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?
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.
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”.
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.