England's beautiful capital city is the home of many of the United Kingdom's national museums, which are open to the public for free throughout the year and host some of the world's most renowned art, history, and science collections. Visitors can explore lovely historic public spaces such as iconic Trafalgar Square and the famed Houses of Parliament, home to clock tower Big Ben and open for guided tours throughout the week. Many of the city's historic vendor markets have been open to the public for centuries, showcasing delightful vintage and artisan vendor spaces and food stalls that are free to peruse each weekend. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Brick Lane Market
Brick Lane Market is open to the public for free each Sunday from 9:00am to 5:00pm, located in the heart of London's thriving Bangladeshi community along the city's Brick Lane and Cheshire Street. The market dates back to the 17th century, when it was operated as a farmer's market by the city's Jewish community. Throughout the 20th century, it was transformed by the region's new influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, who also opened many of the area's famed curry houses. Five markets are operated within the city's historic 11-acre Old Truman Brewery facility, selling a diverse range of vintage, antique, retro, and eclectic goods. More than 200 stalls operate at the Sunday UpMarket, ranging from handmade clothing sellers to organic food producers. Notable vendors include Vault Vinyl, known for its hard-to-find albuns, and Art of Revolution, which sells authentic prints of Soviet and Cuban-era revolutionary art. Clever food stalls are offered at the Boiler House Food Hall, while extensive selections of teas, coffees, and traditional baked goods are sold at the Tea Rooms.
Brick Ln, Spitalfields, London E1 6QR, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-77-70-60-28
2.The British Museum
The British Museum is the oldest national public museum in the world, opened to the public in 1759. It has become one of the United Kingdom's most popular tourist attractions today, drawing more than six million annual visitors to view its beautiful collections of art, literature, and archaeological artifacts. Museum exhibits are split into time period sections, showcasing wings that document the human history of Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, along with areas in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. Visitors can explore the museum's three floors of exhibits for free throughout the year and view amazing artifacts such as the world-renowned Rosetta Stone, which was carved in 196 BC and was used as a major translating tool for ancient hieroglyphics. Other major artifacts include Easter Island moai, Egyptian mummies, and the Great Shrine of Amaravati, one of India's oldest Buddhist shrines.
Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-73-23-82-99
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Broadway Market is one of London's liveliest public markets, stretching between London Fields and the Regent's Canal and dividing Cambridge Heath from Haggerston. The market was historically the site of one of London's most active fruit and vegetable markets and was reestablished in 2004 after a period of decline in the late 20th century. Today, it hosts a thriving market each Saturday morning and afternoon, selling a fabulous array of produce, flowers, coffee, books, and clothing at more than 100 weekly market stalls. Hackney-area hipsters and creative frequent the market each week in search of unique vintage and retro finds. Even on off-market days, the district offers much to do for visitors, home to more than 70 specialty shops, cafes, and restaurants, including Fin and Founder's, Deeney's, and Floris Bakery.
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Camden Market is one of London's most popular visitor attractions, drawing more than 250,000 visitors each week throughout the year to its vibrant food, craft, and clothing stalls. The market, which is also referred to as Camden Lock, is located within the city's historic former Pickfords Stables in Camden Town, just north of the Regent's Canal's Hampstead Road Lock. It has operated each week since the beginning of the 20th century, developing in its current incarnation since the founding of a weekly craft market in 1974. Today, the market is operated on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, showcasing both fixed and temporary stalls. Two market areas are operated, including Camden Lock Market, which focuses on fast food stalls, craft items, secondhand clothing, books, and jewelry. The Stables Market is home to furniture sellers, household goods and decorative item stalls, and a variety of subculture and ethnic item sellers.
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Chinatown is the central hub of London's East Asian community, originally formed in the 1950s following the opening of several of the city's first Chinese restaurants. The lively, bustling neighborhood has evolved today as the central gathering place for the city's annual East Asian activities and festivities, including its Chinese New Year celebrations in January. Visitors can peruse unique Chinese food shops, bakeries, and gift stores such as New Moon Loon and SeeWoo, enjoying authentic delicacies like taiyaki fish-shaped waffles and pineapple buns and browsing for traditional Chinese lanterns and clothing. Delicious restaurants serve up a variety of East Asian fare, ranging from regional Chinese cuisine to Korean, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, and Malaysian favorites. Architectural highlights include the lovely Wardour Street gate, the largest Chinese-style gate in the United Kingdom, constructed in 2016.
10 Wardour St, London W1D 6BZ, United Kingdom
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6.Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Flower Market has been a tradition since the early 20th century, originally founded as a Saturday trading market in London's Bethnal Green, just off Hackney Road within the borough of Tower Hamlets. The market has been operated on Sundays for decades following an Act of Parliament meant to accommodate city's Jewish traders, enjoying a resurgence of popularity since the 1960s. Today, it operates each week from 8:00am to 2:00pm, known for its artisan flower, food, and accessory stalls operated by second and third-generation traders. Plants, shrubs, bulbs, and fresh-cut flowers are sold at competitive prices, making it a popular stop for flower buyers and photographers. Alongside flower stalls, other vendors sell everything from Buddhist artifacts and international pantry goods to handmade soaps, candlesticks, and perfumes.
Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG, United Kingdom
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7.The Design Museum
The Design Museum is a lovely graphic, fashion, and architectural design museum in London's Kensington district, founded and opened to the public by Sir Terence Conran in 1989. The museum, which received the European Museum of the Year Award in 2018, is housed within a gorgeous landmark building that formerly housed the Commonwealth Institute. Unique exhibits showcase permanent and temporary exhibitions highlighting items from the museum's permanent collections, which include furniture, product, and industrial design items. A reference library contains materials related to architecture and design, while a restaurant and residency studio are located on the museum's top floor. Other facilities include the Swarovski Foundation Centre for Learning, which features a design studio, seminar rooms, and a creative workshop.
224-238 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 6AG, United Kingdom
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8.The Horniman Museum and Gardens
The Horniman Museum and Gardens are a free-admission museum in South London's Forest Hill district, showcasing extensive anthropology and natural history exhibits, including exhibits focusing on the history of musical instruments. The museum was the vision of Frederick John Horniman, the heir to the Horniman's Tea business, the largest tea trading company in the world at the turn of the 20th century. It is home to more than 13,000 historical musical instruments from around the world, along with significant natural history, taxidermy, and anthropology artifact collections. A wide variety of nature-focused exhibits are on display throughout the museum's grounds, ranging from an acclaimed aquarium facility to a butterfly house and 16-acre botanical garden.
100 London Rd, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-86-99-18-72
9.The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament, also referred to as the Palace of Westminster, are the seat of the United Kingdom's House of Commons and House of Lords, which constitute one of the world's oldest representative assemblies. The lovely government complex is located at the site of an 11th-century palace on the beautiful River Thames, which is most noted as the home of London's iconic Big Ben clock tower. Original buildings still standing at the site today including Westminster Hall, one of the world's most iconic public buildings, which is primarily used for ceremonial events. Visitors can tour the Houses on Saturdays throughout the year or six days a week when Parliament is in recess throughout August and September. Tours last approximately 75 minutes and showcase both houses of government, along with the complex's Royal Gallery, St. Stephen's Hall, and Queen's Robing Room. Visitors can also attend committee hearings and debates throughout the year at select event times that are open to the public.
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10.Imperial War Museum London
Imperial War Museum London is the world's leading military museum, originally founded during the First World War as a repository for military artifacts, oral history recordings, documents, and photographic and video material. Today, the museum showcases an immense collection of artifacts spanning from World War I through the present day, highlighted within its award-winning galleries. Six floors of permanent exhibits can be viewed for free throughout the year, though some special rotating exhibits charge an additional admission fee. Collections strive to tell the story of the ordinary people behind each conflict, highlighting military uniforms, vehicles, and weapons alongside works of art, film retrospectives, and oral history projects. Free events hosted at the museum throughout the year include lectures and interactive family-friendly events.
Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-74-16-50-00
Leadenhall Market is one of London's oldest public markets, dating back to the 14th century. The market, which was extensively restored in 1991, is located on the city's Gracechurch Street within its financial district, accessible via Whittington Avenue and Lime Street. Its stunning Victorian architecture was featured in the music video for Erasure's hit single "Love to Hate You" and was used as the location of Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron in the feature film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Lovely shops and market stalls sell a wide variety of goods, ranging from food items and produce to clothing, jewelry, and vintage and antique finds. A plethora of dining options are also housed within the market throughout the year, ranging from quick-casual international fare to white-tablecloth gourmet dining destinations.
Gracechurch St, London EC3V 1LT, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-76-06-30-30
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Leake Street, commonly referred to as the Banksy Tunnel, is one of London's top destinations for viewing vibrant graffiti and street art, located along a 300-meter road tunnel near York Road and Waterloo Station in the district of Lambeth. The tunnel's walls were initially decorated with graffiti during the 2008 Cans Festival, organized by internationally-renowned street artist Banksy. During the festival, more than 30 graffiti artists transformed the tunnel into a vibrant destination for street art. Now, the tunnel is professional lit, showcasing unique designs and tags in vivid color schemes. It is one of the city's top photography destinations, creating perfect panoramas for showcasing on Instagram during visits to London's city center.
13.Maltby Street Market
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Maltby Street Market is a lovely food and provisions market hosted each week in southeast London's Bermondsey district, located along a street of the same name near the lovely Tower Bridge. The market was founded in 2009 and showcases over 30 traders each week, including former sellers at the city's Borough Market. Gourmet food items from all around the world are showcased at the market each week, attracting both local visitors and international tourists and foodies from around the world. All food items are crafted fresh onsite weekly, emphasizing diversity and quality of cuisine. Favorite stalls include African Volcano, known for its Mozambique-influenced peri-peri sauces, gourmet grilled cheesers The Cheese Truck, Asian-style favorites Gyoza Guys, and artisanal waffle joint Waffle On. The market is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays during the afternoon hours.
37 Maltby St, London SE1 3PA, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-73-94-80-61
14.The Museum of London
The Museum of London is the official museum documenting the history of the capital of the United Kingdom, showcasing the world's largest urban history museum collection, which highlights over six million historic and contemporary artifacts. The museum is located on the London Wall near the Barbican Centre, just a few minutes from the city's financial district and landmarks such as St. Paul's Cathedral. Permanent galleries highlight the city's social and cultural history from prehistoric times through the modern day, traveling through the city's Roman and Saxon eras, civil wars, and Medieval tragedies. Gallery spaces include London Before London, which explores the history of the Lower Thames Valley dating back as far as 450,000 B.C., and the People's City and World City Galleries, which detail the city's transformation into a modern mecca in the 20th and 21st centuries. A special exhibit pays tribute to the 2012 London Olympic Games, showcasing the preserved Olympic flame cauldron crafted for the Games by Thomas Heatherwick.
150 London Wall, Barbican, London EC2Y 5HN, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-70-01-98-44
15.The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is the premiere natural history museum of the United Kingdom, founded in 1881 as the British Museum of Natural History. It houses a collection of more than 80 million natural history artifacts in its lovely museum facility in South Kensington, located adjacent on Exhibition Road to the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Visitors can explore the museum's botany, entomology, zoology, mineralogy, and paleontology collection exhibits for free throughout the year and see impressive displays such as a 105-foot skeleton of popular dinosaur species Diplodocus. Other significant holdings include specimens collected from around the world by renowned 19th-century naturalist Charles Darwin. Natural history volumes, manuscripts, and art collections are held at the museum's extensive research library, which is open to the public via special appointment.
Cromwell Rd, Kensington, London SW7 5BD, UK, Phone: +44-20-79-42-50-00
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Queen’s House is the former royal residence of Anne of Denmark and King James I, located in the London borough of Greenwich. The Grade I-listed historical building was constructed by architect Inigo Jones for the royal couple between 1616 and 1635 and is known as one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Britain today for its purposeful Classical design. Visitors can explore the recently-restored residence, which is open to the public as a living history facility under the umbrella of the National Maritime Museum, for free throughout the year. Substantial collections of maritime paintings and portraits are displayed at the residence, depicting scenes and historical figures from the 17th through the 20th century.
Romney Rd, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF, United Kingdom
17.The Science Museum
The Science Museum is a free-admission museum on South Kensington's Exhibition Road, founded in 1857 by Bennet Woodcroft and the Royal Society of Arts as the South Kensington Museum. Today, its former collections are split between the museum and the adjacent Victoria and Albert Museum, with museum collections focusing on STEM research and concepts. More than 3.3 million visitors explore the museum's permanent galleries each year, which are focused on topics like outer space exploration, modern aviation, and medicine and biological research. Unique artifacts on display include the oldest surviving James Watt beam engine, the historic transatlantic flight plane Vickers Vimy, and the preserved Apollo 10 Command Module Charlie Brown, which orbited the moon over 30 times in 1969. Though the museum's permanent galleries are free to enter throughout the week, a ticketed upcharge is required for certain traveling and temporary special exhibitions.
Exhibition Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-33-32-41-40-00
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Tate Britain is the home of the United Kingdom's national art collections, sponsored by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The museum institution is the world's oldest gallery network, originally founded in 1897. Today, it operates across four art museums, showcasing renowned national collections of British, international modern, and contemporary art. British art from the 14th century through the present day is showcased in the museum's permanent galleries, including works by Sir Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, and David Hockney. Career retrospectives of British artists are also showcased in artist-specific galleries, focusing on artists such as John Latham, Marcus Gheeraerts II, Tacia Dean, and Sam Taylor-Wood. Each year, the museum hosts the prestigious Turner Prize exhibition, which selects four contemporary artists to face a juried panel overseen by the museum's director. Free art talks are offered on the hour each day, showcasing artists, paintings, and artistic styles on display.
Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-78-87-88-88
19.The Thames Path
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The Thames Path is a lovely National Trail stretching 184 miles along the banks of the River Thames, stretching from its source in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier at Charlton in southeast London. The path has been in the planning stages since the end of World War II, but was only constructed and opened to the public in 1996. Today, it meanders along the lost floodplains of Richmond and the tidal areas near Teddington Lock, offering excellent walking and cycling opportunities for pedestrians throughout the year. Major sections of the path traverse past the campus of Oxford, the historic Weybridge Ferry dock, Kew Gardens, and the Wetlands Centre at Barnes before connecting to the nearby London Outer Orbital Path near Erith. Along the way, visitors can enjoy excellent vantage points of major city landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, the Royal Docks, and Hampton Court Palace.
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20.The Chocolate Museum
The Chocolate Museum is one of London's most unique museums, opened to the public in the city's Brixton district in 2013. The privately-operated museum is the vision of Melange Chocolate owner and artisan chocolatier Isabelle Alaya, who moved from France to the United Kingdom to start her business in 2008. It strives to inspire visitors to develop a passion for chocolate, showcasing the treat's history, development, and gourmet culinary styles. Galleries showcased throughout the free-admission museum include the Bean-to-Bar Gallery, which outlines the process of converting cacao beans into edible bars and candies, and the British History Gallery, which showcases the history of British chocolate companies like Cadbury. Other unique exhibits focus on Mayan chocolate drinking rituals, chocolate-related ads and designs, and the connections between cacao bean harvesting and slavery.
87 Ferndale Rd, Brixton, London SW9 8BA, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-77-23-43-42-35
21.The National Gallery
The National Gallery is one of the world's most-visited art museums, fourth only in annual visitorship to Paris' Louvre, the British Museum, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum is unique as compared to other continental European museums, as it was not formed as the result of nationalizing an existing gallery or royal art collection. It was developed following the purchase of 38 paintings belonging to the heirs of John Julius Angerstein in 1824, showcasing collections that belong to the British government on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. Visitors can explore the lovely museum for free throughout the year and view major developments and eras in Western painting from Giotto to Cézanne, with a special focus on Renaissance and Impressionist artists.
Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom
Trafalgar Square is one of Britain's most famed public squared, located within the City of Westminster and constructed around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Though it is named in its modern incarnation in commemoration of the famed Battle of Trafalgar, which took place during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, it has been a significant city landmark since the 13th century, once home to the King's Mews. It was redeveloped in 1844 by John Nash, showcasing modern statues and fountains, including the 169-foot Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues. Other artwork include the Fourth Plinth, which showcases world-class contemporary art pieces, and the smallest police box ever built, installed in the 19th century. Museums, galleries, cafes, and cultural spaces surround the square, which is often used as a space for national democracy, rallies, and protests.
Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-79-83-47-50
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23.The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum is home to the largest collection of applied and decorative arts and design in the world, housing over 2.27 million objects within its permanent collections. The museum, which was founded in 1852 in honor of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, is located within Kensington and Chelsea's Brompton district, adjacent to London's Natural History Museum and Science Museum. Visitors can explore the free-admission museum throughout the year and view items from five millennia of art throughout its 145 galleries, which showcase pieces from the prehistoric and modern cultures of Europe, the Americas, Asia, and North Africa. Major holdings include the largest collection of post-classical sculpture in the world and the largest collection of Italian Renaissance items held outside of Italy.
Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL, United Kingdom
24.The Wellcome Collection
The Wellcome Collection is a unique free-admission museum that showcases original artwork and medical industry artifacts, striving to explore the connection between medicine, life, and art. The museum, which markets itself as a space for the "incurably curious," was founded in 2007 as part of the Wellcome Trust, the cultural organization originally founded by 19th-century traveler and philanthropist Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome. Today, it attracts more than 700,000 annual visitors, showcasing contemporary and historic exhibitions presenting items from Wellcome's personal collection. Exhibition spaces include a postcard wall that encourages visitors to contribute their own artwork and an art display area showcasing major works by Pablo Picasso and Anthony Gormley. A cafe and reading room are also offered onsite, along with a research library holding a collection of books, manuscripts, and films on the history of medicine from prehistoric times through the present day.
183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-20-76-11-22-22
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Wellington Arch, also commonly referred to as Constitution Arch, is a lovely Grade I-listed historic triumphal arch designed by architect Decimus Burton, forming a major centerpiece of London's Hyde Park Corner at the corner of Hyde and Green Parks. The arch was originally constructed at a different location in 1830 and moved to its current site in 1883, named for its former equestrian statue of the First Duke of Wellington, designed by sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt. Since 1912, the statue has been replaced by a bronze four-horse quadriga chariot sculpture by Adrian Jones. Visitors can view the famed arch on foot or by vehicle throughout the day and marvel upon its spectacular Corinthian order architecture and monuments to Britain's victories in the Napoleonic Wars.
Apsley Way, London W1J 7JZ, United Kingdom
25 Best Free Things to Do in London
- Brick Lane Market, Photo: marandstock18/stock.adobe.com
- The British Museum, Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
- Broadway Market, Photo: I-Wei Huang/stock.adobe.com
- Camden Market, Photo: jordi2r/stock.adobe.com
- Chinatown, Photo: Boris Stroujko/stock.adobe.com
- Columbia Road Flower Market, Photo: cceliaphoto/stock.adobe.com
- The Design Museum, Photo: yaeantho/stock.adobe.com
- The Horniman Museum and Gardens, Photo: jgolby/stock.adobe.com
- The Houses of Parliament, Photo: Mistervlad/stock.adobe.com
- Imperial War Museum London, Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
- Leadenhall Market, Photo: Fyerne/stock.adobe.com
- Leake Street, Photo: allouphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Maltby Street Market, Photo: I-Wei Huang/stock.adobe.com
- The Museum of London, Photo: Black_Rheaven/stock.adobe.com
- The Natural History Museum, Photo: Sinensis/stock.adobe.com
- Queen's House, Photo: chrisdorney/stock.adobe.com
- The Science Museum, Photo: coward_lion/stock.adobe.com
- Tate Britain, Photo: chrisdorney/stock.adobe.com
- The Thames Path, Photo: Spiroview Inc./stock.adobe.com
- The Chocolate Museum, Photo: GCapture/stock.adobe.com
- The National Gallery, Photo: Bikeworldtravel/stock.adobe.com
- Trafalgar Square, Photo: PrettyAwesome/stock.adobe.com
- The Victoria and Albert Museum, Photo: irisphoto1/stock.adobe.com
- The Wellcome Collection, Photo: Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com
- Wellington Arch, Photo: Richie Chan/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: refresh(PIX)/stock.adobe.com
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