A London visit on the cheap: 5 free ideas for family activities & museums

Budget London - family trips can be costly

London is quite an expensive city. Even just the basics - somewhere to stay, food, transport and so forth can cost quite a wedge.

And, of course, there are many activities and tourist attractions just dying to part the visitor from his hard-earned pounds, dollars, euros, or yen.

But don't despair! There are also a lot of things to do in London which can be great fun for a family outing, and yet are free.

We live in London, and have a 3 year old son, and all these 5 suggestions are tried and tested, and things we do frequently.

So have fun on your family trip to the greatest city in the world! As. Dr. Johnson put it:

You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

The Reading Room, and the new (2000) Great Court roof, at the British Museum
The Reading Room, and the new (2000) Great Court roof, at the British Museum

British Museum

The British Museum is, quite simply, spectacular.

It's not only one of the oldest museums in the world, it has an absolutely amazing and diverse range of exhibits from every corner of the world, a total of over 7 million different objects.

It is one of the copyright libraries, meaning every book and periodical published is held in the British Library (part of the Museum).

Its main buildings are in Bloomsbury, central London, an area of Georgian buildings, green squares, and lots of different educational establishments.

The Museum was founded as a result of the personal collection of Sir Hans Sloane.

Sloane had collected over 70,000 items, mostly books, pre-printing press parchment and manuscripts, ancient coins, drawings, natural history, and anthropological type artifacts.

He left his collection to the King, George II, on condition that it became the basis of a national collection.

Parliament took up the idea, and the museum was founded by Act of Parliament in 1753.

Other collections previously bequeathed to the country were added, and four years later, King George II donated the Old Royal Libraries collection as well.

The original home of the British Museum was Montagu House, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury.

The Museum bought the building in 1759, and the current Museum buildings were constructed on the same site in the 1840s.

There are endless exciting things to see in the Museum, and many are fantastic for children as well as adults.

My son, aged 3, is particularly fond of the Egyptian galleries, which feature an amazing collection of Mummies, paintings and statues.

He also likes the Sutton Hoo exhibits, part of the finds from a Saxon burial plot, including treasure and armour.

The British Museum is free to enter. The only parts you have to pay for are the special exhibitions, which are specific and temporary. And you could keep yourself occupied for months without needing to stray out of the free parts!

The Museum is in Great Russell Street, as it has been since foundation. The nearest tube stations are Holborn (Piccadilly and Central lines) and Russell Square (Piccadilly line) and it is only a few minutes' walk from either.

Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank, London. Copyright GaryReggae (creative commons licence)
Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank, London. Copyright GaryReggae (creative commons licence)
The Royal National Theatre, part of the South Bank arts scene
The Royal National Theatre, part of the South Bank arts scene

Walk along the South Bank

The South Bank is a pedestrianised area of walkways, buildings and paths, along the south bank of the River Thames in central London.

There is a wealth of things to see and do along this stretch of the Thames.

The area was changed substantially as a result of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and is home to a number of galleries, theatres and museums.

As a result, it is a by-word for cultural events, to the extent that an arts programme on television is called The South Bank Show.

Walking along the South Bank is great fun. You can watch boats and ships on the River Thames, and look at the many bridges, old and new, which cross the river.

Because the paths are free of traffic, there are lots of people here and things going on. It's a major venue for skateboarding, and there are always people watching and enjoying the show.

A number of important buildings can also be seen, such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, and the Hayward Gallery.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the 1990s reproduction of the original, is on the waterfront on the south bank too, and a lot can be seen from the outside.

The London Eye is also on the south bank, near to the old London County Hall.

Jubilee Park is also great fun - it was created in 1977, the year of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee.

It features memorials to the British Battalions who fought (and, all to often, died) in the Spanish Civil War.

The Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden
The Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden
Covent Garden market, copyright Garry Knight
Covent Garden market, copyright Garry Knight

Covent Garden

Covent Garden, in the centre of London, is a place you can spend a great deal of money if you want to, but can also enjoy yourself immensely for free.

It's between the old cities of London and Westminster, not far north of the River Thames

Covent Garden, as it was then known, was established in the 12th century as the place where the monks of Westminster Abbey had a market garden to grow fruit and vegetables.

Over time, it became a large market, selling everything under the sun, but with an emphasis still on fresh food.

By the 18th century, it was London's major wholesale market for fruit, veg, and fresh flowers.

In the mid-1970s, the market moved a few miles upriver, to New Covent Garden Market, in Vauxhall.

Now, the Covent Garden area is a mixture of expensive shops, and market stalls selling everything from essential oils to English cheeses.

It is also an area of serious and extensive street entertainment.

The main square is mostly classical music, and the streets around feature everything from stilt-walking through juggling to yoga masters.

The Royal Opera House, London Transport Museum, and St. Paul's Church are all on the central square.

Covent Garden tube is the closest station, oddly enough. It is on the Piccadilly line.


Changing of the Guard

The Queen’s Palaces are guarded by the Queen’s Guard and the Queen’s Lifeguard who guard all the official royal residences and Palaces.

The Guards have been responsible for this since the restoration in 1660, and the reign of King Charles II.

At 11 o’clock each morning during the summer, in front of Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s main residence in London, is the Changing of the Queen’s Guard.

This is a ceremony, in which the new guard arrives formally to replace the old guard.

The new guard lines up in military fashion on the parade grounds at Wellington Barracks, nearby, and are then inspected.

The military band from one of the Guard’s regiments is with the new Guard. They then march across from Wellington Barracks to Buckingham Palace. The old Guard waits at the foreground of Buckingham Palace, bearing the Colours.

If the Queen is in residence at Buckingham Palace these are the Queen’s Colours, otherwise they are the Regimental Colours.

The old Guard presents arms, and the new Guard then follows suit.

After some marching about, the Captain of the old Guard comes to the Captain of the new Guard and hands over the official Palace keys.

After a bit more slow marching around, the Captain of the old Guard leads his soldiers away at a brisk march back to the Wellington Barracks.

There is a similar ceremony at Windsor Castle.

The exact dates and times for the Changing of the Guard can be seen on the official Monarch’s website to the right of this text.


Pegasus computer at the Science Museum, London
Pegasus computer at the Science Museum, London
George Stephenson's Rocket steam engine at the Science Museum
George Stephenson's Rocket steam engine at the Science Museum

Science Museum

The Science Museum is an absolutely astonishing institution on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, London.

It was founded after the Great Exhibition of 1851, with the profits from that exhibition.

It holds some extremely important artifacts relating to science, technology and medicine, including George Stephenson’s Rocket, the oldest surviving steam train, and the first jet engine in the world.

Although there are many permanent exhibitions which are great fun for families, you will struggle to see them all!

Our favourites are the East Hall, which is full of steam engines and objects relating to the industrial revolution; Flight, which contains full-sized historical aeroplanes from the before the First World War, and including Spitfire and Hurricane planes from the Second World War.

There is also a fantastic children’s section called The Launchpad. This is full of interactive experiments for children, who can press buttons, pull levers and watch as science is explained to them.


Montagu House, Bloomsbury, the first home of the British Museum
Montagu House, Bloomsbury, the first home of the British Museum
The British Museum today, showing the main entrance
The British Museum today, showing the main entrance

Associated articles on London

For a more detailed off-the-beaten-path London experience, this article on places in London associated with the Knights Templar.

For a historical London perspective, you can read this hub about how English people in general, and Londoners in particular, coped with the Nazi bombs dropped during the Blitz.

London has a very good and well-integrated public transport system. You can travel around walking, or by tube, train, tram, bus, cab and boat transport on the Thames.

The tranport possibilites are complicated, and you might find the details about finding your way around the city in this article helpful when planning your London trip.

More by this Author


Comments 37 comments

Lissie profile image

Lissie 7 years ago from New Zealand

Greenwich is one of my favourites I can't remember if its free but ther is the beautiful garden and the time keeping museum on the GMT line is really interesting - also a miltary museum nearby too - sorry the names are gone it was about 10 years ago the last time I was in London!


Booyaka Mix 7 years ago

http://booyakamix.blogspot.com/

i use to be a hubber but admen did not like my blogs so they stop me from posting my blog here so now i am a blogger a i fine it to be much better than this place this place dose not give you the freedom to blog what you want. anyway nice blog if you have the time come see my blog at


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

LG, how hard it must've been to narrow the choices to these!  But what great choices they are!  Loved the video of the British Museum.  Well done!


shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 7 years ago

Exciting places. Indeed, London occupies a high grade on the most expensive cities scale. Anyway, simplicity can be fun sometimes. Have a great day LondonGirl.


oddnut 7 years ago

Good hub,,some great places to choose from!..nice one,,


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Hi Lissie - I was born in Greenwich hospital, and my parents still live within shouting distance of Greenwich Park (in Blackheath), so I can help you there! The Royal Observatory is in Greenwich Park, and the Royal Naval College is down on the river (I say "down" because it's one hell of a steep hill...)

Jama - this is the first in a series of hubs on visiting London, fear not! Or fear, depending on how you choose to look at it (-:


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

shamelabboush, it can cost a few quid in London, certainly! I hope this hub helps visitors have fun and save pennies at the same time.

Oddnut, thanks for reading, and I'm glad you enjoyed it


GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

Thanks for a neat (and free) list of places to visit when I hit your shores!

G|M


RVDaniels profile image

RVDaniels 7 years ago from Athens, GA

If I ever get to London I might never leave. It's a truly fantastic city.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

GM, glad you enjoyed it! They are all pretty fun things to do, and OH, our son and I do them all regularly.

RV, you have to make it to London, it's wonderful!


GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

I've a girlfriend I met via Facebook who has sent me stuff (I'm soon to send her stuff, back, too!) I feel limited understanding the people around me here in America, and its time I hack away at another culture. Yours seems most fitting for an American Crackhead. ;)

Love, G|M

[Edited: Have begun to speak like a Twittererer]


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

That was more than 140 characters, though, so a Twitter fail! If you've not already, I have written 3 other London-related hubs you might enjoy


GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

Will look through, indeedie...probably read one other. =) Will comment.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Hope you enjoy them.


Sarah Songing profile image

Sarah Songing 7 years ago

Hello LondonGirl! Thanks so much for answering my request. I would absolutely love to visit London one day- probably when my girls are a little older to enjoy the value of such a trip- and appreciate knowing there are things for us to do and places for us to see without breaking the bank.

Thank you for another impeccable hub!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Hi Sarah - glad you found it useful, and I hope you do come to London with your daughters.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Thanks for that fantastic hub LondonGirl. I have visited your fair city and was impressed with the way old world meets new world. I had images of old London in my head, so I was surprised when the impressive architecture of central London.

I was most impressed with the air quality as compared to other metropolitan cities.

I will be there again for the 2012 Olympics.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Glad you enjoyed London! And yes, there are buildings here from every century from the last 1,500 years or so (-:


EYEAM4ANARCHY profile image

EYEAM4ANARCHY 7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV.

Now if you could just do a hub on how to get a free boat trip across the Atlantic...


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

That's easy - swim, or row!


Lynn Byrne profile image

Lynn Byrne 7 years ago from Daytona Beach Florida

We will be coming to London next Summer for vacation. Thanks for the great ideas. Now where to stay without breaking the bank.


EYEAM4ANARCHY profile image

EYEAM4ANARCHY 7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV.

Maybe I can convince Jack Lalanne to let me sit in one of those boats he's always towing behind him when he swims around with handcuffs on.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Hi - another great hub! May we suggest a hub on attractions/museums where you can buy a ticket that allows more than one entry? eg the Courthauld Gallery (which we may have spelled incorrectly).


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Hi Lynn - glad you enjoyed it and found it interesting. I have another article in the works about accommodation in London, which I will publish shortly!

Eye - it could work. Perhaps. Bring your own drinks and snacks, though, I reckon the cabin service wouldn't be great.

2pats, glad you liked it! Art galleries, along with places to stay, coming shortly to a hub near you...


Pip Squeak profile image

Pip Squeak 7 years ago from The States

LondonGirl,

I'm so glad that you included South Bank! Spending a gorgeous afternoon there was one of my favorite things to do when I was studying in London this past autumn. If you like the performing arts, there's really no place better for a cheap, impromptu ticket than the National. Plus, they often have incredible *free* events, indoors and out. What's not to love, right?


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Pip Squeak, we spend quite a lot of time at the South Bank - there's always something going on, as you say, and our 3 year old loves it.


debnet 7 years ago

I've been to many of these places and had a great time but I really must make the effort to go to The Globe. I like the way you've added the info for the tube with each place. Very useful info... can you add the colours too please LOL!! Like, go 3 stops up the yellow line, cross to the black line, 1 stop up... Joking ;)


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Glad you liked it! The Globe is great, do have a look next time you are in town.


Whitstable Views profile image

Whitstable Views 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK

Hi LG, I'm going to bookmark this hub for use next time I have a visitor who wants to see London. A great set of suggestions. PS love the quote from Dr Johnson. He's one of my heroes.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

Hope you find it useful - perhaps have a look at some of my other London hubs, too?

Dr. J is also one of my heros, a wonderful man!


Pierre van Eck 7 years ago

A truly handy hub - congratulations and many thanks for sharing your insider tips!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London Author

thanks, glad you liked it.


gwennies pen 7 years ago

Cool, love this hub too! : )


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

You're quite right about London being expensive. I wish that I'd known about these free or inexpensive things to do, while I was there. I was only there three days, and because of the expense that was enough. I did have a fun time though, but I surely paid for it. I hope one day to return, so I will keep this hub for future reference. Very good hub.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

I've just added a link from our hub "London Gems, The Geffrye Museum" (as the museum is another free place to visit in London).


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Wonderful! Loved this!

"Dr. Johnson put it:

You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 4 years ago from London Author

I agree, it's never dull.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working