London might be known as an expensive city to visit or to live in, but there are actually hundreds of free things to do here on a daily basis. You can visit the permanent collections of some of the world’s most renowned museums for free for instance. You can also see most of the city’s iconic sights from the street so you don’t need to dig deep in your pockets for a selfie with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background. And there are numerous city parks dotted all around London where you can enjoy the current sunny weather. But if you’re interested in less touristy things, then you might want to head down to one of these 5 alternative free things to do in London. These tips are suitable for any type of traveller, whether you’re exploring the city on your own, with friends, your partner or with your family. Have fun!
1. Freemason’s Hall
Delve into the world of the freemasons with a free guided tour of England’s biggest and most important Masonic Hall.
Hidden in plain sight in Covent Garden, one of London’s busiest areas, stands the massive white Masonic Hall. You might have passed it dozens of times on your way to the theatre or during your shopping spree without ever stopping to think what on earth this mighty piece of architecture could be. This is actually the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Surpreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England.
Meetings have been taking place on this site since 1775. There have been a number of different Masonic buildings on these premises, but the structure as we see today opened in 1933. While the bold exterior is rather minimalistic, it’s easy to recognise the Art Deco style inside.
Access to the Museum and Library is open to all visitors during opening hours, but I recommend going on a free guided tour (approx. 45 minutes) to explore the impressive Grand Temple with its jaw-dropping mosaic ceiling and other rooms you would normally not be able to visit. I visited the hall earlier this week and our small group was treated to a private concert when our tour guide played the organ in the Grand Temple!
For more information on opening hours, the exact location and tour dates and times, check their website: Visit Freemason’s Hall London.
2. Grant Museum of Zoology
Take a closer look at dodo bones, the world’s rarest skeleton, the jar of moles, the brain collection and almost 68,000 other zoological specimens.
Located at just a 8-minute walk from Euston Station, this small museum is hidden among the medical faculty buildings of UCL. I’ve walked past this building so many times without ever noticing it and visited it for the very first time earlier this week.
It might be small in size, but the Grant Museum of Zoology has been of great importance to science. Established in 1828 by Robert Edmund Grant, this is one of the oldest natural history collections in the UK. Grant’s scientific research and radical evolutionary views were a massive influence on his young pupil Charles Darwin. Grant was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in England, but due to a lack of teaching materials he started to collect animal specimens and materials for dissection. His zoology collection has been an important resource for students ever since.
Besides giant skeletons, the museum is also home to the Micrarium, an almost futuristic-looking space displaying 20,000 microscope slides. (As you can see in the big photo at the top.)
You can visit the Grant Museum of Zoology between 1-5pm from Monday to Saturday.
3. Wellcome Collection
Learn more about the history of medicine and health at the Wellcome Collection.
Located at a 4-minute walk from Euston Station, this building is far more conspicuous than the first two ones here in the list, but it’s still a lesser known London museum. Besides their permanent collection of curious objects, medical instruments, books and more, their temporary exhibitions are always very well-researched and truly fascinating. Over the years I’ve seen such diverse shows here from Forensics: the anatomy of crime about the history, science and art of forensics, to Death: A self-portrait about the iconography of death.
The museum is part of the Wellcome Trust, founded by American-born Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936), pharmacist – his companies have enabled the development of antitoxins for diseases such as tetanus and diphtheria, but also the antihistamine production which you might be ever grateful for if you suffer from hay fever! – travel enthusiast, philanthropist and collector.
For more information about the collection, exhibitions, location and opening times, visit the Wellcome Collection website.
4. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
As soon as the first summer rays hit the city, Londoners flock to one of the many urban parks en masse. Choose this quieter vast urban park to bask in the sun and follow in the footsteps of the world’s greatest athletes while you’re at it.
I think that when it comes to the legacy of the Olympic Games, London’s done a really great job of opening up a whole new area to the public. The park is easily accessible by public transport and upon exiting Stratford station in East London, you can walk straight into the massive Westfield shopping centre. This is a nice alternative to the shopping streets of Central London and if you come here early in the day, it’s dead quiet too.
It’s hard to imagine that before the 2012 London Olympic Games, this big recreation area was basically just a swamp. Nowadays it’s a great destination for families, sports and nature enthusiasts and an easy getaway from the busy metropolis life.
You can come here for a walk or bike ride along the Olympic venues, canals, wetlands and admire the ArcelorMittal Orbit, an extraordinary structure that offers spectacular views from a 114.5m-height, and even abseiling, but also houses the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide. (Note that you need to pay a fee for access to the structure and its activities.)
If you want to take it a bit easier or are visiting with kids, then head over to the playgrounds, hike up the hill for a picture with the Olympic rings or have a picnic somewhere in the park. There’s plenty of space for it here and it will be much quieter than more popular parks such as Hyde Park or Regents Park.
You can also use the facilities in some of the Olympic venues. For more information on accessibility, events, activities and more, vist the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park website.
5. BFI Mediatheque
Choose from over 33,000 classic films or rare TV footage at BFI Mediatheque, completely for free!
A cinema visit can get quite expensive in London, so it’s great to know that you can watch a film or TV production for free at BFI Southbank. Make yourself comfortable in one of the wide booths and try to chose something to watch from the world’s largest and most diverse archive of film and television.
This is a great activity for both adults and children (there’s plenty to choose from for children as well) and quite perfect if you need to hide from the sun (or rain) for a moment or give your feet a little rest.
For more information about the collection, opening hours, group bookings and more, visit the BFI Southbank Mediatheque website.
Want more tips?
Have a look at my older articles about free things to do in London:
- The Sir John Soane Museum, one of the 3 Extravagant Historical London Homes You Must Visit
- The LINE: Discover Free Art and Explore ‘Secret’ East London Sights by Air, Ground and Water!
- Walkie Talkie: Take in a Spectacular View over London for Free!
- St Dunstan in the East: From Saxon Church to London Blitz Ruins
Do you have any more tips for alternative free things to do in London? Please share the information below in a comment. Thank you!