Twenty free attractions in London
The British Museum is one of London's top attractions, and absolutely free. (Neil Setchfield/LPI)
Who cares if London's hotels and restaurants tend to be on the expensive side?
No city in the world has more free stuff to do. In addition to admission-free world-class museums, there are parks, canal walks, supermarkets (Portobello Road Market at Notting Hill Gate, Camden Market at Chalk Farm Road, Columbia Road Flower Market in East London) and maybe even some royal-spotting to pass the time. The possibilities are endless.
1. Borough Market
Since the 13th Century, Borough Market has been stuffed with food-lovers and is the perfect place for a memorable grab-and-go breakfast or lunch. Open Thursday to Saturday, it is one of the top attractions south of the river. Go on Saturday to catch the market at its bustling best.
2. British Film Institute's Mediatheque
Hidden under Waterloo Bridge, the institute features four cinemas (not free) and the fun Mediatheque, where you can peruse the DTV/film archives and watch for free.
3. British Museum
The British Museum is one of London's top attractions and is absolutely free. Hop in for 20 minutes, peek at the Rosetta Stone, and move on, saving Aztec mosaic masks or the head-smashed "Lindow Man" (a 1st-century unfortunate found in a peat bog in 1984) for another visit. Watch for worthwhile 20- and 50-minute eye-opener tours, also free.
4. Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament, home of "Big Ben", is a neo-Gothic wonder from the mid 19th Century. And it is full of houses: namely the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Reserve ahead to watch the antics during Parliament sessions: parliament.uk
5. Museum of London
Off the radar to most visitors, yet one of the city's great attractions, this museum offers a walk through London's various incarnations - from Thames Valley geological history, to Anglo-Saxons and 21st-Century bankers. Plus there is a nice cafe in its garden.
6. National Gallery
The National Gallery is a serious art stop, with 2,000 Western European classics by Van Gogh, Renoir, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and more than five million popping into the Trafalgar Square building each year. Skip the hordes by visiting on weekday mornings or Wednesday evenings (after 6 pm). Any time, it is all free.
7. National Maritime Museum
Greenwich's best attraction, this neoclassical building museum gets more interesting and fun the deeper you go in. The focus is on Britain's seafaring past, including the bullet that felled Horatio Nelson, a replica of Ernest Shackleton's life boat and plenty of kid-friendly interactive exhibits.
8. National Portrait Gallery
Before Google or Wikipedia, the English came to the National Portrait Gallery to put a face to the name of who's who in history. Here, a block north of the National Gallery on St Martin's Place, you will see paintings and sculptures, including Andy Warhol's take on the Queen.
9. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is an outrageous collection of things nature, in a lovely Gothic Revival building from 1880. A diplodocus dinosaur skeleton watches the entrance. Farther in lies a T-Rex and the Darwin Centre, with 450,000 jars of pickled specimens. A wildlife garden is open April to September only.
10. Photographers' Gallery
This wonderful contemporary photo collection in the West End benefits from its new two-floor space - where the Photographers' Gallery has been since 2008. Plus there is a great café: www.photonet.org.uk
11. Science Museum
The highly informative and entertaining Science Museum fills seven floors with interactive exhibits. The Energy Hall highlights the first steam locomotives of the early 19th Century. Popular with kids are the third floor exhibits, including old gliders, hot-air balloons and flight simulators.
12. Serpentine Gallery
Designed like a 1930s-style tearoom in leafy Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine Gallery is a lovely spot to take in one of London's most important contemporary art collections, with works by Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. Loads of natural light pour through huge windows. Each year a new "Summer Pavilion" (May to October) is opened nearby, to host open-air cinema and readings.