Many of the great and interesting things you can do in London are totally free…
By Jim Ferri
London is a city that is a treasure trove of interesting things to see and do. Around almost every street corner you’ll find the historic and entertaining, as well as many free things to do in London.
Best yet for the traveler, is that many of the great and interesting things you can do in London are free. They range from the typical touristy things (and yes, you must see them also) such as the Changing of Guard at Buckingham Palace to the treasure trove of “stuff” in the relatively obscure (at least among tourists) but wildly interesting Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Here are 10 great and interesting things to experience and enjoy the next time you’re in London, be it for a day, a week or a month. You can also find many other places to visit at Visit Britian.
Visit Sir John Soane’s Museum
The Museum is the former home of Sir John Soane a leading architect of 19th century and the designer of the Bank of England. He is also London’s most compulsive collector. Three small buildings that have been stitched together hold more than anyone could ever imagine: 30,000 architectural drawings, almost 7,000 historical volumes, 300+ pieces of furniture, Peruvian pottery, stained glass, 44 models of the Bank of England alone. Many of the rooms are filled to the brim, every wall covered with Soane’s great collection of items from all over the world. In one room there are even panels covered with paintings that unfold to reveal more paintings behind them.
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London WC2A 3BP
Tel: +44 20 7405 2107
Witness the Ceremony of the Keys
For more than seven centuries the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London have performed a nightly gate-closing ritual known as the Ceremony of the Keys. The event has never been cancelled, and only once delayed (when a bomb exploded). You can view the ceremony for free by writing to Ceremony of the Keys Office, Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB.
Tower of London
Tel: 0844 482 7777
Spend a Day in the British Museum
Most people leave way too little time to visit this magnificent museum that contains many of the treasures of the world. Numerous Americans (and others, for that matter) make a beeline for the controversial Elgin Marbles or the Rosetta Stone, missing the rest of this historic trove whose endless galleries contain artifacts from every major civilization in the world. Leave yourself a minimum of a half-day day to wander here. You won’t regret it.
Great Russell St,
London WC1B 3DG
Tel: +44 20 7323 8299
It opened in May 2000 and already the Tate Modern is the most-visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors per year. It’s housed in the shell of an old London power station on the Thames, a structure that was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also gave the Brits the iconic red phone box. Thankfully the museum’s designers decided to repurpose the old building rather than destroy it, which provides an added dimension to the museum. Every six months, for example, a giant sculpture from a leading world artist becomes the centerpiece in the cavernous Turbine Hall.
London SE1 9TG
Tel: +44 20 7887 8888
Founded on Trafalgar Square in 1824, the imposing National Gallery has been described as “the best free show in town”. It is also one of the most notable art museums in the world, housing a collection of more than 2,300 paintings dating from the 13th to 20th centuries. Here you’ll find such world treasures as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire and Holbein’s The Ambassadors. Some areas of the museum can get crowded at times but you’ll find treasures all over the place.
London WC2N 5DN
Tel: +44 20 7747 2885
National Portrait Gallery
Nestled up next to the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery was the only portrait gallery in the world when it opened in the mid-19th century. Today it houses a peerless collection of portraits of historically important and famous British people, from British kings and queens to contemporary celebrities. Its Tudor collection is quite popular.
St Martin’s Place
London WC2H 0HE
Tel: +44 20 7306 0055
A British institution, and an entertaining one at that, Speakers’ Corner has existed since Victorian times. This is the home of soapbox oratory and anyone can join in the wide-ranging discourses, which for the most part focus on politics and religion. You’ll find it in the northeast corner of Hyde Park any day of the week but it is most popular on weekends. Join the conversation, for some added fun.
North-east corner of Hyde Park
near Marble Arch, W1
Museum of London
As the museum of the city, the Museum of London documents the history of the city from the prehistoric to the present. It’s a popular place not only with tourists but also with Londoners themselves. Here you can see the Mayor’s golden coach, as well as take a walk through a Victorian shopping arcade and Georgian pleasure garden.
50 London Wall
London EC2Y 5HN
Tel: +44 20 7001 9844
The national library of the United Kingdom, the British Library holds more than 150 million items from many countries around the world. Sounds a little too stuffy for you? Think otherwise, for there is incredible variety here. The display of literature in its Treasures exhibition, for example, ranges from the Magna Carta to original Beatles lyrics. And there’s a good cafe with free Wi-Fi.
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
Tel: +44 843 208 1144
Watch the Changing the Guard
One of the most colorful ceremonies in London, and a crowd pleaser as well, Changing the Guard has been a tradition since the time of Henry VII. It is a must-see when you visit London, as the guards in their scarlet tunics and bearskin hats change shifts around Buckingham Palace. If you want to avoid the large crowds that sometimes gather outside Buckingham Palace for the spectackle, you can also view the Changing the Guard at Horse Guards Arch on Horse Guards Parade.
London SW1A 1AA
Horse Guards Parade
Whitehall, London SW1A 2AX
Editor’s Note: you may also enjoy London’s Incredible Sir John Soane’s Museum, Best Things to Do in London in Winter (or Any Time of Year), 7 Wonderful Walks in London