Free Entertainment in London
If you’d like to spend some time in the bustling metropolis that is London, but you don’t want to have to take out a small bank loan to pay for it, don’t worry, there are plenty of free alternatives to being entertained in England’s capital city. Despite what you may have heard, it doesn’t necessarily cost ‘an arm and a leg’ to have good night out there. You just need the inside knowledge, which we’re about to help you with…
Right in the heart of the city, Trafalgar Square has seen its fair share of life over the 200 hundred years, since it was created to commemorate Lord Nelson’s Victory over Napoleon Bonaparte. During that time, it has seen marches, protests and a good deal of celebrations as well.
You’ll find many free events there throughout the year, some of which are hosted by the London Mayor, celebrating London’s amazing diversity and history. From the St Patrick’s day celebrations to the transporting of the enormous Norwegian pine tree that is erected prior to the Christmas period, there’s usually a lot going on.
The area is also favoured by street performers, so there is always something happening. Festivals, including Chinese New Year and Christian New Year see the area bedecked with colours and life and the great thing is, none of this costs a penny.
As and when it is needed, a giant screen can be erected to show major sporting events, such as Wimbledon Tennis, The Olympics and the World Cup. Visit the area when England are playing in the soccer World Cup and you will be met with a sea of red and white!
Whether your visit to Trafalgar Square coincides with a major event or festival or not, the area represents one of the best free attractions that London offers, irrespective. And adorned as it is, by the Nelson’s Column and flanked by the National Gallery, there’s activity every way you look.
Sit and eat your lunch by one of the imposing bronze lions or cool down on a hot summer day, next to one of the numerous fountains and you’ll see just how much culture the City of London has. There is even something called ‘The Fourth Plinth’, which displays contemporary art and is changed every year to 18 months.
Nearest Tube Station: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, Embankment, Piccadilly Circus
Free Art at the Barbican Centre
As one of the capital’s two biggest centres of art and stronghold of culture, the Barbican Centre truly brings art to the masses. What’s more, it doesn’t have to cost anything, because in addition to the regular paid events, there are free exhibitions, music, festivals and concerts run alongside, throughout the year.
It’s not unusual to see a celebrity of the art world in the Barbican’s many alcoves, giving a talk to a small assembled crowd. An audio guide is recommended to enable you to navigate your way around the building, as there are quite a few areas it’s quite easy to get lost in. However, don’t let this put you off, as it is one of the most amazing sites of cultural interest in London.
Nearest Tube Station: Barbican, Moorgate
Free Music Recitals
Should you have a penchant for classical music, you should head towards the Southbank at lunch time on a Friday or a Saturday. If you do, you’ll witness one of the free concerts it offers in its central bar. You can also experience free poetry recitals and book readings on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall.
In order to find out the best times to visit, you can visit the Southbank Centre’s website for a full list of all upcoming free events.
Once you’ve sampled everything the centre has to offer, you can take a nice stroll along the Southbank, where you’ll find quaint book stalls and one of the premier BMX and skateboarding areas in the city. A fact that makes this area much loved by people from all walks of life.
If you visit the Comedy Cafe, you aren’t going to see Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey or any of the UK’s headline acts you’d find at the Hammersmith Apollo, but you will get to see some of the many fantastically funny men and women who treat the cafe as an ‘open mic’ venue.
Wednesday night is ‘New Act Night’ and this usually means that you will see a full 8 acts whilst you’re there. You may not see some of the acts we mentioned earlier now, it was once a popular spot for famous comedians such as Jo Brand and Mark Lamarr to refine their art.
You never know, you may see the next Jimmy Carr, just before they hit the big time. There are many venues in London to see comedy, with the Queen’s Head Pub near Piccadilly Circus being another location that offers free comedy with a pint of beer or three. Another is ‘The Carnivale’ off Whitechapel Road which holds open mic nights, which can be enjoyed for the price of a few pints, usually on a Monday night.
Free Classical Music
There is no better place to enjoy classical music organ recitals than in one of London’s many churches and cathedrals, as they offer unmatched acoustics, due to their large, ornate design.
Even better, is the fact that there are many performances that carry no cost to the viewer and some of those can be enjoyed at Southwark Cathedral.
Dating far back to the beginning of the 13th century, Southwark Cathedral is London’s oldest church in the Gothic style and it is in this historic setting that regular free concerts and organ recitals are held, usually on a Monday lunchtime or Tuesday afternoon. There are also frequent choral services, during which, Southwark Cathedral’s magnificent Lewis Organ really comes into its own.
If you can’t manage to attend a free concert, you can still come and explore the cathedral during the day, which again, won’t cost you anything. One of the things you’ll find if you walk through, is
A chapel in memoriam of John Harvard, the english minister who gave his name and lots of money to the famous Harvard University.
In terms of entertainment, St James’s Church in Piccadilly is known for a busy program of attractions and events, some of which are free to enter. You can experience almost a full hour’s worth of recital and all it would cost you is a ‘suggested donation’ when you leave. Everything you give, goes directly to help fund the church’s upkeep.
St Martin-in-the-fields Church, near Trafalgar square can also be a venue for free music, as classical choral music often rings out from the roof area. Candlelit concerts occur from Thursday to Saturday and there are free recitals at lunchtime on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. You should know that this particular church is known as ‘Ministry to the Homeless’, so any donations you give will be gratefully received.
Nearest Tube Station: London Bridge
Free Street Theatre
If you’re a fan of open air, street theatre, then is no better place to see it than at Covent Garden, where the Piazza meets the market. On an expansive area of cobbled stones, there are street musicians, jugglers, mimes, magicians….well, everything that street theatre provides.
When the Royal Opera House is in session, it is possible to view proceedings on big screens around Covent Garden. Be it ballet or opera, you won’t miss a beat!
There is also a decent sized market nearby, selling antiques, clothing and various types of crafts and home ware. It’s a great place to pick up a nice present for a loved one or just to provide yourself with a bit of retail therapy.
Nearest Tube Station: Covent Garden
Free Star Spotting
Should you come to London looking to see a film star or two, the best place to see them is at Leicester Square. Whenever there is a big premier of the latest blockbuster happens, it will be there and all you need to do, is be outside to see all the glitterati going in via the red carpet. You may not get close enough for an autograph, but it’s still a great place to see them. Get there early though, because when it’s known that film stars are in town, it will draw a large crowd and you really want to be near the front for a good view. Premiers tend to start around 7, so you should get there a good couple of hours before.
Leicester Square is right in the centre of London’s famous West End, the area that London musicals have called home for hundreds of years and is known for attracting the very finest in acting talent. Walk around the area and you’re likely to see buildings covered in advertising for the latest show.
Nearest Tube Station: Leicester Square
Going to regular concerts in London can be a bit on the pricey side, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any concerts you can attend for free, because there are! It is a case of ‘suck it and see’, as you might not have an idea what you’re about to witness, but that is part of its charm.
You could be watching the next big musical act or someone who really shouldn’t be on the stage, but that’s the gamble you take. However, if it’s free, you can’t really complain. Good venues to keep your eye on include; The Lock Tavern, Ain’t Nothing But Blues Bar and Notting Hill Arts Club, all of whom are known for holding regular gigs for free and ‘open mic’ nights
These free gigs may have a time restriction like ‘Free entry before 10pm’, so always check online if you can for dates and other relevant details.
Other venues include both Rough Trade London Stores (East & West), which hold bi-weekly free events. However, you do need to get a wristband to get in, which are given out around an hour before the gig on a first come, first served basis. Alternatively, if you actually love the band you’re about to see, you can buy their album on the day and that can often give you free admittance to their gig.
If Jazz is your thing, then you should head over to Ray’s Jazz Cafe, in Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross, where live jazz sessions are known to belt out to the watching crowd during the afternoon. A great way to spend an hour or two…and all for nothing!
During the Summer, London is the location for many free music festivals, with Notting Hill being the most notable. The higher temperatures in the summer months open up another source of free music – London’s bandstands. Still in regular use, these beautiful iron pavilions look amazing and can be found in areas, like Clapham Common and provide the venue for all types of music, including folk music, jazz and Opera between June and September. Best of all, it will cost you precisely zip!
Free Speech at Speakers’ Corner
Whilst this isn’t strictly ‘entertainment’ as such, Speakers’ corner is a monument to free speech and free assembly in the United Kingdom. Located on the corner of Cumberland Gate and Park Lane, the area is the spiritual residence of british democracy.
Since 1872, it has been legal to the assemble in these areas and put the world to rights, so to speak. Not that everyone gets an easy ride, with heckling being a common occurrence. You have the right to free speech, but don’t expect everyone to agree with you!
There are almost not topics that can’t be argued for or against here, with George Orwell, Karl Marx and William Morris amongst those who have previously used the spot. The speakers found there do vary greatly, so don’t think you don’t have the right to speak. If you have something you want to shout out to the world, then this is place to do it.
If you want to take in some history, then there are free lectures on a regular basis, at the major galleries in London. Venues such as the Barbican, Tate Modern and National Portrait Gallery (to name but a few) all provide free talks by experts in the field of discussion.
Museums also offer education in the form of talks and they are completely free of charge. You could learn about Science at the Dana Centre or anthropology at the Natural History Museum. Whatever your choice, there will be lecture for it.
Smaller establishments like the Wellcome Collection and the Rich Mix centre also offer free lectures, discussions and debates, as well free book signings from well known literary lights. Waterstones is good venue for regular book signings, so keep an eye out on their website for upcoming events. You might even get a free drink and a biscuit out of it.
Free Walking Tours
Another great way to see London is by attending one of the various free walking tours that are available. Taking you much closer to each landmark than an open top bus would, you are able to get right up close to major sites of interest. Golden Tours is known to offer 3 different walking tours along different routes through vibrant and interesting parts of the city – for example, you could take in the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or walk in the footsteps of the Beatles along Abbey Road. There are many place of significance in this great city and you can see them all….for free.
Other popular locations to view include; 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. There is no better way to see the landmarks and you’ll get a bit of exercise too. It’s best to check availability before travelling to London, as they often sell out and you don’t want to be disappointed.
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