London is city absolutely filled with free things to do. From world-class museums and galleries to centuries old markets, the history and story of the England capital gushes from every part of the city.Less
With more than 2,300 European masterpieces in its collection, this is one of the world's great galleries, with seminal works from the 13th to the mid-20th century, including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Vincent van Gogh and Auguste Renoir. Many visitors flock to the eastern rooms on the main floor (1700–1930), where works by British artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and JMW Turner await.
The British Museum is the country's most popular museum (around 5.8 million visitors annually) and one of the world's oldest (opened in 1759). Don't miss the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics (head upstairs for the Egyptian mummies); the controversial Parthenon sculptures, taken from Athens' Acropolis by Lord Elgin (British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire); and the vast Etruscan, Greek, Roman, European, Asian and Islamic galleries.
A visit here is a journey to the heart of UK democracy. The Houses of Parliament are officially called the Palace of Westminster, and its oldest part is 11th-century Westminster Hall, one of only a few sections that survived a catastrophic 1834 fire. The rest is mostly a neo-Gothic confection built over 36 years from 1840. The palace's most famous feature is its clock tower, Elizabeth Tower (better known as Big Ben), covered in scaffolding until restoration works are finished in 2021.
One of London's most amazing attractions, this outstanding modern- and contemporary-art gallery is housed in the creatively revamped Bankside Power Station. A spellbinding synthesis of modern art and capacious industrial brick design, Tate Modern has been extraordinarily successful in bringing challenging work to the masses, both through its free permanent collection and fee-charged big-name temporary exhibitions.
Greenwich Park is one of London’s loveliest expanses of green, with a rose garden, picturesque walks, a 6th-century Anglo-Saxon burial ground and astonishing views of Canary Wharf from the crown of the hill. Covering 74 hectares, it's the oldest enclosed royal park and is partly the work of André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect who designed the palace gardens of Versailles. It's bisected by the imaginary meridian line and is also home to the Ranger's House and the Royal Observatory.
For a thousand years, a market has existed at the southern end of London Bridge, making this still-busy ancient gathering point a superb spectacle. Overflowing with small shops, food stalls cooking in close quarters and wholesale greengrocers catering to London's top-end restaurants, Borough Market makes a delicious lunch stop, afternoon grazing session or pure dinner-party inspiration. Expect it to be crowded, even on days with limited traders.
Romp through 450,000 years of London history at this entertaining and educational museum, one of the capital's finest. Exhibiting everything from a mammoth's jaw circa 200,000 BCE to Oliver Cromwell's death mask and the desperate scrawls of convicts on a cell from Wellclose Prison, interactive displays and reconstructed scenes transport visitors from Roman Londinium and Saxon Lundenwic right up to the 21st-century metropolis. Free themed tours are offered daily.
A delightful collection of manicured lawns, tree-shaded avenues and basins immediately west of Hyde Park, the picturesque expanse of Kensington Gardens is technically part of Kensington Palace, located in the far west of the gardens. The large Round Pond in front of the palace is enjoyable to amble around, and also worth a look are the lovely fountains in the Italian Gardens, believed to be a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria; they are now the venue of a cafe.
The full-on pageantry of soldiers in bright-red uniforms and bearskin hats parading down the Mall and into Buckingham Palace is madly popular with tourists. The event lasts about 45 minutes and ends with a full military band playing music from traditional marches, musicals and pop songs. The pomp and circumstance can feel far away indeed when you're in a row 15, trying to watch the ceremony through a forest of selfie sticks. Get here at least 45 minutes before the main event.
What makes the National Portrait Gallery so compelling is its familiarity; in many cases, you will have heard of the subject (royals, scientists, politicians, celebrities) or the artist (Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Lucian Freud), but you won't necessarily recognise the face. The collection is organised chronologically (starting with the early Tudors on the 2nd floor), and then by theme. The gallery is closed from June 2020 to spring 2023 for renovations.