Back in the day, Dick Whittington was attracted to London on the premise that the city’s streets were ‘paved with gold’. That was a few centuries ago. Today, London’s visitors are probably more inclined to believe that they need wallets lined with gold in order to appreciate all that the city has to offer. Not so. London offers enough free sights, landmarks, experiences and attractions to fill any number of days out and to keep adults and kids amused and entertained for hours on end. Here’s a selection of some of London’s best free attractions.
London’s free museums
London offers a wealth of free and fascinating museums. And speaking of wealth, where better to start than the City itself? If you’re based around Liverpool Street (where you’ll find the rather handy and boutique Hyatt Andaz Liverpool Street hotel, for example) the Bank of England Museum is within easy reach, where you can gaze at gold bars, ancient and modern coins and unexpected items such as the weapons (pikes and muskets!) used to defend the bank in olden times. Close by, Goldsmiths Hall, which dates back to the fourteenth century, was founded to regulate the craft of the goldsmith and to test the quality of precious metals and hallmark them.
The remains of London’s own Roman Amphitheatre can also be found in the City, whilst the adjacent Guildhall Art Gallery charts London’s history through a collection of artworks dating from the seventeenth century to the present day. Elsewhere, London’s superb free museums include the British Museum in Bloomsbury which has collections and exhibitions spanning two million years of human history, the stunning Imperial War Museum in Shoreditch, Kensington’s iconic Natural History Museum, famed for its dinosaur skeletons and the interactive and endlessly fun Science Museum, also in Kensington, where Stephenson’s Rocket is now permanently displayed.
London’s free parks, gardens and farms
When the weather’s fine – even if it’s not sunny – London’s many green spaces offer plenty of outdoor fun for the family. For fabulous views of the city head to the hilltop Greenwich Park; 183 acres of green lawns and beautiful gardens as well as a children’s playground, numerous cafes and easy access to Greenwich’s Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum.
Hyde Park, in central London, spans 350 acres and besides the natural beauty created by its flower beds, varied trees, lake, ornamental fountains and statues and meadow, Hyde Park also offers running tracks, boating, tennis, team sports pitches, ice skating (from November to January) and a superb children’s playground. Occupying 410 acres of gardens, lawns, a large boating lake and various sporting and recreational facilities between Paddington and Camden, Regents Park dates from 1811, and the view from the park’s Primrose Hill is considered the best in London.
Kids will love the gardens of Crystal Palace Park, in which life-sized dinosaur models hide. There’s also a children’s farm here, a maze and a playground perfect for burning off excess energy. There’s more free farm fun to be had at Deen City Farm in Merton which also has a farm shop, Mudchute Farm and Park (London’s biggest urban farm), Newham City Farm where the animals include shire horses and llamas and Vauxhall City Farm at which visitors can meet three friendly alpacas and explore the herb garden.
Offbeat free London Attractions
Frankly, London has almost countless free museums, art galleries (the Tate and Tate Modern, The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery and the Wallace Collection spring to mind just for starters), historic houses, parks and gardens to explore. They’re all great, but what if you fancy something a little different?
Legal eagles can watch actual criminal proceedings as they happen from the Public Gallery of the beautiful neo-gothic Supreme Court in Westminster. For superb rooftop views of St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s free to take the glass elevator to the roof terrace of the New Change shopping centre. On a slightly macabre note, the thirteenth-century Spitalfields Charnel House was a repository for skeletons due to be relocated to consecrated ground from the nearby cemetery of medieval Priory of St Mary Spital and is today a remarkable ‘open air museum’. Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss a visit to Platform 9 ¾ Kings Cross Railway Station, from which the Hogwart’s Express departs.