No.1 on our list of free events in London is the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. The Yeoman Warders have been performing this ancient ceremony every night for over 700 years, walking around the grounds and locking up the gates. People think that it’s just put on for the tourists, but the Tower still contains priceless treasures like the Crown Jewels, so the ceremony is still as vital now as it was back in the 1300s.
Craig has attended this event himself and thinks it’s easily the most atmospheric ceremony in London. Picture the scene: it’s 9 o’clock at night and all the tourists have gone home. It’s literally just you, the group, and one Yeoman Warder, who leads you down towards Traitor’s Gate. You’ll be standing by the Bloody Tower while it all happens around you, and then you’ll see the White Tower looming up ahead as the soldiers blow the Last Post. If it doesn’t choke you up and bring a tear to your eye then you truly have a heart of stone! Read Craig’s Ceremony of the Keys review before you go, and feel free to ask him some questions.
Note: Whilst the event is totally free to attend, you do still have to appply for a ticket beforehand. And they only let 30-or-so people attend it each night, so it gets booked up months and months in advance. If you want to do it then make sure you send your letter off at least three of four months beforehand. Find out how to apply here.
If truth be told there are quite a few daily parades in London that could go on this Top 10 list, but if we have to pick the best one then we’ll go for Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace – because that’s the one that every tourist wants to see. Unfortunately that means it also gets extremely busy, but don’t let that put you off. Part of the spectacle and atmosphere comes from standing in a thousand-strong crowd as the marching bands troop down The Mall. You can hear the trumpets and drums coming from quite a distance, and you get a genuine thrill as they come through the Buckingham Palace gates.
Because it’s so popular you do have to get there in plenty of time if you want a good viewing spot, so make sure you read through Craig’s review of the ceremony before you go. He goes into detail about the best places to stand, and what time you have to arrive before the best spots have gone. Feel free to ask him some questions, or post a question on the forum.
They don’t warrant a spot in this Top 10 list, but we can’t write a list of the best free events in London without mentioning two more daily parades: so check out Changing the Guard at Horse Guards, and the 4 O’Clock Parade at Horse Guards.
Did you know that you can go visit Parliament and watch the MPs debating in the House of Commons for free? And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a UK resident or an overseas tourist, either – you don’t even need a ticket! You can just queue up outside the Cromwell Green visitor entrance and wait for a space to become available.
If truth be told the debates themselves can be a bit boring, but it’s worth visiting anyway simply to see inside the Houses of Parliament. You’ll get to see the 1,000-year-old Westminster Hall, St. Stephen’s Hall, and stand in the Central Lobby where they do all the interviews on the news.
Craig has been to see lots of debates inside Parliament, and has written reviews for both the House of Commons and House of Lords. If you don’t mind planning a few months ahead then you can even request an invite for Prime Minister’s Questions from your local MP. Have a read of Craig’s review of PMQs as well, because that’s definitely the best of the bunch.
If you don’t fancy spending £30 on visiting The Shard, then there’s a free alternative that’s just as good. In fact, it may even be better! How about visiting the tropical garden at the top of the Sky Garden?
This building towers 500-feet over the City of London, and has two huge flowerbeds at the top with jungle trees and ferns. Try and imagine the Palm House at Kew on top of a skyscraper – that’s exactly what it’s like. And they’ve got a cafe and restaurant up there as well, so you can treat yourself to a drink.
Craig has been up here a couple of times, and rates it as one of the best free attractions in London. He’s written a big review on his blog, and posted some pictures of what you can see out the window.
Whilst this is definitely a free attraction, you can’t just turn up whenever you like. You need to book a spot on their website beforehand, and print off a ticket. Check out the relevant page on our events guide to find out what to do. 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Fri); 11 AM to 9 PM (Sat-Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing – Cost: Free
A church service may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but these are no ordinary services – and they’re no ordinary churches! Both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral hold choral services in the evening, and they’re a great way of seeing inside the buildings for free.
Craig has been to both of these services, and if he had to choose one over the other then he’d pick the Evensong at Westminster Abbey. The Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral is great as well, but he just prefers the inside of the Abbey. The pews are arranged in the North and South Transept so you’re treated to a fine view of the golden altar, the Quire, and the famous Cosmati pavement. Read the review on his blog to get a taste of the atmosphere inside. Read his review of the St. Paul’s Evensong as well, so you can compare the two.
There are two more church services in London that didn’t quite make our list of Top 10 free events, but we’re going to mention them here anyway, because they’re also worth doing (we should have done a Top 20 list!). There’s a Sunday service at the Tower of London, and another Sunday service at Hampton Court. Craig has written a review of the Tower of London service and Hampton Court service as well.
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One of the great things about London is all the free museums we have. And we’re not talking about piddly little museums with just a handful of rooms either – we’re talking about the very best ones! Which one you go to is going to depend on your interests, and whether you have kids, but here’s a little list of the best ones…
The Natural History Museum is a taxidermist’s dream, because it houses 69 million specimens from Earth’s prehistoric past to the present day. The dinosaur bones are a particular favourite for children, but they also cover earthquakes, volcanos and the oceans. Read Craig’s review of the Natural History Museum to see what it’s like. 10 AM to 5.50 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 20 mins before closing – Cost: Free
The Science Museum is better for families and kids, because it’s full of push-button experiments, space ships and fast cars. They’ve also got a hangar full of full-size airplanes. Read Craig’s review of the Science Museum for some photos. During school term: 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun) – During school holidays: 10 AM to 7 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 45 mins before closing – Cost: Free
The British Museum is more for scholars and students, and covers everything from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, to medieval England, China and Japan. It’s not Craig’s favourite museum in London, but read his review to discover what’s inside. 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Sat-Thu); 10 AM to 8.30 PM (Fri); Last entry 15 mins before closing – Cost: Free
The Victoria & Albert Museum is fantastic inside, and really surprised Craig the frist time he saw it (read his review to find out why). It describes itself as a museum of art and design, but it’s a lot more interesting than that.
Most of London’s big art galleries are free, but the undoubted best of the bunch is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Its collection of 2,000 works encompasses works by every master painter there was: from Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir and Titian, to Turner, Monet, Da Vinci and Van Gogh. Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery to see what he thought. 10 AM to 6 PM (Sat-Thu); 10 AM to 9 PM (Fri) – Cost: Free
The next best free gallery on our Top 10 list is Tate Britain. This one focuses on British art from the 16th-century onwards, and includes works by Bacon, Blake, Hockney, Hogarth, Gainsborough, John Constable and JW Turner. You might like to read Craig’s review of the Tate Britain as well. 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 45 mins before closing – Cost: Free
No Top 10 list of free attractions would be complete without Tate Modern. This place is tremendously popular with the tourists, but if truth be told we haven’t got a clue why. It concentrates on modern art, which seems to be an acquired taste. You should definitely check out Craig’s review of Tate Modern before you go, because it’s one of those places you’re either going to love or hate. 10 AM to 6 PM (Sun-Thu); 10 AM to 10 PM (Fri-Sat); Last entry 45 mins before closing – Cost: Free
Hardly any tourists know about the view from the roof of One New Change which is a surprise, because it’s really rather great! It’s a big glass shopping centre round the back of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and if you ride the lift all the way to the roof you can step out onto their open-air terrace and look at the skyline.
You get a great view of St. Paul’s domes, and a distant view of Parliament and the London Eye. Craig has written a big review of One New Change on his blog, detailing exactly what you can see, and included a few more photos of the view. Shops: 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Wed, Sat); 10 AM to 8 PM (Thu-Fri); 12 noon to 6 PM (Sun) – The restaurants, bars and roof terrace stay open later – Cost: Free
Walking around London can be a tiring business (especially if you’re unfit like me), and sometimes all you want to do is have a sit down and watch the world go by… and there’s where Covent Garden comes in. The central Piazza is where you’ll find a lot of great cafes with outside seats, and you can order yourself a coffee and be entertained by the street performers.
If you settle downstairs then you’ll be treated to some classical singers and violins, whereas the big square outside St. Paul’s church can have anything from acrobats and mimes to fire-eaters, clowns and comedians.
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, the distant City skyscrapers, and Canary Wharf to the east. You should also 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. Check out Craig’s review of Primrose Hill for some more photos of the view.
And if you don’t mind catching a train out to Hampstead Heath then try climbing up Parliament Hill – that’s the best of the bunch. Have a read of Craig’s review of Parliament Hill for some shots of the skyline.
London’s upcoming events can be found in our big ‘What’s on guide’ section