Derek Robertson, January 2017
It’s January, and with the festive season now behind us and the New Year’s Resolutions kicking in, parsimony rules; everyone’s had their fill of extravagant parties, stuffing their face with food and booze, and above all, spending money. But a lack of cash need not curtail one’s fun when it comes to London, for there are many things to do and see in the capital which cost precisely nothing. So for those watching the pennies, here are ten of the best ways to still have some fun and see the sights.
Tate Modern / South Bank
The dimly lit Rothko room at the Tate Modern – home to the artist’s acclaimed Seagram Murals – is just one part of their wonderful permanent collection that is open and free to visit for all. Spread over several floors, the Tate houses original works by a number of greats, such as Andy Warhol, Picasso, and David Hockney, while the 5th floor café provides a stunning view north over St Paul’s Cathedral and the City. To make a day of it, start at Embankment, walk across the Golden Jubilee Bridge, and then head east, taking in the sight and sounds of South Bank as you go.
With the current state of the world, we could all use a little light relief, and there are several comedy nights in the capital that are completely free. The Angel Comedy Club has two locations, and is free every night (they also run comedy courses, should you be inspired to try your hand at standup and improv), while the Top Secret Comedy Club – which has hosted the likes of Amy Schumer, Eddie Izzard, and Reginald D Hunter – has a free improv show every Tuesday. Get down early to bag a prime spot though, both venues fill up fast.
Free Classical Music
Nothing stirs the soul quite like the majesty of classical music, whether it’s the romanticism of Chopin or the bombast of Wagner, and two acclaimed London institutions have taken it upon themselves to bring such delights to the people. The Royal College of Music puts on numerous lunchtime and rush-hour concerts at a variety of iconic venues and places (check their website for the schedule), while the Royal Academy of Music’s Tuesday Series sees the pick of their chamber groups and solo performers take to the stage every Tuesday at 1.05pm in their grand Recital Hall. With both, there’s no need to book – simply turn up and enjoy.
The Sky Garden
The best view of London may well be from The Shard, but the experience will leave your wallet £30 lighter (£18.95 if you book in advance). So head instead to the Sky Garden, on the 35th floor of the “Walkie Talkie”, an all-day drinking and dining space with incredible panoramic views situated within London’s highest public garden. You have to book in advance, but it’s free – there’s also live music in the evenings from Wednesday to Sunday, and the food and drinks options are pretty damn good as well.
The Changing Of The Guard
Few countries do pomp and ceremony like the British, and the Changing of the Guard, the soldiers resplendent in the iconic red tunics and bearskin hats, is one of the most famous examples of Royal pageantry. Taking place outside Buckingham Palace every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday (weather permitting) at 10.45am sharp, the formal ceremony is accompanied by music and is extremely popular; arriving early to secure a good view is highly recommended.
Palace of Westminster
There’s more to this neo-Gothic wonder than the world’s most famous clock, Big Ben (even though that’s the name of the bell, not the actual tower). As the seat of the UK’s Parliament, it holds both Houses – the Commons and the Lords – and while security is naturally tight, it can be visited. Free tours and booked tickets for the “public gallery” can only be obtained by UK residents, although anyone is free to queue up and try their luck with general admission on any given day (capacity is limited though), with paid tours available to all during the summer recess.
London has some of the world’s best parks and gardens, but few are quite as rich as Kensington Gardens. Home to the Serpentine Gallery, the famous Round Pond, the Albert Memorial, the Peter Pan Statue, and the Diana Memorial Playground are all free to visit and roam around, the sights complimented by one of the most diverse collections of flora and fauna in the capital. And if you want more of the great outdoors, Hyde Park and St James’s Park are just a little further east.
OK, so obviously if you want to buy something you’re going to have to spend, but the capital has a plethora of great street markets where you can simply soak up the vibes and get a taste of the real London. For antiques and vintage clothes, head to Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market, food lovers won’t want to miss out on the culinary delights of Borough Market, while Greenwich Market is the place for arts, crafts, and unique gifts. On Sunday’s, Brick Lane Market is a vibrant mix of bric-a-brac and the exotic, not to mention a great place to eat once you’re tired of exploring.
Vauxhall City Farm
Want to kill three birds with one stone? Then head to Vauxhall City Farm; it’s free, it’s educational, and it’s fun for kids of all ages! They have pigs, sheep, ducks, and rabbits, as well as three alpacas and a riding stable. Ran by a charity, their stated aim is to change attitudes towards nature, animals, and the environment – hence an ecology area, and a herb and dye garden – and to provide a safe space where all can “enhance their health, well-being, and life-chances.” Amen to that.
The British Museum
Rightly one of London’s top attractions, this iconic building has over 80,000 artifacts on display at any one time, including Egyptian treasures, the Rosetta Stone, ancient samurai armour, and everything in between. The Great Court, finished in 2000, is one of the most impressive architectural spaces anywhere, while the Reading Room is where Karl Marx wrote and researched Das Capital. Tours are free, and just as well – you might need several visits to properly cover everything.
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