in London, and all London visitors flood their feed with Notting Hill pictures. Those colorful and cute houses are just too pretty, and strolling through Notting Hill should be on your list of things to do in London for free.
I am not a fan of pubs – not at all! BUT I love the pretty pubs in London. They are so extremely photogenic! If you plan to open a pub, do get some inspiration from London’s pubs.
Maybe I have never read or watched any Harry Potter book/movie, but I did not know the famous platform was in London. The great news for Harry Potter fans is that it is free to take a photo at the magical Harry Potter shop.
Strolling Along the Thames River
I do not consider the Thames necessarily pretty or clean, but walking along the Thames (starting from Southwark Bridge and going toward the London Eye) will be a beautiful walk if the sun shines. It gets busy, and I actually managed to fall asleep on the greenery at the Thames (yes, the sun does shine in the UK every once in a while).
Getting Lost in London
No other city has more beautiful doors than London. I love the houses with the colorful and pretty doors, and I think that walking aimlessly in London (more than just around Notting Hill) is a great option, too, if you’re looking for Instagrammable places in London.
Btw: Here is my 4-day itinerary for London (in this post, it is not all about budget travel, but you might find more great places to visit).
We now have 22 free London activities!
After my first visit to London in winter, I realized that the stunning Christmas Lights are another fun and free thing to see. Yes, the lights are to see for a few weeks at the end of the year but: Wow. However, Christmas is also a great time to visit London. It might be bustling, but those Christmas Lights…Just wow. So check out my post about winter in London guide.
More Tips on How to Save Money in London
Here is how to save money (when spending money).
A great way to save money is by getting an Oyster Card travel smartcard for London’s public transportation system. The public transport is pretty good, and using the Oyster Card can help you save money as the system recognizes how much you travel and gets you the cheapest ticket.
London Pass & Online Booking in Advance
If you want to do activities that require tickets, I recommend booking in advance. You can get the best deals on London activities here, or the best deals on a London Pass here, which also helps you save money.
Activities That Are Not Free (Unfortunately) but Worth Checking Out
Here are a few activities that are not free (nor cheap but worth checking out).
Thames River Boat Tour
Start in Greenwich, and you’ll see plenty of great sights along the way. Though the Thames water is definitely not very clear or pretty, I still have a thing for boat cruises, so I cannot resist recommending it to you as well.
Tower of London
I visited the Tower of London for the first time last August, and we have a kind of love-hate relationship. It is super interesting (especially if you are into history), but it was crowded, so I could not enjoy it to the fullest. If you don’t mind some crowds and are curious to see the Crown Jewels and learn about history, you’ll love it.
London on a budget is possible – even though London is a costly city, many free activities will allow you to enjoy this unique city.
Read this post if you are looking for unique and off-the-beaten-path things to do in London.
Read more: Best places to visit in England.
Read more: Best places to visit in Northern Ireland
Read more: Best England itinerary for 7 days
Click here for more tips for luxury on a budget in London.