Five Awesome Free Things to do in London

London is a difficult place to keep on a budget. It’s really a buffet of things to do, history to understand, and information to absorb. In the madness and chaos that it is, there’s remarkably wonderful free things. After scouring the city for ourselves, we found the following attractions the best way to spend free time (as they can consume a lot of it) and keep your money in your wallet.

1. Imperial War Museum

Making bullets as the voice overhead observes Mark's job
Making bullets as the voice overhead observes Mark’s job

This is not any ordinary war/ history dull experience museum. There are voice overs, interactive whiteboards where you can touch and manipulate things as it shows you how long it took to create artillery, make bread or assemble shoes. There is gunfire and men and women shouting overhead. Lights are strategically positioned to make you feel like a time capsule has transported you back to The Great War. Incredible facts abound. We spent nearly three hours at the museum and didn’t finish the ground floor (there’s five of them). We learned:

  • Britain received gifts from all of her territories during World War I, including sheep, money, and food from Canada; rum from Jamaica; food and cocoa from Africa; and an assortment of goats.
  • Each participating military had its own unique outfit: colors, designs, emblems, embellishments, even if they were on the same side.
  • Germany’s army pushed Russia back an impressive 300 miles in one invasion! But it was not enough to defeat the Russians.

The museum is free of charge to enter; a map will cost a pound. There is also an entire floor devoted appropriately to the Holocaust.

2. The British Museum

Well done, Britain, this is an extraordinary place to visit. It’s also extraordinarily crowded, though people typically move about at a good pace. To avoid crowds, go on a Wednesday afternoon. I won’t tell you all the reasons you should go, because you’ve probably already put it on your list. But here’s the coolest parts:

  • Holding a 2,500 year old silver Greek coin, and learning that the symbol on that coin is on the Greek euro.
  • Seeing clocks from the 1500s. I watched the interactive video multiple times and I’m still convinced it’s part mechanics, part magic.
  • Seeing this poster which shows it’s cheaper to print on this currency than paper.DSC_0191
  • One of the first cash registers, created aptly by Tiffany and Co
  • The largest paper money denomination is 20 ‘million billion’ Hungarian. Wow.

3. The National Gallery

Simply wonderful. If you took your time through it you couldn’t cover the gallery. It’s simply stunning. People are milling about from the time it opens to the time that it closes. These pieces of art are so varied in size, emotion and structure. There’s one in particular, a painting of a horse that stretches from floor to ceiling. The walls are 20-30 feet high? The painting is so phenomenally large you’re captivated by the thought that one hand of one person painted this enormous horse. It’s held by chains that come down from the ceiling. 

The Gallery is best broken up into two afternoons if you want to really feel like you’ve experienced it. Suggested itinerary, do something paid in the morning then head over to the gallery for the later part of the afternoon. 

Van Goh's Most Famous: Chair, Sunflowers and Two Crabs
Van Gogh’s: Chair, Sunflowers and Two Crabs

Pro-tip: want to know what the fuss is about over an artist or a painting? Plenty of educated art enthusiasts at the entrance and exit of each gallery room to tell you about those works. Chat em up. 

BONUS: The buskers outside the National Gallery are extremely talented. There’s one gentleman, The Homeless Bard, who writes exceptional poetry detailing his highs and lows and major mistakes. Everything he writes is impromptu, spoken from the heart. Talk to him, he’s got a sweet drawl and tired blue eyes. He is optimistic, despite losing everything, and is currently rebuilding his life through his gift of penmanship.

Homeless Bard prays before writing his fourth poem of the day.
Homeless Bard prays before writing his fourth poem of the day.

Finally, here’s a separate list of interesting places that are also free, but unfortunately we’re missed because of time:

4. Geffrye Museum – quirky and fun facts about the evolution of furniture throughout centuries. Even shag carpet has its genetic roots somewhere. And it’s always amazing to me how much SMALLER all the furniture is. An adult chair would maybe fit today’s child.

5. King George V Park evidently has alpacas, which are my favorite animal. If I ever had the opportunity to have land, I would certainly get a herd of alpacas. And feed them apples. Because they don’t have incisors that allow them to cut up food and all that.

Travelling to London and looking for more helpful hints? Click here to learn how to travel around London efficiently and cheaply.

MarkandMelody

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What We’ve Learned After 3 Days in London

Our first stop on our 111 day journey around the world takes us to London. What a city. We had a lot of expectations, both of ourselves and of the city. Here’s what we’ve learned with a little bit of tough love from one of the world’s most cosmopolitan places, and see this link for how to do London on a Budget.

1) This is not a bargain town. With the USD-GBP exchange rate, we’re getting about 64 pounds for every $100 USD. Here’s a point of reference, all prices in pounds:

Cheap beer: 4
Nice beer: 6
175 ml glass of wine: 6-8
Appetizers (half the size of American apps so a bad substitute for dinner): 9-12
Cheap dinner: 13
Filling Dinner: 20-30

So you can see, a nice (non-budget) dinner for two could easily eat up your 64 pounds.
In other words, you’ve just spent $100 on one meal.
No tipping here. Please don’t do it. And no added-on tax. The price you see on the receipt is what you pay.

Picking up foodstuffs from supermarkets or grocery stores is key to saving money.

Cold/ Flu Medicine: 4 [please see note here about pharmacies in the UK]
Small bottle of water: 1
Large water: 2
Takeaway pasta from grocery store: 4 (or you can get lucky with a 3 for 3 deal at Sainsbury’s)
Box of tea: 2

NOTE: There are Panera Bread type places where you can purchase coffees, smoothies and bread items, but you will see two prices: a takeaway (to-go) and eat-in price. The eat-in prices are higher because of a VAT (value added tax) charge. Our suggestion? Get your items for takeaway and eat at one of the numerous parks and green spaces.

2) Please be extremely mindful of the amount of walking/ stair-climbing you do. It is very easy to wear out your body and thus make yourself sick. London is very walkable, but please please plan your visits to attractions in clusters and plan for no more than three attractions a day. It is not necessary to visit the Imperial War Museum and the National Gallery in the same day. They are on opposite sides of town and there is plenty in each “zone” to keep you busy for an entire day.

3) Buy an OysterCard the day you arrive (and think twice about the London Pass). They’re available at the airport, convenience stores, kiosks, and supermarkets. It gives you access to the tube (underground subway), the overground (above-ground subway), and the buses for very low prices. We took a bus during the tube strike: they’re great. Note: As of July 2015, the tube does not run 24 hours; in September 2015, 24 hour tube operations are scheduled to begin.

4) If you have an unlocked phone that can take a different SIM, we strongly suggest you seek out a LycaMobile SIM for 1 pound. The plan we purchased was 17 pounds and came with 2000 minutes, 5GB of data and unlimited text messages. This means we can load maps on Google with the route/ directions, put the phone on airplane mode to save battery/ data, and use the pre-loaded map. Genius. It works. It saves battery. We haven’t gotten lost.

Cheers.

xx