See Without the Fee: 5 Things to Do in London That Don't Cost a Penny
It’s a well-known fact, albeit one perhaps yet to be totally verified by science, that it always tastes better, looks better, feels better, sounds better, and basically just [insert verb here] better when it’s free. Yes, one of the things we all seem to love most in the world is saving money, which is precisely why travel can, at any given time, act as both our best friend and our arch nemesis, bringing us a wealth of new experiences and memories even as it threatens to thwart our careful budgeting at every turn. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that low cost travel has become so high on the agendas of so many.
The search for low-cost adventures is underline by a unique fervour when it comes to London, one of the most visited, bustling cities in the world that is unfortunately located in the United Kingdom, a country whose currency, the pound, constantly feels stronger than a fire-breathing, poisonous gas-snorting, fiercely charging rhino encased in spiky armour, rendering your own currency about as valuable as Monopoly money. Believe it or not, however, there are some highly intriguing, rewarding, and one hundred percent free sites in this spectacular city of history, culture, and architecture. It’s okay – we figured you wouldn’t be that easy to convince. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of five of our favourite destinations that will help keep London firmly on your ‘to-see’ list:
The British Museum:
It may be an obvious candidate that shows up on virtually every list of British tourist attractions ever written, but that doesn’t make it a less deserving one. The British Museum is simply overflowing with amazing artefacts and intriguing glimpses into history, and is gracefully complemented by the beautiful Greek-style architecture that houses its priceless exhibits from all over the globe. Some of the world’s most recognised pieces lie within its famed galleries, including the Rosetta Stone, the Mummy of Katebet and, more controversially, the Parthenon (Elgin) marbles, while countless others sprawl across a huge number of rooms accessed by a central, sweeping staircase. Located in the heart of London, widely accessible by public transport, and committed to education and research, it’s an unmissable London destination for travellers from all walks of life. While you’re at it, why not visit some other famous free museums including the Natural History Museum, the Museum of London, and the Tate Modern.
Hyde Park is a magical oasis of shimmering greens and blues that rises majestically and somewhat incongruously from the concrete hustle and bustle of one of the world’s busiest metropolises. At 142 hectares (350 acres), it provides a perfect, if transitory, escape from the visual and aural assaults of the city, and makes for a beautiful stroll amongst glistening grass and frolicking squirrels on one of those rarer sunny days. Visitors can pause for some active debate at Speakers’ Corner, admire the views from the banks of Serpentine Lake, and weave their way between innumerable statues and fountains including the famous Diana Memorial Fountain and the dominating Apsley Gate. Located in the heart of London, frequently hosting concerts and exhibitions, open daily from 5:00am to midnight, accessible by Tube on the Central and Piccadilly lines, and within close proximity of many famous attractions including Kensington Palace, the monumental Wellington Arch, the beautiful Marble Arch, and Harrods, Hyde Park is a definite ‘must-see’ for your freebie list. If you want to explore even more of London’s leafy paradises without opening your wallet, we also recommend the beautiful St James’s Park, the oldest of London’s Royal Parks with some great views of the London Eye, the lush Kensington Gardens, themselves adjoining Hyde Park, and Postman’s Park, with its famous Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice.
A pulsating, vibrant square in the centre of London, Trafalgar Square is a fantastic place to spend a relaxed afternoon sprawled amongst the pigeons in the shadow of the dominating Nelson’s column, reclining by the famous stone lions, looking out at the regal Charles I Statue, or gazing up at the unique Fourth Plinth. Surrounded by many fascinating museums including the beautiful National Gallery, the Square is made even more appealing by its frequent hosting of celebrations and events, its high accessibility on the Bakerloo and Northern Tube lines, and its close proximity to the vibrant China Town. Brimming with history and culture, Trafalgar Square is a tourist’s haven, liberally adorned with stunning statues, colossal columns, awesome architecture and fabulous fountains. Other free squares and public spaces that may capture your imagination and that are only a short walk from Trafalgar Square include Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
Wander Across Tower Bridge:
Not to be confused with the better known but far less recognised London Bridge, Tower Bridge is the perfect backdrop to the famous Tower of London and is appropriately adorned with the turrets that so often leap to mind whenever we think of London’s Medieval history. It might surprise you to learn, therefore, that the bridge, unlike the neighbouring 11th-century Tower of London, wasn’t actually constructed until the 19th-century. Although entry and the exhibitions within incur a fee, simply walking the bridge offers some fantastic views of the Thames, all while serving as a practical walkway between some of London’s biggest attractions, including the aforementioned Tower of London and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Completely free to walk, photograph, and admire from the banks of the river, Tower Bridge is a wonderful feat of engineering and is not to be missed. While you’re in that neck of the woods, it would be criminal to miss the nearby and also 100% free Millennium Bridge and, you guessed it, the actual London Bridge (at least the modern version of it).
We know, we know, we’ve already discussed Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, both of which lie within Westminster, but this area deserves a little more focus because some of the world’s most recognisable tourist attractions are situated here and although most, if not all, incur a fee to enter, their external architecture is totally free to admire and photograph. This is why taking a day to explore Westminster is perfect for those desperate to see London on a budget. Head over to Big Ben and the beautiful British Parliament, revere the ancient Westminster Abbey, get regal by the gates of Buckingham Palace and political by the doors of number 10 Downing Street, and afterwards relax by watching the slowly revolving London Eye. There’s simply so much to see and do in Westminster without racking up a huge fee, which is crucial because, let’s face it, you’ll get enough of that with food and accommodation.
It might not be the best or most comprehensive way to see the city, but this list certainly proves that the historic and culturally rich London is accessible for even the most budget-conscious traveller. So take a couple of days off from forking out a fistful of pound notes every hour and instead wander the parks, streets and rivers while admiring the architecture, bridges and monuments that complement them. Meet the people, see the sites, and, most importantly, enjoy London without breaking the bank!