Coming into my study abroad at CIEE London, I knew I wanted to see as much of the city as possible and experience its many attractions. Still, I also knew that London was considered to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I was on a tight student budget. But once I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised with how many activities and attractions in London are actually inexpensive, if not completely free. This meant I could save my budget for other things while abroad, like travel, transportation, and trying new restaurants or coffee shops! So, here is my guide for free (or nearly free) activities in London.
In my opinion, one of the best things about studying abroad in London is that all U.K. National Museums practice free entrance policies. While you may need to pay for some exhibits or may be asked to reserve tickets ahead of time, for the most part this means that you can walk into any museum at any time, and come back whenever you want. Some of the museums that I took the most advantage of while here were the Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Gallery, the British Museum, the Tate Britain, and Somerset House. All offer something unique and different for visitors, and all make for a great free afternoon. Some museums, like the Churchill War Rooms, do charge for admission, but this really didn’t feel like a big price to pay after free admission for everything else!
Having been lucky enough to travel to multiple European cities while abroad, I’ve quickly learned that an area where London excels is its multiple public parks and green spaces. I’ve spent so much time exploring all of these parks, and it’s been great to get out in nature, completely free of charge. A few of my personal favorite London parks are Hampstead Heath, The Regent’s Park, St. James Park, and Hyde Park. Parliament Hill at Hampstead Heath especially offers a fantastic view of the city and Hyde Park has so many monuments and things to see whole visiting. Parks are definitely a must-do in London and so easy to access!
3. Walk Everywhere!
London is an extremely walkable city, and it’s easy to reach all of the best-known tourist spots by foot. From Buckingham Palace to Big Ben to Tower Bridge, it’s so easy (and so free) to take yourself on a walking tour and see all the exteriors and views that have made this city so famous! One of my favorite routes is to walk through Piccadilly Circus -> St. James Park -> Buckingham Palace -> Westminster Abbey -> Big Ben, cross Westminster Bridge for views and then walk the South Waterfront past the London Eye and all the way to Tower Bridge. The route is several miles but allows you to see so many of the iconic London sights for free! I have taken all my visitors on this route. Additionally, I recommend picking out just a few of these sights to actually buy tickets for, and to save money on the rest. My personal two favorites have been Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I advise picking whatever appeals the most to your interests!
Another thing that makes London so great is all of its markets, which are so fun to explore and free of charge as long as you just browse. A few of my personal favorites are Camden Market, Portobello Road Market, Borough Market, Brick Lane Market, and Seven Dials Market in Covent Garden. On top of this there are so many that I wasn’t able to see during my twelve weeks here, so I recommend researching which ones would appeal the most to you! Depending on when you visit these can range from local to touristy, but are all so fun and free of charge to enter.
5. Explore A New Neighborhood
London is a huge city full of smaller neighborhoods. Something that I love is just how different the city can feel depending on where you are! Each day I can stay in my own neighborhood of Kentish Town, or take the tube north to Highgate or southwest to Notting Hill, and all of a sudden I am experiencing a whole new version of London. For anyone visiting or studying in London, I recommend researching which neighborhood would appeal to you the most and taking a half day to go explore it! You will be able to experience new cultures and see how various people live their lives - it’s like taking a trip but you stay in your same city. And walking around a new place and exploring is always free of charge.