London for Free: Performances, galleries, skating and tours
By Nina Derham in London—
Despite being a notoriously pricey city when you consider the cost of booze, transport and accommodation, London is surprisingly generous when it comes to dishing out free attractions and entertainment.
To begin with, all the main museums and art galleries are free, meaning that visitors can spend days wandering between the National Gallery, the V&A and the British Museum without parting with a penny.
However, London’s free offerings go way beyond the city’s well-known museums. Follow these tips to spend nothing at all for some great entertainment:
Free arts at Rich Mix
35 – 47 Bethnal Green Road
London, E1 6LA
This place is like a dream come true for anyone on a budget looking to enjoy quality live music, theater, comedy, dance or film. Located in East London, Rich Mix is a social enterprise that works with the local community to nurture talent and give young artists a platform to develop their talents.
There is so much going on across Rich Mix’s five floors and the programs are constantly evolving, so you’re sure to find something that takes your fancy. You can get involved in anything from a community meal (this is free if you bring a dish with you, and costs £1 if you don’t), to learning about different cultures through a variety of exhibitions.
Most of the activities are completely free but some of the film screenings and live acts require paying a small entry fee. The second Wednesday of the month is a good time to give it a try when Brassroots, an incredible nine-piece brass band, hits the stage.
Experience London’s art scene on “First Thursdays”
On the first Thursday of each month over 100 galleries across East London open their doors for free until 9 p.m. offering an opportunity to explore London’s artist studios, smaller galleries and museums.
This is an exciting way to get a feel for what is going on in London’s art scene. It’s an ideal time to wander the streets visiting galleries, and enjoying the music and pop-up bars that appear along the way. For the lazier Cheapos among us, there is even a free curator-led bus tour if you don’t fancy walking! (Read our earlier post on First Thursdays.)
Friday Night Skate around town
For a different kind of Friday night, why not join the London Friday Night Skate? All you need is a pair of rollerblades or skates (and bags of energy!) and you’re free to join this friendly weekly skate ’round London.
The skate offers a fun night out for born-and-bred Londoners and first-time visitors alike, as it follows a different route each week – sometimes passing by the city’s most famous landmarks and sometimes exploring the lesser known side streets. The skate usually lasts 10-15 miles, begins at 8 p.m. each Friday, and is led by marshals. Skaters are also accompanied by an enormous music bike which blasts out music as you go.
For those looking for a less energetic tour, the Sunday Stroll starts at 2 p.m. and offers a slightly more gentle skate through the city.
These skate tours are subject to weather conditions. Organizers confirm whether a skate is going ahead or not three hours before the start time on their Web site.
Free London walking tours
This 2.5-hour walking tour starts at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily and is a great way to explore London by foot. Enthusiastic guides ensure that you spend your time looking around, taking in the spectacular architecture, instead of shuffling about with your head buried in a map. And yes, the tours are free.
The tour takes in “Royal London,” encompassing the city’s major sights, from Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, to Number 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square. The tours work on a tip-only basis, so you are encouraged to tip your guide if you enjoy the tour, but there is no obligation to pay a set amount.
Also in our Guide: Heading to London and shocked by the hotel rates? We’ve been there! Be sure to stop by our Cheapo Guide to London. Our editors have personally inspected, photographed and reviewed budget-friendly hotels in central London and have selected their favorites, based on service, location and rates.