12 Free or Cheap things to do in London for travelers on a budget

London is one of those cities that is jam packed with things to do, no matter what you’re into. If you’re into museums, art galleries, history or shopping (the shopping!), London’s got you covered. The best thing is that a lot of places in London have free entry, so you can really easily do this city on the cheap.

Everything in London is close. Once you’re in the middle of town, most places that you want to visit are close and you can easily fit a few attractions into one day. And the public transport really is second to none. That’s why most Londoners don’t own a car!

To ride on public transport like the buses and the Tube, I would suggest that you visit Transport for London here to purchase an Oyster Card. You can have one posted to you so that you’re ready to go right from the airport. The Transport for London site also has a great Maps page. It has a Tube map, bus stop map and even a map of places you can top up your Oyster Card (you can do this at all Tube stations, but there are many other locations that you can top up your card).

Everything in London is close. Once you’re in the middle of town, most places that you want to visit are close and you can easily fit a few attractions into one day.

British museum

British Museum

Visiting a city with the history that London has, to visit at least one museum is a must. There are plenty of choices too and many are free.

My pick though is the British Museum. Filled with exhibits from all over the world, this museum is truly spectacular. The Great Hall is an incredible and beautiful feat of modern engineering. Work on the glass roof of the Great Hall began in 1999 and consists of over 3,000 pieces of glass, and no two pieces are the same.

The British Museum has permanent exhibits, but also has constantly changing exhibits and events to excite even the hardest to please or the youngest in your group. You can find their current exhibits and activities here.  Permanent exhibits include those from Early Britain, Ancient Greece and Rome, Ancient Egypt, the Persian Empires and many more.

If you have time, try to make it upstairs to visit Rooms 62-64 with mummies and collections from Ancient Egypt. Kids love these rooms! In Room 40 you will find the world’s most famous chess set – The Lewis Chessmen. From around the 12th century AD, this chess set was used in the first Harry Potter movie.

Other free museums include:
The Natural History Museum – a must see if you have kids.
Science Museum – again, kids love this museum.
Victoria and Albert Museum – this museum covers stunning art and design from the past 3,000 years.
The Museum of London – covers the history of this amazing city from pre-history to the modern day.
Imperial War Museum – founded during the First World War, this museum outlines stories of ordinary people caught up in over a century of conflict.

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Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge was built between 1886 & 1894 and is often confused with London Bridge, but they’re different bridges. Tower Bridge is the bridge right near the Tower of London. Even though you need to pay to do a tour of the Tower Bridge,  you can actually walk across it at road level for free. You will still see amazing views from the bridge and get some fantastic photos, without having to spend any money.

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Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is known for the bright advertising display on the corner building on the northern side, as well as the Shaftesbury memorial fountain and statue. It is surrounded by several buildings of interest, including the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Directly underneath the plaza is Piccadilly Circus Underground station. Definitely a must to visit at least for a photo and if you are visiting the theater district then you can walk up Shaftesbury Avenue to Leicester Square from here.

trafalgar square

Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery

Trafalgar Square is a must see attraction for anyone visiting London. Travel there by bus to see the historic buildings along the streets and to get a bird’s eye view of the square. You’ll find Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, which was built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The National Portrait Gallery can be found just off Trafalgar Square and is home to portraits of Kings, Queens and commoners alike. There are always events on to grab the attention of visitors and it really is a fascinating place to visit if you have the time.

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Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

If you make  your way to Trafalgar Square then just a hop skip and jump away is Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. These are one of those iconic attractions that you just can’t miss if you visit London. Again, taking the bus from Trafalgar Square is an easy way to see these buildings or you can easily walk there in less than 5 minutes. Walking is probably the best way, so that you can keep soaking up the London atmosphere.

westminster abbey

Westminster Abbey

Right across the road from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben is Westminster Abbey which is free to enter. Benedictine monks founded Westminster Abbey in 960AD and Kings and Queens have been coronated in the abbey since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066.

Seventeen monarchs including King Henry V and all the Tudors except for Henry VIII are buried in the abbey.  Other notable people buried at Westminster Abbey include Isaac Newton, Edward the Confessor and Charles Dickens.

Seventeen royal weddings have also taken place at Westminster Abbey including the weddings of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and also Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Entry isn’t free and is around £20 to get in, but is well worth it. A multimedia guide is included with entry so that you can listen to the history of the abbey whilst walking around.

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Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard

Immaculately turned out guards, precision drill and bands playing stirring music all combine to make Changing of the Guard one of London’s most popular attractions.

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is the ceremony where The Queen’s Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace to the New Guard. It begins on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace at 11:00am and lasts for approximately 45 minutes.

Watching the Changing of the Guard is free, but you definitely need to arrive at Buckingham Palace early so that you can get a good viewing spot for this very popular event.

The Changing of the Guard occurs on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sundays, but I would recommend that you check the website here to ensure that there is no change to these times and dates.

harrods

Harrods

If you’re visiting London you have to visit Harrods! Harrods takes up a full city block and has seven stories of departments with everything ranging from cheese to Chanel.

There is literally nothing that you can’t buy or arrange to have ordered for you in Harrods. Whilst that sounds wonderful, most of us go for the incredible architecture and displays. If you only visit one department, visit the Food Halls and take your time in them – and look up! The ceilings and moldings are truly works of art and most date from the Art Deco period. The range of food in the Food Halls is mind blowing and delicious all at once. Just the cheese section is amazing on its own!

Definitely visit the Egyptian Room with beautiful Egyptian style decoration. A visit to the central lift hall is also a fantastic way to see beautiful old lifts and restored surrounding halls.

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Hyde Park

Hyde Park sits in the middle of London and is a beautiful refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can walk across it from Harrods or South Kensington to Oxford Street to do some more shopping or just have a picnic lunch anywhere you feel like sitting.

Visit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, have an open water swim in the Serpentine (if it’s warm enough!), or just admire the views across the lake from a waterside café.

You could also have a go at rowing or paddle boating and you will always see people jogging, walking and cycling in the park. Hyde Park also has a long history as a site of protest, and still hosts rallies and marches today. Visit Speakers’ Corner (near Marble Arch, Oxford Street) on a Sunday morning to hear people from all walks of life share their views.

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Covent Garden

Covent Garden is an iconic area of London where there are varied and eclectic shops, eateries, markets and so much more to see. There are almost always street performers who attract large crowds and the area has a truly energetic and fun atmosphere. Stop here for a coffee or lunch and just people watch, you won’t be disappointed.

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Oxford Street 

OK, so Oxford Street is only free if you don’t buy anything… So let’s say you are able to stop yourself from spending money, Selfridges’ windows on Oxford Street are always interesting and worth a look. It’s probably best to catch a bus and head to the top of the bus so that you can get a good view as you head down the street. If you can, catch a bus or walk down Regent Street which heads to Piccadilly Circus from Oxford Street.

If you happen to be in London in the weeks before Christmas, the lights along Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets are beautiful and worth seeing if you’re heading that way.

Portobello Road Market

Located in the Notting Hill, this atmospheric and energetic market sells everything from vintage clothes to delicious street food and antiques. As with most markets, it’s busiest on Saturdays, but whatever day of the week you visit there will be something going on.

Enjoy your trip!

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