London is famous for being one of the world's most expensive cities, but it's also one of the most vibrant. Fortunately, there are ways of getting the best out of the culturally-rich capital without emptying your bank account. The finest art galleries and museums on the planet are waiting for you and they are all free, not to mention the free concerts and outdoor activities.
1. Get a View of London's Stunning Skyline from Above
There are a few great spots to gaze upon London's iconic skyline for free. The 155-meter Sky Garden on Fenchurch Street has arguably the best panoramic view from its perch in the financial district. Having opened in 2017, the impressive rooftop landscape garden spans three floors and is a new addition to the city's vantage points.
Why pay to see the views from St Paul's Cathedral when you can go next door to One New Change? This building offers amazing views from its wall-climber glass lifts and large rooftop terrace. Other London viewing spots are found in nature at Greenwich Park, Primrose Hill, and Alexandra Palace.
2. Visit One of the World's Best Museums
Most of London's internationally-renowned museums are free and they encompass everything from medicine and ancient history to toys and transport. The British Museum is beloved for its Egyptian artifacts, majestic Reading Room, and the controversial Elgin Marbles. It was opened in Bloomsbury in 1759, becoming the first national museum open to the public in the world.
Most of the other big-name museums are based in Kensington, including the Natural History Museum, which is best known for its dinosaur skeletons. It also has a huge collection of fossils, minerals, and animals, such as the 25-meter-long blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling. Nearby, you can visit the Science Museum, which has displays of everything from technology in the home to the exploration of space. It also includes a large medical history section covering things as diverse as ancient remedies, veterinary history, Florence Nightingale, and pacemakers. The Victoria & Albert Museum contains the largest collection of applied art and design in the world. This is the place to get your fix of fashion, textiles, jewelry, furniture, and ceramics, including items used by celebrities and royalty.
3. Visit the Royal Parks
London's eight Royal Parks are unique green spaces and five of them are in the heart of the city. They offer an array of free events throughout the year, such as art exhibitions, themed activities, sports events, and shows. The most famous public spaces are the linked Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which is home to the palace where Princess Diana lived. The Serpentine, an artificial lake, stretches diagonally across both parks and lends its name to a gallery which exhibits modern art (with free admission). Other famous landmarks include a statue of Peter Pan and Speaker's Corner, a beacon of free speech since the 1800s.
Green Park and St James's Park are adjoined via Buckingham Palace and make for a tranquil escape from the congested streets. St James's Park is undoubtedly one of London's most beautiful parks with a small lake that contains two islands that are inhabited by a number of waterfowl. Feed the ducks from the bridge over the lake and enjoy stunning views of Whitehall Court and the London Eye in one direction and Buckingham Palace from the other. There is a children's playground throughout summer and you can watch the pelicans being fed at 14:30 every day. Regent's Park is known for its zoo, but it's a beautiful place to visit in its own right. The park is enveloped by the Outer Circle, a road flanked by Regency terrace houses designed by royal architect John Nash. The Inner Circle contains several immaculately-kept flower gardens like Queen Mary's Gardens with its roses, lily pond, mermaid fountain, and Open Air Theater. It also contains a Japanese Island, which has winding paths, ornamental shrubs, a picturesque wooden footbridge, and overhanging willows.
4. Catch a Free Show or Concert
Despite being famous for its West End musicals, Londoners benefit from a surprising array of free shows. The Barbican Centre is a multi-purpose bastion for art and culture in the capital and sometimes has free exhibitions, live music, pop-up performances, interactive installations, and talks. London has a number of free comedy venues, which are usually just rooms above pubs, such as the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell and the Queen's Head near Piccadilly Circus.
Savvy and cash-strapped locals eschew the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in favor of the large courtyard outside Covent Garden's Crusting Pipe restaurant. London's churches are also venues for free classical and choir performances, such as the free lunchtime organ recitals at St James's in Piccadilly, Southwark Cathedral and St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. During the summer, London's park bandstands blast out a range of musical styles including jazz, classical, and folk.A stroll along London's vibrant South Bank also guarantees some street performances and showcases an eclectic mix of highbrow elite tastes and counterculture, which can be witnessed in the number of skateboarders and BMX bikers. The Royal Festival Hall hosts free lunchtime concerts, book readings, and recitals at its Poetry Library.
5. View the Work of the Most Famous Artists in the World
In most European capitals like Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid you have to pay to visit national art galleries. In London, you can see the work of artists such as Monet, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt absolutely free. An essential stop for all art enthusiasts, the National Gallery dominates the north side of Trafalgar Square and houses masterpieces from all schools, including early Renaissance and Impressionism. If you are in a hurry, make sure you see Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Botticelli's Venus and Mars among exemplary pieces by other famous artists like Da Vinci, Picasso, and Renoir.
Behind the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery features famous faces like Sir Richard Branson, J.K. Rowling, and Queen Elizabeth II, so it might appeal to people who enjoy pop culture more than art. It still has historic collections of the Tudors, Stuarts, and other nobility, but you'll also find Kate Moss, Prince William, and Ed Sheeran bringing the collection up to date.Tate Britain and Tate Modern are also free, although they display very different versions of British art. Tate Britain showcases Britain's most influential artists, including Gainsborough, Constable, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites displayed in a broadly chronological order.
Catch a boat down the River Thames to Tate Modern, an enormous gallery in a converted power station. The awe-inspiring Turbine Hall leads to multiple levels of modern art divided by themes and medium. The most accessible form of art is street art and you can find the most concentrated selection of graffiti and murals around Shoreditch and Brick Lane. Top street artists such as Banksy, Stik, and Roa have made this area an open-air gallery for creative satire and political commentary.
Put the Plastic Away
As you can see, there are plenty of free things to do in London. In fact, there are much more than five things to do, but this just gives you a hint of all the possibilities. With so many museums and galleries offering free admission, visitors are spoiled for choice. Art and music are also brought to public spaces for free, making sure people from all walks of life can benefit.