If you’re spending these holidays in the lively city of London, but find yourself on a tight budget, worry not. We’ve put together this list of completely free festive activities that will allow you to enjoy the best that London has to offer without breaking the bank.
1. See the Christmas lights sparkle
Oxford Street (pictured) always puts on a show, but you don’t want to miss the lights on Bond Street, Regent Street and at Covent Garden.
Hint: If you want to catch the lights at Covent Garden this year, be sure to arrive early to pet some live reindeer.
2. Enjoy nature
Many of London’s most picturesque parks are open to the public free of charge. These include Holland Park in Kensington, the ancient Hampstead Heath that runs from Hampstead to Highgate and the fantastical Bushy Park near Hampton Court Palace. Hyde Park’s 4,000 trees have been transformed into a Winter Wonderland this year. While some of the activities on offer require tickets, entrance to the Wonderland is free of charge.
3. Skate away
Winter is traditionally a time for ice-skating. While you can view ice-skating for free, it can be quite costly to participate – especially if you have to hire skates.
But did you know there’s a slightly different kind of skate park hidden beneath Queen Elizabeth Hall that is entirely free? You may have seen it featured in BBC’s Sherlock. The South Bank Skate Park dates back to the 1970s and is worth a visit even if skateboarding is not your thing.
4. Experience a Christmas market
Purchasing the various wares on offer may lighten your wallet but browsing costs you nothing. Go get gift ideas at South Bank Centre, Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland or Covent Garden (featuring an Etsy pop up shop this year).
5. Watch an old film (or several)
The British Film Institute hosts a number of archived films and TV shows at its South Bank complex, which you can access through a suite of wide-screen computer booths called Mediatheques.
If it’s too cold for outdoor adventuring, pull up a chair and watch some Doctor Who (the original first episode) or Absolutely Fabulous, then flip through documentaries on everything from the 1908 Olympics to the Titanic. Booking ahead might be a good idea if you’re planning to go at a busy time.
6. Visit a museum
London has some of the best museums in the world, catering to a variety of tastes. The best part is, many of them cost nothing to experience. Some notable must-sees:
- The Science Museum
- Natural History Museum
- British Museum
- Imperial War Museum
- Royal Air Force Museum
- Musical Museum
7. Listen to someone on a soap box
Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park is the most famous location for free speech in the world. Any member of the public can give a speech on almost any subject. Though be prepared, the bar is high. Other notable speakers include Karl Marx and George Orwell.
It might be safer, and more entertaining, to stand and listen.
8. Take a walk
Wrap up against the cold and take a Wintery walk that demonstrates the sights, culture and history of London. Here are some of the most popular walking routes.
9. Educate yourself
The Gresham College gives free lectures regularly in public places where anyone can attend. Some upcoming lectures this season are “The Guitar, the Steamship and the Picnic: England on the Move” (11 December 2014) and “Ebola: Emergence, Epidemic and the Global Response” (15 December 2014). See more here.
10. Have a laugh
Have a very merry festive season by enjoying London’s diverse range of free comedy events – from stand-up to open-mic.
11. Admire art
It’s no secret that London has a huge number of galleries and exhibitions year-round and, like the museums, many are free to enter or ask only a small donation. Some of the most popular are:
- The National Gallery
- Haywood Gallery
- The National Portrait Gallery of London
- The Wallace Collection
- The Tate Modern
12. See the stars
Travel to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The Astronomy Centre and galleries offers free entry and you’ll be able to tell your friends that you’ve been to the prime meridian. If you’re there at 13:00, you can watch the time ball drop, indicating it’s officially 13:00 GMT.
13. Finally… the obvious
If you haven’t seen the major tourist attractions yet, the holidays is a great time to go. Playing tourist in London doesn’t mean spending large amounts of cash. There are plenty of landmarks that are completely free to see, including:
- City Hall
- Trafalgar Square
- The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
- Big Ben (Palace of Westminster)
- The Lifting of Tower Bridge
BONUS: Find Paddington
A number of Paddington statues designed by celebrities have been placed around the city to celebrate the bear’s premiere on the big screen. You can follow a range of maps and trails to track him down. Take a selfie if you see him and let us know.
Have we missed anything? Tell us in the comments.