From FREE concerts and acting classes to comedy shows, Hindu temples and cinema nights
If you’ve sold one kidney to fund a London trip and are keen to keep the second, while STILL enjoying amazing activities in the world’s best (but wallet-annihilating) capital, we’ve got you thrifty, fun-wizards covered.
To be fair to The Big Smoke, there are amazing, free experiences that everybody knows about - most of the big museums are free, from National History Museum and Royal Academy of Arts to Tate Britain. And there are some brilliant, free experiences, like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London and spots like Columbia Flower Market and Borough ‘foodie mecca’ Market.
But we’re bringing you the most unusual and exciting experiences that many Londoners themselves don’t have the whiff of a hint of a Scooby about, from FREE concerts and Royal Academy acting classes to comedy shows, Hindu temples, chocolate meccas and cinema nights. So read on, and your wallets can thank us for nothing,
House of Vans Free Cinema, Gigs and Skate School
Head to the former Old Vic tunnels and follow the chequerboard floors through 30,000 sq ft of tunnels, which include a cinema, gallery, music venue, diner and skater bowl and ramp, full of events which are usually, massively free.
These include skateboard lessons, gigs, exhibitions and brilliantly diverse and free cinema nights, from their monthly Doc N Roll documentary screenings to showings of much-loved movie classics.
House of Vans Arches, 228, 232 Station Approach Rd, London SE1 8SW
Underground Roman Temple for Mithras Cult
A secret Roman temple, created nearly 200 years after the founding of London for the mysterious cult of Mithras and hidden beneath the City of London? We’re in.
This extraordinary, immersive experience in London Mithraeum is staggeringly FREE. It was discovered during a building’s construction in 1954 and now sits beneath the Bloomberg London building.
The multi-sensory experience takes you seven metres below the city streets, where the river Walbrook once flowed, to where the Roman’s cult god, Mithras the bull slayer was once worshipped by cult followers shrouded in a veil of secrecy.
And it houses Britain’s largest and earliest collection of its kind, including the first known reference to London, Roman waxed writing tablets and the earliest hand-written document in Britain.
London Mithraeum 12 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AA
The Secret Rooftop Beside Sky Garden
Everybody knows about the amazing, free views at Sky Garden – London’s highest garden, at the top of the Walkie Talkie building, with 360-degree views of the capital’s skyline amid exquisitely landscaped gardens, observation decks and open-air terrace.
But because it’s so popular, free and (well) amazing, it’s often tricky to book the free tickets to enter.
However, The Garden at 120 is located right next door to Sky Garden, commanding the same amazing views (from slightly lower down) but all you have to do is walk in.
It also has a landscaped garden and water features, but without the major crowds and long wait for tickets. Win-win.
The Garden at 120, 120 Fenchurch St, London EC3M 5BA
God’s Own Junkyard
Inside an unassuming, Walthamstow warehouse, you’ll find this neon wonderland, fizzing and burning with the glow of the world’s biggest neon sign collection.
More than four decades ago, late owner, Chris Bracey started making signs for Soho strip clubs and his incredible talents led him to create props for directors including Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton, as well as some of the globe’s most iconic signs.
This Aladdin’s cave of more than 1,000 neon lights is a museum to his life and the history of neon art, as well as an art gallery - with pieces you can buy or rent - and is home to The Rolling Scones cafe and bar.
God's Own Junkyard, Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall St, London E17 9HQ
Free Acting Masterclasses at Theatre Royal Haymarket
If you’re between 18 and 30 and get your kicks from theatre, become a Masterclass Member for FREE acting masterclasses, which have been held by stars including Julie Walters, Steve Coogan, Catherine Tate and John Simm, plus onstage workshops, mentoring, free script development sessions and £5 tickets to top West End and fringe shows.
Masterclass Theatre Royal Haymarket London SW1Y 4HT
Free Comedy Gigs.
Free comedy - are you having a laugh? Well, yes actually.
The Top Secret Comedy Club in Drury Lane is so respected on the circuit, it’s where stars including Amy Schumer, Dylan Moran, Eddie Izzard, Micky Flanagan and Michael McIntyre head to work out new jokes and practice sets before tours or TV gigs. Many of these shows are completely free (or very cheap) and between 6 - 7.15pm most days, you can check out work in progress shows by the next big things preparing for festivals like Edinburgh arts festival.
Or head to Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in Islington for free comedy shows seven nights a week. Its stage has been graced by everybody from Stewart Lee and Tim Key to Simon Amstell and Joe Lycett.
The Top Secret Comedy Club, 170 Drury Ln, London WC2B 5PD
Angel Comedy, The Bill Murray, 39 Queen's Head St, London N1 8NQ
Free Classical Music Lunchtime Concerts
Every Monday, Tuesday and Friday at 1pm, an eclectic range of musicians from classical and pop to students at the Royal Academy of Music perform free lunchtime concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, on the corner of Trafalgar Square.
Alternatively, experience an exciting programme of free, 45-minute classical music lunchtime performances by artists from The Royal Opera, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and The Royal Ballet in the newly opened-up spaces of the Royal Opera House.
St Martin-in-the-Fields, London WC2N 4JH
Royal Opera House, Bow St, London WC2E 9DD
Free Tours at Somerset House
Head to one of Europe’s most stunning courtyards and the last of the huge palaces that used to stud the Thames, for free, guided tours exploring the Neoclassical beast’s wonderfully dramatic history.
Join the Old Palace tour to find out about the three, Catholic queens who used to call it home; the Historical Highlights tour to delve into the lives of the Tudors, Georgian enlightenment, scientific curiosity and naval power, or the Studios Tour to learn out about the palace’s current incarnation as a home for creatives.
Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
Incredible Hindu Temple… in Neasden
You are many moons away from the well-trodden tourist track in these northwest London ‘burbs. But make the trek and you will be rewarded by the jaw-dropping sight of Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a 70 feet high, Hindu Temple carved by 650 artisans from 8,000 tonnes of Indian and Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone.
This magnificent mandir is the largest Hindu temple outside India and will make it impossible to believe you are in what was one nicknamed ”the loneliest village in London.”
There are free guided or audio tours, you can watch the Arati Puja ritual or Abhishek worship and stroll the formal gardens. Parking is also free. Remember to check the modest dress code requirements and remove your shoes before entering.
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Pramukh Swami Road, Neasden, London NW10 8HW, UK
Walk Beneath the Thames
Head underneath the Thames, through the 370 metre Greenwich Foot Tunnel, for a more unusual way to explore the city from one side of the river to the other.
When it opened in 1902, it was one of the city’s most impressive, engineering achievements and it’s used by more than 4,000 people a day.
The Chocolate Museum
Did somebody say “chocolate” and “free?” French artisan chocolatier, Isabelle Alaya, established The Chocolate Museum in Brixton to inspire a passion for learning about quality chocolate and its history, via antique chocolate tools to old advertising materials. There are also paid for workshops and experiences which enable you to taste and make your own chocolates.
The Chocolate Museum, 187 Ferndale Rd, London SW9 8BA
Watch a Session at the Houses of Parliament
Fancy a free clown show in a beautiful circus, steeped in history? Then head to the Houses of Parliament to watch parliament in session - it's free for overseas visitors and UK residents.
You'll need to book ahead for the more juicy sessions, like Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) or Ministerial Question Time.
There is only access when either House is in session. But if Parliament is in session (even as late as 11 pm) you're allowed inside for free.
Houses of Parliament, London SW1A 0AA
Explore a hidden, tropical oasis on the third floor of The Barbican, with a glass roof, plus tropical plants and trees, birdlife and exotic fish.
There are regular free events in the urban jungle, from art and design, cinema, music, theatre, dance as well as talks, workshops and tours.
Admission is free. Tickets for the Conservatory are released one week in advance online on Thursdays at 10am. A limited number of day tickets are released for online booking from 9.30am each day that the Conservatory is open.
Barbican, Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS
The Horniman Museum
The 16 acres of stunning gardens are completely free, dog-friendly and have some of the most breathtaking views across London and a variety of trails and activities. Children can make a racket on giant instruments in the Sound Garden, explore the Bee Garden, Wildlife Garden, play in the Meadow Field, picnic in South Downs Meadow and check out the living fossils in the Prehistoric Garden or visit alpacas, goats and sheep on the Animal Walk.
The museum is also free and includes the wonderfully weird and fascinating Natural History Gallery, packed with taxidermy, skeletons and fossils including Forest Hill's most famous resident, The Horniman Walrus - generously stuffed by Victorians who had (clearly) never seen a real walrus before. There are floor to ceiling specimens, from a dodo, platypus to Bornean orangutang. And the Nature Base allows kids to stroke a fox, watch harvest mice and see hundreds of honey bees in a special hive.
There are also a slew of free exhibitions. And for a very reasonable sum, you can also check out the butterfly house and aquarium. Check out our review HERE to see why we think it’s one of London’s best, hidden gems.
The Horniman Museum & Gardens,100 London Rd, London SE23 3PQ
OXO Tower Public Viewing Gallery
For stunning views across the Thames, without juicing your wallet, get the lift to the eighth floor of the OXO Tower to gawp across St Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge.
All you have to do it ask the guys on the floor’s front desk if you can see the platform, and they’ll escort you to the secret roof terrace.
It’s on the same floor as the bar and restaurant, so you can spend some of the wonga you saved on a cocktail, while looking at the view from the bigger terrace…which no doubt, is the purpose of this dangled carrot of a secret viewing gallery.
OXO Tower, Barge House St, London SE1 9PH
Head to West London to discover the home of the Bishops of London - a historic house and botanic garden, brimming with beauty and stories. Henry VII sent Catherine of Aragon there to keep her paws off his son (she got Henry VIII to put a ring on it anyway and became the first of his six wives) and Mary I turned it into a (very pretty) place of torture.
Fulham Palace, Bishop's Ave, London SW6 6EA
On the edge of Hampstead Heath, surrounded by 122 acres of landscaped gardens sits Kenwood House, a true gem in the capital’s crown. And you don’t have to spent a penny to enjoy its delicious gardens and interiors, or its world-class art collection, including Rembrandt’s iconic Self-Portrait With Two Circles.
Kenwood House, Hampstead Ln, London NW3 7JR
Watch BFI’s Film and TV Archives
Head to the little-known, BFI Mediatheque, choose a cosy booth and explore the riches of the BFI National Archive of more than 33,000 films and TV shows for free, every Tuesday to Sunday from 11am - 9pm.
BFI Mediatheque, Belvedere Rd, London SE1