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No.1 on our list of free events 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. Some people think that it’s all put on for the tourists, but you have to remember that 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 solitary Yeoman Warder leading 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 a soldier blows the Last Post on his bugle. 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 to give you a feeling for the atmosphere.
Note: Whilst the event is totally free to attend, you do still have to apply 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.Talk about Changing the Guard
There are quite a few daily parades that could go on this Top 10 list, but the most popular by far is the famous Changing the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace. This is 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.
The other free parades that you might be interested in are the Changing the Guard ceremony at Horse Guards (the big difference is that it has horses instead of marching bands) and the Dismounting Ceremony. This ceremony is better if you have little kids with you, because it’s a lot less crowded and doesn’t take so long.
If you time your holiday dates right then you might get lucky and be able to see ‘Trooping the Colour’ or the ‘State Opening of Parliament’ instead. You can find some information about these on our list of Top 10 annual events.Talk about the House of Commons
Did you know that you can 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 10 o’clock 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. Read his review of PMQs as well, because that’s definitely the best of the bunch.Talk about the Sky Garden
If somebody told you what was at the top of this skyscraper before you saw it then you wouldn’t believe them. There’s a tropical garden up there! The top floors of the Sky Garden are like a big greenhouse filled with palm trees, plants and jungle ferns. They’ve even got some of that warm misty spray being pumped out of the pipes to keep it at the right temperature.
The windows are all triple height and the view is truly spectacular – you can look straight down into the Tower of London and get a great view of Tower Bridge and the City skyscrapers. They’ve got an open-air balcony as well if you don’t mind getting your hair all blown about.
After you’ve finished looking out of the window you can have a sit-down in their posh cafe, restaurant and wine bar.
Read Craig’s review on his blog before you go, and remember to book a time slot on their website first, because you can’t just turn up on the day.Talk about the Evensong at Westminster Abbey
A church service may not be everybody’s idea of a fun holiday activity, but these are no ordinary services – and they’re no ordinary churches either! Both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral hold choral services in the evening, and they’re a great way to see inside both buildings for free.
Craig has been to both of these services and if he had to choose one over the other then he’d definitely pick the Evensong at Westminster Abbey. The pews are arranged in the North and South Transept so you’re treated to a fine view of the golden altar and famous Cosmati pavement. Read the review on his blog to get a taste of what it’s like inside.Talk about the Evensong at St. Paul’s
Hours: 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon-Thu, Sat-Sun); 10 AM to 8.30 PM (Fri) – Cost: Free
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One of the best things about London is all the free museums we have. And we’re not talking about piddly little museums with lousy exhibitions and exhibits – we’re talking about some of the best museums in the world! Which ones you visit is all going to depend on your interests, and whether or not you have kids, but here’s a little list of the best ones…
The British Museum is best for scholars and students of history, and is particularly strong in the ancient civilisations from Egypt, Greece and Rome. They’ve also got a lot of Chinise, Japanese and medieval English stuff. Read Craig’s review to learn more
The Natural History Museum is a taxidermist’s dream – it houses 69 million stuffed and fossilised specimens from our prehistoric past all the way up to the present day. The dinosaur bones are a particular favourite for children, but they also have a huge collection of rocks, plants, and cover natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanos. Read Craig’s review of the Natural History Museum to see what it’s like.
The Science Museum is much better for 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.
Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Thu, Sat-Sun); 10 AM to 9 PM (Fri) – Cost: Free
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Most of London’s best art galleries are free, but the undoubted king is the National Gallery. Its huge collection of 2,000 works includes pieces by practically every great painter 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.
Hours: 10 AM to 5.50 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 20 mins before closing – Cost: Free
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The Tate Modern is incredibly popular with tourists, and is actually the second most visited attraction in London. It focuses on modern art and contemporary art. You should definitely check out Craig’s review of Tate Modern before you go, though, because it’s one of those places that you’re either going to love or hate.Talk about One New Change
Hardly any tourists know about the view from One New Change which is a shame, because it’s actually rather great! It’s basically just 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 dome, plus a distant view of Parliament and the London Eye. Craig has written a review of One New Change on his blog, detailing exactly what you can see, and included a few photos of the view.Talk about the performers in Covent Garden
Walking around London can be a tiring business and sometimes you just want to sit down and rest your feet… that’s where Covent Garden comes in. The surrounding shops and central piazza is full of cafes with pavement seats where you can be entertained by the street performers.
If you sit downstairs then you can usually find some classical buskers and opera singers, whereas the big square outside could be anything from acrobats and fire-eaters, to clowns and comedians.
Craig loves this place and has written a review to show you what it’s like.
At 203-feet Primrose Hill is a bit of a climb, but 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. Read Craig’s review for some photos of the view.
Greenwich Hill is a bit further away but gives you an even better view that spans the entire stretch from the London Eye to the Millennium Dome.