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What to do in London: top 10 free things

Travelling to London on a budget (or simply taking advantage of the Brexit situation)? Don’t worry: despite London’s reputation as an expensive city, there are plenty of free things to do if you’re in the know. Whether you’re keen on visiting the British Museum, seeing the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, or indulging in Harry Potter mania, the good news is you won’t need to spend a single penny. Check out Skyscanner’s handy guide to the top 10 free things to do in London.

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1. Explore a museum

One of the best things about London is that most of its wonderful museums are free, so it’s easy to get your daily dose of culture. Immerse yourself in the masterpieces of Picasso, Dali and Warhol at the Tate Modern, or marvel at the Rosetta Stone and other ancient treasures at the British Museum. Rub shoulders with some of the world’s greatest artists – from da Vinci and Michelangelo to Van Gogh – at the prestigious National Gallery. More into fashion and design? Then head over to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which boasts a stunning collection of rare 17th-century gowns and modern couture pieces. Whatever your interests, London has a museum for you.

National Gallery and close-up of a fountain at dusk.

Get your culture fix at one of London’s spectacular museums.

Read more: 8 unusual museums that will win you over

2. Watch the Changing of the Guard

When it comes to royal pomp and splendour, the Brits are hard to beat. No trip to London is complete without witnessing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – a majestic ceremony that’s steeped in quintessentially British tradition. The biggest draw, of course, is the iconic Queen’s Guard, famous for their red tunics, black bearskin hats and stoic demeanour; but the bracing music and military marching is a spectacle in its own right. The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11:30am daily from April to July, and on alternate days for the rest of the year. Just make sure you get there at least one hour before the ceremony since it’s always packed!

The Queen's Guard marching in their red coats and bearskin hats.

Witness British pomp and pageantry at its finest.

Read more: Europe’s 10 most beautiful castles and palaces: from the inside

3. Catch a performance at the Scoop

Why spend a fortune on West End tickets when you can enjoy free, open-air performances at the Scoop? Every summer, this lovely amphitheatre offers an exciting array of events – from theatre and musical acts to movie screenings. With the River Thames and Tower Bridge forming a beautiful backdrop, it’s hard to imagine a better venue in London. The Scoop also hosts free fitness classes like Zumba, capoeira and street dancing, so you can even stay in shape during your vacation!

People sitting on the steps of a sunken amphitheatre.

There’s nothing quite like free open-air theatre. Photo credit: Barney Moss / Flickr

Read more: 10 epic music festivals for your bucket list

4. Geek out at the British Library

Given the sheer abundance of London attractions, tourists often overlook the British Library – but that’s a big mistake. This majestic library holds a staggering collection of over 150 million items, ranging from illuminated manuscripts to rare maps and journals. There are many treasures to discover here: book nerds will swoon over Shakespeare’s First Folio and the Gutenberg Bible, while history buffs can gawk at the world-famous Magna Carta. If you’re more of a music lover, keep an eye out for Mozart’s notebook and handwritten lyrics by the Beatles. It’s rare to have free access to such a treasure trove of delights, so make sure you explore as much of this awe-inspiring library as possible.

Close-up of the British Library, with St. Pancras station in the background.

Uncover rare literary treasures at the British Library.

Read more: Best places for high tea in London

5. Take a selfie at Platform 9 3/4

In the magical world of Harry Potter, Platform 9 3/4 is where young wizards begin their train journey to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Sadly, you can’t take your kids to Hogwarts, but the good news is that you can certainly visit this mythic platform, located in King’s Cross Station. Platform 9 3/4 is marked by a sign and a luggage trolley that is half embedded in the wall, so it’s the perfect photo opportunity for Potterphiles of all ages. Ready to snap a selfie and make all your friends jealous?

Lady striking a pose in front of Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station.

Channel your inner Harry Potter at King’s Cross Station. Photo credit: Nelo Hotsuma / Flickr

Read more: Where to go during the school holidays: 15 family vacation ideas

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6. Discover the South Bank

Strolling along London’s wonderfully scenic South Bank is one of the city’s greatest pleasures. Stretching from Tower Bridge to the London Eye, this lively promenade is a popular haunt for street performers, tourists and locals alike – especially on glorious summer days. As you walk along the Thames, you can feast your eyes on iconic landmarks like Big Ben, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and the majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s the perfect way to soak up London’s famous skyline – all without spending a penny.

Close-up of the London Eye and the South Bank.

Strolling along the South Bank is one of the best ways to discover London.

Read more: London budget travel: 5 ways to save

7. Enjoy panoramic views at the Sky Garden

Fancy visiting a public garden that’s perched 155 metres up in the sky? Head over to London’s dazzling Sky Garden, which features a series of lush gardens and terraces housed under a soaring glass dome. Given its high vantage point, the Sky Garden also offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the City of London – and the best part is it doesn’t cost a thing. Just one important tip: since space is limited, it’s a good idea to book your free ticket well in advance.

Read more: The 12 best travel destinations in July

8. Channel your inner Beatle at Abbey Road

If you’re a Beatles fan (and really, who isn’t?), a pilgrimage to the famous zebra crossing on Abbey Road should be at the top of your list. This is your chance to recreate the iconic image from the Fab Four’s final album – but watch out for impatient drivers and overzealous tourists! Once you’re done snapping photos, check out the wall in front of the legendary Abbey Road studio, which is covered with colourful graffiti tributes to the Beatles from fans around the world.

Graffiti-covered wall in front of Abbey Road Studio.

Add your own Beatles tribute to the wall at Abbey Road studio. Photo credit: Nan Palmero / Flickr

Read more: 7 perfect places for rocking out

9. Soak up history at Trafalgar Square

You can’t travel to London without paying a visit to its most famous public square. Located in the heart of London, Trafalgar Square has always played an important role in the city’s history. The main attraction here is Nelson’s Column, which commemorates England’s most revered admiral. Flanked by four giant bronze lions, this impressive monument is worth the trip alone. Add to that the lively atmosphere and the gorgeous backdrop provided by the National Gallery, and it’s easy to see why Trafalgar Square is the beating heart of the city.

Close-up of the bronze lions in Trafalgar Square.

Get in the heart of the action at Trafalgar Square.

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10. Get your nature fix

Take a break from sightseeing and savour the beauty of London’s magnificent parks instead. Wander through the spectacular rose gardens of Regent’s Park, or follow in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis by strolling through Hampstead Heath. According to legend, the Heath’s untamed beauty served as the inspiration for Lewis’s magical land of Narnia. For the ultimate family outing, bring your kids to Richmond Park, which is famous for its herds of red and fallow deer. Sometimes the best things in life really are free.

Red and fallow deer grazing in Richmond Park.
Deer spotting in Richmond Park is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Photo credit: SLR Jester / Flickr

Read more: 8 botanical gardens of the world for your spring fever cure

Cheap flights to London

Ready to explore London without spending a cent? Book cheap flights, hotels and car rental via Skyscanner today, or download our free mobile app for easy browsing and booking on the go.

Published July 2016. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.