London is our travel community’s favourite city in the world. Which is weird, because London is pricey AF, right?! Wrong! Despite appearances, this city can actually be a bit of a paradise for the young and broke thanks to the mind-boggling array of street food, gorgeous budget hostels and insane amount of free things to do in London.
Yes, there are tourist traps, and plenty of them, but with a bit of insider know-how you can easily survive on a backpacker’s budget in London. To help you make your budget stretch further in the capital, we’ve rounded up the coolest and most unusual things to do for free in London.
Note from Hostelworld: We love London so much that we’ve decided to celebrate our birthday there (and in 19 other cities, because we’re just that extra!) Join us at the exceptionally English Palmers Lodge – Swiss Cottage on August 20th for our birthday bash grand finale – but first, find out more about The World’s Biggest Hostel Party.
1. Scratch A Pig At A Free City Farm
The pretty Stepney City Farm in East London 📷@jessbakermua
If you don’t have £30 to visit London Zoo, you can still get your animal fix at one of the amazing urban farms in London. The farms all grow their own produce, such as vegetables and honey, which can be bought on-site, and some even have their own cafe, where you can enjoy a homemade and homegrown meal. The best free city farms in London include Vauxhall City Farm in South London; Hackney City Farm and Stepney City Farm both in East London; Freightliners City Farm in North London; or further afield there’s Deen City Farm and Wellgate Community Farm. And the best bit is that you’ll get to watch cool inner city kids lose their sh*t when they meet a goose for the first time.
2. Go On A Market Crawl
Colombia Road Flower Market aka the best-smelling market in London 📷@harrietcoker
There are SO many amazing markets in London, you could literally do nothing else during your visit and still not see all of them.From pretty plants to vegan street food or vintage slogan T-shirts, there’s a London market to suit every taste – and of course they’re all totally free to enter. Some of our favourites include Billingsgate Fish Market, one of London’s oldest and smelliest markets; Broadway Market, the home of delicious street food and handmade fashion in the hipster heart of Hackney; Colombia Road Flower Market for more flowers and succulents than your eyes can handle; Brick Lane Market for vintage trinkets and cheap street food; Herne Hill Farmer’s Market for a less crowded version of Broadway Market; and Maltby Street Market, which is fast becoming one of London’s coolest street food markets.
3. Treat Your Ears To Some Free Music In London
Excellent free street music on the not-so-mean streets of London 📷@annekawebb
London is one of the best cities in the world for music lovers, and that’s true even for the financially-challenged music lover. Here’s our pick of the best places to listen to free music in London, no matter what your taste…
Cult record store Rough Trade off Brick Lane, for signings and live gigs with a diverse range of established and up-and-coming artists; Wilton’s Music Hall, for free live concerts with up-and-coming singer-songwriters in one of the most beautiful buildings in London; the free and totally awesome Brass On The Grass concert series in Westminster’s Abbey’s beautiful grounds; everything from ska to Afrofolk under the railway arches of Flat Iron Square; incredible free lunchtime classical music concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields, a gorgeous Georgian church in the heart of the West End; and St Paul’s Church near Covent Garden for daily candlelit organ recitals. Oh, and of course there are absolutely loads of awesome buskers in London; we find the weekend markets tend be the best place for an impromptu boogie.
4. Get Your Neon-Fix At God’s Own Junkyard
God’s Own Junkyard will make all your neon dreams come true 📷@emma.v.martell
Located on an industrial estate in the uber-cool North London neighbourhood of Walthamstow, God’s Own Junkyard is miraculously still something of an insider tip that even many Londoners don’t know about. Dedicated to the life’s works of neon artist Chris Bracey, the warehouse is full of incredible restored and bespoke neon signs that have featured in everything from Hollywood blockbusters to Soho sex shops. This truly is an incredible place, and definitely one of the coolest free things to do in London. Afterwards head to the Junkyard’s brilliantly named ‘Rolling Scones Cafe’ for a cuppa or pop next door to warehouse-turned-gin palace Mother’s Ruin.
5. Bust Some Moves At A Free London Skatepark
The amazing and totally free House of Vans 📷@fabietto_na
London has a pretty epic skate scene, with a diverse mix of skate parks and cool street spots. One of the most iconic free places to skate in London is the Undercroft Skatepark at the Southbank, a graffiti-covered space underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall that has been the heart of London’s skate culture since the 70s. Another skate institution in London is the open-air and free-to-use Stockwell Skatepark in South London, not far from Brixton tube station. A newer addition to London’s skate scene is House of Vans near Waterloo Station just South of the Thames. This cultural hub offers intimate free sessions with pro skaters in a cool indoor space – it’s best to book ahead, though walk-ins are sometimes possible. And finally, London’s amazing parks offer endless skate opportunities. Our favourite is Victoria Park in East London for its acres of smooth paths and huge open-air bowl.
6. Unleash Your Fabulous At A Free London Festival
The colourful Notting Hill Carnival 📷 David Sedlecký
The Brits may have a reputation for being a reserved bunch, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to throw a fiesta. Yes, it will probably rain, but that just means you have to party even harder! The biggest free festival in London, and in fact the biggest street festival in Europe, is Notting Hill Carnival. This colourful Caribbean extravaganza takes place every August in West London, and celebrates London’s multicultural heritage. Bonus points if you manage to spot a twerking policeman. Another big and colourful summer festival in London that is free to attend is Gay Pride, which involves a parade celebrating the LGBT community and everything in between, followed by some pretty epic parties across the city.
7. Chill Out In A London Park
The hidden Hill Garden and Pergola on Hampstead Heath 📷@ic.theworld
London has a reputation for being hectic and fast-paced, but did you know that it’s also one of the greenest cities in the world? There are so many incredible places to chill in London, you’re never far away from a tranquil park to meditate / recover from a hangover in.
Fancy a spot of free pond-dipping and woodlouse-bothering? Then head to Camley Street Natural Park. Want to BBQ all day and stare at pretty hipsters? Try London Fields on a Saturday. Like your parks posh and teeming with peacocks and giant Koi? Try Holland Park in West London. And for a London park that will move you to tears, try the tiny Postman’s Park in central London, where you’ll find a moving Victorian shrine dedicated to the most heroic acts of self-sacrifice. For more glorious places to relax in London, read our guide to the best parks in London.
8. Explore The Incredible Free Museums In London
The predictably gorgeous Design Museum in West London 📷 Gareth Gardner
We’re gonna be controversial here and say that London has the best museums in the world. Not only are they packed to the rafters with mind-boggling artefacts and cool interactive exhibitions, but the majority of them are totally FREE to enter. And no, not just on the last Thursday of every month between 4 and 5pm!
Our favourite museums include the Wellcome Collection, for weird and wonderful exhibitions about what it is to be human; the exquisite V&A, which is also home to one of the most beautiful cafes in London; the wonderfully claustrophobic and under-the-radar Sir John Soane’s Museum; The Design Museum next to Holland Park for the perfect Instagram shot; and the Wallace Collection, just off Oxford Street, if you want to escape the crowds. For more cultural freebies, read our guide to the best free museums in London.
9. Hang With Some Famous Locals
The atmospheric Highgate Cemetry 📷 @sarshie_alexandra
No, we’re not talking about Madame Tussauds! *cough, rip off, cough* If you want to hang out with some of London’s most colourful (former) residents for free, then head to the city’s graveyards, where you’ll find writers, actors, politicians and even Victorian lion-tamers. From Karl Marx to Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the city is packed to the rafters with famous graves.
But it’s not all about the celebs – the cemetries in London are pretty amazing in their own right, full of gorgeous architecture, tranquil woods and centuries of history. It may sound a little morbid, but apart from being free, London’s cemeteries are also a great way to get away from the crowds and enjoy some alone time. In our opinion, the best cemeteries in London are Highgate Cemetry in North London; West Norwood Cemetry in South London and Brompton Cemetry in West London. If you get a chance, you should also pay a visit to the gardens of St Pancras Old Church. This tiny cemetery in a forgotten corner of King’s Cross hides one of the weirdest London attractions: the Hardy Tree. The tree us surrounded by rings of tightly concertinaed graves and is the work of Thomas Hardy, who was helping make way for new train tracks before he found fame as an author.
10. Help Lock Up The Crown Jewels
‘Halt, who comes there?’ 📷 Historic Royal Palaces
You know that feeling of not being sure whether you locked your house? Well, imagine that times a thousand, and you’ll understand why those charged with looking after Her Majesty’s Crown Jewels decided to come up with a little ritual. That ritual has lasted over 700 years and is called the Ceremony Of The Keys. It has taken place every single day without fail at the Tower of London and goes a little something like this: ‘Halt, who comes there?’ The Yeoman Warder replies, ‘The keys.’ ‘Whose keys?’ ‘Queen Elizabeth’s keys.’ ‘Pass then, all’s well.’
Even though this is one of the more memorable free things to do in London, it’s totally free to be part of this awesome tradition, whereas it costs over £20 to get into the Tower of London usually. The only catch is that you’ll need to book online often months in advance, but with a little bit of planning you’ll save yourself money AND get to experience a piece of British history.
11. Explore London’s Literary Heritage
If you love books, then you’ll love London. The city’s been home to more famous authors than any other, and has been the setting for countless famous novels. There are loads of ways to experience London’s literary heritage, but here are a few of our favourites…
You can hunt down the hundreds of Blue Plaques that mark where famous Londoners once lived, from Arthur Conan Doyle to Virginia Woolf. If you’re pressed for time, Bloomsbury has a particularly high concentration of literary ex-residents. Next, pay a visit to the colossal British Library near King’s Cross, which is home to over 150 million books, maps, manuscripts, stamps, magazines and more. The collection houses texts that are thousands of years old, plus many famous works including the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook and original manuscripts from the likes of Jane Austen and the Beatles. Finally, for a fun throwback to your childhood, head to King’s Cross station, where you can pretend to be Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts at platform 9 3/4.
12. Art, Glorious Art!
The street art in East London is world famous 📷@emma.v.martell
One of the best free things to do in London is to check out the city’s incredible art scene, which ranges from the sleek galleries of Mayfair exhibiting the works of world-famous artists to the iconic street art in Shoreditch – and everything in between. It’s hard to miss the awesome street art when exploring London, but for a more structured experience that will teach you about the artists and meaning behind the works, there are a number of totally free street art tours. One of our favourites for first-timers are the free walking tours offered by Strawberry Tours, which focus on the city’s most famous works by the likes of Banksy, Roa and Citizen Keane.
Another great thing about London is the huge number of modern art galleries that are totally free to visit, and feature famous works alongside immersive exhibitions guaranteed jazz up your Instagram feed. Read our guide to the best free art galleries in London to find the right one for you.
13. Get Your London Theatre Fix For Free
Epic scenes on and off stage at The Scoop 📷@chang_wander
London has got one of the most famous theatre scenes in the world, but most of the shows in the West End are way out of the price range for most backpackers. But don’t despair, it’s actually possible to watch excellent live performances completely free of charge, usually during the summer at one of London’s open-air theatres. New ones pop up every year so be sure to keep an eye on listings over the summer, but our favourite is The Scoop next to Tower Bridge, for its unpretentious atmosphere, excellent performances and epic backdrop.
14. See The Main Tourist Attractions In London For Free
As much as we like to get off the beaten track and discover the hidden gems, we still like to see the iconic sights a city has to offer. Despite what the owners of London’s many hop-on-hop-off bus tours might tell you, it’s possible to walk most of London’s top sights. If you’re only here for a day or two, the best walking route that will allow you to see most of the main tourist attractions in London is to head to the gorgeous Millennium Bridge and follow the the Thames along towards Westminster Bridge as you explore the huge number of famous landmarks on either side, including St Paul’s, the Southbank, the Tate Modern, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, and slightly further north of the river, Buckingham Palace. If you want to learn a bit more about the history behind some these sights, then there are also plenty of free walking tours in London, such as Sandemans.
15. Listen To A Free Lecture On Almost Anything
A talk at Guildhall hosted by Gresham College 📷 Gresham College
The world-famous London School of Economics, where the free talks tackle topics ranging from peacekeeping to architecture. You don’t need to book; just turn up, though be sure to get there early to guarantee a place. Gresham College is another famous and historic centre of learning that hosts regular free talks in London with experts spanning everything from artificial intelligence to how the universe was formed.
For something a little more quirky, Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park is a London institution that gives anybody and everybody a platform to exercise their right to free speech. Simply rock up (weekends tend to be most busy) and listen to speeches on everything from religion to NHS cuts. Famous graduates of Speaker’s Corner include Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell.
16. Watch The Changing Of The Guard At Buckingham Palace
The Changing Of The Guard is worth braving the selfie sticks for 📷 @5._.55_
Yes, there will be selfie sticks, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a reason this is one of the most popular things to do for free in London; you can’t help but be impressed by the perfectly co-ordinated marching, the rousing music and immaculate uniforms – especially when it’s boiling hot and you’re out of breath and sweating just sitting there in your flip flops. Yep, the Changing Of The Guard at Buckingham Palace is one of those touristy bucket list items it’s okay to love. To get the best view, it’s a good idea to turn up one hour before the ceremony is due to start, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water and sun cream / warm clothes. You don’t need to book, but it’s a good idea to check the official site for dates and other important info before your visit.
17. Spend An Evening Admiring London’s Christmas Lights
London’s coolest Christmas lights on Carnaby Street 📷@emma.v.martell
If you’re lucky to be in London around Christmas time then a trip to see the spectacular festive lights is definitely one of the best free things to do in London at night. There are various different Christmas Light displays dotted all around the city, and they usually run from early November until the end of December, so you can catch them for nearly two months every year. Our favourites are the ones at Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and the Southbank. The window displays at posh department stores such as Liberty London and Harrods are also well worth a visit if you want to get into the festive spirit, with moving marionettes acting out sweet Christmas scenes. The Christmas markets in London can also be a nice way to spend an evening in London, and whilst they’re not quite as impressive as those in Germany or Austria, they’re still one of the best free things to do in London at night during the winter.