Few cities divide opinion as well as London manages to do, and yet one thing that no one will dispute is London’s ability to quickly burn a large hole in your pocket. With major attractions costing around £30 a head, most of us visit the British capital with one eye firmly on the budget.
But London doesn’t have to be expensive. Whether you’re visiting for a weekend break or a longer stay, there are simple ways to make the most of London while avoiding a heart-attack when you next see your bank statement.
Here are a few tips on experiencing some of London’s best attractions for FREE:
You can spend £29 for a ticket on the open-top bus tour of London. Alternatively you can catch a regular Number 11 bus, grab the front seat at the top, and wave at the folks on the open-top bus as you follow a very similar route past many of the city’s famous sights, but without the dreary commentary.
If you get on near Westminster Abbey you’ll pass the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, the Royal Courts of Justice, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England on your slow crawl through the London traffic. If you’ve bought a day Travelcard to use on the underground it is also valid on the London buses.
Tower of London
You can visit the Tower of London at regular opening times and pay the £21.45 admission fee.
But if you’re organised there is also the chance to witness a historic daily ritual and get inside the tower for free. The Ceremony of the Keys has been performed every night for over 700 years and takes place nightly at precisely 10pm, when the Yeoman Warders lock the doors and secure the Tower of London for the night.
It’s a very short ceremony (all over in around 10 minutes) but well worth witnessing. If you’re there in the summer you’ll still see the inside of the Tower in daylight – in winter the atmosphere within the dark walls as a bugler plays the Last Post is wonderful.
Houses of Parliament
Visitors can book a tour of the Houses of Parliament for £16.50. The tour takes around an hour, during which time a guide will lead the group into the House of Lords, House of Commons and the Royal Chambers.
The good news, if you’re a UK resident at least, is that you can arrange exactly the same tours for free just by contacting your MP and asking them to arrange a visit for you. You might need to book it a few months in advance but it’s worth considering if you want to save a tidy sum.
As a bonus for UK residents, a tour of Big Ben (including standing right behind the clock face and near the bell as it strikes the hour) is available free of charge, again by contacting your MP. Unfortunately there is no option for visiting Big Ben if you’re an overseas visitor – not even by paying.
Most visitors shudder at the thought of paying £18 to enter a church, even one as famous as Westminster Abbey. There is a way that you can avoid this charge, and in the process see the grand building used for the purpose for which it was intended…
Evensong takes place daily at around 5pm. Entry is free, the singing is beautiful and the abbey looks fabulous in the evening light. Be aware though that entry is strictly for the purpose of worship, so you’ll need to show appropriate respect.
While you will have time for a look around the main part of the abbey after the service, many of the areas open to paying visitors (such as the crypt) are off limits at this time.
You can also visit St Paul’s Cathedral for evensong at 5pm without paying the £16 admission fee.
Open House weekend
Finally, if you come to London on the third weekend of September, you’ll be able to access many of the city’s most important and historic sites for free.
Open House London allows all visitors into buildings that are normally out of bounds. This year 10 Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Shard were open to the public, along with hundreds of other sites around the city. The high profile buildings require lengthy queuing or good fortune in the ballot, but with so many unsung treasures to be explored, it’s a great time to see beneath the skin of London for free.
Written by Andy Jarosz – http://blog.laterooms.com