There’s no doubt about it, London is one of the most expensive places to live or visit. Afternoon tea at the Ritz will now set you back around £45 for a cuppa darjeeling and a few cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (sans crusts!). A rugby game at Twickenham costs around £70 for a seat in the nosebleed section and a visit to the Tower of London will rob you of almost £21!
I almost choked when I logged onto the Ster-Kinkekor website recently – for old times sake – and saw that movies were R14 a pop. That’s about £1.20. A ticket at the grotty old complex down the road from where I live is £9. Book online or via phone and that’s another £1.50. Throw in a box of popcorn (£4), a drink (£3) and a choccie (£3) and you’ve already notched up over £20. And you haven’t paid for parking or public transport yet! But there are some things you can do for free in London.
Here’s my Top 10 Things to Do in London for FREE:
1. If the weather’s good, take a stroll along the Southbank. Even better – do so on a weekend and spend a lazy day watching the buskers, browse the art and design shops, riffle through the second hand books at the book market and checking out the exhibitions in the Royal Festival Hall (I recently saw an exhibition there of outlandish coffins from Ghana and found myself rubbing shoulders with Ruby Wax!)
2. If the weather’s crappy, head for one of the art galleries. Tate Modern and Tate Britain house some of the finest artworks in the world. Tate Modern focuses on contemporary art while Tate Britain displays British Art from the sixteenth century to the present day. Other major London art galleries include the National Portrait Museum (sneak upstairs to the restaurant on the 5th floor and have a look at the view over Trafalger Square), the National Gallery in the aforementioned Trafalgar Square and The Wallace Collection just off Oxford Street – so a nice respite from the crowds of shoppers.
3. If museums are more your bag then you’re in luck. There’s the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Natural History and Science Museums, The Imperial War Museum and The National Maritime Museum for starters. And they’re all free.
4. Heading back outdoors, wander around Covent Gardens for a couple of hours, taking in more buskers and the wonderful flea market that operates there every day, seven days a week. Wend you way from there to Trafalger Square where, with luck, there’ll be some activity on the go – whether it’s a musical event or the national day celebrations of some foreign country, complete with free tastings of food and drink, folk dancing and music.
5. In summer, there are loads of free concerts, and open air films that take place along the river, at the National Theatre, Coin Street and near Tower Bridge. Just check the free Metro daily for details. Also, in season, free outdoor screenings at Canary Wharf.
6. It costs you nothing to stroll around the many Flea and Food markets but I can’t guarantee you won’t be tempted to spend a bit of money. Especially if you visit Borough Market on a weekend (near Tower Bridge), London’s most renowned food market and a source of exceptional British and international produce. Most top chefs will come here to pick up something for their kitchen so keep your eyes peeled for Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey (although I doubt they’ll be hanging out together!). And if you track down those traders who have freebie taste samples you can fill up on snacks and save on lunch.
7. It costs around £17 to get into Hampton Court Palace but nothing to get into the gardens – over 60 acres that run down to the River Thames and which feature fountains, glorious displays of over 200,000 flowering bulbs and 750 acres of tranquil royal parkland. You can also see the Great Vine, which was planted in 1768 by the celebrated gardener ‘Capability’ Brown, and which still produces a yearly crop of black grapes as well as take a peek at the Royal Tennis Court, an indoor court that dates back to 1626 and which is still in use.
8. Nearby is the renowned 2, 360 acre Richmond Park where Henry VIII hunted. And the descendants of the red and fallow deer that he shot at still roam around the park and make excellent photographic subjects. While there visit King Henry’s Mound where – on a clear day – you can enjoy an uninterrupted (and protected) view of St Paul’s Cathedral some 10 miles to the east. And just outside the gates to the park on Richmond Hill, you can enjoy great panoramic views over the area. (This renowned hill offers the only view in England to be protected by an Act of Parliament passed in 1902 and has been used in a number of movies including The Hours).
9. Come evening and you fancy a bit of a laugh, check out the free comedy clubs. The Theatre Royal Stratford has free comedy nights every Monday night, while on Wednesdays you get to choose between the Comedy Cafe in The City, or The Lower Ground Bar in Hampstead. And then head over to the Notting Hill Arts Club at Notting Hill Gate to listen to the latest up and coming bands.
10. Round off your freebie tour with the uber-touristy Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace which takes place every day at 11.30am during summer (and every second day in winter). Make sure to get down early to get a good viewing point.