There is simply so much to do in London that you can easily spend a large sum of money during a trip to the capital. With your accommodation costs, travel, eating out, going out for drinks and souvenir shopping for your loved ones, it all adds up.
But one of the many beautiful things about London is that so many of its greatest attractions are, in fact, free to visit and enjoy, meaning you’ll have more money to spend on a luxury hotel or shopping in Harrods too.
Here’s our pick of seven of the best free attractions the UK capital has to offer.
1. Changing of the Guards
The changing of the Guards takes place at Her Majesty The Queen’s official residence Buckingham Palace every other day at certain times of year, marking the occasion when a new guard takes on watching over the building from the old guard. As this is Queen Elizabeth II’s house, this isn’t as simple as one bloke doing a quick handover with another and saying ‘see you tomorrow’; instead, the process involves a fabulous amount of pomp and ceremony that regularly attracts tourists from all over the world.
Spectators can watch from outside the palace gates to see the new guard escorted to their position by a military band, with the bright scarlet uniforms and black bearskin hats of the guards one England’s most iconic images. The poise with which the guards stand still is mesmerising – watch carefully to see if they sneeze.
2. National Gallery
The majority of London’s museums are free to enter and explore, and the National Gallery is no exception. Situated in Trafalgar Square, the gallery is home to some of the world’s finest art, including renowned Renaissance, Georgian and Victorian works. Visitors during 2017 will get the chance to see pieces by masters including Michelangelo and Cagnacci, but with exhibitions constantly changing, it’s always worth a visit to soak up some free art and culture.
3. Abbey Road
The Beatles’ album cover featuring John, Paul, George and Ringo walking over a zebra crossing outside their studio is one of the music world’s most iconic images of all time. The Abbey Road Studios are located just a five-minute walk from the St John’s Wood Underground station, and you can find that famous road crossing right outside to recreate that album cover for yourself. Just watch out for traffic when trying to perfect your photo – it’s right next to a busy junction!
4. Tate Britain
The Tate Britain is another internationally-renowned art gallery that is free to enter, housing paintings and sculptures from the 16th century to the modern day. If you’re visiting before the end of 2016, you’ll be able to see the year’s Turner Prize entrants on display, including the winning piece by Helen Marten. On more permanent display are classic works by prestigious names including Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, David Hockney and Francis Bacon. For fans of the pre-Raphaelite movement, John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott and Sir John Everett Millais’ stunning Ophelia are particular highlights.
5. Kensington Gardens
Kensington Gardens – essentially the backyard of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s official residence – are free to enter all year round. Encompassing the Kensington Palace grounds, the Italian Gardens, the Serpentine Galleries and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, Kensington Gardens are a beautiful spot to explore during any season. Take a stroll around the Allotment Garden, where you can see a wide variety of herbs and vegetables being grown and hunt down the famous Peter Pan statue, which was commissioned by the story’s creator JM Barrie in 1912 to commemorate the spot the title character visits in his book during a night-time flight. The Albert Memorial and Queen Victoria statue are also worth checking out, making this a fascinating spot to spend a whole day out, free of charge.
6. Nelson’s Column
Perched on a plinth 169 ft high in the centre of Trafalgar Square, the 18 ft tall Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson keeps watch over the square named after the infamous battle in which he was tragically killed after leading his troops to victory in 1805. Guarded by four lions at the base of the plinth, Nelson’s Column is certainly worth a visit if you’re staying in London. Stop and enjoy a coffee in the square while craning your neck to see the top of the column, enjoy the statues sat atop the other three plinths, with the installation on the fourth plinth changing regularly, or bring your sandwiches to eat during a pitstop on your exploration of the capital – the famous Trafalgar Square pigeons are sure to step in should you drop any crumbs.
7. Imperial War Museum London
The Imperial War Museum London is a fascinating yet humbling place to visit, charting the stories of British people’s lives in battles from the First World War to the modern day. Must-see artefacts include those in the permanent Holocaust Exhibition, the temporary Global War on Terror exhibition (closing in August 2017) and the Curiosities of War display. Find out about ordinary Londoners’ lives during the First and Second World Wars, learn what life was like during the brief period of peace from 1918 to 1939, and experience modern-day soldiers’ roles in Afghanistan: Reflections on Helmand. A visit to the museum will stir your emotions and change your perspective.
If you don’t want to end your day on a sombre note, the South Bank of the River Thames is just a 15-minute walk away. Stroll along the river and take in the sights of the attractions you haven’t yet visited – you can see Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Houses of Parliament and the iconic Big Ben clock tower from this side of the river; the walk will do you good and won’t cost you a penny.