As a student it’s practically inevitable that at some point, you’re going to be broke. Especially in London, where prices are just generally insane sometimes. But the thing I love about London is that there’s still so much to see and do, even when you can’t really spend anything. There are so many lists of free things to do out there, but they all seem to go over the same places, so I decided to try and find some other, less popular things that are just as good. Everything on this list is free to do or visit, so as long as you have some money on your Oyster card, you’re good to go! So keep reading for 20 things to do in London even when you’re broke AF!
1. See the deer at Richmond Park.
Nearest station: Richmond, Barnes, North Sheen
Richmond Park is the largest Royal Park in London and is perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon when you have nothing else to do. It is home to two different types of deer, as well as other wildlife, that wander around freely. It’s amazing how close you can get to them, if you’re lucky. Also stop at the Isabella Plantation – it’s a beautiful woodland garden inside the park, and is also completely free.
2. Wander around Highgate Wood.
Nearest station: Highgate
An ancient woodland, located near the famous cemetery where a vampire was rumoured to haunt the place, is actually very scenic. For those interested in history, you can do a self-guided tour with this booklet, and for those who aren’t, it’s always fun just to go down paths and discover where you’ll end up.
3. Relax in Kensington Gardens
Nearest station: High Street Kensington, Queensway, Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge
Located behind Kensington Palace, it’s another Royal Park, having been created by Henry VIII for hunting. There are many things to see here, including the Peter Pan statue, the Diana Memorial, the Albert Memorial, Allotment Gardens, and the Serpentine Galleries (see #10 for more on that) or you can just stop and relax, especially if it’s a nice day. You can also cross the bridge to get to Hyde Park.
4. Marvel over rock memorabilia in The Vault.
Nearest station: Hyde Park Corner
Underneath the Hard Rock Café, there is a former bank vault filled with rock memorabilia! From Eric Clapton’s guitar to Kurt Cobain’s shades, and even Madonna’s old bank card from the 80s! You’re also free to actually touch and handle some of the items, so it’s a must-do for any rock n’ roll fan.
5. Learn all you need to know about chocolate in the Chocolate Museum.
Nearest station: Brixton
The perfect choice for choco-holics everywhere. The Chocolate Museum in Brixton has exhibitions on things like how chocolate is made, how it’s changed around the world and through time, as well as Britain’s history with chocolate.
Opening times are 2-7pm Wednesday-Friday, and 11am-6pm on Saturdays.
6. Visit the Grant Museum of Zoology.
Nearest station: Warren Street
Want to see a dodo? Then head over to the Grant Museum, home to over 68,000 species, most of them extinct or endangered. It’s the last remaining university zoological museum, and also holds events such as talks or limited time exhibitions, all of which can be found here.
Opening times are 1-5pm Monday-Saturday
7. Discover the history of the city in the Museum of London.
Nearest stations: St. Pauls, Barbican
Located on the London Wall, the Museum of London covers everything about the history of the city, from the Stone Age to the present, with a focus on events that defined the city, like the Great Fire of London. There’s also a second museum in Canary Wharf, the Museum of London Docklands, which focuses on London as a port.
Both places are open 10am-6pm daily.
8. Find some amazing photos at the Photographer’s Gallery.
Nearest station: Oxford Street
The Photographer’s Gallery is the first in the world to be solely dedicated to photographs, and has been going for over 40 years. It displays both British and international photographers, with current exhibitions including “What Soho Wore” by Nina Mandahar, which looks at the cultural history of Soho through people’s photographs.
Open 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday, and 11am-6pm Sundays
9. Discover your new favourite artist at the Saatchi Gallery.
Nearest station: Sloane Square
The Saatchi Gallery aims to bring contemporary art to as wide an audience as possible, and part of that includes showing work by new artists, both British and international. They’re currently only open for the Rolling Stones “Exhibitionism” which does cost, but once that ends on September 4th, admission will go back to being free.
Open 10am-6pm Monday-Sunday
10. Stop at the Serpentine Galleries.
Nearest stations: High Street Kensington, Knightsbridge
The Serpentine Galleries are made up of the Serpentine and the Serpentine Sackler Galleries – each one located on either side of the Serpentine. Both focus on contemporary art and architecture, and have included exhibitions by Damien Hirst and Marina Abaramovic. Each summer, a temporary pavilion is put up for three months, designed by an architect who hadn’t designed a building in England at the time they were invited by the gallery, and is available for people to explore. Find current exhibitions here.
Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday, closed Mondays
11. Bring your skateboard over to the Southbank Skate Park.
Nearest stations: Waterloo, Embankment
Located just under the Southbank Centre, the skate park is also decorated top-to-bottom with brightly coloured graffiti and stickers and has been described as “the beating heart of London skateboarding”. All you need is your skateboard and you’re good to go. Not much of a skater? Not a problem – Southbank has a lot more to offer.
12. Read some poetry at the Saison Poetry Library.
Nearest stations: Waterloo, Embankment
For example, the Saison poetry library, located on the fifth floor of the Southbank Centre, is home to over 200,000 items of poetry, including anthologies, collections, magazines and audio, with most of it hidden inside rolling stacks. You need to be a member to loan anything (all that takes is current ID and proof of address) but you don’t need anything to sit and read for a bit. They also consider self-published and small press publications, so you might find someone completely new.
Opening hours: 11am-8pm Tuesday-Sunday, closed Mondays
13. …Or see what else is on at the Southbank Centre!
Nearest stations: Waterloo, Embankment
The Southbank centre has many things in store, from art to performances to music. Occasionally they hold festivals, where events are repeated throughout – currently on is the “Festival of Love”. Find out more about upcoming free events here!
Opening times vary depending on the place – found out more here!
14. Get tickets to watch a TV show being recorded live.
London is home to most of the big British TV studios, including Sky and ITV, and they’re always looking for audience members for shows like Jonathan Ross and Live at the Apollo, as well as looking for people to actually be on the show. You need to apply for a ticket through a site like SRO Audiences or Lost in TV, and it is more like a raffle, but if you get the chance then it’s definitely worth it.
15. Add a Love Lock around London.
Love Locks can be found on bridges around the city, including Embankment Bridge and Tower Bridge, and also on a gate near Shoreditch High Street station. It’s something that started in European countries – you write yours and your partner’s initials on a padlock and secure it to the bridge, a way to show your love will last. Some people even get their initials engraved, or add a message, or a date, like their wedding anniversary. It’s a simple gesture, but it’s also really sweet.
16. Discover someone new by listening to a busker.
You can find buskers pretty much anywhere in London, especially in tube stations – I’ve seen quite a few along the South Bank, as they actually allow people to perform there, and sometimes you can find someone who’s really good. But it’s not just music – I’ve found some amazing dancers and artists of every kind, from chalk art to Living Statues.
17. …Or go to the Barbican Music Library!
Nearest station: Barbican
Found in the Barbican Centre, the Barbican Music Library has a large collection of DVDs and CDs of all genres, as well as music scores, books and magazines, listening booths, and two electric pianos (which are free to book for anywhere up to an hour a day) – if you’re a bit shy about playing in front of people, you can also hire headphones once you show some ID. They also work on promoting unsigned London artists and stock their CDs free of charge, so there’s even more for you to discover.
Opening hours are 9.30am-5.30 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays, 9.30am-7.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 9.30am-4pm on Saturdays.
18. Try a Walking Tour.
A walking tour could be just the thing to help you discover unknown parts of the city, and can cover a range of themes from the Royals to Harry Potter, so there’s probably one to your taste. While most walking tours have some charge attached to them, and others work on a “pay what you want” scheme, there are still plenty out there that are free. Most of them take about 2 hours to complete, and could be fun with a group of friends.
19. …Or design one of your own!
If what you see on walking tours sites doesn’t interest you, or for some other reason you don’t want to go on a guided tour, then why not make up one of your own? All you need is Google (and probably Google Maps) and you’re ready to go! Failing that, there are some suggestions for self-guided tours lurking about on the internet.
20. Go to an after-hours museum event.
There are plenty of museums in London, and quite a few do a once-a-month after-hours event, usually focusing on a particular theme. It can be quite fun to wander around the museum when it’s dark outside and it’s perfect if you want to avoid the usual-hours crowds – although they can be pretty popular. Most of them don’t charge, and you can find out about them on the museum’s website.
So there it is – 20 things to do in London when you’re broke AF! Hopefully you enjoy them. Have any other ideas? Share them in the comments!
Featured image source: tumblr and favim.com/image/3996888
I've just completed a Creative Writing degree at the University of Roehampton. When I'm not writing, I'm often exploring the city, or nerding out over something.