Free Things To Do in London
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The British Museum is both an architectural beauty and a trove of some of the world's most noted antiquities. In fact, many travelers it's the best museum in all of London. What's more, it's free to visit. From the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles to the Lindow Man, the British Museum is a history buff's dream containing artifacts in the millions. The immense collection can make an initial museum visit seem overwhelming: Pick the exhibits that most interest you, and plan return trips if you feel so inclined.
If you want a little help navigating the museum's 8 million objects, consider tagging along on a guided tour. Several, including the daily eye-opener tours and weekly lunchtime gallery talks and Friday evening spotlight tours are free. You can also book a highlights and special early morning tour for 14 pounds (around $20) and 30 pounds (less than $45), respectively. Audio guides, which cost 7 pounds (less than $10), are also available to rent daily.
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Locals and tourists alike tend to adore Portobello Road Market. Located in the posh Notting Hill neighborhood (made famous by the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts movie of the same name), the market stretches down the long Portobello Road, considered to be the high street (or main street) of Notting Hill. The market is filled with merchants of all kinds (more than 1,000 to be exact) selling a variety of common flea market items including antiques, art, jewelry, clothing and food. But what stands out about Portobello Market (aside from its adorably colorful location) is its collection of antiques and quintessentially English items. In just a few blocks, visitors can find a wellie shop, scores of vintage tea sets, quality London souvenirs and Banksy recreations. The market is also billed as being the largest antiques market in the world. If you have a penchant for fashion, the best sampling is found at the end of the market near the Ladbroke Grove Tube stop. There, visitors will not only find the greatest concentration of locals but a great selection of vintage attire as well.
Recent visitors loved Portobello Market for its lively atmosphere, wide selection of items and cheap food stalls. Although many lauded the quality found at the food stalls, some urged visitors to check out nearby restaurants, as many serve exceptional British and international fare. Others also advised visitors to pay close attention to their belongings. Portobello Market is not only very crowded, but concentrated on a narrow street, creating an easy opportunity for pickpockets to strike.
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The portal to London's buzzy West End, Piccadilly Circus lives up to its name. Regularly compared to New York's Times Square, Piccadilly Circus is the meeting place of five busy roads and is the center of London's hustle and bustle. Whether it's businessmen and women on their way to work in the morning, shoppers en route to the department store-clad Oxford Street (just a few streets north) or lively club and bar hoppers passing through at night, Piccadilly is always thrumming with activity.
Recent travelers highly recommend a visit to Piccadilly Circus for its proximity to restaurants, shops and nightlife spots and the energy and excitement it exudes. For the best ambience, some suggest you visit Piccadilly at night, when the neon lights of the billboards reflect off the Edwardian-era buildings and the Eros statue. A quick disclaimer – Piccadilly Circus is not an actual circus, as some travelers have expected; rather, the name refers to the circle (circus), off which a handful of major roads spoke. Access to the area is free. Several of London's best tours include a stop at Piccadilly Circus.
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Once the recreational stomping grounds for King Henry VIII, this long swath of green stretching from Kensington Palace in the west to Oxford Street in the east is now open to the public and a must-visit for travelers looking for a relaxing moment away from the city's hustle and bustle. Among Hyde Park's meandering foot and bike paths and flourishing flora and fauna, you'll find a few standout attractions that are worth exploring. Watch the swans and boats glide over the serene Serpentine Lake (or rent a vessel yourself), visit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain or stop by the Speakers' Corner, a site for public speeches and debates since the 19th century (previously used by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell). If you continue on the memorial walk you'll likely pass through Kensington Gardens where you'll find the ornate Albert Memorial, the Italian Gardens and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground.
Visitors say the tranquil atmosphere of Kensington Gardens are unparalleled anywhere else in the city – and that they're beautiful no matter the weather. If you don't make a point to visit the area on your own, you'll likely visit while on a guided tour. The closest Tube stations to Kensington Gardens include Lancaster Gate and Queensway, Bayswater and High Street Kensington. Hyde Park is free to all visitors and is open year-round from 5 a.m. to midnight, while Kensington Gardens opens at 6 a.m. daily. The Tube stations that surround Hyde Park are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge. To find out more about seasonal events and other parks around London, visit the Royal Parks website.
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Sitting in Trafalgar Square, London's National Gallery features a labyrinth interior so large that it requires a color-coded map to navigate. The museum features paintings in the Western European tradition from the 13th to 19th centuries, including Italian Renaissance masterpieces and French Impressionist works. Among its 2,300 in-house pieces, visitors will find famed paintings, such as Botticelli's "Venus and Mars" and Van Gogh's "Sunflowers."
Recent visitors loved the variety of paintings at the National Gallery, saying that travelers may need more than a day to get a glimpse at all the masterpieces that grace its never-ending halls. They also commend the gallery's cafe. If reading placard after placard isn't necessarily your thing, you can take a free, hour-long tour, which is offered daily at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. And if you're worried about keeping the kids entertained while you take in the collections, the National Gallery provides audio tours and maps designed especially for children, some of which come with a small extra fee.
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Along with Parliament and Big Ben, Tower Bridge is London's next must-see architectural marvel, not to mention the most famous bridge that crosses the Thames. Construction on the bridge started in 1886, which means it's practically modern by London standards, but Tower Bridge stands out for its stunning detail and moveable roadways that lift up when large ships need to pass through. The views from the bridge are an added bonus. From the elevated sidewalks visitors get a prime view of the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral's iconic dome and one of the newest additions to London's skyline, The Shard.
If you're interested in viewing the city from a higher vantage point (about 137 feet), consider a tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. This exhibit will take you to the top of the bridge, equipped with a glass floor, as well as to the bottom to the bridge's engine rooms. However, recent visitors say that those who are afraid of heights might want to forgo the tour because of the glass floor. Adults pay 9.80 pounds (about $13.75), youths ages 5 to 15 pay 4.20 pounds (about $6), while children younger than 5 get in for free. If you have a London Pass, entry to the exhibition is included. Check the website for opening times. Keep in mind, most recent travelers recommend only doing this if you have time to kill or are extremely interested; a walk across the bridge is free and nearly as impressive. Or, for a different approach, consider a bike tour across the bridge. Hop off the Tube at Tower Hill to stroll across the Tower Bridge. You can also take bus routes nos. 15, 42, 78,100 and RV1.
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Located on the South Bank along the Thames, the Tate Modern is part of a group of four museums (all named Tate) that house the 70,000 artworks that comprise the national collection of British art. As its name suggest, this Tate holds the more contemporary-style pieces than its three other counterparts, making it more of a hit or miss among travelers. Dalí and Picasso, among many British artists, are represented inside this repurposed power plant – but you'll find the works are scattered. Art is grouped by theme rather than by artist.
Recent visitors said if you're a fan of contemporary and modern art, you'll enjoy the Tate Modern. If you're partial to antiquities or the more traditional works of art, you'll probably be better served at the British Museum or the National Gallery. Other visitors suggested downloading the Tate App for your smartphone to get a deeper understanding of the works. Art aside, the eateries located within the museum may be enough of a reason for travelers to visit. Both the level 1 Cafe and level 6 Restaurant at Tate Modern afford stunning views of St. Paul's Cathedral, which is situated on the other side of the river.
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Londoners and out-of-towners alike enjoy spending a morning (or afternoon) at the Camden Market. Camden Market is actually multiple markets spread out in the neighborhood of Camden. Open daily starting at 10 a.m., it sprawls with about 200 stalls carrying close to everything, from furniture to food and lots of fashion. Looking for cheap graphic T-shirts and dresses? Head over to the first set of Camden Market stalls located closest to the Tube station, on the right of the high street. If you're looking for more of a mix of items, walk over the bridge to the lock market, situated on the peaceful Camden Lock. To the right of the high street, you'll find stalls filled with ethnic cuisine, fashion and souvenirs, to name a few. But head to the left and you'll find a wider variety of food stalls, selling a range of delicacies from pressed juice to Portuguese desserts, and even hot dogs. This area gives way to the long and winding stables market, consisting of vendors selling vintage home decor, leather goods and clothing.
It's easy to get lost in this market, but with all it has to offer, including cool restaurants and bars tucked between nooks and crannies, visitors agree it's also very fun. The only grievance travelers had were the massive crowds that form during the weekend. If you don't want to be shopping amidst wall-to-wall people, consider visiting during the week. Some reviewers also advised staying away from vendors situated closest to the Tube stop, as some said the sellers were pushy. Much of what is sold in that market can also be found in the lock and stables market. And if you're not one to spend hours shopping, the beautiful Regent's Park and Primrose Hill are both about a 15-minute walk away. You can find the Camden Market off of the Camden Town, Chalk Farm or Camden Road Tube stops. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more information about the vendors at the market, visit its official website.
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The palatial Victoria & Albert Museum, named in honor of the 19th-century royal couple, is known more commonly in its shortened form – the V&A. Located in South Kensington, this free museum is a compendium of applied art across a number of genres, disciplines and time periods. The collections are arranged by categories, such as architecture, textiles, furniture, drawings, jewelry, and so on, making it slightly easier to navigate this mammoth museum. Among the permanent collections, the V&A also offers diverse temporary exhibitions and free guided tours, along with free weekly public lectures.
Recent travelers praised the variety and sheer enormity of the art offered here, and were especially impressed with a recent special exhibit on Winnie the Pooh, but others were just as enthralled with its permanent collection, which many described as surprise around every corner. If you've only set aside a few hours to tour the museum, consider printing off a building map before you go, or buy one at the information desk upon arrival. Recent travelers attest a map will help you plan a route of the collections you'd like to see and maximize your visit.
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Located in Kensington, this museum brims with more than 70 million different specimens and exhibits, from dinosaur bones to a simulated earthquake. The Natural History Museum is also a favorite among families, so you'll find it crawling with kids. To help you better navigate the museum's various exhibits, consider downloading the free Natural History Museum App for your smartphone. Along with interactive maps of the museum's interior, it also features audio guides, as well as behind-the-scenes info on its vast collections.
Recent travelers praised the museum for its free admission and near endless exhibits. However, because of its popularity, visitors also mentioned the museum can get overwhelmingly crowded. Prepare for long lines, especially on the weekends. Some recommended stopping by just to see the museum's incredible architecture.
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