Savvy Travel: 10 Best Free Things to Do in London, England
The view from Victoria Tower, London. (Photo: VisitBritain/Andrew Pickett)
London on the cheap. It can be done, especially now that British Pound is a bit of a better deal against our Canadian Loonie. And, yes, add to that the best free things to do in London. We asked some of the city’s ultimate insiders – top hotel concierges – to give us the scoop on the best things to do in for less, and especially, for free.
Let’s just start with some of the most interesting museums and art galleries in the world, many of which are free entry. “An amazing and often overlooked gallery is The Wallace Collection,” says Theo Dubroy, the head concierge at The Arch London. (He’s also a transplanted Canadian, so he kept that in mind when he created his list for you, dear reader.) Entry is free and they offer free tours, he adds. “The Wallace Collection is an old mansion and only 5 minutes walk from The Arch. It has a range of fine and decorative arts from the 15th to 19th centuries with large holdings of French 18th-century paintings, furniture, arms and armour, porcelain and Old Master paintings arranged into 25 galleries.”
It’s also an opportunity to visit a grand family house of the times – and learn a little blue-blood family gossip, without paying admission. “It was established in 1897 from the private collection mainly created by Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800–1870), who left it and the house to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace (1818–1890), whose widow bequeathed the entire collection to the nation,” says Dubroy. The museum opened to the public in 1900 in Hertford House, Manchester Square, and remains there, housed in its entirety, to this day. A condition of the bequest was that no object ever leave the collection, even for loan exhibitions. www.thearchlondon.com
Along with Theo Dubroy at The Arch London, we asked Jamie McDowell, the deputy head concierge at The Savoy (it’s a Fairmont-managed property, so we’ll call him an honourary Canadian) and Andrius Petrucenia, the assistant head concierge, Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard. After all, who better than the ultimate insiders – the concierges – at some of the best hotels in London to tell us how to get luxe for less?
Click through for our insiders’ guide to the 10+ best free – and almost free – things to do in London.
The Local Expert: Theo Dubroy, Head Concierge
The Hotel: The Arch London
The Neighbourhoods: Marylebone/Mayfair/Camden
Walk the Historic Neighbourhood – Free
In the Marylebone area for guests who enjoy walking a great walk is along Marylebone High Street; there are lots of independent shops, design stores and trendy cafes and restaurants. You can walk off the jet lag in this area up to The Regents Park and get onto The Regents Canal taking you to Camden locks and the Camden markets. If you go a bit further you reach the Canal Museum, which gives a fascinating look into the waterways and a canal boat. http://www.canalmuseum.org.uk
Explore the Local Farmers Market – Free (unless you eat, of course!)
Every Sunday there is the Marylebone Farmers Market with an average of 40 stalls. There’s always something new to find as the seasons change. Look for cherries in July! Try oysters for breakfast from Norfolk-based Longshore or a mushroom sandwich from The Mushroom Table. Look out for raw milk from Hurdlebrook, excellent meat and poultry from Flitteriss Farm, Galileo Farm and Layer Marney Produce, game in season and free-range sausages from The Parsons Nose. There’s a huge range of vegetables and fruit at market from Manor Farm, Perry Court Farm, Riverdale Organic Farm, Chegworth Valley, Wild Country Organics and the ever-popular Potato Shop.
More Food & Drink – and a little Antique Shopping thrown in
As well, for cheese lovers around the corner from the market there is an amazing shop called La Fromagerie. They will let you sample all the cheeses and the have a small café section as well.
Another interesting local place is Cadenheads Whisky Shop. They do Whisky tasting for only £25 you get to taste big range of whiskeys and tour the lasts about an hour.
Close by is also Alfie’s Antique Market, large selection of antiques with a great hidden terrace café on the top floor.
Tip: We discovered The Arch London on the travel and hotel search engine www.booking.com. After booking, we also discovered a perk: “Booking Experiences,” a special QR code that provides discounts and deals on 40+ attractions whereby you can buy discounted tickets and skip the line at many London hotspots using booking.com’s mobile app.
NEXT: The Savoy
The Expert: Jamie McDowell, Deputy Head Concierge
The Hotel: The Savoy
The neighbourhood: The Strand/Covent Garden/St. James
Visit to London Silver Vaults – free
The London Silver Vaults, an underground Antique Market located on Chancery Lane in the Square Mile. The subterranean shops started life as the vaults for The Chancery Lane Safe Deposit in 1885. The building was destroyed in World War II, but the Vaults remained. It has an extensive range of Silver antiques and bespoke ornaments to fit the discerning customer’s needs. The Antique Market hosts “the largest single collection of silver for sale in the world”.
Walk With The Guards – free
The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 10.30am, between three locations: Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks. Walking between these locations lets you see more of the Guards and Bands, taking part in the ceremony. The official ceremony starts at 11am outside Buckingham Palace and lasts around 45minutes.
River Cruise from Westminster to Greenwich – bang for your buck (approx £12.75 Adults and £8.00 Children)
Get a new perspective of the city and some extraordinary views with a River Cruise. All year round, Thames London River boat service leaves regularly from Westminster Pier, passing historic and modern places of interest along the River Thames. Informative audio commentary guides you past some of London’s most famous landmarks including: Houses of Parliament, London Eye, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.
NEXT: Shangri-La Hotel
The Sky Lobby with St. Paul’s view, at Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard
The Expert: Andrius Petrucenia, Assistant Head Concierge
The Hotel: Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London
The Neighbourhood: Southwark/London Bridge/Southbank
Borough Market when it’s less crowded – Thursdays, 12:30-14:00 – Free
Enjoy lunchtime at Borough Market’s Demonstration Kitchen, every Thursday, 12.30-2pm in the food hall. Chefs demonstrate their skills & share their creations. Watch, learn & eat whilst soaking up the atmosphere of London’s most famous food market. A great way to both eat and enjoy lunch. If you’re lucky you can grab yourself a free sample once they’ve finished.
Music at Southbank Centre – Every Friday – Free
Enjoy free lunchtime music every week in The Central Bar at Royal Festival Hall.
From classical and jazz to folk and world, Friday Lunch features an exciting range of musical genres, often presented by students from music colleges or in association with Southbank Centre’s Resident Orchestras.
Take in the More London Free Festival, now through 24th Sept, South Bank
Four months of free fun at London’s premiere outdoor venue.
Now in its thirteenth year, the More London Free Festival is again bringing an impressive line-up of events and performances to the concrete amphitheatre below the Mayor’s leaning glass blob of an office on the South Bank. The season begins with a mix of live music and fringe theatre performance (June 3-June 26), including a take on Pride and Prejudice from the redoubtable Pantaloons.
From June 29-July 26 a LED screen shows full coverage of major sporting events such as Wimbledon, the Tour de France (Jul 26), the British Golf Open (Jul 16-19) and The Ashes (Jul 8-12, 16-20).
Then Gods and Monsters Theatre presents slimmed down Greek tragedies Women of Troy and kids’ show Captain Showoff! (August 5-30). The final focus is film, and from September 2-24 there’s a schedule of free screenings, from recent hits (Still Alice) to cult classics (Ghostbusters).
Eat: In addition there will be a pop-up restaurant named London Riviera that’s set to offer ‘five months of delicious food and drink inspired by French Riviera chic and Miami glamour’ from 8am to 10pm daily.
All events are free and no booking is required, but we recommend you arrive early and bring a cushion. For full event details visit www.morelondon.com
Learn about ancient artisanal pursuits at London Glassblowing Studio – Free
66 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3UD
10 minute walk from the Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard,
Established by Peter Layton in 1976, London Glassblowing is one of Europe’s leading glass galleries and working studios, with a flair for form and colour. Peter Layton, one of Britain’s top glass artists, has gathered a group of internationally renowned resident makers and their gallery showcases a great variety of magnificent artworks.
Tip: The studio welcomes visitors to come and watch the masters at work. Simply arrive, pull up a chair and experience the heat and magic of this ancient craft. Classes may also be booked, allowing guests to spend a day learning the secrets of glassblowing from some of the best makers in the country. Open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. The best time to watch the action is between 10.30am – 1pm and 2pm – 4.30pm.