The UK capital is known for its wealth of culture, world-class attractions and... budget-busting prices. But travelers on a tight budget need not despair – there are plenty of free things to in London if you know where to look.

You can walk through two millennia of history, delve into a cornucopia of treasures, go on a music and art odyssey, and soak in some of the most iconic views on earth – all without spending a single penny. Here’s where to start.

People walk below a blue whale skeleton that is suspended from the ceiling in the large exhibition hall of a museum
It's completely free to visit London's iconic Natural History Museum © pio3 / Shutterstock

1. Learn about the world's natural wonders

The Natural History Museum houses some 80 million specimens within a spectacular Grade-I-listed Gothic structure. From a full blue whale skeleton – the world's largest mammal – dangling from the ceiling to ancient bones of dinosaurs that once roamed the earth, this magnificent collection of things from the natural world began more than 200 years ago and is entirely free to visit.

Planning tip: You don't need to book tickets in advance, but those that do get to skip the line. Check the museum’s website for regular free guided tours and workshops.

2. Get lost in London’s historic streets

One of the best ways to get a grasp of London’s immense history and diverse neighborhoods is to set off on two feet. The whole city center is walkable and its winding, twisting, turning streets are an adventure in themselves. Dozens of free walking guides are available online, pointing out notable landmarks and offering facts about the areas you find yourself in. When walking anywhere in London, don’t forget to look up; ancient gargoyles, detailed facades and old signage can be found at every turn.

Local tip: Movie fans should seek out filming locations, everything from James Bond (Skyfall, Spectre and No Time To Die) and The Bourne Ultimatum to Love Actually, 28 Days Later and Les Miserables has been filmed in London.

A large industrial building with a brick chimney at dusk
You could easily spend a whole day exploring Tate Modern on the South Bank © chrisdorney / Shutterstock

3. See modern art greats at London's free galleries

London’s has many superb free galleries to choose from. Smaller spaces include the Serpentine Gallery – which has showcased big guns in the modern art world including Henry Moore, Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst and Tomoko Takahashi – and the Saatchi Gallery, which celebrates contemporary artists on the way up.

Then there’s the art-world Goliath that is the Tate Modern, housed in the striking old Bankside Power Station, with hundreds of works displayed over seven large gallery floors. Look out for pieces by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Nan Goldin and Tracey Emin.

Local tip: Roam a neon wonderland at God’s Own Junkyard, a salvage yard in Walthamstow that's home to hundreds of electric signs that have been created into pieces of art.

4. Lounge around in London’s many parks

In summer Londoners head for the city’s 3000 free parks. These glorious green social spaces are the places to get away from the bustle of the city, read a book, nature watch, picnic or lounge in a deckchair, but they also host numerous events – look out for free outdoor theater shows, guided nature walks, live music, movie screenings, sports tournaments, festivals and more on park websites.

Local tip: Visit Greenwich Park to stand at longitude zero (0° 0' 0”), from which every place on earth is measured. Step over the Prime Meridian line to transport yourself into the east or west of the world in one step.

A street artist adds to colorful murals all over a wall in a tunnel covered in graffiti
Leake Street tunnel has become a revolving gallery of street art © Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

5. Watch street artists at work in Leake Street Tunnel

Leake Street Tunnel, tucked away in Waterloo, is a vibrant 200m (656ft) outdoor gallery of murals, graffiti and stencil art. It has been legally designated a “free wall” meaning anyone can come and create a piece of art here. The standard is world-class, and passersby can view everything from giant portraits and political pieces to those in the image of New York 1960s subway graffiti. Famous street artist Banksy has been known to leave his mark here too. On most days you can watch artists live in action.

Local tip: Explore other street art hot spots in East London's Brick Lane and Hackney Wick on a self-guided walking tour.

6. Catch the Changing of the Guard Ceremony

This iconic tradition at Buckingham Palace, dating back to the reign of King Henry VII, is free to watch. It’s essentially the formal changeover of guards protecting the King’s palace (complete with red and black uniforms and tall bear-skin hats – worn to make them look intimidating in battle) and is full of pomp and in-sync marching.

Planning tip: It usually takes place at 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and lasts for around 45 minutes. Times can shift slightly, so be sure to check the online schedule before you go. If you want to see the guards within the Palace, get to the gates early for a good view as the area swells with crowds before the ceremony, but there are many of other viewing points along the parade route.

A street performer balances on a wire while juggling knives as a crowd looks on
Join the crowds to watch street performers put on a free show in Covent Garden © dinosmichail / Shutterstock

7. Be entertained by a Covent Garden street performance

Entertainers have been delighting outdoor crowds in Covent Garden’s cobbled Piazza since the 1660s. Street performers here range from acrobats to magicians and comedians. Just look for the crowds forming a circle and join them to watch classic circus-style performances, from knife throwing on a unicycle to stilt walking on a wire. You never know what you’re going to get but there’s sure to be plenty of humor and some peril.

Local tip: While it’s not required, it is courteous to tip your performers, even if it’s just a small amount of change – it’s how they make a living.

8. View thousands of pickled specimens

Fans of the peculiar and macabre should pay a visit to one of London’s most curious museums – the Hunterian Museum, named after 18th century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. It’s stacked with more than 2000 preserved animals, plants, bones and body parts from eyeballs and organs to monkeys, birds, lizards and other creatures frozen in time in glass jars.

Planning tip: Note that the museum is closed on Mondays and Sundays.

9. Step inside a historic manor house

See how the other half lived more than a century ago at one of London’s impressive manor houses. Arts and crafts celebrity William Morris lived with his family in a stunning 19th century Georgian mansion house next to Lloyd’s Park in Walthamstow, now the William Morris Gallery. Visitors can wander the rooms in the formerly named Water House, and learn about his life’s works.

In Hampstead Heath, meanwhile, the grand 17th-century Kenwood House is an impressive stately home with painstakingly maintained features, including ornate pastel-pink plasterwork in the Great Library, 112 acres of manicured gardens, and a seriously impressive art collection – spot works by George Romney, Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer.

People at a cafe within a large glass skyscraper enjoying city views
Book tickets for the Sky Garden in advance for one of the best free views over London © DrimaFilm / Shutterstock

10. Take in the city’s glorious views

Climb up the 90m (300ft) bluff on Hampstead’s rugged heath to Parliament Hill for soaring views over London and see if you can spot the Palace of Westminster in the distance. Take a wander uphill to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park for awesome scenes of Canary Wharf’s modern financial district with the 17th-century Old Royal Naval College in the foreground.

Want to stay indoors? No problem, the foliage-filled atrium of London’s Sky Garden, on the 43rd floor of the famous “Walkie Talkie” building (at 20 Fenchurch St) is completely free to visit and has floor-to-ceiling glass windows with 360-degree views. Book timed tickets online in advance for that and London's newest and highest free viewing deck, the 58th-floor Horizon 22 at 22 Bishopsgate.

11. Visit the gateway to the Wizarding World

North London’s King’s Cross Station is home to the gateway to Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, otherwise known as Platform 9¾. In tribute to the hit book and movie series, a sign is permanently hung above a trolley stacked with suitcases and an owl cage, as it half disappears into the wall. Potterheads can line up with other fans to snap a picture of them holding on to the trolley dressed in a Hogwarts scarf and holding a wand (graciously provided by the Harry Potter Shop next door).

Local tip: For more magic vibes, step inside the adjacent Gothic St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which could double as Hogwarts. Snap a picture of the grand three-tiered staircase, the setting of the Spice Girls "Wannabe" music video, before heading to Leadenhall Market, which featured as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001).

12. Explore a fine collection of treasures at the V&A

The Victoria & Albert Museum is a wonderful cavernous place with 60,000 arts, crafts and decorative pieces created by human hands. Items range from century-old dresses to furniture and household objects. Take a free V&A highlights of 2024 tour at 10:30am to learn more about some of the museum's most impressive pieces.

Local tip: Don’t miss a visit to the museum's three opulent refreshment rooms, each elaborately decorated with features like gold, high-painted ceilings and stained glass windows.

This article was first published Jan 1, 2019 and updated Mar 12, 2024.

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