Who doesn't love a little London? Take me to them and I will sort them out for you.
As part of my London Series, I am going to give you my personal favourite 7 free(ish) things to do and see from my wonderful tourist and only been twice in my life perspective. We wanted to keep the cost down on this trip so included lots of free or cheap things in our itinerary. London is wonderful to explore and it can be easily done on a budget.
In no particular order here are 7 Free(ish) things to do and see in London Town:
1. Buckingham Palace
Changing of Guard was our first stop in London which you can read about in one of my previous posts. It deserved a post on its own as it was a fascinating experience. Buckingham Palace is just a short walk from the tube station through the park. You can see it looming rather impressively in front of you as you walk down the path. The Victoria Memorial is also pretty choice even if she does look quite stern.
Buckingham Palace is just a short walk from the tube station through the park. You can see it looming rather impressively in front of you as you walk down the path. The Victoria Memorial is also pretty choice even if she does look quite stern and disapproving.
Much to my disappointment, the Queen was not sitting in the window people watching.
- When the Royal Standard flag is flying, that means the Queen is home.
- Edward Jones broke into the palace three times between 1838 and 1841. After his first break-in, he was captured by the police with Queen Victoria’s underwear stuffed down his trousers.
- In 1982 Michael Fagan broke into the Queens bedroom and asked for a cigarette, he was acquitted from stealing half a bottle of wine from the Palace.
- Over 800 members of staff live in the Palace, including a flagman, fendersmith and clockmaker.
- The palace contains 350 clocks and watches.
- There Palace has a post office, police station, doctor’s surgery, cinema and pool. Which is handy if you don't feel like hailing a taxi.
- There are passageways running beneath the surface of the Palace that connect the building to nearby streets.
If you are coming to see the Changing of the Guard, it pays to come quite early as it is very popular. If you are coming to see the Palace then time it well after this once the crowds have dispersed.
2. M&M World
This wasn't on our to-do list, we stumbled upon M&M World as we were walking through Leicester Square. Obviously, I dragged Rob through that. I mean who doesn’t like M&M’s?! This place is M&M heaven. Seriously.
The shop itself is an explosion of colour, smells, and sights. If you suffer from sensory overload, it's best not to step foot in here. There are walls lined with rainbows of sweets, tacky, overpriced merchandise up to the eyeballs and lots of little nooks and crannies full of M&M related things to explore.
Eventually, after much sighing and eye rolling from Rob we exited much to Rob’s relief. But not before the obligatory tourist snaps standing in front of giant polystyrene M&M’s portrayed to look like knights, the Beatles, a double decker bus driver and the Queen’s guards. How stereotypically London can you get? Not much more than that is the answer!
Except the M&M's themselves. They are not English at all.
They are not English at all.
- The London store opened in 2011 in Leicester Square
- M&M's were invented in 1941 in New Jersey so the soldiers stopped getting their rations melted over their fingers with the sugary coating
- Peanut M&Ms came out in 1954
- In 1972 red M&Ms were taken off the market due to a misconception about the dye used
- 2 billion M&Ms are produced in 8 hours at the New Jersey factory
While it is free to roam around, the products are very overpriced for what they are so if you are going to buy something, make sure you have a full wallet.
3. People Watching
People in London are terribly interesting, we saw so many different types of people and street performers. You could spend a whole week in London just walking around people watching and not get bored. Well, I could anyway.
In one day we saw Yoda, break dancers, singers (some sung in key, others didn’t), a statue man (who I actually thought was a statue), a cosmopolitan group of drunk women stumbling into a limo/van, a fire dancer, a costumed group of people sitting on the stairs of St Paul's Cathedral and tourists with cameras hung around their necks looking around in wonder.
Oh wait, that was me!
- In 2014, 16 million people visited London, making it the most-visited city in the world
- More than 300 languages are spoken in London making it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
- 25% of the people living in London today are born in another country and 1.3 million people are estimated to move into and out of London each year.
- If you want to be a street performer in London you best get practicing in your garage. You have to audition for a busking permit.
Try to watch where you are going, I nearly walked into people several times as I was too busy looking around me. People don't generally like being walked into.
We found Chinatown around the corner from M&M World so went for a wander through it. It is so busy and bustling, a great atmosphere. We found a (wait for it….) Chinese restaurant as we were feeling a wee bit peckish we decided to grab a feed. We got a takeaway, sat on the curb and people watched while we ate.
I have to say that it was the best Chinese food I have ever had. It was amazing, I couldn’t fit it all in but forced myself because the thought of wasting it made me sad. Best fiver spent all weekend.
- There are 78 restaurants, 53 shops and 12 bars and pubs in Chinatown.
- London’s original Chinatown was in the East End where Chinese employees first settled in the 18th century.
- After the second world war, the first Chinese restaurants opened on Gerrard Street, thus the beginning of the Chinatown we all know and love today
- In the 1980s the current area got the full Chinatown treatment; Chinese gates, street furniture, and a pavilion were added
Go out of your comfort zone to try something new, with 78 restaurants to choose from you are bound to find something new. If you don't find anything new, you didn't try very hard, did you?
5. Strawberry Tours - The Jack the Ripper Tour
Strawberry Tours offer a range of free walking tours around London, including a street art, Harry Potter and Jack the Ripper tour. We opted for the Jack the Ripper tour as both of us have a fascination with the tale. As we walked the streets of Whitechapel, we learned more about the murders, the victims and the conspiracy theories surrounding the killer. Our guide was passionate, funny, captivating and provided many entertaining anecdotes along the way.
I would love to do more of the tours next time I go to London. It is a unique way to see London and to learn more about the intriguing city from the people who know it inside out.
These tours are run on a pay what you think they are worth basis. Unfortunately, we didn't have much cash with us so just gave what we had. Our guide was fantastic though and we would have given more if we had it.
- Strawberry Tours have a 10% promise where the guides donate 10% of their tips to a local charity
- Strawberry Tours opened in 2013 in London
- Jack the Ripper is most known for five murders but the press attributed him to 11 murders
- There is a rumour that sneakers (or trainers) were invented as a result of the Jack the Ripper case. Police needed a shoe that enabled them to ... sneak.... around so they glued rubber to the soles of their shoes.
- Another result of the Jack the Ripper case was the use of photographs to record a crime scene, Mary Kelly was one of the earliest records of murder photographic use.
Wear good shoes (sneakers!) and make sure you have had something to eat and drink beforehand as some of the tours can be lengthy. I did not wear good walking shoes. Learn from my mistake.
6. Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is the heart of London, wanna get to it? Just jump on a bus as 17 bus routes pass through here. Trafalgar Square is home to Nelson's Column, some giant Lion statues, galleries, street performers, cafes, pubs and other bits and bobs. I knew how tall Nelson's Column was but that still didn't stop me from being in awe of the sheer size and dominance it held.
I naturally had to climb up and sit by one of the enormous lions, I needed a leg up as it was so tall.
- Trafalgar Square used to be famous for pigeons but in 2003 the Mayor declared war on the pigeons and now they are rarely seen there.
- If Hitler had successfully invaded Britain, he planned to relocate Nelson’s Column to Berlin as a war spoil
- The four lions guarding Nelson's Column are cast from melted down bronze cannons, reclaimed from old battleships
- In the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square is a small former police phone box which is famous for being the World's smallest police station. It is now used as a broom cupboard for Westminster Council cleaners.
- The name of the square commemorates the victory of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson over the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, a naval battle that took place on the 21st of October 1805 near Cape Trafalgar, just off the Spanish coast.
Hold onto your hat. I set mine down to take a photo and subsequently lost it.
7. The London Markets
There are all kinds of markets in London Town from the small to the fancy and everything in between. A few markets were on our hit list and a couple of others we passed through on a whim. Covent Garden Market was on our hit list and it was a fascinating walk through. Plus I was more than happy to watch the street performers do their thang.
We were going to go to Oxford Street for some shopping (mainly because it is on the Monopoly board and let's face it. That's pretty cool) but I was running low on funds so we decided to hit the markets instead. Petticoat Lane Market was fabulous for bargain hunting and if you're after souvenirs, this is the place to look. I saw a beanie for less than a quarter of the price than in the souvenir shops and they were pretty much exactly the same.
Once we tired of Petticoat Lane Market we wandered around the corner laden with bags to Spitalfields Market. This one was slightly more upmarket but one particular stall caught my eye on our way out. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a blue Alice in Wonderland print so naturally had to take a second look. I ended up walking out with a set of Alice prints that when put together make up the entire Alice in Wonderland story from A book on One Page.
- The Borough Market dates back to 1014 making it one of the oldest still running
- In 2008 a report discovered there were around 180 retail markets operating across London
- Spitalfields Market dates back to the 13th century
Shop around. I brought some scarfs from the first stall I went to then found ones I liked better further in. You can always go back to stalls if your shopping buddy doesn't mind a little back and forth-ing. Or you don't care that your shopping buddy doesn't like back and forth-ing.
If you are wondering why I haven't put any museums on my list, have no fear. They are in this post because let's face it, you can't have a post about free London without including museums.
What are some free (or free ish) London sights and sounds that I should add to my bucket list for next time?
By the way, I am not affiliated or sponsored in any way by any of the products, services or companies mentioned. I simply liked them enough to big them up.