London is a vibrant exciting city but it can prove costly, especially when you have a family to keep entertained.
However, if you know where to look there is a wealth of free things to do. Whatever your interest, we’re sure you’ll find something to your liking.
The Science Museum
If you’re a science buff, you’ll absolutely love this place. Admission is free but of course, donations are most welcome. Stroll at leisure around this huge building and marvel at incredible medical and technological advances from all over the world.
Natural History Museum
Located close by the Science Museum, London’s Natural History Museum is an absolute must for visitors to the capital. Again, entry is free of charge but donations are welcomed.
This stunning building is a sight to behold of itself but once inside you could easily spend the whole day wandering through its galleries. The ever-popular dinosaur exhibition is loved by adults and children alike and there is a wealth of interactive activities throughout the building.
Victoria and Albert Museum
In the vicinity of both the Science and Natural History Museums, this is the place to go for those of us with a creative streak. Another beautiful edifice, the building is home to all manner of art and design paraphernalia, from permanent features to temporary exhibitions, the history or art and design is all here.
Museum of London
This place is simply fascinating. If history is your thing, then this is where you need to be headed. The extensive history of the capital is laid out before you, with exhibits from London’s earliest settlers on display up to curiosities of modern day London. Take a walk through Roman London and marvel at the remnants of the wall they built here, the Middle ages, the Black Death, Great Fire of London, Victorian shops and much, much more. Donations are once again welcomed.
Another gem, this lesser known but wonderful museum is housed in a 200-year-old warehouse and takes you through London’s trading, commerce, slavery and migration history from a time when the ports were teaming with tall ships and commodities, to more recent wartime London. Often referred to as liquid history, the River Thames features heavily.
Other free museums:
- Bank of England Museum
- Tate Britain
- Tate Modern
- National Portrait Gallery
- Sir John Soane’s Museum
- William Morris Gallery
- Queen’s House
- National Maritime Museum
- Imperial War Museum
- Ragged School Museum
- British Museum
- Hunterian Museum
- The Anaesthesia Museum
- London Sewing Machine Museum
- Grant Museum of Zoology
- Welcome Collection
Discover London’s largest Royal Park, home to some of the capitals most picturesque woodland and some 650 deer. Playgrounds for the children, butterflies, plants and beautiful walks are among other free attractions. A lovely place to enjoy a family picnic.
Situated at: Richmond, Greater London
Another large Royal Park, you may well forget you are in the heart of London in Hyde Park, with its 150 acres of lush greenery, 4000 trees, ponds and ornamental flower gardens, it’s the perfect place to round off a day’s shopping in nearby Oxford Street.
Boating, swimming, children’s play areas, skating, picnicking, tennis courts, cycling, or simply lazing in a deckchair (for some of which there is a small charge) are just some of the activates you might wish to consider on your visit here. You may also wish to visit the beautiful Kensington Gardens with its round pond, which is connected to the park.
Situated at: London’s Bayswater Road
St James’s Park
A visit to Buckingham Palace could well be nicely rounded off with a visit to St James’s. If timed right, you could also take in another London spectacle, the Changing of the Queen’s Guard, as well as other colourful displays and parades, dependent upon when you visit.
From here you will see the vibrancy of the Mall decked out in flags. This smaller Royal Park, covering some 58 aches, is also home to several species of birdlife, and you can see the pelicans being fed at 2:30pm daily.
A children’s playground is on site as well as numerous eateries, ice cream and coffee huts. So, hire a deckchair and take in the sights at your leisure.
Situated at: Westminster, London SW1A 2BJ
Other London Parks:
- Wimbledon Common
- Greenwich Park
- Holland Park
- Regents Park
- Green Park
- Bushy Park
- Victoria Park
- Lee valley Park
- Hampstead Heath
- Battersea Park
- Crystal Palace Park
Vauxhall City Farm
Meet this little gem’s small collection of animals in the heart of the city. Pigs, Horses, goats, alpacas and many more of our furry friends are waiting to meet your children at this free attraction, where your little ones will be able to pet them. You could even take a picnic to enjoy on the surrounding greens afterwards.
Situated at: 165 Tyers St, London SE11 5HS
V&A Museum of Childhood
Home to toys and childhood objects from the 1600s onward, this museum is wonderful. There are objects for your little ones to get their mitts on, as well as permanent and temporary exhibitions. Your children will gain a real insight into how their contemporaries lived and played in times past.
Situated at: Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 9PA
Comb the Thames’ foreshore at St Gabriel’s Wharf in search of clay pipes and other fascinating objects form London’s long history. Please ensure you check the Tidal timetable ahead of your visit. Additionally, every August the Tower of London foreshore is opened to the public for the same purpose. Check their website for when this will be.
Well known for its assortment of street entertainment, the children may well enjoy a trip to Covent Garden too. The London Transport Museum is also situated here and although there is an admission charge, the ticket remains valid all year, so you can visit as many times as you like within that period without paying any more.
If your little ones are fascinated with skateboarding, take them along to witness skaters young and old performing their daring stunts beneath the Southbank Centre, alongside a variety of street entertainment such as dancers and well-loved characters. In the summer months there is also a manmade beach along this stretch of the Southbank, as well as sand artists building incredible structures at low tide on the Thame’s foreshore below, until the tide washes their works away. In December a small Christmas fair occupies the site too.
There are many fascinating guided walking tours around London, from ghost and historical tours, to Jack the Ripper tours. Although many do charge a small fee, there are other walks on offer at a price you deem appropriate or even free.
Check out www.freetoursbyfoot.com/london-tours/ for details.
Other must-see sights
Take a few selfies while you’re visiting London at these key sites too. Although entry fees apply to some of them, it costs nothing to take a look around outside.
- Trafalgar Square
- Lambeth Palace (limited public admittance to the building)
- St James’s Palace (no public admittance to the building)
- Tower Bridge
- Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
- Buckingham Palace
- Millennium Bridge
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
- St Pauls Cathedral
- Westminster Abbey
- Westminster Cathedral
Lastly, there are also a number of beautiful little churches dotted in and around the City of London that are steeped in history such as All Hallows by the Tower, London’s oldest church, St Brides, where you can visit the crypt and the remnants of a Roman pavement. Or St Magnus the Martyr, which houses a large model of the world-famous medieval London Bridge and where the bridge entrance once stood. Check online for visiting times, as these are still places of worship and therefore visiting times may be restricted.
Beautiful castles to visit in the UK
The coast of Britain is literally littered with countless castles.
Some of these wonderful fortifications are better preserved than others but all are equally fascinating and collectively tell the story of the long, often dark and rich history of these isles. Having visited just some of them, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites.
Dover Castle in Kent has to top the list. This incredible fortress is referred to as the key to England because of the importance of its defensive position and is the country’s largest castle.
The castle dates back to medieval times but there are layers of history to uncover at Dover, so you’ll find a wealth of things to see and do here. As well as the keep; which is Norman and resembles the Tower of London’s White Tower (in fact it is often used in filming as the White Tower) there are numerous other buildings to visit, which were expanded greatly under the rule of Henry II. There is also a network of medieval underground tunnels, as well as WWII tunnels, which include a hospital. From here you can step out and view the port of Dover and it was from this vantage point that the evacuation of Dunkirk was overseen. A Roman fort and a church also feature on the site.
Dover Castle is so vast and fascinating, it is possible one visit may not be enough.
Situated in Warwickshire, this impressive medieval fortress was built on the site of one of William the Conqueror’s Norman castles dating back to 1068. Sitting on the River Avon, it came to be the seat of the Earls of Warwick, one of which was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as the Kingmaker during the long running Wars of the Roses.
Now owned by the Tussauds Group, there are endless activities for all the family at enjoy at Warwick, you even have the option of spending the night in the Tower Suits if you really want to make a trip of it.
Step into the castle’s great hall, its turrets and battlements, find your way out of the new Horrible Histories maze with the kids, take a tour of the dungeons if you dare, with actors bringing the castle’s darkest history back to life before your eyes. There are daily shows held at Warwick too, such as the fabulous birds of prey display and colourful jousting tournaments.
A trip to Warwick Castle promises to be one that the whole family will love.
The childhood home of King Henry VIII’s second queen Anne Bolelyn, Hever Castle and gardens is another of Kent’s treasures. Anne spent her youth at the family seat before her education in France and her subsequent doomed marriage to the monarch, which ended in May 1536, when on the orders of the king Anne was beheaded. After the death of Anne’s father Thomas, the castle became the property of the king, who bestowed it to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves as part of the settlement following the annulment of their short-lived marriage.
As well as the beautiful castle itself there are the wonderful gardens to visit, ornamental ponds, mazes, miniature model houses to view, boating, jousting, shield painting, archery, a military museum, adventure playground, and a Japanese teahouse to discover. You can stay overnight too at Hever Castle’s suits because once again, a day may not be sufficient to take in all that it has to offer.
This Kent castle is unusual in that it is set low in the ground hidden from view of passing ships, rather than the more familiar towering structures of most fortresses that dominate the UK’s coastline.
Built on the orders of Henry III, Deal was constructed in the form of the Tudor rose, and this is apparent form a bird’s eye view of this coastal fort.
You can walk around the castle at your leisure and may wish to employ the use one of the audio guides to take you through the darkened passages, storerooms and officers’ quarters.
Deal is an ideal spot for those with less time to visit the larger fortresses on the Kent coast but it is no less fascinating.
Situated in Kenilworth in Warwickshire this fortification is another gem of English history. With its beginnings from Norman to Tudor days, Kenilworth has plenty to please. Learn about the six-month siege of Kenilworth back in 1266, which is said to be the longest in England’s history. Marvel at the keep, the great hall and Elizabethan gardens, or take a spot of lunch in the stable tearooms.
Located on the stunning Cornish coast, Tintagel is the place where myth meets history. This medieval structure, perched on the cliff’s edge and erected by Ricard Earl of Cornwall during the thirteenth century, it has long been associated with the legend of king Arthur but the Romans were also thought to have had a settlement at the site.
Once you have navigated the numerous steps up the Cliffside to reach the fortress you’ll be amazed by the stunning views initially. Once you’ve enjoyed these, you can wonder through the substantial ruins of this castle, discover the dark ages and learn how it came to be linked to Arthur and his gallant knights.
Once you’ve toured the ruins, take a trip down to the incredibly beautiful beach below to round off your trip.
Built by the Peverel family in the twelfth century, medieval Bolsover castle in Derbyshire is another of England’s fascinating castles.
Visit the Little Castle on the site, which was the lavish retreat of poet and playboy Sir William Cavendish, where he entertained King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, or visit what remains of his terrace with its incredible views, the stunning fountain garden, or walk the wall, or you may prefer to take a canter across the wonderful indoor riding school. Top it all off with a visit to the lovely tearooms.
Hampshire’s medieval Portchester Castle is situated at the town’s Harbour and was built on the site of a Roman fort. It was one of many built along this coast in an attempt to combat pirate raids.
Take in the site’s rich history with the free audio tour, as well as informative exhibitions. In August there is a grand knight’s tournament for all the family to enjoy.
For over 1000 years this castle has been central to the defence of the Isle of White. The structure has been a Saxon fortress and a Norman castle. It underwent remodelling during Elizabeth I’s reign and Charles I was held captive here during the English Civil War, prior to his eventual execution. The suggestion of Roman occupation of the site is of further interest but has yet to be proved. An Anglo Saxon fort was likely situated here to prevent pirate raids of the island.
Play bowls at Portchester on the green used by Charles I, dress the kids up in Norman attire in the gatehouse and introduce them to the castle’s resident donkeys, or pay a visit to the museum and chapel.
A trip to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales would not be complete without a visit to Middleham Castle. The childhood home of Richard III, Middleham is roofless but otherwise it is well preserved. As well as the castle there are lovely gardens and exhibitions to enjoy, family activities and books to complete, picnic areas and play areas.
Tower of London
Well, we could hardly leave out this utter gem in the heart of the capital. Listed as an historical royal palace, The Tower of London is drenched in history, much of it dark and terrifying. This great Norman edifice on the banks of the Thames would have been a foreboding site when it was first constructed by William the Conqueror and indeed remains so. Although Londoner’s have taken it to their hearts this would not have originally been the case, as it was a visual reminder that they had been conquered and a symbol of the power of the new ruler.
There is no end of things to see at the tower. Learn about its dark history, the famous and infamous prisoners held within its thick walls, take a look at Traitors Gate and imagine Anne Bolelyn entering it by boat to her imprisonment and eventual execution within the grounds. At its heart, step into the White Tower and view the contents of the royal armoury, visit the Crown Jewels, discover why the ravens leaving would be considered a disaster, the history of the royal mint, take a look at the replicas of the torture instruments once used there, the graffiti scrawled into the walls by prisoners and no visit is complete without a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining yeomen warder tour, which is the only way to take in a tour of the small chapel on site, housing the remains of queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, Thomas More and others who were beheaded at the tower on the orders of Henry VIII.
There is just so much to see and do here that we recommend you start your day early, as it does get very busy, such is its popularity.
A walk by Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster
If you ever pass through St. James Park underground station take a detour down Queen Anne’s Gate and admire these magnificent buildings.
Queen Anne’s Gate is an enchanting Georgian road. Many of the buildings are Grade I listed and are well known for their Queen Anne architecture. It was originally built by William Paterson (a banker) in the beginning of the 18th century (1704-05), originally forming two separate openings, with Queen Square to the west and Park Street to the east.
Queen Square was built first followed by Park Street. Residents from Queen Square were uneasy at the thought of the road being used as a cut through for carriages to avoid the traffic of busy King Street, the Sanctuary and Tothill Street that a subscription was collected for the building of the wall to avoid the residents having the peace of their square disturbed. The dividing wall between the two streets was demolished in 1873 to form the present Queen Anne’s Square.
A Grade I-listed statue of Queen Anne stands on a pedestal alongside the north wall of No. 15 Queen Anne’s Gate. It portrays the queen wearing a brocaded skirt and bodice and an open cloak with the insignia of the Order of the Garter; on her head is a small crown and in her hands she holds an orb and sceptre.
Past & Present Residents
- 14, home for many years to T. P. O’Sullivan & Partners.16, a Grade I listed house that was the former home of John Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher, and of William Smith where there are commemorative blue plaques in both names. The restoration of the house won a Georgian Group award. It is now owned by Troels Holch Povlsen.
- 24, home to the politician Sir George Shuckburgh-Evelyn from 1783–88, and the judge Sir Edward Vaughan Williams, from 1836 until his death in 1875.
- 34, formerly the home of Edward Tennant, 1st Baron Glenconner, and from 1962-2013, home to St Stephen’s Club, a private member’s club.
- 36, head office of the National Trust, until about 2004.
The side formerly known as Park Street belonged to Christ’s Hospital. Christ’s Hospital owned these buildings right up until the early 90s. Queen Square was originally the freehold estate of Sir Theodore Janssen, one of the directors of the South Sea Company in 1720, and when the South Sea crash came Queen Square was seized and sold to to make reparations to the investors ruined in the crash.
Queen Anne’s Gate runs from Old Queen Street in the east to a cul-de-sac in the west. It runs parallel with Birdcage Walk to the north and Petty France, Broadway and Tothill Street to the south. Carteret Street joins Queen Anne’s Gate on its southern side.
Originally Park Street had its only exit by way of Carteret Street on the south, but in 1758 in order to provide a way out to Dartmouth Street, the Governors purchased the lower portion of a house in that street for the purpose of forming an archway between the two streets. In 1829 further property in Dartmouth Street was purchased, and in the following year, the archway was taken down.
The description of Queen Square in 1708 was “a beautiful Square, of very fine Buildings”, 300 years later we can still say the same and more.
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