Are you planning a trip to London in the holidays or attending a networking conference for the weekend and wondering what to do in your spare time? Well don’t worry because I have your lowdown on the best free – yes, that’s right FREE – hidden gems in London, so you won’t be breaking the student loan bank. London is the UK’s cultural centre and from arts to dining there’s plenty to see and do in our capital.
Visit Parliament Square
Whilst almost everyone visits the Houses of Parliament at some point during their visit to London, it amazes me how many miss out on the opportunity to visit Parliament Square. With statues including Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, it really gives you a feeling for political history both in the U.K. and elsewhere. Dating back to 1868, you can also appreciate how London’s architecture has developed over time, whilst taking in the panoramic views of the surrounding area (such as the Houses of Parliament).
It offers Instagram-worthy surroundings in which you can bash out any upcoming deadlines
Parliament Square is also well known for its protests as a place to lobby MPs so if you’re interested in participating in causes like the Extinction Rebellion, then Parliament Square is a great place to head. Whilst you’re there why not also combine your trip with a visit to College Green? This is the location where prominent journalists report on breaking news stories in Parliament and key votes. If you’re lucky, you may even end up on camera.
Have a picnic at Primrose Hill
Based on the northern side of Regent’s Park in London, Primrose Hill is a great place to chill and have a picnic whilst taking in the views of London from the north. If you stay until sunset, you will also be able to see the London landscape shift and light up at night. If you’re not fancying a picnic it’s also a great place to walk or catch some rays during the summer months if the rain lets up.
Bash out your coursework at the Barbican centre
Close to the east side of London, the Barbican (which is the largest performing arts centre of its kind in Europe), offers lots of excellent study spaces and includes a library. With impressive architecture and its own lake, it offers Instagram-worthy surroundings in which you can bash out any upcoming deadlines whilst on your trip to London.
There is lots to see and take in just by walking down by the river
If the study gets too much however, the Barbican also has free events and installations in which you can enjoy the cultural gems that London has to offer.
Take a stroll down London’s South Bank
Coined by many as London’s cultural centre, the South Bank consists of a variety of restaurants, stalls, street performers and artwork. From Big Ben to the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe, there is lots to see and take in just by walking down by the river. The South Bank also has a lively scene of gay bars at night so is great to attend during London’s pride events.
Have some quiet reflection time at the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain
Based in Hyde Park, the Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a great place to relax after a long day of walking and have some quiet time to gather your thoughts. The fountain is part of a much longer memorial walk which is seven miles long and encompasses Kensington Place, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, St James’ Palace and Spencer House alongside 90 plaques set in the ground to remember the Princess.
This, in my opinion, is hands down the best museum that London has to offer
You can also combine this with a trip to the Serpentine Lido, which is just around the corner from the memorial. Whilst this isn’t technically free, it’s a bargain at only £4.80 and is open from May to Early September. This offers one of the only opportunities to swim in an open lake alongside ducks. If you’re wanting to top up on a tan during our own heatwave of the year it also has several sun loungers to relax on.
Discover the UK’s military history at the Imperial War Museum
This, in my opinion, is hands down the best museum that London has to offer. Located south of the River Thames, it isn’t as high on tourists’ radar for museums, but it offers an excellent insight into the experiences of soldiers during the first and second world war as well as more recently. Arguably, the most impressive feature of the museum is the 15-inch naval guns which appear in the site’s gardens but there also several RAF fighter jets to view as you enter into the museum. As well as displays and clips to watch, the museum also hosts several interest exhibitions such as the current holocaust exhibition.
“If you have never been to an event like this before it is really good to get some exposure to old traditions”
Observe a case at the UK Supreme Court
Whilst I have to admit that attending a good Supreme Court meeting is the luck of the draw, it is well worth experiencing how a Supreme Court meeting is carried out. Who knows, you could be watching the next Gina Miller case! From my own personal experience, I know the political excitement that can be gained from seeing how the court operates and all the momentous decisions that take place there. Last time I was there I even bumped into Ed Miliband in the queue. Even if the supreme court isn’t in session, you are free to roam around the committee rooms and explore the court for yourself with staff on hand to answer any questions that you may have.
Watch the Southbank Centre’s summer series
Another South Bank related suggestion, I know, but this one is completely necessary! From July to September every year the Southbank Centre hosts a summer of events including DJs, performances, free film screenings and live music all on their outdoor stage. Whilst most of the activities take place outside, there are also several great exhibitions and workshops to enjoy inside the centre itself so there is something for everyone.
Watch the changing of the guard
Whilst the majority of tourists flock to Buckingham Palace in the hope of seeing a glimpse of the Queen, few stick around to watch the changing of the guard. The changing of the Queen’s Guard takes place outside the Palace from 10.30am on certain days and last for around 45 minutes, with the actual handover taking place at 11am. The event is completely free and sees guardsmen from Wellington Barracks taking over the responsibilities of the Buckingham Palace Old Guard, accompanied by music and pomp. If you have never been to an event like this before it is really good to get some exposure to old traditions.
If you do feel willing to stretch the student loan, there are plenty of places where you can do this
Be entertained in Covent Garden
Barring Carnaby street, this is one of the best places to get some snaps during your London vacation. From the beautiful glass ceilings to the cobbled walkways outside, there is so much to admire about Covent Garden. Nestled at the heart of London’s theatre district, Covent Garden is packed with performers, jugglers and stunt artists all trying to make their way in the big city, and they are all free to watch.
Adding to this the plethora of shops and cafes on offer means that if you do feel willing to stretch the student loan, there are plenty of places where you can do this. In the summer months, Covent Garden also has outdoor sports screenings such as Wimbledon where you enjoy the game in a laid-back setting whilst sipping pimms. Whilst you’re in the area, you could also see a West End theatre show and, with discounted tickets often being sold on the day.
If you want to discover more of what London has to offer, ‘London Hacks’ has also done a series on YouTube called ‘London with no money’. This shows the best places to eat and visit in the capital on a tight budget.
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