London: beautiful, grey, and notoriously expensive. The English city can be the last place on any budget travellers list but don't let the stereotype sway you. If budget is all that remains in your way of going to the city well I'm here to tell you that there is more to do here for free than just breath, though some might lead you to believe that it can cost money with air bars that are a little too much for this traveller.
For The Art Lover
Looking to see some art that isn't a bunch of inaccurate white Jesus'? Well great because London has bucket loads of that if you're willing to give it a try which you definitely should! This dope art hit renaissance in it's keister on the way out, that's for sure.
1. Maybe it's because I'm living close to 'Straya now or because I'm a big fan of impressionism anyway (Renoir has my love forever) but I'm loving that there is an exhibition at the National Gallery from all sorts of Australian impressionist artists. The curated works are very different to most impressionist pieces mostly due to how young Australia is as a nation. Do check it out from now until March 26th! (National Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Charing Cross.)
2. If you haven't seen Alicja Kwade's Medium Median yet, you're missing out on an interesting commentary on the tie surrounding our relationship with 'space and time' as well as consumerism and religion. This is a moving exhibition wherein it acts as a mobile. It's free entry until June 2017 so get it while it's hot. (Whitechapel Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Aldgate East.)
3. Opened first in 2000 is the Tate Modern which is one of London's free art museums featuring international artists. There are always a few exhibitions that are paid for unless you have membership however, with films, sculptures and various other mediums it makes it a fun trip. Sometimes it's even worth it to go and take the piss because some pieces are truly ridiculous and this is coming from a fan of modern art. (Tate Modern. Closest Tube Station: Southwark.)
4. Lady Bosses, it's time to stand up in the arts! Now Terrains of Body has been plucked from an American museum and Londoners should rejoice because this photographic exhibition it shows so much about how women view themselves, see the world and how these women use the female form to story tell. Definitely check it out between now and April 16th! (Whitechapel Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Aldgate East.)
5. This might be one of two times in my whole life when I will be happy for BP or any company similar because I'm all about responsible, ethical travel and just life in general. BP is hosting the Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery with a free exhibition from June 22nd to September 24th where the winners will be revealed and all contestants works to be shown. Supporting smaller, more unknown artists is hugely important so kudos to BP for supporting this but luckily you don't have to support BP while supporting the artists. (National Portrait Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Leicester Square.)
6. A mixed gallery of all sorts of paintings is on at the Saatchi Gallery from a group of curated artists from now until February 28th and it's a great place to see this interesting contemporary art. (Saatchi Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Sloane Square.)
7. Now until March 11th, Park Seo-Bo's series Ericture is on display for free. These monochrome pieces are certainly interesting and scream aesthetic! They are more than aesthetically pleasing though, as these pieces are representative of action through non-action. Politically and personally moving as Park was a young adult through the Korean War it speaks to any one looking for calm in an introspective storm. (White Cube Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Mason's Yard.)
8. Bold. Subversive. Funny. Feminist. The Guerrilla Girls' works are all that and more. Their series Is it even worse in Europe? explores the lack of diversity in art organizations in Europe. The anonymous art collective, known only by their gorilla masks and psuedonyms, expose corruption, misogyny and racism in art in a way that is accessible for everyone and create a larger dialogue so join the conversation from now until March 5th. (Whitechapel Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Aldgate East.)
9. A big part of travelling is attempting to find places off the beaten path and one of the best ways to decide the places to visit is going onto Instagram so it's only fitting that there is an exhibition dedicated to the local spots from cities all around the world called #MyUnseenCity. This exhibition is on from February 2nd to February 16th and sounds like it's going to be such a cool thing to go see. (Brompton Bicycles. Closest Tube Station: Covent Garden.)
10. Somerset House is one of London's more interesting free galleries because of how old the building is as the construction started in 1547. Princesses and other royals have lived here but now it is a museum, art gallery and from time to time it is a fashion runway. Located centrally it seems as if a palace was misplaced in the centre of London but I'm not complaining. Be sure to check out what exhibitions they have on while you're visiting. Now until February 26th Malick Sidibe's The Eye of Modern Mali is being shown to show the world more of Mali - a beautiful, culture rich African country. (Somerset House. Closest Tube Station: Temple.)
The Calendar Club
If you like to plan your travels around particular events these are a few that you should definitely add to your trip if they coincide with your travels or even take a special trip just for them. It's definitely worth going to - I know I've had unreal amounts of fun doing it.
11. Like any good Canadian I love pancakes but it seems Londoners do too with a race filled with tossers of all sorts. This charity event for London Air Ambulances is good, messy fun as a relay race in fancy dress. Whether you want to participate or watch, you should make it out on February 28th to Brick Lane where it's hosted!
12. Adulting is hard and I don't like it so let's go back to the good ol' days when we had pillow fights except now let's have it with a good few hundred people in Trafalgar Square because that's what being a twenty-something is all about. On April 1st at 2pm bring a pillow (not your hostels pillow, okay? That's a dick move) and hit people with it. However some people do go pretty hard so don't get stuck in the mosh pit unless you're intense like them too. It's a great time to check out Londoner's costumes too because they dress up like you've never seen before!
13. Held annually since 1856, excluding during WWI and WWII, is the Cambridge versus Oxford boat race. Even if you're not particularly loyal to either college or interested in boating, like myself, the culture that goes along with it is reason enough to go. There are dancers with literal bells on and more Pimms than I ever thought I could drink. Held on April 2nd for both men's and women's on the Thames there are several spots that one should go to watch.
14. Alright I guess I have to shout out to BP again as they host three public events with the Royal Opera House in London. Whether you're a seasoned ballet a tendu (I'm hitting them with those bougie niche puns, I know) or you've never seen an opera in your entire life there is no better way to see the classics for free. Bring some mates and a picnic and you're ready to see ballet Marguerite and Armand on June 7th, classic Italian opera La Traviata on July 4th (What a cool what to celebrate Independence Day if you're in London at the time), or romantic tragedy Italian opera Turandot (set in Ancient China) on July 14th. Locations are still to be determined but be sure to check them out because we should all get to see ballet and opera in our lifetimes.
15. Ever saw a bike and thought it might be fun it bike butt naked? Well World Naked Bike Ride Day celebrates that and acts as a protest for car culture (which luckily there is very little of in London because the traffic is already insane) and to show case the vulnerability that cyclists have. The only downside to this is that it'll make you never want to use a Boris Bike ever again! Participate or watch on June 11th all throughout the city.
16. As a queer girl I can safely say that Pride is one of my most conflicting events of the entire year. On one hand it's fun to be around other queer people when the majority of my year I'm left deciding if someone is open-minded enough to share this side of myself while I'm travelling and on the other hand it's meant to be a funeral march, it's surrounded by alcohol and rarely ever tackles the important issues queer people face. It's also the perfect time for biphobic people to exclude beautiful unicorns from the celebration. However, London's Pride parade can be fun to go to anyway. Just be sure to check out the Festival too for talks, secret tours, networking and even a few self-defence classes. Pride London will run from June 24th to July 9th - be sure to look out for more details.
17. Carnival is the largest European street party celebrating Caribbean culture, tradition and it's filled with colour, life and fun. Be sure to wear sunscreen and show up early as transportation is made difficult during Carnival but mostly just have so much fun. When I went there was a lot of rain #classic but it was great fun anyway and everybody was in great spirits. London Carnival is on August 27th - 28th in Notting Hill.
18. Totally Thames is a month-long event, you guessed it, centred on the Thames in September. With talks, performances, floats and races for the more competitive of the bunch it makes the month less about the end of summer and more about the fun that the Thames can provide so watch here for updates on upcoming events!
Parks and Recreation
Looking to escape the concrete jungle well no worries, travellers. You can go to any one of these free parks for a good time. Be sure to bring a few friends and some nibbles too! If you're solo travelling, don't worry napping in parks is done too just don't forget to put sunscreen on like I did in the above photo!
19. "I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill." Famous Londoner, Sir William Blake, wrote this about Regent Park's Primrose Hill and he's still right today even though the views are completely different. This spot has always been popular at sunrise and sunset but one might argue that it is even more popular now thanks to Netflix's show Sense8. During the summer this is a lively spot for picnics and cheeky champagne with friends and is not to be missed. (Closest Tube Station: Chalk Farm.)
20. There is the perfect spot for travellers because Greenwich Park has remarkable views of London but mostly because you have the ability to be in two different timezones at once! Be sure to get your photo while you're there to prove it to your friends back home. (Closest Tube Station: Maze Hill.)
21. Ever wanted to spot Bambi? Well you can do that in Richmond Park probably a hundred times over with deer all over the place. It's best not to bring dogs here if you want to see some cuties and be sure to come either at dusk or dawn for the best photo opportunities because you'll want to get them to put on your Instagram! (Closest Tube Station: Richmond.)
22. My worst kept secret: I have the biggest fear of birds so St. James's Park is not the place for me, however if you're brave and not afraid of sky beasts that will take our your eyeballs for fun then you should go because pelicans frequent this park and you can even see them being fed. (Gross!) Hopefully it's not eyeballs they are eating though. (Closest Tube Station: St. James's Park.)
23. The Kensington Gardens are the perfect place for the impromptu photography shoot because there are flowers abound, beautiful statues and a memorial to Prince Albert. Just in case that wasn't enough though there is a statue of Peter Pan throughout the gardens as well making this the loveliest walk one might take in London. (Closest Tube Station: Queensway.)
24. If you've ever wanted to walk where poets, sculptors, novelists and musicians have then the Epping Forest which is on the outskirts of London is perfect. This particular forest is also famous for being the filming location of the Black Knight scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail ('I'll bite yer legs off'). Epping Forest is popular for mountain bikers as is horse back riding but if you're like me and you had to leave your pony at home well a walk through the forest is lovely too because there are a lot of invaluable ecological spots throughout the entirety of the forest. Interesting side note: some of the lakes in the forest were created by bombings in WWII. Who knew? (Closest Tube Station: Loughton.)
25. Parks are fun, we all know that. But you know what's fun? Open-air public speaking and debate. Not just used for those attempting to convert people's religions there is an area of Hyde Park called Speaker's Corner or Hyde Park Corner where you're able to wax poetic about anything you please although hate speech isn't recommended and neither is swearing (it's a park, after all.) If you're not keen on vocalizing Hyde Park is also a great place to people watch or just relax and enjoy some of the strange features that might be on display at any give time. (Closest Tube Station: Hyde Park Corner.)
The London that a tourist knows is utterly different to what a Londoner knows however there are spots where the two meet - and I don't just mean the pub.
26. Similar to my experience in Trier, Germany where I saw Karl Marx's birthspot in London you can find his burial spot as well in the Highgate Cemetery. While hanging out in a cemetery can be a little grim or morbid for some this cemetery has beautiful stone work all around and it makes it worth the trip. (Closest Tube Station: Highgate.)
27. Gods Own Junkyard is a cool spot in the city that has neon signs absolutely everywhere! It's a quirky place to go and it's absolutely representative of the culture in the city so while you're in the city it's definitely worth the trip. There is a cafe there as well which isn't free, of course, but if you're feeling peckish it's nice to take a visit. (Closest Tube Station: Walthamstow Central.)
28. Lately there haven't been too many high profile cases however The Old Bailey remains a great spot to visit and to watch a trial. There are very strict security policies that are made worthwhile as you can see how the UK goes through criminal trials. As you are entering the courthouse be sure to look up at Lady Justice and notice how, unlike today, she is not blindfolded. This is because at the time of Old Bailey's construction the figure was not blindfolded - don't fret though justice is fair here so take yourself, friends and even the kids (provided they are over fourteen) if you've got 'em and watch a trial. (Closest Tube Station: Holborn.)
29. If you're a fan of movies and a bigger fan of free The Oxymoron has a film noir night once a month that starts at 7pm and goes into discussing the film later into the evening so check out the events page and see if you can make it to one! (Oxymoron website. Closest Tube Station: Elephant and Castle.)
30. The Wellcome Collection is "the free destination for the incurably curious" and rightly so as they have discussions about everything under the sun, allowing us all to learn more. As adults I think we stop doing as much for our minds even though educating ourselves is the most important thing so while you're experiencing different cultures and places you might as well engage as well. (Wellcome Collection website. Closest Tube Station: Euston Square.)
Things To Do
It's well and good to go to parks or galleries for free but sometimes we just need to have something to do so instead of burning into your wallet to have fun here are a few things that you can do for free in 2017. Totally worth the flight, right?
31. If you've ever wondered what work goes into the ballets you can see for free (scroll up, you'll find what I'm talking about) the Royal Opera House has a lunchtime recital every Monday at 1pm. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the up-comers in the ballet world and all on a budget! Although you can book online it's best to show up that day to see if a ticket is available. Be sure to get there by 12pm to do so and enjoy the fancy footwork! (Royal Opera House website. Closest Tube Station: Covent Garden.)
32. With different events every night and varying performers Angel Comedy Club is consistently the best free comedy club in London. Now, actually, with two different venues! All you'll need to pay for are the drinks you need to pluck up the courage to join in on the open mic nights too. (Angel Comedy Club website.)
33. Somehow going to the gym is insanely expensive in London however a new way to exercise has popped up in the city but it's not your typical gym. Instead of ellipticals and free weights GoodGym offers a way to help the local community while helping you get healthy too. The way it works: run towards a task, complete task, run back to where you were before. It makes cardio fun and some of the tasks involve lifting as well which is essentially like an outdoor version of CrossFit that helps older members of the community. (GoodGym website.)
34. Skateboarding is not hugely popular in London however there is a skateboard park with great views on Southbank that is free entry (all you need is a board or something with wheels, really). The park does create an audience especially during peak tourist season so if you go to skate hopefully there are no performance anxieties you have because you'll be watched by a lot of passersby or similarly you can watch while you walk along Southbank too because it does make for an interesting thing to do, seeing all of the tricks I could hardly imagine doing. (Closest Tube Station: Waterloo.)
35. If you're a creative type and you want to learn more skills or hone your skills it's great to be able to have masterclasses for free in the centre of London instead of having to pay a fortune like many others. So check out which classes appeal to you and bring your creativity! (Haymarket Theatre. Closest Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus.)
36. Banksy hunting is a popular pastime for any tourist in London but did you know that there is a graffiti tunnel dedicated to beautiful street art? Whether you are there to look, photograph or actually want to crack out a few spray cans yourself it makes for an interesting visit because you get to see into the minds of Londoners and the culture that breaths all around you in the city. Some are political commentary, some are funny, gruesome, cute but they are all original and that makes this worth it similar to the graffiti street in Toronto. (Closest Tube Station: Waterloo.)
37. Although this is an attempt at selling, you're actually able to take a free yoga class in the heart of London. Yep, free yoga! Every weekend (excluding holidays) in early mornings the Lululemon in Covent Garden moves all of their displays to make room for a yoga class which is an amazing way to start the day and moreover a great way to start your weekend. Afterwards they invite you to look at the stock they have but it's not necessary to buy anything though I do recommend pretending to look at least a little interested. The only thing you should know is that space fills up fast so check out the calendar and get in early! (Closest Tube Station: Covent Garden.)
38. Similar to America's huge variety of TV shows you can watch the taping of for free it's possible to do the same in London for a smaller variety of shows. My personal favourite is The Graham Norton Show but the list is long so if you've wanted to see what happens on set and be part of the real life laugh track it's a cool thing to do in The Old Smoke. All you need to do is pick the show you want, fill out the application form and hope you get the dates you want! (Audience member website.)
Sometimes it is nice to play tourist and there is no shame in that, because I've done it throughout my travels as well. I'd be remiss if I didn't offer suggestions on free things to do while you're in London relative to this as well.
39. Although my opinions on the latest updates J.K. Rowling has made about the Harry Potter universe has left me a little sour I still wish that I could walk through platform 9 & 3/4's so I could ride the Hogwarts Express to be sorted into my house (I'm a total Slytherin, if you're curious). While I won't be walking through walls into magical worlds any time soon it's nice to know that at King's Cross station you can still get a photo as if you were walking through on your way to Hogwarts. (Closest Tube Station: King's Cross.)
40. If you confused this bridge with London Bridge you wouldn't be the first - actually someone once bought the entirely wrong bridge because they thought that they would be buying Tower Bridge. Sorry buddy, if you had bought it what would the Spice Girl's have jumped over in their tour bus? (More niche 90s kids humour for you, sorry.) Tower Bridge is quite the busy spot for locals and tourists, whether they are driving, walking or boating. You can pay to walk up the towers or you can walk across the bridge and enjoy the views as it goes up and down at certain times of the day. (Closest Tube Station: Bermondsey.)
41. St Paul's Cathedral is beautiful and expensive as a tourist unless you go to the free Choral Evensong at 5PM. I'm hardly catholic and yet it's lovely to be able to go to a church, listening to people sing and knowing that they have hope in some sort of higher power even if you don't believe it or maybe believe a different higher power all together. Photography is not allowed during these services and I recommend dressing nicely just to remove any suspicion that you're a tourist looking for a cheap way in. It's certainly a nice visit so don't miss out. (Closest Tube Station: St. Paul's.)
42. The British Museum has iconic features from all over the world on display and some that have created a difficult relationship nation to nation which lasts today as many items were stolen from thieves in battles and ransacking. Like most of British history it is a black spot that many overlook which makes it interesting to see and visit with the knowledge of the trouble it brings as this is literally stealing part of a different culture which has been so widely debated lately. You're able to see the Rosetta Stone on display as well though there are certainly crowds around it at all times. (Closest Tube Station: Holborn.)
43. Stupidly I hadn't known that the iconic clock tower and Big Ben actually was a smaller part of a much larger building - parliament. Lately the English politics have been a giant clusterfuck but that doesn't mean you shouldn't visit - you might even see the disastrous politicians heading into office. (Closest Tube Station: Westminster.)
44.The changing of the guard is one of the icons of London and so while you're there you should bare the crowds and make your way to Buckingham Palace to watch. Be sure to hold on tight to your valuables while you do so simply because a lot can happen in a crowd. (Closest Tube Station: Victoria.)
45. The Grant Museum of Zoology might be a little creepy for some but if you have a stronger stomach it's an interesting place to visit as the catalogue of creatures they have on display is vast with nearly 70,000 specimens. If nothing else it adds a spin to the typical museums of London. (Closest Tube Station: Euston Square.)
So now you're armed with 45 free things to do in London this year so get your cameras ready and head to the brilliant city made inexpensive.