With a packed lunch in your bag and an all day travel card in your hand, head to some of these destinations for a full on day that won’t cost you a penny! Many of these places have dedicated areas where you can eat your prepared lunch, as well as lots of free, informative booklets to make sure you do not spend a fortune in the gift shop. London has a lot to offer those on a budget, so get out there and get stuck in!
St. James Park
Park in the center of London, location of Buckingham Palace. Tourist place - no doubt, but at the same time it is a very good, namely a model park. Daffodils and squirrels? Yes! Lounge chairs and meadows? Yes! The pond? Yes! Ducks and swans? There. Joggers, strollers, ice cream? They got them.
The British Library
The British Library receive a copy of every book published in the UK, this means that each year they get about 3 million new titles to add to their 150 million copy collection. There are some amazing treasures among those numbers that are accessible and on show, for example the Magna Carter, Leonardo Di Vinci’s notebook, manuscripts written by the Beatles and some of the rarest sound pieces in the world. You can enter the Library and the treasures gallery for free. If you want to take out some of the amazing books from the shelves and have a good read in the historical rooms where Virginia Woolfe herself sat, then you will need to register on site for a Reader Pass – these are also free but you must be over 18 and have both your passport and a letter with your address on it.
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. It was founded in 1856 with the aim to promote and protect through the medium of portraiture, the appreciation of the people that are making British history. It is a really interesting way to learn more about the history of this small country as you are relating to the past events on a visual level. The gallery has a brilliant exhibition programme, from collections about contemporary icons such as Audrey Hepburn to shows all about investigating historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell. They also show the BP and the Taylor Wessing prizes respectively, which is an excellent way of gauging the up and coming trends and styles within the art world. The National Portrait Gallery is free to enter.
The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square
The Fourth Plinth is the name for the northwest plinth in Trafalgar Square. Every year the sculpture on top of it changes to make way for a new piece by a contemporary artist. The artworks are usually great conversation starters as the people behind the plinth’s selection are never afraid to take a risk or choose something that is a little eccentric. This year the giant blue cockerel by Katharina Fritsch will be replaced by a skeletal horse by Hans Haacke, which will have an electronic ribbon displaying the London Stock Exchange on its leg.
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
There are many lovely parks in London that are all free to walk around and enjoy a picnic in. The latest one to open up is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, where you can walk through a lovely environment of waterways and greenery whilst also taking in the uniquely designed stadiums from the 2012 Olympic games. There is no entrance fee to the park, and there are some brilliant play areas for children, as well as climbing walls and interactive music rooms. If you wanted to spend a little bit of money then a trip up Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit structure is an unforgettable experience, as is going for a swim in the world class Aquatics Centre. There are a few options for finding your way around the park: you can either follow the special route mapped out on the boards, hire a guide to show you around or go your own way and explore off of the path.
Theatre Royal Stratford East
The Theatre Royal Stratford East was built in 1884 and has a reputation for being an innovative and inclusive establishment, showing plays by famous figures as well as ones that have been penned by more emerging talents. Their programme of events is varied, they hold DJ nights, comedy evenings and live music as well as the more traditional plays and performances. Ticket prices are often very reasonable and the decor is absolutely beautiful, it is well worth a visit if you are in town.
Coram’s field is the name of a huge seven acre playground in the heart of London. This area includes a city farm, a café, a community centre, a youth centre, a sports programme and a community nursery. All of the activities ran by the Coram Charity are free for children and young people up to the age of 19 to take part in, including basketball, table tennis, trampolining, athletics and dodge ball. The play areas include sand pits and a paddling pool in the summer as well as an areal slide. It is a perfect way to spend an afternoon with the kids without having to spend a fortune keeping them entertained!
The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is a must visit destination when you are in London, it is free to enter and has a truly incredible collection of artifacts to do with our fascinating planet. It is curated cleverly so that each piece is interesting to adults as well as being interactive and inviting for children. The museum itself is beautiful and gargantuan – you could easily spend an entire day wandering around and exploring the collections. The famous dinosaur in the entrance (locally known as ‘Dippy’) will be retired and swapped over for a giant blue Whale skeleton soon so make sure you visit her before she goes.
The Science Museum
The Science Museum was founded in 1857 and is still one of London's most amazing spaces dedicated to education, making science approachable and encouraging the public to find the fun in the facts. Their archives are extensive and the exhibitions they show are not limited to the traditional, they play with blurring the lines between art, performance, film, theatre, cuisine and science. Museum entry is free and there are areas where you can eat your packed lunch as well as purchase hot items from the cafe.