5 Free Things To Do In London By A Londoner
London, as a city, is a melting pot of culture; great nightlife (with tubes now running 24 hours on some lines), and food from every country. But it can also be bloody expensive, even for us locals. I know how it feels visiting a place like London. You want to see and do everything; all the touristy stuff which can add up pretty quickly.
But don’t fret, my good ladies (or chap, if you’re reading this), I got you covered. I’ll show you how to experience the culture and vibrancy of this beautiful city without breaking the bank or missing out on anything you want to do. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a backpacker on a shoestring budget, an Instagram darling looking for your next photo-op or just another Londoner wanting to explore your city with fresh ‘tourist’ eyes.
Here’s my list of five free things you can do in London, what are you waiting for? Hop on board this double Decker and let’s go.
I live only two stops away from Borough market so I’ve visited it more times than I can count. Borough market has it all - drinks and a cheeky gossip session with the girls at Tapas Brindisa, a wide variety of artisan cookies; or coffee from Monmouth (a coffee snobs dream, just arrive early to beat the queues); imported French cheese you can smell a mile away, and Kappacasein cheese toastie melting in your mouth. This dynamic space offers some of the best organic British sourced produce as well as regional specialities sourced from around the world. With its rich history, borough market has now been serving Londoners for 1,000 years.
Every corner of the market is permeated with the smell of food from a different continent. For paella, let the fragrant scent of shrimps and tomatoes guide your nose to the narrow pathway where you’ll find BROOD’S. There you’ll find the fattest shrimps and chorizo paella.
Not in the mood for paella? Then take yourself to Germany with a Thüringian bratwurst and ton of sauerkraut (this is for sharing and will not be completed in one seating) from the German Deli.
Interactive map of Borough market
If your taste bud is more refined, head over to the oysters and champagne bar.
If you’ll rather go Malaysian, stop at the Furness food hut and try their piping hot Malaysian curry chicken dish. The market has also has a selection of vegetable and fruit sections where you can order freshly made fruit juices.
Walking through Borough market is like food porn for foodies
Locals living and working in the London Bridge area are a steady regular at countless pubs and bars around the market.
But don’t worry if you’re low on funds. Just wander around the market and try the samples handed out by the traders. You should try talking to some of these traders too; you’ll be amazed at the wealth of knowledge they possess, not just about their produces, but generally about the market and some of the best undiscovered places to eat in London.
- Mondays and Tuesdays: Limited market (not all the stalls in the market are open)
- Wednesday – Saturday: Full market
- Nearest train station is London Bridge and tube station London Bridge (Jubilee and Northern lines).
- Cash points\ATMs are located outside the market on both sides of the street (Barclays Bank, Santander and HSBC) but there’s always a long-ass queue so try to take money out from the cash points inside London Bridge station next to WH Smith.
Walking from Borough Market to Southbank is one of my favourite things to do on a hot summer day. Southbank runs along the south of the Thames River between London Bridge and Westminster and is considered London’s cultural district. It is home to the Southbank Centre which comprises of the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery.
The path from Borough market (known as the Bankside) will take you past the Menier Chocolate Factory, Tate Modern, the Shakespeare Globe (a replicate as the real one burnt down in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII), National Theatre, Southbank Centre, Coca Cola London Eye (or London Eye), The London Dungeon, Sea Life London Aquarium, and finally, ending your leisurely stroll at Westminster Bridge.
Always leave extra time to stop for a drink or take photos of the iconic landmarks you’ll pass as you walk along the Southbank. The Southbank is always bustling with activities; be it a free festival or art exhibition, there’s always something for you to enjoy along the river. You could also just grab a Pimm’s or a pint and sit to watch as the Duck boat and Thames clipper go up and down the river.
Try the ‘Walk This Way South Bank Digital’ tour from the London Eye to the Imperial War Museum.
Southbank is a 10-minute walk from the Big Ben, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square.
It’s a nice way of seeing the beautiful landmarks of London without getting overwhelmed by herds of people or being rushed to the next tourist site, as it is with many tour groups. This is something you can do at your own leisure, plus it’s free! What more could you want?
- Nearest train station- Waterloo station and Waterloo tube station (Jubilee, Northern and Bakerloo Lines).
- Bus- Any bus going over the Waterloo Bridge
THE SKY GARDEN
Many tourists visiting London are hell bent on visiting the Shard at London Bridge but I would rather suggest a visit to the Sky Garden. With a 360-degree uninterrupted view across the City of London, the Sky Garden is the capital’s highest public garden, from which you can see The Shard, The Gherkin, Cheessegrater, Lloyd’s of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge.
The Sky Garden offers a unique green space, observation deck and an open air terrace where selfie sticks are banned. You get to choose between two restaurants - The Darwin Brassiere and The Fenchurch. There are also three bars - The City Garden bar, the Fenchurch terrace, and the Sky Pod bar where you can enjoy live music over a nice glass of wine and watch the sun set over London.
The best time to visit the Sky garden is around 30 minutes before sunset. It’s simply magical, the way the natural Sky Garden light takes on a purple hue as the city is awash with the golden light of sunset. I found the Sky Garden to be a better viewing deck than the Shard. Plus, it’s free, which is always a good things because London can quickly get expensive if you’re not watching how you spend those pennies.
You’ll need to book tickets and choose a time-slot (these get booked up like hotcakes!). They are released for the third week in advance every Monday before midday and can also be booked up to one hour in advance, if available.
Beware that the security checks on your way up to the Sky Garden are similar to those at the airport, so think before you carry any personal items that are prohibited by the Sky Garden. You will also need to show a photo ID (No ID, No entry) and ticket. Your beloved selfie sticks, tripod stands, and umbrellas are not allowed on to the open terrace.
Transport & Information
- The nearest tube station is Monument Station (District, Circle, Central, Northern & DLR lines) and Bank station (District, Circle, Central, Northern & DLR lines). Only a 10-15 minute walk from London Bridge station (Jubilee & Northern Lines and National Rail).
- By bus - closest bus stops are Stop T and W on Route 40.
Opening Times & Details
20 Fenchurch Street, EC3M 3BY
Level 35, South Terrace
Weekdays: 10 am – 6 pm
Weekends: 11 am – 9 pm
London is renowned for its many museums, with the majority of them being free. There's a museum for everyone and everything in London. If you’re into art and design, the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) is where you want to head. With its constantly updated, eye-catching exhibitions (which are not free), there’s always something to hypnotise you for a few hours.
British Museum from ancient Egypt to the birth of the British Empire, this museum has artefacts from almost every period you can think of. You can wander this museum for days and still not see all it has to offer. My favourite is the early Egypt room 64 where you can see the evolution of technology and social order fusing together to create a stronger, wealthier and more cultured society.
- Science Museum if you’re a science buff, this is the place for you. You can watch past scientific breakthroughs (like the Apollo 10 command module a flight stimulator) and catch a glimpse into the future of science. By all means, check out the in-house IMAX cinema where you can watch scientific movies in 3D and be submerged into space with surround sound.
- Natural History Museum for the curious minded, this is where you go to immerse yourself in nature’s beauty and surround yourself with some of the largest animals on earth. Thanks to the Hintze Hall re-opening, you can completely get lost in nature’s wonder.
With the museums located more or less next to each other, you can visit at least two in a day. But if you’d like the place to yourself it’s best to go on weekdays or early during the weekend especially when schools are out.
Check each museum for their opening times and dates.
SANDEMANS FREE WALKING TOURS
If you’re on a tight budget but still want to learn about the scandalous and political history of London, from its former Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the current Queen, then this is the tour for you. You will not be disappointed with the level of knowledge and insight into London that you’ll get from your guide. It’s okay if English isn’t your first language, as Sandemans do the same tours in Spanish. You’ll also find out the best place to see the changing of the guards!
I’ve had the pleasure of taking Sandemans walking tour through the streets of Edinburgh to the streets of Berlin.
I’ve done both the free and paid tours, and I totally love the interesting tour guides (who are self-employed freelancers, ranging from history students doing their PhD to history teachers fulfilling their passion while earning extra cash). You tip the tour guide at the end based on the quality of the tour and interaction from the guide. Because the guides are freelancers, they’re not only concerned with giving you the best tour, they’re also ready to answer any questions on the best places to eat, how to catch buses, or get back to your hotel.
Unlike paid tour guides, they have more incentive to give you good value since that will determine how much of your hard earned cash they can get.
The tour is 2.5 hours long and starts from 10:00 am onwards. It runs Monday through Friday in Covent Garden, directly in front of the Apple store. You can’t miss it and the tour guides normally have a red Sandemans umbrella so they’re easy to spot. The tour leaves from Covent Garden and snakes its way through some unknown streets, passing Trafalgar Square, St. James Park, Horse Guard Parade, and Churchill War rooms, to arrive at all the major landmarks London is known for, ending at Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
The tour stops mid-way for a toilet break and you’ll need to pay £0.30p to use the toilets. Worry not, there’s always an attendant and the toilet is very clean.
The tour is not restricted to tourists. I once took the free tour of London on a Saturday when I had no major plans and was quietly surprised at some of the gems I discovered about the city I live in.
Enjoy exploring London
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