London for free (Shutterstock: see credit below)
List Words : Simon Farnsworth | 20 August

10 free things to do in London

Exploring the sights of London can come at a cost – but it's not all bad news for budget travellers. In fact, London excels in offering free experiences for the savvy sightseer. You just need to know where to look...

1) Enjoy free music – in spectacular locations

Take in a free lunchtime concert at St Martin in the Fields (pictured, Shutterstock) every Monday, Tuesday and Friday at 1pm. From Cuban guitar to Shostakovich and Beethoven, this 17th-century London church (walking distance from Trafalgar Square) offers some of the best free recitals in town.

The Royal Opera House also host free lunchtime concerts, featuring the 'stars of the future' from the Jette Young Artists Programme. Shows run most Mondays at 1pm, with a calendar of events stretching from September 15, 2014 to July 13, 2015.

You can also enjoy Evensong at Westminster Abbey for free. It may cost £18 to enter the Abbey during the day, but you can enjoy world-renowned choirs, five evenings a week, in this10th-century Gothic landmark free of charge.

2) Tour the East End's art scene

East London's art scene is flourishing. Hundreds of galleries operate in the area, so deciding which one to visit can be a tricky task – and you'll have to buy tickets.

Thankfully, on the first Thursday of every month, around 150 galleries and studios in East London hold free events – including a free art bus tour, walking tours, exhibitions, talks and workshops. 

Want to explore more of East London? See our guide to its hidden places... (Pictured: Banksy artwork, Shutterstock)

3) See a show at The Scoop

This sunken amphitheatre (pictured, Shutterstock), which sits close to 1,000 people, hosts lots of free events throughout the year – including theatre shows and film screenings. All events are free and tickets are not required. You'll find The Scoop just off Tower Bridge next to City Hall.

4) Jump on a Boris Bike – for less than 30 minutes

Everybody gets free use of London's Boris Bikes (pictured, Shutterstock) for up to thirty minutes. There are around 10,000 Boris Bikes in the city, with over 700 docking stations where you can collect and drop off them off. After your free thirty minutes you'll be charged, with prices increasing for every extra half an hour. This is a great way to explore a city that is becoming increasingly cycle-friendly.

Helen Moat sampled London's Boris Bikes on a day trip – read her guide for more city cycling tips...

5) Take in the view

Take your pick from London's parks and viewpoints – some of which offer panoramic views to rival those of The Shard (£29.95 on the day, £24.95 in advance) and The London Eye (£20.95 on the day, £17.96 online). Plus, you can't take a picnic up The Shard! Our top spots...

Greenwich Park

Location: South-East London   
Nearest tube stop: North Greenwich (Jubilee Line)
Best views: Head to the Royal Observatory for breathtaking vistas across the Thames that take in Canary Wharf, The Gherkin, The Shard, St Paul's Cathedral, the Millennium Dome and more...
What else can you do? Explore hundreds of years of nautical history in The National Maritime Museum. Entry is free but charges apply for some temporary exhibitions.

Regent's Park
Location: Central London
Nearest tube stop: Regent's Park (Bakerloo line)
Best views: Primrose Hill adjoins the northern side of the park; from here you'll be able to spot St Paul's Cathedral, The Shard and The London Eye.
What else can you do? Use the money you've saved to catch a show at the park's intimate Open Air Theatre (tickets from £25). The park is also home to London Zoo and Queen Mary's Gardens which includes London's biggest rose garden.
Hampstead Heath (pictured above, Shutterstock)
Location: North West London
Nearest tube stop: Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak (Overground)
Best views: To the south-east of the heath lies Parliament Hill, which offers panoramas of famous London landmarks including The Gherkin, The Shard and St Paul's Cathedral.
What else can you do? The heath is great for a quick dip. With a ladies' pond, a men's pond, a mixed pond and the Parliament Hill lido, it offers a great selection for outdoor swimming.

6) Meet the royals – well, almost...

You can't come to London without a royal encounter, so be sure to catch the changing of the guard ceremony at both Buckingham Palace (pictured, Shutterstock) and Windsor Castle – for free.

The Guard Mounting takes place daily between April and July: at 11.30am at Buckingham Palace, and at 11am at Windsor Castle (except Sundays). For the rest of the year the ceremony takes place on alternate days.

Take a stroll through Kensington Gardens, one of the city's Royal Parks. Here, you'll discover a peaceful slice of London in the Italian Gardens, or by browsing the latest exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries.

7) Climb up to Big Ben for free

Chances are you've probably heard of that big old clock tower that looms large over Westminster – but did you know you can climb it for free? This perk is only open to UK residents, and does involve writing to your local MP and a possible wait of six months. However, you do have the eventual pleasure of viewing central London from 62 metres up.

The guided tour of this iconic 154-year-old tower lasts an hour and requires you to climb the 334 steps to the top. Remember: Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the building itself. In fact, the tower is called Elizabeth Tower – and was formerly known as St Stephen's Tower. (Pictured, Shutterstock)

8) Meander through markets

It doesn't cost a penny to wander London's cosmopolitan and eclectic markets – although you will need immense willpower not to get your wallet out. The diverse range of street markets dotted across the city offers a glimpse of the amazing food, antiques and crafts available locally. 

A walk through the Caribbean cuisine of Brixton Market, or the thriving, foodies' heaven of Borough Market – whose traders sell produce from all corners of the globe – is sure to set your stomach rumbling.

Portobello Road Market (pictured, Shutterstock), famous for its antiques stalls on Saturdays, is a mile-long stretch of shops and alleyways packed with vendors and bargain hunters. The vibrant Brick Lane Market, where funky furniture and unusual wares are in ample supply, is best visited on Sundays.

Still hungry? Read our guide to the best street food markets in London.

9) Explore London's icons on foot

As the crowds disperse and the sun sets, London charm doesn't fade. Start on Westminster Bridge, in the shadow of parliament and Big Ben, and walk along the South Bank towards Tower Bridge, taking in the Jubilee Gardens, London Eye, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, The Shard and finally the Tower of London. There are numerous cafés and bars along the way, especially around Waterloo Bridge, and daytime urban trekkers will also be able to visit Borough Market. (Pictured, Shutterstock)

Got energy for more? Check out our round-up of the capital's finest urban walks...

10) Enjoy the freebie classics

Some of London's most notable galleries and museums charge absolutely nothing for entry. You can browse the best of modern art at Tate Modern or, for the more traditional art fan, Tate Britain and the National Gallery – all for free. You can even enjoy free guided tours of the National Gallery and Tate Britain. The British Museum (pictured, Shutterstock), with its stylish Norman Foster-designed Great Court, is also free to enter. 

Main image: Financial District of London (Shutterstock)