London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, with some museums costing over $20 for a ticket. But with a little planning the tourist can find plenty of free things in London that are still outstanding.
1) Westminster Abbey
What’s this doing on a list of free things in London? We approached Westminster Abbey and were shocked to find an admission price of 16 pounds, about $26. For a family of four it would cost over $100 to go to church, granted it’s a famous church, but still. . .
But you can visit Westminster Abbey for free. Five nights a week Evensong services are offered at 5pm (3pm most weekends). This service isn’t highly publicized. To attend the service, walk over to the iron gate by the main entrance to the Abbey, not the side entrance used for paid admissions. Guides wearing bright scarlet capes and stern expressions stand blocking the gate. Tell them you’re there for Evensong and they step aside while cheerfully welcoming you.
The 45-minute service is beautifully rendered by the Abbey choir. There is not much time for strolling about the Abbey after the service but you do get to see enough. In many ways, Evensong is preferable to walking around the Church with hundreds of other visitors during the day. The visitor gets to experience Westminster Abbey for what it was originally designed, worship and prayer.
Click the link for more information and current service times: Westminster Abbey Evensong services.
2) The Wallace Collection
We love museums that can be visited in about an hour or so; with many interesting items on display but whose size isn’t so daunting that we feel like we’re missing most of it. The Wallace Collection, housed in a historic London mansion, is one of those museums. It was owned by five generations of collectors, including a few Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, before becoming a public collection.
The collection has a little something for everyone: 18th-century French masterpieces and furniture, Galleries of Old Master paintings including Rembrandt, medieval religious manuscripts and a sterling collection of swords and armor. The museum surround an open-air courtyard restaurant for snacks and afternoon tea.
3) Royal Air Force Museum
The RAF museum is about a 30-minute Tube ride from central London. It has an incredible amount of planes and helicopters on display in four large hangars. As airplane geeks we’ve been to many aviation museums and this may be the largest. One building is devoted to RAF’s derring do in the World War II Battle of Britain. Antique plane enthusiasts will enjoy the collection of pioneering airplanes in the 1917 Grahame-White Hangar, the UK’s first aircraft factory. If you are traveling with young kids there is LOTS of room to run around and burn off some energy.
4) Museum of the City of London
Photo courtesy www.TravelCultureMag.com
Long before the kings, queens and Big Ben, London was a prehistoric settlement and then a Roman outpost. This museum takes the visitor on a time travel tour from the city’s distant past up to the present day. A combination of displays and interactive exhibits hold the attention of all ages. Feel the heat of the Great Fire of 1666, attend an 18th-century garden party and stroll through Victorian streets before going to the movies in the Roaring Twenties and hanging out with Mick Jagger and Twiggy in the 1960′s. The museum’s location gets visitors in the mood: a starkly modern structure built along the remains of ancient Roman Walls.
5) National Army Museum
Great Britain has a pretty long military history so the Army Museum is a sprawling complex detailing battles going back centuries. I did find one glaring gap though. Their army didn’t seem to be involved in any activity between the War of Spanish Succession that ended in 1714 and the Napoleonic Wars that started in 1795. It seems a little skirmish that occurred in the American colonies has been forgotten.
A temporary exhibit that runs through March, 2013 is based on the War Horse movie and highlights the role of animals in war. It’s a grim story. Coincidentally, elsewhere in the museum the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse is on display. If you still have the stomach for it, the café offers a tasty selection of gourmet sandwiches and pastries.
Web Site: http://www.nam.ac.uk/
A few other free things in London:
6) British Museum – Massive collection of over 8 million objects. www.BritishMuseum.org
7) National Maritime Museum – The largest maritime museum in the world with pride of place going to Admiral Nelson, including the bloody uniform he was wearing when he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. www.rmg.co.uk
8) Victoria and Albert Museum – World’s largest museum of art & design. www.vam.ac.uk
9) The Wellcome Collection – The ghoulish may be interested in this medical collection which includes various body parts and antique medical devices. www.WellcomeCollection.org
10) Tate Modern – We’re not that into modern art, a pile of bricks that looked like they were left by a worker was one of the displays. But if you’re into that sort of thing this is the place to see them. Here’s information on visiting the Tate Modern.
11) Abbey Road – Don’t forget to be a Beatle for a day and cross Abbey Road. It’s free and a lot of fun. Here’s information on how to cross Abbey Road.
What are your suggestions for other free things to do in London?