By Sarah Reid
London has the reputation for being one of the world’s most expensive cities, but over the past few summers working as a teaching assistant for The London Stage study abroad program, I’ve found a number of fun, free things to do in the city.
Here’s my list of top five free things to do in London:
1. Walking Around the City
Just walking around London is jaw-dropping. While these might seem cliché, I never tire of the iconic sites like the River Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Big Ben. My favorite walking route is to start at St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk across the Millennium Bridge, and meander down the South Bank river walk path.
2. So Many Museums
London has one of the highest numbers of museums of any city in the world. Almost all of the museums in London are free (yes!), so even if you are not a “museum” person, you MUST check a few the city has to offer.
The British Museum has a little bit lot of everything and a large collection of incredible Egyptian artifacts. It also houses the Rosetta Stone.
Museum of London is not as overwhelming as other museums and you walk through it chronologically. I like seeing London evolve from prehistoric to modern times.
The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are attached to one another in Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery houses an incredible amount of masterpieces from the 13th –19th Century, everything from Monet and Van Gogh to Carravaggio and in between. It’s only paintings though.
Tate Modern is housed in an old power station. It’s got this fun, industrial feel to it. The galleries are arranged in this sort of dreamy flow: poetry and dream, states of flux, energy and process, etc. It’s also situated on the South Bank, right next to Shakespeare’s Globe and the Millennium Bridge. It’s a great place just to people watch.
3. Visiting Parks
Most of the parks in London used to be land the royals kept for hunting grounds before London sprawled so much that it now envelopes all of the parks.
Regent’s Park is full of pretty paths, an open air theater, cafes, and the most stunning rose gardens. You can spend a good hour smelling the different varieties of roses at this park.
Hyde Park is massive, and many people run and bike there one the weekends. On the left side of the park is Kensington Gardens, which is where Princess Diana lived and features beautiful gardens and a restaurant for High Tea.
Hampstead Heath is just north of the city and much less crowded. There are no “paths,” just open spaces and Parliament Hill (aka Kite Hill) also offers great views of London.
4. Shopping at Markets
The weekends in London are usually bustling with markets all over the city.
Borough Market is probably my favorite hangout on Friday and Saturday mornings. It’s a large farmers’ market with the most incredible range of foods. Get there early before the lunchtime crowds.
Camden Markets is a neat alternative area north of London. Great for budget shopping, eating and people watching.
Columbia Road Flower Market is only open on Sunday mornings. Duck behind the street filled with flowers and plants to check out neat shops. Hit up the street vendors for breakfast and sit on the street to listen to the loads of musicians that descend on market day.
Brick Lane has a street market on Sunday, but really any day (or night) is fun to walk down this street. It’s filled with great Indian restaurants, vintage shops, and an artsy crowd.
Portobello Market is a beautiful street and mainly an antiques market, and made famous from the movie, Notting Hill.
5. Ariel City Views
The sprawling city of London offers gorgeous aerial views, and I’ve found a couple free spots that offer stellar views without shilling out 30 pound for the London Eye.
Tate Modern – The restaurant on Level 6 offers one of the best views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Thames, and the northside of London.
Parliament Hill – It’s a short, steep walk to the top of Parliament “Kite” Hill in Hampstead Heath, but the view is a gorgeous spread of the entire city of London.
Not quite free, but worth the 14 pounds! St. Paul’s Cathedral – Head up to the Golden Gallery at the very top of the dome for breathtaking panoramic views across London.
Interested in UVM’s London Study Abroad Program? Visit learn.uvm.edu.
Sarah Reid is a Program Coordinator for the UVM Global Village Residential Learning Community. She graduated from UVM’s Higher Education & Student Affairs master’s program in 2008.