30 free things to do in London (that tourists AND locals will love!)

Mel wearing pink and blue sunglasses smiling in front of the houses of parliament and big ben in London

30 free things to do in London (that tourists AND locals will love!)

I absolutely love London! It’s the cosmopolitan beating epicentre of England and one of the most incredible capital cities in the world. Unfortunately she can be one expensive date! But fear not fellow travellers, although there are many costly tourist attractions to see and do, there are just as many if not more free things to do in London – so here are 30 to get you started!

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1) Go on a free walking tour

Why go on a paid tour when you can hit the ground running with the locals on a free walking tour?

If you’re unsure which one to choose, I highly recommend Sandemans free walking tours. I’ve been on several of their tours in cities all over Europe and I always have the best experience with them!

On their free walking tour of London you’ll see lots of great city highlights, including: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and outside Churchill’s secret war rooms.

Once you’ve got a feel for the city with a free walking tour, there are several affordable tours to check out on particular areas of London’s history and culture that you’ll love!

Here are some of my favourites (the Harry Potter tour in particular is SO good – especially if you love the books and films!):

London skyline of houses of parliament and big ben by the Thames river with white boats going past

2) Explore Camden Market

Camden is one of London’s leading market destinations which is home to independent retailers, global street-food, restaurants and bars. It’s also one of my favourite areas of London to visit! There’s so much to explore and is much loved by Londoners and tourists alike.

There is also a bangin’ food scene here with every kind of food you could think of with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. The vegan burger places in Camden are particularly good, I highly recommend VBurger, Ruddy’s Vegan Diner and Temple of Seitan (how good is that name?!).

Mel smiling in front of Camden Lock in London

3) Visit the dinosaur exhibition at the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum could legitimately take you days to get around! It’s huge and detailed exhibitions on everything in the natural world are amazing and is one of THE best free things to do in London.

It’s hands down my favourite museum in London and I would happily spend all day in here (the huge dinosaur exhibition is one of the best in the world!).

Although it’s free you can learn more about specific exhibitions and help support the museum by booking a self-guided audio tour.

Dinosaur skeleton hanging in the foyer of the Natural History Museum in London

4) Visit Platform 9 3/4

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 years, you’ll know what platform 9 3/4 is – even if you think you’re too cool for the photo op! It’s a cute little addition to Kings Cross Station with a shop next door with allll the awesome Harry Potter merch.

If you want to check out other cool Harry Potter locations whilst you’re visiting London, I highly recommend this Harry Potter Walking Tour which takes you to all the movies’ most famous film locations.

I went on this tour over the summer with my little niece and it was SO fun! You learn a lot of behind-the-scenes secrets from the books and movies as well as learn a lot about each London location in the process.

Couple posing at platform 9 3/4's with wands and Harry Potter scarves at King's Cross Train Station in London

5) Visit the Tower of London

His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle (and living London relic!) located on the North bank of the River Thames. It’s also one of my favourite things to do in London as a bonafide history nerd!

The first of the tower complex was built by William the Conquer in 1066 as a symbol of power that could be seen across the capital to ensure that people knew who was in charge (!).

As monarchs came and went, more buildings and the outer wall were built and the tower began functioning as a prison and a place of safe keeping for things like the Crown Jewels and the King’s menagerie of exotic animals. You read that correctly…lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

It’s famously the site of many gruesome events too of course, including the executions of former Queens Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. It also served as a ‘VIP’ prison for many other famous figures such as the gunpowder plot’s Guy Fawkes, King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell and Hitler’s confidante Rudolf Hess.

Although the Tower of London usually has an admission charge, you can see parts of the tower for free at night by getting tickets in advance to the ancient ‘Ceremony of the Keys’.

If you want guaranteed entry, I highly recommend booking tickets for this one as it’s a must-see for tourists and locals alike. It’s well worth the money as it’s easily a full-day excursion!

View of the white Tower of London lit up at night from the Thames river

6) Cross over Tower Bridge

Right next to the Tower of London is Tower Bridge. It’s a Grade I listed neo-gothic bridge which was built to ease road traffic whilst still maintaining river access to the busy pool of London docks. Since it opened in 1894 it has become one of the most iconic landmarks in London thanks to its striking architecture and historical significance.

But it’s not just the outer facade that’s impressive, Tower Bridge also offers panoramic views from high level walkways and behind-the-scenes access to original lifting machinery. Although you have to pay to see the exhibition and have a tour, it has a diverse and interesting history so is worth bookmarking for another day.

Alternatively, you can get a unique view of Tower Bridge, through taking a river cruise or speed boat tour – the latter being very James Bond!

View of Tower Bridge in London with the bridge up to let ships go by on the Thames river

7) Go to the British Museum

The British Museum is all about human history and culture and has a vast collection of world art and artefacts.

It holds more than eight million cultural and historical items from over two million years of human history, including: the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Sculptures, Hoa Hakananai’a from Easter Island, the bust of Ramesses the Great and ancient Egyptian tombs.

The building itself is worth a visit all its own as the architecture is fascinating! From the Greek temple inspired columns on the outside to the spectacular glass ceiling and marble courtyard on the inside – it’s absolutely stunning!

Being the world’s largest history museum drawing millions of visitors every year makes it even more unbelievable that this London attraction is completely free to enter!

However, if you fancy skipping the lines and learning more about key artefacts from one of the museum’s guides, you can take a whistle stop guided tour.

Inside the British Museum in London, a large white marble room with a glass roof and people walking around below

8) Visit Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Built especially for the Summer Olympics in 2012, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was then opened to the public for us all to enjoy its unique parklands, waterways, venues and attractions.

The park is also home to the ArcelorMittal Orbit – a 375 foot sculpture and observation tower which has an awesome slide attached to it! Although this particular attraction in the park isn’t free to go on – it’s one to keep in mind for another day as it is the world’s longest, tallest and fastest tunnel slide – an absolute must for you adrenaline junkies!

ArcelorMittal Orbit slide in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London

9) Chill out in Hyde Park

Hyde Park is one of the greatest city parks in the world covering 350 acres of trees and greenery in the heart of London. It’s one of eight Royal Parks that hosts a number of world-class events and concerts as well as offers plenty of quiet spaces to relax and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.

Whilst you’re there you can also visit the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, open water swim in the Serpentine, play tennis, go horse riding or just enjoy the scenery whilst you’re on a jog, walk or cycle.

Not bad for a free park!

Hyde Park pond with ducks and a fountain in the middle of it in London

10) Watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

The changing of the guards is such an iconic scene in London and totally free to watch! If you’ve not been to London and unsure what it is – that’s just more reason to make sure you don’t miss it!

During the changing of the guards, the most immaculately turned out palace guards run a precision drill as a military band plays – it’s quite something.

Times vary throughout the year so just double check before your visit to make sure you catch it on the right day.

Buckingham Palace in London at sunset

11) Visit the National Maritime Museum

London’s Maritime Museum is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It’s a treasure trove of maritime artefacts, artwork and history – all of which you can (unbelievably!) visit for free.

See a flag captured during the battle of trafalgar, an almost life-sized replica of HMS Victory as a “ship in a bottle” and a number of sea-themed exhibitions from some of the worlds greatest explorers.

Giant old fashioned ship in a bottle statue at the National Maritime Museum in London
Photo credit

12) Check out neon wonderland at God’s Own Junkyard

God’s Own Junkyard is a cool neon art shop and museum which was founded by neon artist Chris Bracey. He was “the” neon guy in London for almost four decades, working on all sorts of signs from Soho sex shops to Hollywood movie props. He also worked with the likes of famed photographer David LaChapelle and artist Martin Creed.

The shop and museum houses new as well as used neon including reclaimed signs from old movies and retro displays to fairground and circus lighting.

So if you love a bit of neon and contemporary art – God’s Own Junkyard is well-worth a visit!

Many neon signs at God's Own Junkyard in London

13) Experience the lights and buzz around Piccadilly Circus

I like to think of Piccadilly Circus as the, “Times Square” of London. It has all the same bright lights, fabulous restaurants and theatre shows but with a dash of cool Britannia.

It’s one of the most lively spots in London and always has a fantastic buzz to it.

If it’s your first time to London I highly recommend a visit as it’s also one of London’s top most instagrammable spots.

Front of the London underground at Piccadilly Circus with the digital billboard in the background lit up at night time

14) Watch street performers in Covent Garden

Starting its humble beginnings as a fruit and vegetable market in the 1600s, Covent Garden is now a central hub for high end stores, trendy restaurants and popular theatre shows.

But it’s not just for the big spenders. Covent Garden has some of the best street performances in London, with performers having to audition to get specific slots in the day. Performances range from singers and magicians to acrobats and human statues!

But aside from the free entertainment, Covent Garden is SUPER pretty. Especially at Christmas time when the inside market is filled with twinkling lights and decorations.

Charlie Chaplin performer in Covent Garden in London

15) Visit the Tate Modern

The Tate Modern is an incredible art gallery housing an international collection of both modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures and other artwork from 1900 up to the present day.

It has pieces by world famous artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jenny Holzer as well as fantastic artwork from today’s up-and-coming artists.

It’s mind-blowing that a place with so much treasured art is free to see!

Two people stood in front a giant contemporary painting at the Tate Modern in London

16) View the city from the top of Primrose Hill

Opened to the public in 1842, Primrose Hill in Regents Park once served as a hunting ground for Henry VIII but now is one of six protected viewpoints in London, offering spectacular views of the city including the Shard and London Eye.

It’s a great place to hang out, particularly in the summer time as you can sit and have a picnic whilst enjoying the panoramic views. There’s also lots of chic eateries, tea rooms and gastropubs to check out nearby if you don’t fancy packing a lunch!

View of the London skyline from Primrose Hill

17) Visit the National Gallery

Founded in 1824, the National Gallery is a fantastic art museum with a historical perspective, exclusively telling the story of European art. It houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900 which are completely free for everyone to check out.

Outside the National Gallery in London

18) Go to Trafalgar Square

Whilst visiting the National Gallery, spare a few minutes to have a walk around Trafalgar Square. It was first laid out in the early 19th century and is one of London’s most vibrant open spaces, where you’ll find the city’s famous Nelson’s Column monument.

Trafalgar Square is also the centre of national democracy and protest, so you could well end up seeing a demonstration whilst you’re there!

Trafalgar Square in London with Nelson's column in the background with lots of people holding up umbrellas in the rain

19) Walk past the Globe Theatre

Although not the Globe Theatre from Shakespeare’s day, today’s Globe Theatre is an exact replica of the Tudor building from 1599 and stands close to the original site.

During Shakespeare’s time more that 200,000 people lived in London and 20,000 of them would go to the theatre every week – which gives you an idea of just how popular it was!

No matter the weather, both rich and poor would flock to the theatre to enjoy the most exciting entertainment of its day – and it’s quite a sight to behold today too!

Although you need to pay to go inside and see shows, sometimes the theatre puts on free ‘taster’ shows to give people an idea of what to expect, so keep your eyes peeled as you’re walking past!

Outside Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, a white circular Elizabethan style building made with a thatched roof and timber beams
Photo credit

20) Walk across the crosswalk at Abbey Road

As I’m originally from Liverpool, (home of the Beatles) I can’t believe I still haven’t got round to having my own Abbey Road zebra crossing moment in London!

This famous crosswalk is the sight of the iconic Beatles album cover, ‘Abbey Road’ and is a great photo op right next to the EMI Studios where they recorded a lot of their most famous hits.

Image of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road in London
Photo credit

21) Watch a free concert at the National Theatre

Yes, you read that right – the National Gallery put on free concerts too! The National Theatre in London is making it their mission to make “world-class theatre for everyone”. And for the first time since 2019 their free outdoor festival returns for five weekends packed with music, dance and unforgettable live performances.

Check out their website for more information on times and dates on the free performances so you don’t miss out!

Outside the National Theatre in London a 70s type beige building

22) Go to the Victoria and Albert Museum

Opened in 1852 and named after one of the most famous monarchs in British history, the Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design.

It houses a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects and has some of the greatest resources for the study of architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, ceramics, book arts, Asian art and design, theatre and performance – phew what a list!

Incredibly, (considering its significance to the arts!), the museum is free to visit with the exception of some temporary exhibitions. I went to a history of British fashion exhibition here with my best friend a few years ago and it was amazing so I do recommend checking out the website for what’s on and booking tickets for the exhibitions as well.

Queen Victoria's crown in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

23) Listen to free music at the Notting Hill Arts Club

The Notting Hill Arts Club is renowned for playing some of the best Indie music in London and is a great place to hang out. Not only has it been home to pioneering live music and club nights since 1997, it’s free to get in!

Colourful house fronts in Notting Hill in London

24) Visit 10 Downing Street

What is a visit to London without a casual stroll past 10 Downing Street? It’s one of the most famous addresses in the world being the home and executive office of the UK Prime Minister.

Nearby, you’ll also find the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey so I’d recommend hitting all these famous London landmarks in one go whilst you’re in walking distance!

Downing Street sign in London

25) Check out the old Roman London Wall

The London wall was the defensive wall first built by the Romans circa 200 AD around what was then the Roman city of ‘Londinium’. However by around 410 AD, the Roman empire had withdraw as political power was dispersed across the seven Kingdoms of England during the Anglo-Saxon period.

The wall largely defined the boundaries of the City of London until the late Middle Ages but as the population grew and new developments sprung up, the lines ultimately blurred.

Throughout London you’ll see traces of the original Roman wall fortification with the largest piece located near the Museum of London (number 30 on this free things to do in London list!).

Boadicea and her daughters statue, Westminster in London

26) Visit the pelicans in St James’s Park

You might not immediately think that parks and pelicans go together – but living near Duck Island in St James’s Park is their famous resident pelicans!

They were first introduced into St James’s Park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador and visitors can still see the latest generation catching fish and swimming in the lake today.

Pelican upclose

27) Visit the Science Museum

London’s Science Museum is world renowned for its historic collections, awe-inspiring galleries and inspirational exhibitions. There is also a large amphitheatre that regularly shows the latest in scientific documentaries.

Founded in 1857, the museum attracts 3.3 million visitors a year and is just a one minute walk away from the Natural History Museum – which is also free to visit!

Escalator going into a globe Inside the Science Museum in London
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28) Visit the Geffrye Museum

The Geffrye Museum offers a unique heritage experience for visitors showing living interiors, including: furnishings, pictures, and ornaments from 1600 to the present day.

It’s like being in a time machine visiting this museum. You get a true feel for how everyday people have lived throughout history in London and better yet, today’s Londoners can visit for free!

Inside a Victorian living room with paintings, a fireplace and a mirror in London's Geffrye Museum
Photo credit

29) Have your photo taken with one of the King’s guards

Locals looks away! This one is just for the tourists. It’s a cheesy one – but has to be done if this is your first time in London. The King’s notoriously still and stoic guards are famously not allowed to move or smile but it doesn’t stop people from trying to get them to do just that!

Please do be respectful when you visit the guards though. Imagine someone turning up to your workplace and pulling funny faces at you to try and distract you from your desk!

Beef eater guard holding a weapon stood by a blue guarding box in London

30) Go to the Museum of London

Finally, we have the Museum of London! If you want to learn more about the history of London from prehistoric to modern times (and for free), this is the museum for you!

Discover ‘London before London’, the Roman occupation, medieval London and London at war in this fantastic tribute to one of the greatest cities in the world!

If you know any other free things to do in London that you love – add them in the comments below!

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