Not everything in our capital city is expensive; indeed, London has an incredible range of free attractions, making a day out, or a weekend, on a limited budget, very easy to do. From London’s fabulous parks, to world-class museums and amazing art galleries, there are some fantastic free experiences to be had in London.
Where else can you meet dinosaurs and creepy crawlies, see the Rosetta Stone, travel back to the Second World War or visit the Apollo 10 command module, all without having to put your hand in your pocket?
Add to that, inexpensive eateries and good value shopping, and you have our guide to London on a shoestring:
London is home to some of the best museums in the world and most are free.
The Natural History Museum is one of London’s best loved, with the dinosaur exhibits being particularly popular with children (the dinosaur gallery reopens on July 23). Other highlights include the new Darwin Centre with its Cocoon experience and the high-tech Attenborough Studio. www.nhm.ac.uk
Founded in 1753, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the world, granting free admission from the outset to all “studious and curious persons”. Highlights include the glorious Reading Room and the Rosetta Stone. www.britishmuseum.org
The Museum of London is an amalgamation of the Guildhall Museum, founded in 1826, and the London Museum. Housing the largest archaeological archive in Europe, the museum tells the story of London’s turbulent past. www.museumoflondon.org.uk
From Stephenson’s Rocket to the Apollo 10 command module, you can encounter the past, present and future at the Science Museum (www.sciencemuseum.org.uk) or relive life at war, from the First World War onwards, at the Imperial War Museum. www.iwm.org.uk
With everything from Old Masters to contemporary, modern art, London has an art gallery to suit everyone; most are free.
The National Gallery displays Western European paintings from artists such as Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci; famous works include Sunflowers by Van Gogh and the Hay Wain by Constable. www.nationalgallery.org.uk
The world’s largest collection of personalities and faces, from Henry VIII to Lily Allen, are on view at the National Portrait Gallery. www.npg.org.uk
Tate Modern is home to modern and contemporary art, in the contemporary looking former power station building, with artists ranging from Damien Hirst to Gauguin, while Tate Britain houses the largest collection of British art in the world with work from the last five centuries, most notably masterpieces from Gainsborough and Constable, and the Turner collection of 300 paintings. www.tate.org.uk
parks and gardens
What better way to enjoy London for free than taking some time to explore its parks and gardens; with historical connotations as well as easy access to key London landmarks, they are the ideal place for that inexpensive picnic lunch. www.royalparks.gov.uk
One of the best known is the 350-acre Hyde Park with its large lake, meadow and ornamental flower gardens, as well as the Diana Memorial Fountain and the Serpentine Bridge. Enjoy swimming, boating and cycling and, on a Sunday, hear London’s most vocal orators at Speaker’s Corner. Open: Daily from 5am-midnight.
St James’s Park is the perfect London retreat; it is home to pelicans, owls and bats, yet has numerous royal, political and literary associations. There are also free early evening and lunchtime weekend concerts throughout July and August. Open: Daily from 5am-midnight.
Green Park is St James’s Park’s more peaceful neighbour, with its mature trees and grassland. It was a famous duelling site until 1667 and borders Constitution Hill, which owes its name to Charles II and his frequent “constitutionals”. Open: Daily from 5am-midnight.
The 275 acres of Kensington Gardens consist of formal avenues of trees and ornamental flower beds, including the Italian Garden. Its two playgrounds include the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground and there is summer entertainment for children and free bandstand recitals. Open: Daily from 6am-midnight.
With over 5,000 restaurants to choose from, how do you know which London eateries offer the best value for you and your family? You can’t go wrong if you pick a familiar “chain” restaurant such as Wagamama, with over 30 London branches, or Gourmet Burger Kitchen for an upmarket, yet good-value American burger.
For something a little different, yet still good value, try Comptoir Libanais (020 7935 1110) in Marylebone for Lebanese home cooking, Beatroot cafe (020 7437 8591) in Soho, for the best in vegetarian, or the Stockpot restaurant (020 7839 5142) in Panton Street for good old British fayre, at great prices.
Away from expensive designer shops, you can still pick up some bargains on a London shopping trip. Markets, such as Petticoat Lane (Monday-Friday 10am- 4.30pm, Sunday 9am-2pm) and Camden Market (daily 10am-6pm) offer great value shopping, as do the high street chains. But how about a charity shop? Manolo Blahniks have been spotted in
the British Red Cross shop in Chelsea, for example... For more designer wares at bargain prices, check out http://designersales.co.uk for a list of sample sales – the next London one is July 8-9 at Chelsea Town Hall.