Here are just 20 of the hundreds of free attractions in Britain’s capital.
1. National Gallery
Housing masterpieces by painters including van Gogh, Renoir, da Vinci and Michelangelo, the National Gallery holds one of the world’s most important art collections, and sees over six million visitors every year. Miss the hordes by visiting on weekday mornings or Friday evenings. Whatever time you go, the permanent collections are always free.
2. British Museum
The British Museum is one of London’s top attractions, and absolutely free. It is bursting at the seams with enthralling artifacts from all over the world, from Egyptian mummies to samurai armour and Anglo-Saxon burial treasures to the Rosetta Stone. Remarkably, the 80,000 objects on display at any one time only make up 1% of the eight million objects in the museum’s possession.
3. Houses of Parliament
Home to the world’s most famous clock, Big Ben (officially the Queen Elizabeth Tower, but no one calls it that), the Houses of Parliament is a neo-Gothic wonder built in the mid-19th century. It is made up of two houses – the Commons and the Lords – and if you reserve ahead (or just try your luck on the day) you can go inside to watch British democracy in action.
4. Tate Modern
Located in what was once Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the Thames, the Tate Modern is one of the city’s most loved attractions. You can enjoy the permanent collection for free – it includes works by Pollock, Warhol and Matisse. The upstairs cafe has wonderful Thames views, and the building itself is amazing.
5. Greenwich Park
Head to the top of the hill in the centre of Greenwich Park and you’ll be treated to a spectacular free view of the city: the skyscrapers of Canary Warf loom up behind the 17th century Queen’s House, and beyond, the Thames snakes its way into the heart of London. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic in the capital on a summer’s day.
6. East London street art
The ephemeral nature of street art makes it difficult to say with confidence where you might find specific displays at any one time. However, certain areas of East London – notably Shoreditch – are famous for having particularly impressive graffiti. The side streets around Brick Lane always yield some decent artwork, as do Middlesex and Sclater streets.
7. Borough Market
Having celebrated its 1,000th birthday in 2014, it’s fair to say Borough Market is one of London’s more established haunts. Located under a maze of Victorian railway arches and open Monday to Saturday, Borough Market is stuffed with lovely food and food-lovers. It offers all you need for a memorable grab-and-go breakfast or lunch, but is also a good place for a simple wander.
8. Museum of London
Off the radar to most visitors, yet one of the city’s great attractions, the Museum of London offers a walk through London’s various incarnations – from the geological history of the Thames Valley to the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants to modern-day bankers. There is a nice cafe in its garden.
9. Kensington Gardens
The delightful Kensington Gardens are home to a trove of treasures, including the Albert Memorial, the Peter Pan Statue, the Serpentine Gallery, the Round Pond and the Diana Memorial Playground. All are free to admire or visit, and when you’re done with the sights, you can wander along the tree-lined paths which crisscross the whole park. East of here is a string of Royal Parks, all free to enter: Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park.
10. Queen’s House
This magnificent former royal residence was built for Anne of Denmark – the wife of James I – by architect and British Renaissance giant Inigo Jones. Huge swathes of it are free to explore, and there are often free exhibitions showing maritime artwork.