London: A Visitor’s Guide
Have you seen our guidebook? Honest reviews of 200 London attractions with money-saving tips, opening times, prices and maps
Did you know that you can climb the Big Ben clock tower for free? All yo’ve got to do is write to your local MP and they will arrange for you to attend a tour. The guide will take you up the tower to see the clock mechanism, the clock faces, and even let you stand in the belfy whilst the big bell goes off!
The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London, which has taken place every night for at least 700 years. The event is free to attend, but have to appply for a ticket a few months in advance (at least).
No trip to London would be complete without seeing the Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace. It starts at 11.30AM in the summer and every other day in the winter. There are actually two detachments of the Guard that get changed – one at Buckingham Palace and another at St. James’s Palace, a short walk down The Mall.
Did you know that both UK residents and overseas visitors can enter the Houses of Parliament and watch the MPs debating for free? Galleries run around the top of both Chambers (the Lords and the Commons). The visitors section is at the back, looking towards the chair. Arrive early though, as you might have to queue for 1 or 2 hours.
It’s quite expensive to get inside Westminster Abbey these days, but anyone attending a mass can get in for free. We recommend visiting during the Choral Evensong, which combines a traditional mass with a choir. You won’t be able to see the whole of the Abbey, but the pews are arranged in the North and South Transept so you’ll have a fine view of the golden altar, the Quire, and the famous Cosmati pavement. There is a similar service at St. Paul’s Cathedral as well, if you fancy doing them both.
Most of London’s big art galleries are free (like the Tate Britain and Tate Modern), but pick of the bunch is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It houses more than 2,000 works from 1260 onwards. All of the great names in art history can be found here including Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner, Monet, Da Vinci and Van Gogh. 10 AM to 6 PM (Sat-Thu); 10 AM to 9 PM (Fri)Cost: Free
London has loads of free museums (like the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and V&A), but pick of the bunch is the British Museum. It covers everything from ancient Egypt and Greece, to Italy, Africa and the Orient, and includes colossal works by the Romans, Greeks and Persians. Highlights include the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marbles, and the world-famous Reading Room. 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Sat-Thu); 10 AM to 8.30 PM (Fri); Last entry 15 mins before closingCost: Free
The Natural History Museum is known as the “dead zoo” and houses more than 69 million specimens from our prehistoric past to the present day. The dinosaur bones are a particular favourite, but they also have elephants, lions, tigers, rhinos and every kind of bird – even the Dodo! 10 AM to 5.50 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 20 mins before closingCost: Free
Sometimes all you want to do is have a sit down and watch the world go by… and there’s nowhere better than Covent Garden. The historic piazza is where you’ll find a plethora of professional street entertainers… everything from acrobats and mimes, to fire-eaters, clowns and comedians. Downstairs you can enjoy some upmarket busking, where classical musicians ply their trade.
At 203 feet Primrose Hill is a bit of a climb, but it’s well-worth the effort – it boasts one of the best views of the London skyline. Its position north of Regent’s Park gives you a fine view of London Zoo below, as well as the City in the distance and Canary Wharf to the east. You should be able to pick out the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s and the Shard, but there’s a big silver plaque to help you.
London’s upcoming events can be found in our big ‘What’s on guide’ section
|> Free events in Jan|
|> Free events in Feb|
|> Free events in Mar|
|> Free events in Apr|
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