As someone who is well known for always scrimping and saving, I’m always looking for ways to get the best out of the places I visit but without splashing the cash. During a recent trip to London, I made it my mission to discover what our capital city has on offer for those on a budget by scoping out some of the free things you can get up to. I managed to experience a little bit of everything, from culture to cuisine, all without spending a penny and have detailed my favourite places so you can too.
One of my favourite finds was the Southbank Centre which, as the name suggests, is located on the south bank of the Thames, just a stone’s throw away from Waterloo station and the London Eye. This huge building has something for everyone as it houses a huge concert hall as well as many exhibition spaces. There are plenty of comfy seats in which you can take refuge from the unpredictable Great British weather or just have some down time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are frequent film screenings and live performances in the atrium which are open to all and I managed to catch the end of a showing of the previous night’s opera which was sung beautifully even if I didn’t understand a word!
Free tickets to many events within their unique festivals are available with the well-known London Summertime festival providing a comprehensive programme of no-cost events from art to dance to comedy and everything in between. In the summer, there are fantastic outdoor spaces that are open to all with a fun interactive fountain on one of the terraces that shoots up jets of water, trapping you inside, an idea which is popular with children and adults alike. There is also a chance to feel the sand between your toes with a beach being constructed every summer right beside the river so all you need to bring is a bucket and spade! But I have to admit that my favourite thing about this location is the lifts, which sing as you travel, sliding from a soprano to a bass while they descend.
After this, if you fancy a stroll down the South Bank you can make your way to the Tate Modern and stop off at the Turbine Hall for a look at the current exhibition. In the past, the entire floor has been covered in hand crafted porcelain sunflower seeds, the walls have been covered in giant slides and a raised garden with soils from all over London have been installed, all available to see for free. In order to make the most of your visit, pop up to the new Switch House Extension which has increased gallery space enormously while also providing a new viewing terrace which provides atmospheric views across the river toward St Paul’s which is perfect for that artsy picture you need for Instagram (always a holiday essential). It’s also a good opportunity to have a nosy look into the multimillion pound flats that can be seen from the opposite side of the building! And if you fancy a look from the other side of the river, you can take the lift up to the top of One New Change, a major office and retail development at the foot of St Paul’s which gives you a great view of the iconic church as well as across the Millennium Bridge back to the tall chimney of the Tate.
If you are feeling a little peckish after this, I’d recommend venturing a little further down the river to Borough Market. Now before you complain, I am aware that they do charge for the food at the market but there is always an opportunity for a couple of free samples. During my trip there I had homemade lemon iced tea handed to me and a large hunk of chorizo sausage to try. The bustling atmosphere of the market is something you can’t find anywhere else and the mixture of sights, smells and sounds is amazing!
London is a city that is famous for the huge number of green spaces it offers with expansive parks to be found all over the city. In Kensington, I discovered an absolute London gem. Holland Park contains a Japanese garden, an ecology centre and an adventure playground. You can see peacocks wandering regally along the paths side by side with quacking ducks and the ubiquitous pigeon and there are plenty of bench on which to relax on a sunny day. Just outside the park is the brand-new design museum which relocated here in late 2016. On the top floor of this beautiful airy space is a free permanent exhibition about contemporary design and how the things we use every day are conceived and made. Even if you don’t fancy a look, the space is fantastic just to have a seat for 5 minutes and appreciate the building, which is as wonderful as you would expect from people whose lives are dedicated to design.
I don’t know about you but I’m certainly convinced that even in a city that is notoriously expensive, you don’t need to shell out to have a good time and get a taste of some of what the city has to offer. I hope this has encouraged you to try a few free attractions on your next trip, wherever that may be and don’t be ashamed of skimping, you never know what you might discover.