Essentially Free London:
Take a stroll and see Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and Tower Bridge
Some of the most iconic buildings of London can only be viewed from the outside. Many of these buildings are within walking distance of each other, so invest in a walking map of the city. Get off at the Green Park tube stop. When you exit the tube stop, follow the sign pointing to Buckingham Palace. I completely missed it the first time I visited London. If you experience the same confusion, just politely ask someone to direct you to Buckingham Palace. From there walk down the Mall and head to Trafalgar Square. Big Ben is partially visible from the square, so you should see it. To reach Tower Bridge, walk along the Thames until you reach it.
The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square also contains The National Gallery, a lovely museum with beautiful works of art. It is also free, has clean public restrooms, and- if you’re visiting London on a particularly warm day- air conditioning.
The British Library
The British Library has many treasurers stored, and there seems to be something for everyone. For historians, the library displays one of the few copies of the Magna Carta. The library also has Jane Austen’s writing desk and a handwritten manuscript of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. For music lovers, they have a tribute to the Beatles that includes lyrics to some of their most famous songs. Visitors can put on headphones and listen to their favorite hits.
King’s Cross Station
Harry Potter fans realize the significance of this popular station as where young witches and wizards board the Hogwarts Express to school. Fans can also take pictures at platform 9 ¾. On my first visit in 2010, the “Harry Potter” platform was in between platforms 10 and 11 and you would jump up to the cart as soon as someone walks away (there are tracks between 9 and 10), but King’s Cross has moved Platform 9 ¾ to the lobby area, and there are ropes set up to create a line with a professional photographer and gift shop. We asked the people behind us in line to take our photo, but, in the end, the professional photographer was much better, so I splurged on the photo. When you enter King’s Cross, there is a map and Platform 9 ¾ is clearly marker on the map.
The Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 to celebrate- I’m sure you can guess- the millennium.Interesting story, a local told me that when the bridge first opened the bridge shook as people walked across it and the bridge was nicknamed the “wobbly bridge.” The bridge was featured in the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’s opening scene. It has since been fixed, but in the Harry Potter film, the Death Eaters cause the bridge to ‘wobble’ (and eventually snap) in reference to the original instability of the bridge.
While the market is made for consumers, it is also an interesting place to walk around. I heard of the market from a travel show, so a friend and I decided to check it out. The best way to describe the market is that it resembles an onion with multiple layers. We spent a couple of hours exploring the market.
St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey
Both of these churches charge an admission fee, but if you attend a service you can get in for free. If you attend St. Paul’s Cathedral Evensong (every night at 5 p.m.), you can sit with the choir at the front of the church and the acoustics are incredible. Both churches have rich histories. Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married at St. Paul’s. Westminster Abbey was the location for Prince William and Kate Middleton and the location of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and wedding.
Piccadilly is the Times Square of London at night, the heart of the West End. Beautifully lit up at night, visitors can see a number of Broadway shows like Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, or Sister Act to name a few. They aren’t free, but you can find discounted tickets for day-of-show performances.
London has many beautiful parks. Take a stroll through one of these parks instead of the street and enjoy the view. For the child at heart, J.M. Barrie used Kensington Gardens in his writings of Peter Pan. A statue of the little boy who would never grow up resides in the garden.
For the Beatle fans, taking a trip to Abbey Road is a must. Strike a pose on the famous crosswalk. It is a busy street, and the locals will honk at you to keep it moving. If you want a great group shot, there will most likely be other tourists there who want the same thing. Make some friends and trade off taking photos.
Know any other free activities for London? Please let me know!