When it comes to things to do for free, urbanest Westminster Bridge is an ideal location to start from. London has so much on offer that it can become overwhelming – that’s why this list contains the 11 absolute ‘must visit whilst in London’ places that you simply cannot leave the city without seeing. Most of them are within a mile walk and, of course, at no extra cost – ideal for the typical student budget.
Note: while we have included walking times for all of these free activities, Transport for London is very well connected, and you can achieve similar or quicker travel times using the buses and tubes.
The Supreme Court
10-minute walk – 0.4 miles
Starting closest to urbanest Westminster bridge, for those majoring in Law (or similar disciplines) or simply interested in the UK Justice System, the Supreme Court building is open to the public. The majority of its exhibition spaces, both temporary and permanent, are free to visit. However, the guided tours are recommended, and at the small price of £5 (for students), you can’t go wrong.
Houses of Parliament
11-minute walk – 0.4 miles
Debates are free to sit in on at the Houses of Parliament, in both Houses: the Commons and the Lords. Their public galleries are open to public use when the Houses are in a meeting. The debates are held mainly Monday-Thursday across the House of Commons, Westminster Hall, and the House of Lords. It’s an excellent opportunity for those interested in politics and current issues affecting the UK as ideas, propositions and issues are debated, addressed, and resolved throughout the week in Parliament.
12-minute walk – 0.5 miles
Right down the river from Westminster, South Bank is home to the most famous artistic venues of the city, including the South Bank Centre, the National Theatre, and the British Film Institute, otherwise known as the BFI. It is packed with things to do, from art to theatre, quirky food, and even skateboarding. As a bit of a ‘hipster hub’, one of the best things to do on South Bank is simply wonder the Riverside Walkway as depending on the season, there are tons of things to do, from Christmas markets and ice-skating in the festive months to sandpits, frozen yoghurt, and cocktails in the summer.
12-minute walk – 0.5 miles
A tour of Westminster Abbey comes at a hefty cost. However, it is free when attending a service throughout the week or on a Sunday morning. Whilst these are services of worship, anyone is invited to join and pay their respects on a first-come-first-serve basis so get there ahead of time to secure a place inside the Church. The Abbey is truly beautiful inside and has played host to many historical and recent cultural events. It’s another slice of British history and is of significant importance.
St. James’s Park
17-minute walk – 0.8 miles
St. James’s Park is one of many Royal Parks in London; however, it is extra special as it sits at the centre of the city’s ceremonial core with Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, and The Mall at its edges. Aside from its royal importance, where events and pageants take placeall year round, the park is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of London. You can sit and study on one of its many benches near the fountain, lake, or large open public green. No matter what the weather or season, London’s many green spaces are perfect and often picturesque, ideal for the photography or nature lovers out there. If that describes you, check out our list of the best outdoor spaces to relax & study in London.
Top tip: Hyde Park is a 20-minute walk through St James’ if you enjoy your green space. Hyde Park is the biggest royal park in London (350 acres!), and it is entirely free to enjoy the grounds. There are often events like ghost walks, sponsored runs, and music festivals, so check out the Royal Parks’ schedule to find something different.
10 Downing Street and Horse Guards Parade
17-minute walk – 0.5 miles
One of the most popular London tourist locations is Number 10, Downing Street, the official residence and office of the British Prime Minister. Close to Westminster, you can take a photo under the street sign or peer through the tall bars at its entrance. If you spot the local cat, Larry, you’ve definitely achieved London’s goals.
Just around the corner is the Horses Guard Parade, where you can watch the ceremonial Changing of the Guard daily at 11 am (10 am on Sundays). To avoid a significant Londoner faux-pas, do not get in the way of the Royal Guards – they will not stop or change direction for anyone!
The National Gallery
21-minute walk – 0.8 miles
One of the best things about London is our abundance of free galleries and museums. Located in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery houses one of the largest art collections in the world. It features works of Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, and Titian. From its architecture to its art exhibitions, it isn’t something to miss, especially when entry is free all year round.
23-minute walk – 1.1 miles
Fans of modern art must visit the Tate Modern, one of the biggest contemporary art museums in the world. It is part of a collection of museums: Tate Britain, which displays British art from 1500-present; Tate Liverpool; and Tate St. Ives in Cornwall.
Some artists in its permanent collection include Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, and Georges Braque. And there are always new and exciting exhibitions to check out.
27-minute walk – 1.3 miles
The Pall Mall is a red road between Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. Trees surround it and give the effect of a red carpet leading up to the grand palace and fountain. It is a nice walk on a sunny day with St. James’s Park on one side and Green Park on the other.
Fun fact: The name “Pall Mall” derives from the name of a 16th-century Italian lawn game. It was a precursor to croquet, and King Charles II often played on the St James’ walkway – now known as The Mall.
33-minute walk – 1.6 miles
The British Museum is a must in London, especially for Classics, Anthropology, and Art History students. However, the incredible collections and exhibits are a marvel for everyone; entry is always free.
While this one isn’t in Westminster, it’s a simple 20-minute journey on the Northern line from Waterloo to Tottenham Court Road to one of the best cultural destinations in London. If you are up for the half-an-hour walk, you won’t be disappointed by your journey: pass the London Eye, cross the scenic Westminster Bridge, and go through Covent Garden to get to the museum.
Wild Card: Museum of Freemasonry
27-minute walk – 1.3 miles
For something a little bit off the tourist track, try the Museum of Freemasonry. This organisation was founded in 1717 and became embroiled in secrecy and conspiracy theories over the centuries. Still, the museum promotes awareness and education around the true history and meaning. Wander the museum to see some beautifully preserved documents and items that glimpse the Freemasons’ rich past.
Or just explore…
I feel like it’s easy to go looking for something to do whilst in London, but in actual fact, the absolute gems are usually found just by wondering about. Try going on a tour of obelisks, hidden gardens and parks, or even the City of London approved walks and trails. I will say, try to explore at all times of day: sunrise, throughout daylight hours, sunset, and after-dark; you’ll be amazed by what you can find, see and capture.
This article was written by urbanest Westminster Bridge resident Channon. She is currently studying a BA in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics. In her third year of study, she is always busy but nevertheless likes to travel, write, take photos and experience new things. Originally from Cornwall, she loves the seaside life, but her favourite thing to do is explore bustling city life.