We all know London is one of the most expensive cities in the world for more than one reason – but that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing the hum of this electric capital.
I went to London armed with the expectation that to have fun, I had to have money (and we all know money does help immensely in this department). However, the things I enjoyed doing the most I found were not only fun and photograph-worthy, but were also in fact free.
These activities and sights don’t take into consideration the travel costs you may incur getting there, however most were either within walking distance of where we were staying on Blackfriars Street, or were a short ride on the Tube.
If you’re planning on getting around as much as you can whilst you’re there then an Oyster card is well worth the purchase. It will only set you back £5 and you can then top it up with as much as you like for your stay. The great thing about these is there’s a daily price cap.
Say you’re traveling across Zones 1&2. Each fare will cost you between £1.70 and £2.40 in peak times (more than double this if you’re just paying cash and don’t have an oyster card) But once you’ve paid £6.80 (this is the daily price cap for these zones) then you won’t have to pay anymore fares. Fares and price caps vary between zones, but you can find more about that by visiting the Transport for London website.
Anyway! Oyster cards cost you money and this post was about five free things you can do in London, so in no particular order and without further ado…
5. Visit the Guildhall Art Gallery
General admission into this building is free, however a fee may be applied for some temporary exhibitions such as the Nature Morte exhibit. Running until April 2018, this exhibit costs £8 per person – but that’s not to say you can’t just walk in like I did, as no one was manning the doors. I thought it was worth chancing it! This Nature Morte exhibition they had running was intriguing, full of morbid pieces depicting the fragility of mortality and time’s effect on it. After satisfying my intrigue and mildly creeping myself out, I left the exhibit and wandered around the remainder of the gallery which did not disappoint.
From classic pieces glimpsing into London’s history to collections of portraits, there’s sure to be something that will catch your eye. Not into art? Then head down to the basement, where you’ll find the whole gallery casually sits on a roughly 2000 year old Roman amphitheatre. The discovery of these remains must have come as quite a surprise to those redeveloping the gallery in 1985! The room is dark and atmospheric, providing good insight into the violent and bloody past of Roman London. Where the structure of the amphitheatre was lost, digital images have been thrown up on the walls to provide you with a much fuller and engaging mental picture of the 7,000 spectators that would have looked on as wild animals fought to the death and criminals were slaughtered.
Check out the official City of London website for more information on the Guildhall Gallery website.
4. Horse Guards Parade
Despite the fact I’m a very horsey person, this was a great spectacle from any tourist or traveller’s point of view. It takes place on the ceremonial parade ground in St James’s Park daily at 11am (10am on Sundays), and there’s a dismounting ceremony daily at 4pm. It’s worth double-checking these times, however, as they sometimes change if the guards are required for other ceremonial duties throughout the year. The mounted sentries also change hourly.
The parade ground in which this takes place is also the location of the famous Trooping the Colour that takes place for the Queen’s Birthday – and unlike at Buckingham Palace, there’s no railings, so you can get up close to the guards and their horses. I think anyone will be able to go and appreciate the gleaming uniforms and immaculate horses whilst watching the precision of which this routine is executed by the Queen’s Life Guard. It’s quite mesmerising to watch and makes for some pretty cool shots.
3. Take a walk in St James Park
As it is just a hop and a skip away from Buckingham Palace, St James Park is worth wandering round if you’re headed that way anyway. This beautiful park offers flowerbeds, a lake, a cafe, many deckchairs (though these will cost you to park your bum on) and the usual park wildlife. Perhaps even more interesting, you can find pelicans on the lake amongst the resident waterfowl. These birds have called the park home since 1664 and were a gift from the Russian Ambassador at the time – they aren’t something you’d at all expect to see in a British park! St James covers nearly 57 acres, so you really could spend all afternoon wandering around it. If you’re into wildlife in general, its a great animal fix, and I was delighted to find all the wee creatures pretty friendly. The squirrels seemed especially ready to make friends for food.
2. Experience the wonder that is Victoria Secret
Whether or not you’re into lingerie, stepping into this underwear shop is like stepping into another world. Past outfits paraded by models can be seen on display across multiple floors (never mind the lingerie they’re actually selling), and these pieces are works of art in themselves. The shop becomes something of a gallery of eye catching modern pieces that, as a female, will likely leave you ooh-ing and aah-ing or simply wondering how the hell one would either fit into or comfortably wear such a garment.
The store we visited was the one on New Bond Street in Mayfair and we walked all the way from Blackfriars (thank you Google Maps) but it was worth it – and the shopping in this area anyway is superb so it wouldn’t have been a wasted trip. The stairway you ascend to the upper floor of the building I’d imagine compares to a stairway to heaven, for fashion enthusiasts (or if you just appreciate scantily clad women). And let’s face it, it’s hard not to appreciate the ethereal beauty of these women, nor hard to wonder why they’re dubbed Angels.
1. Head to Hogwarts from Platform 9¾
Well, at least you can try to head to Hogwarts – you can at least find the famous platform at Kings Cross Station right where you’d expect it. (the simplest way is just look for an obscenely long queue). I was fortunate that there wasn’t an alarming number of Potterheads waiting to take their trip through the wall, and so didn’t have to wait too long. The experience is free, although you need to wait in line – this isn’t too bad, however, as you all feed off the excitement of the other enthusiasts as each person (or group) moves up to the trolley.
Once it’s your turn, you get your house scarf, an optional wand for the shoot, and a qualified scarf thrower for maximum photo authenticity so it really does look like you’re taking a run at it. Photos can be taken by someone who’s with you on their phone, or camera to complete the free experience or you can head inside the Harry Potter shop to pick up your professional shot that also gets taken at the time and is optional for you to buy.
I must say I was all for just going with the snap on my iPhone, however on seeing the professional photographers images and being surprisingly impressed at them managing to capture my rare good side, I decided to buy not one but two photos that were given to me in neat little display frames.
The shop also contains a wealth of memorabilia and you can kit yourself out in your full house uniform while you’re there for good measure if you choose. As for me, a platform 9¾ oyster card holder was enough. Still if you’re even remotely interested in HP, this is more than worth the trip, just be mindful of the queuing!
So there you have it! Five free things that you can add to your I’m sure already bulging list of things to do in London. I’ll certainly be back in the future to explore more, one trip barely scratches the surface!