Few cities can boast a history as rich, varied, and quirky as London. It’s a place that acts as the stage to some of the greatest art, highest drama, and most insane happenstances the world has ever seen. Every year, millions of visitors stream through the airports and freeways to make it to the World’s Most Visited City.
But what are you to do once you get there?
Sure, the usual sights will keep you busy for some time, but if you’re an adventurous sort, you’ll soon grow tired of taking the same old selfies by the same old monuments.
Thankfully, there’s so much more to London, and so much more to do.
With that in mind, let’s peek at some of the best unique things to do in London for free, for families, for art and literature lovers, and anyone else happening to visit one of the greatest cities in the world!
What to Do in London in a Day?
1. Follow the Path From “The Waste Land”
London is a city filled with literary history, and on several occasions, it’s been the setting for some of English Literature’s greatest masterpieces. Case in point, T.S. Eliot’s elegiac “The Waste Land.” Written in 1922 as a response to the modern world in general and the ravages of World War One and the changing face of society in particular, it references everything from Scripture to Shakespeare to Sanskrit, making heavy use of London geography along the way.
“A crowd flow[s] over London Bridge,” mourning the dead as they head “up the hill and down King William Street” for a quick stopover at “Saint Mary Woolnoth” before continuing “along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street,” where the scene shifts back hundreds of years to the “Lower Thames Street” of “mandoline” music and the glories of old Of Magnus Martyr with its Inexplicable splendor of Ionian “white and gold.”
Just strolling the streets are some of the best quiet things to do in London. All of those streets and sites are still standing today, and offer a panorama view of London history, making this literary trip one of the most unique, yet authentic tours of London you can take.
2. Visit David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s Homes
Not only is London a city filled with literary history, but it’s also been home to some of the greatest singers, composers, and musicians of all time.
The Handle and Hendrix home is a popular tourist site, but these two are more off the beaten track.
David Bowie’s childhood home is in Brixton, while Freddie Mercury’s is in Feltham, a place so far off the beaten track it doesn’t even have its own Tube station!
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3. The Roman Wall Walk
You can learn all about Roman Britain at the British Museum, but maybe you want to take a more active approach. If so, you’re in luck.
The ruins of an old Roman wall and fort are to be found in Bank. Simply take the walking tour or carve your own path as you step back in time 2,000 years to when Britannia was part of the Pax Romana.
You can start at either the Tower Hill Postern Gate or go in reverse from Noble Street.
Walks like these are a great idea for those looking for things to do in London for cheap.
4. Leadenhall Market
This isn’t your typical place to go shopping. It is a refurbished Victorian market, perfect for those who want to peddle their wares or purchase a few.
5. Execution Dock
London has the dubious honor of having plenty of public places that were once infamous sites for executions.
Old London Bridge saw the heads of traitors and rebels such as William Wallace and Guy Fawkes stuck upon pikes, while pirates were hung and displayed for all to see at Execution Dock, on the Wapping side of the Thames.
6. Dickens’ Places
If you’re looking for great free historical things to do in London, it’s hard to go wrong with following their Blue Plaques.
From Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Sigmund Freud to Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, and Virginia and Leonard Woolf, many of London’s greatest figures have been commemorated with a plaque – and no one more so than Charles Dickens.
No single writer has left a greater mark on London than Dickens. That’s reflected in the fact that there are a bunch of blue plaques scattered throughout the city honouring different parts of his life and creations.
Sure, there’s his home in Holborn, which is now a museum, but there’s also a relief of him surrounded by his characters in Marylebone – not far down from Baker Street Station and the statue of another London icon, Sherlock Holmes.
In between, you’ll find plaques commemorating everything from his first childhood stay in the city to publishing places and more.
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7. Brick Lane
This is another classic London market. Different iterations of Brick Lane have been around since the Middle Ages. Today the place is a hipster hotspot, with lots of artists selling work there and thriving foodie culture.
8. The Original Globe Theatre
We are lucky enough to live in a time when Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has been rebuilt, but what about the original?
The place where so many of the greatest lines, characters, and moments in World Literature came to life burned down, was rebuilt and was torn down again in the 1600s, and apartment buildings now stand where Bard’s theatre once stood.
But it has not disappeared completely.
If you travel to 55 Anchor Terrace on the South Side of the Thames, you can see the outline of the site where the original Globe Theatre once stood.
Plaques and signs are erected there honouring the site’s history, making it a must-visit for any Shakespeare fan.
9. Portobello Road Market
Looking for another market? Notting Hill has long been one of London’s more artistically offbeat areas, and the antique sales and other offerings from this market fit that vibe perfectly.
10. Speakers’ Corner
Orwell discusses the wild scenes and raw democracy on display in essays regarding Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park.
While the park itself is one of London’s most famous (and a walk that is among the truly glorious things to do in London in summer for free) you may not spot Speakers’ Corner unless you’re a native Londoner – or someone with an axe to grind and an agenda to push.
Speakers’ Corner has hosted names big and small from across the political spectrum over the centuries, making it a prime place to visit for anyone who cares about the public, messy side of politics.
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11. The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia
Let’s stick with that Orwell bent and take you to one of his favorite pubs. After all, for things to do in London at night, you can’t beat its world-famous pub scene.
The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia has played host to not just Orwell, but Dylan Thomas as well, a fact proudly advertised by the site’s makeshift plaque.
12. The George Inn
Let’s turn to a pub that’s older still. It was a favorite of Dickens, who namedrops it in Little Dorrit. A pub that has existed on the site for centuries, with the Inn advertising an earlier version to have been a favorite haunt of Shakespeare’s.
13. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
You can’t visit London without visiting at least one place entitled “Ye Olde” something, right?
This is another old pub and one that certainly feels like it. The extremely low ceilings, candlelit interiors, and often catacomb-like have helped the old Cheshire Cheese hang onto the same vibe since the 1700s when Samuel Johnson was a favorite patron.
Since then the likes of Henry James, Mark Twain, and countless other literary heavyweights have had a pint or a meal here. The pub is filled with antique items as well, including the first edition of A Tale of Two Cities.
14. Jane Austen’s Brother’s Home
Readers of Jane Austen know that she isn’t a very “London” writer. With the exception of Marianne’s excursion to Bond Street in Sense and Sensibility, most of the big action in her novels take place out in the country.
That doesn’t mean London is bereft of Austenian highlights, however — in Knightsbridge you’ll find a stately townhome where she stayed with her brother in town the summer Emma was being reviewed for publication.
The home is located close to Harrod’s – and what kind of mockery might she have unleashed on a place like that.
15. Persephone Bookshop
Bloomsbury has won a reputation over the past century-plus as the home of some of London’s great authors and artistic types. Being home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf along with the Stracheys and, well, the Bloomsbury Group will do that to you.
There are plenty of great Bloomsbury and Woolf-centric sites to see in the area. But to honor her feminist legacy, we’re making note of Persephone Bookshop, which specializes in selling books by feminists and otherwise out of print women.
You can even pick up a copy of Woolf’s own diary and gain greater insight into one of Britain’s most insightful writers of the interior life.
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16. Little Venice
London is already famed for its rivers, but what about its canals? Amsterdam and Venice boast some of the most incredible canals in Europe, and they’re well worth a visit for that, their astounding art histories, and so much more.
But did you know you can enjoy a little slice of Venice right here in London? Little Venice is located in the Paddington area near Warwick Tube Station and offers some of the loveliest canals and boardwalks this side of Venice.
You’ll definitely want to include it among any list of things to do in London for the weekend.
17. Four Weddings, a Funeral, This Church
Are you a fan of that British Rom-Com for the ages, Four Weddings, and a Funeral? Then you’ll want to visit St. Bartholomew the Great, which is the church that’s featured for the fourth wedding in the movie.
Oh – and it just so happens to be one of the oldest churches in London as well.
18. Take the Ferry Across the Thames
This one’s a bit more touristy, in fairness, but it also affords one of the best and most unmissable views of London you could ever ask for.
Taking one of the ferries across the river can be a great way to take in both sides of the Thames at once and help you truly appreciate how it shapes and dominates London life and architecture.
You’ll happen across ferries and Thames clippers walking from West to East London, starting from Bank and heading towards the river.
Touristy, yes, but still one of the most fun things to do in London on the River Thames.
19. Travel to Bermondsey Street and Beer Mile
We’ve already put a few pubs and “spirited” choices on this list, but those are all on the service side of things. What about the great people who brew the beers we so enjoy guzzling down come pub time?
For that, you’ll want to head over to Beer Mile along Bermondsey Street. Here, you’ll be able to visit some of the best microbreweries in Britain and get a taste of what it means to brew the best ales in London.
You’ll also want to try places like Drink London pub tours, which cover places serving beer and cocktails using nothing but beverages brewed right here in London.
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20. Canary Wharf
You probably know the City of London is one of the most important financial nodes in the world economy. What you may not know is that Canary Wharf is right behind it as a leading financial force in the UK.
The area is home to some of London’s most prominent companies and several of its biggest skyscrapers, including One Canada Square, the second-tallest building in the UK.
If you are interested in maritime history, you’ll want to visit Greenwich. Not only was it a historic shipbuilding capital, but is also what gives us Greenwich Mean Time and the Royal Naval College as well as the Royal Observatory.
In addition, it was the birthplace for several prominent figures in British history, with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I being among its most famous former residents.
22. Take in a National Gallery Talk
If you’re looking for things to do in London when it rains or things to do in winter, it’s hard to beat one of its world-class museums. Indeed, one of the best things about visiting London is that there are so many things to do in London for free.
That isn’t the case with every major city in Europe.
On the contrary, if you want to see the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and the other Dutch Masters in Amsterdam or the artistic riches of the Louvre in Paris, you’ll be asked to fork over more than a few Euros.
London is different, however, which is why the National Gallery boasts one of the world’s best collections of art that’s free to view for the public at large.
You can take a look at some of those Rembrandts and Vermeers alongside works by Turner, Constable, Blake, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Canaletto, Klimt, Renoir, Monet, Seurat, and countless other titans from across the history of Western art.
Even better, the National Gallery hosts small lectures on individual paintings and artists with regularity. You can sometimes see one of these lectures when you’re busy reviewing the art for yourself.
If so, feel free to join the lecture. The National Gallery is committed to helping people appreciate the glories of art, and they do so for the gloriously accessible price of zero pounds.
It’s one of the great things to do in London for free, so visit and let your imagination run free as well.
23. The Statue of Millicent Fawcett and the Suffragette Memorial
Parliament Square is one of the great symbolic regions of Westminster, where statues of the great leaders of the past look down on those of the present. (That they presumably shake their heads in dismay over the Brexit chaos is another matter.) Here you’ll find the likes of British political icons like Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George alongside great global leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.
Until recently, however, all the statues occupying Parliament Square had been men, which hardly seems fitting for a place representative of Britain’s best representatives.
Now, Millicent Fawcett has joined the men in Parliament Square, standing as both a symbol of progress and a reminder that the work for true suffrage and equality is far from over.
Underscoring that ethos is a special memorial nearby to the suffragettes who gave their life for the cause.
24. The Oldest House in London
The Great Fire of London devastated the city in 1666, burning much of it to the ground. Samuel Pepys’ diary, as well as The Monument, are notable tributes to the destruction.
One aspect that survived? This little house at 41 Cloth Fair, which is held by popular rumor to be the only home to survive the blaze, making this one of the harder to find, yet interesting hidden free things to do in London.
25. The Fan Museum
Can’t get enough of the fan-waving coquetry of 18th and 19th century English and European Literature? Then you’re sure to be a fan of the world’s first museum devoted to the elegant face-cooling hand fan.
With specimens dating back to the 11th century from all over the world, this unique museum is sure to make a fan out of you yet.
26. Sir John Soane’s Museum
Let’s close our list of things to do in London with something that’s a bit more mainstream, but still quirky.
Sir John Soane was one of London’s greatest architects. He was also one of its most ardent art and cultural collectors, with a collection so immense that his home has been transformed into a museum.
What’s fascinating about the Sir John Soane’s Museum is that you’re not looking at a well-kept museum cultivated after the fact but in many cases, a collection of genuine artifacts collected in the Victorian period itself.
That said, the collection extends back hundreds of years, and with regular events, the Sir John Soane’s Museum is full of quirks and has something for everyone – much like London itself.