By Andrea Kirkby
London has many free attractions. But which are the best? That will always be a personal decision, but here is my top ten. Not just because they’re free but also because I happen to like them. And I mean really a lot!
The Soane Museum. I’m sorry to go on about it, but this wonderful museum is absolutely the best thing you can get for nothing in London. It’s not just the exhibits, which are interesting enough – an Egyptian sarcophagus, a set of Hogarth paintings, wonderful architectural models and drawings. It’s the whole house, designed by this crazy and brilliant architect. And you can have a nice little stroll in Lincoln’s Inn Fields afterwards.
Lunch at the Hare Krishna Temple in Soho. If you come for lunchtime darshan and sit through the talk afterwards (sometimes informative, sometimes argumentative and always interesting), you can stay for a free lunch – vegetarian of course. And what a great lunch it is, cooked with love, served by volunteers and shared with a smile.
Free talks in the British Museum and National Gallery. I always try to fit one of these in when I’m in London; they’re incredibly informative and at 40 minutes to an hour long, they’re just the right length to fit into my schedule. Even better, there’s always something new on the agenda. Look out for the printed schedule when you go into the lobbies and see if there’s something that appeals, or check the talks out online.
Free WiFi! Lots and lots and lots of cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants offer free wifi with your drink or meal – including McDonalds, Coffee Republic, Pret a manger, Wetherspoons, and Starbucks. If you don’t even want to pay for a drink, many of London’s public libraries now offer wifi access too for nothing. Also check out this Squidoo lens of London hotels with free WiFi.
The Changing of the Guard. I’d never make the effort to actually go and see it specially (that wouldn’t be street cred for a Londoner!) but somehow I find myself just happening to pass the right place at the right time. Pageantry, guardsmen in their bearskins, stirring music – including, one day, the theme tune for Doctor Who – and all costing precisely nothing.
Friday Lates at the National Gallery. This isn’t just late opening (till 9) – there are also special events including tours, talks, poetry workshops and music. Almost everything is free (there’s a life drawing workshop which does cost money) and there’s a definite buzz to the evening.
St James’s Park. I love everything about this park; its atmosphere of artful wildness, the pelicans that sail the lake like a small armada (and eat pigeons, apparently), the gaggles of geese, ducks and other wildfowl, and the little squirrels that are quite tame and will come to be fed if you have a few peanuts to give them.
The Victoria & Albert Museum. I must have been to the V&A about twenty times and I can still get lost in it; last time, I found a corridor full of ancient wrought iron work that I’d never seen before, which seemed to lead through a couple of wormholes in space to a room full of renaissance jewellery. Whether you’re into renaissance majolica or modern fashion, the V&A has something, somewhere, for you. You just have to find it…
Greenwich. Not just for the view of London, which is my favourite view – wonderful expanses of green lawn, and then the shimmering towers of Canary Wharf, and the whole of the city laid out in the middle distance; but also for the naval museum, the Queen’s House, and people-watching tourists playing around on the Meridian Line.
Goldsmith’s Hall. I’m not sure I should be telling you about this but some of the exhibitions that the Goldsmiths Company puts on are quite incredible; often featuring contemporary gold- and silver-smiths’ work. It’s also the only chance you may get to see inside one of the Livery Company Halls – and Goldsmith’s Hall is a particularly fine building.
Last but not least, the stand-out free experience of London happens just once a year– Open House London, which will be 22-23 September this year. It’s your chance to see into many buildings which aren’t normally open to the public, such as the Lloyds Building. But be warned – the top sites are incredibly popular and you’ll need to be very well organised to make the most of this opportunity. Keep your eyes peeled on Londontopia to stay updated and check out the Budget Britain Travel Guide for further great tips.
Unfortunately, London hotels are certainly not free (far from it!) but I’ve personally found Tune Hotels to offer some of the most central and cheapest hotels in London.
The National Portrait Gallery