Free Things to Do in London This Weekend
By Lisamarie Lamb
London can be an expensive city. As wonderful and exciting as it is, it takes a lot of pocket money – and grown up money to boot – to enjoy a day out here. Or does it?
Perhaps surprisingly, there are plenty of ways for the whole family to explore London and not only will these days not cost anything (apart from travelling expenses, of course), but they are quirky, different and sure to be remembered for many years to come.
And isn’t that the definition of a good day out? It’s not how much you spend, it’s how much fun you have.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas of our favourite free yet interesting, extraordinary and unforgettable things to do and see in London.
If you thought that going to the zoo in London was a (prohibitively) expensive affair, think again. Golders Hill Park Zoo – on part of Hampstead Heath – is huge fun, and, unlike its more famous counterpart, is completely free. And it’s not like this is a little place with a handful of animals in it. This is a Big Day Out, especially when you include the beautiful Golders Hill Park as a whole in your plans.
Critters at the zoo include ring-tailed lemurs, coatis, Patagonian maras, chiloe wigeons, and plenty of other exotic creatures as well as some more recognisable ones such as donkeys and bantams. There is even a butterfly house. The park itself has water gardens, table tennis, tennis courts, and a children’s play area. Take a picnic and enjoy the freedom of a free day out.
Once upon a time (200 years ago, in fact), the building that now houses the Museum of London Docklands was used to store coffee, rum, and sugar. This was the hub of much trading, and many routes into London, and it’s not surprising that there are a lot of stories to tell. At the Museum of London Docklands – which is entirely free – those stories are given life.
There are lots of artefacts that were rescued from the Thames on show, as well as old photographs, documents, and footage. It’s hard to miss the massive replica of London Bridge, and you can also walk through Victorian-era Docklands, complete with smells! Specifically for under 8s, the Mudlarks Gallery includes soft play and water play; aprons are even provided.
If you ever wondered what the Olympic Park might be used for once the 2012 games were over, you now have your answer – a child’s paradise of playgrounds, walkways, adventures, and magic lie in wait for you here, at Tumbling Bay Playground.
If you can bring a bike or scooter, great – it’s all traffic-free, and ideal for whizzing around in. If not, no problem; there is still plenty more to do here. There are sandpits, treehouses, rock pools, slides, and obstacle courses, and of course, there is a handy café selling cakes and the all essential cup of tea, as well as kid-friendly lunches.
Not one of London’s best kept secrets (far from it!), yet Covent Garden is always a surprise, no matter how many times you have been through it, or around it before. And that’s the thing; for many people, Covent Garden isn’t a destination, but a means to an end, and that’s a shame. Take the family there to specifically walk around it, enjoying the architecture and the street performers.
Taking the time to listen or watch each one will be fascinating, and you might even learn something. If you do want to spend a little bit of cash, the London Transport Museum calls Covent Garden home and is great fun – kids are free with paying adults and each ticket lasts for a whole year, so it’s great value.
We’ve all heard of Barnardo’s, the charity that helps under-privileged children, but do we know about its beginnings?
At the Ragged School Museum – the term used to describe Dr Barnardo’s first school – you can discover what life in the classroom was like 150 years ago. There are plenty of exhibits to enjoy and discuss (they are definitely a talking point), and on the first Sunday of the month there is a chance to dress up and take part in a real Victorian school lesson.
The Ragged School Museum isn’t open every day, so check online before travelling if you do want to experience what life was like for the children all those years ago.
Where's your favourite free place to visit when you're in London?