10 Free and Quirky Things to do in London
By Kelly Henderson (follow Kelly on Twitter @kellythekiwi)
If you have taken a ride on the London Eye and been amazed by the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London then you might be looking for something else to do during your time here. Here is a list of some of the quirkier, less touristy things to do in London… for free.
#1 Walk with the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace
Over 30 statues of dinosaurs and other extinct animals call Crystal Palace Park their home. The statues were created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins around 1854 and include the first ever attempt to model dinosaurs as full-scale, three-dimensional, active creatures. The statues are Grade I listed though so they are only able to be viewed from a distance – you cannot actually climb on or touch the dinosaurs.
Where: Crystal Palace Park, Crystal Palace.
When: Open daily during the park’s opening hours.
#2 See justice being served at the Old Bailey
If you’re interested in attending a real court trial then you can watch from the public galleries in the Old Bailey. The Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey’s real name) is one of the most famous in the world and criminals like the Kray Twins and the Yorkshire Ripper were brought to trial here. Security here is very strict – you must dress appropriately, you cannot bring in any phones, tablets or other electronic devices, and you must not have any food or drink with you.
Where: Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, London, EC4M 7EH.
When: Monday-Friday: 9:55am-12:40pm and 1:55pm-3:40pm (last admission).
#3 Pay your respects at the Cross Bones Graveyard
The Cross Bones Graveyard in South London is the mass burial place of the ‘single-woman’ (prostitutes) of medieval London. These women were not allowed a Christian burial so the graveyard became somewhat of a dumping ground for them and other poor people living in the area. Closed in 1853, it is estimated that there were around 15,000 people buried in Cross Bones. The site is now a memorial to those buried here and people from all over the world (around 50,000 a year) go to leave messages, ribbons, flowers and trinkets on the gates.
Where: Redcross Way, London, SE1 1TA.
When: Open Monday to Friday: 11am to 2pm.
#4 Count your coins at the Bank of England Museum
Located in the walls of the Bank of England itself, a visit to the museum is far more interesting than it sounds. Telling the story of the bank since it’s foundation in 1694, the Bank of England Museum contains some fascinating items. These include gold bars dating from ancient times, documents relating to some famous customers like George Washington and Horatio Nelson and the largest collection of Bank of England banknotes found anywhere in world (including an impressive amount of forgeries) – you can even test your strength and see if you can lift a real gold bar!
Where: Bartholomew Lane, London, EC2R 8AH.
When: Monday-Friday: 10am-5pm (last entry 4:30pm).
#5 Take a step back in time and visit Sir John Soane’s Museum
The former residence of famous architect Sir John Soane (he designed the original Bank of England) has remained untouched since his death nearly 180 years ago. He turned it into museum in the nineteenth century and it is crammed full of art, statues, architectural models, antiques and furniture. The house that contains Sir John Soane’s Museum is also well worth a look with devices used to channel and direct daylight, convex mirrors and a Monument Court containing a sarcophagus carved for the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. For a glimpse of what life was like in a London home all those years ago, take a tour of the recently opened private apartment and Model room.
Where: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Field, London, WC2A 3BP.
When: Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-5pm (last entry 4:30pm).
#6 Strum along at the Hoxton Ukulele Hootenanny
If you’re a ukulele lover then head along to the Queen of Hoxton on a Monday night for their weekly Ukulele Hootenanny. Whether you’re a beginner, a pro or anything in between, you are welcome to go along and join in the fun. The night is free but if you don’t have your own ukulele you will need to pay a £20 refundable deposit to borrow one of theirs.
Where: Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3JX.
When: Mondays: 7pm-12am.
#7 Walk with the animals, talk with the animals… at Spitalfields City Farm
Spitalfields City Farm is the closest farm to the City of London and it has all your favourite farm animals. Meet Bayleaf the Donkey as well as all his friends like chickens, goats and pigs and don’t forget to take a walk around the stunning gardens while you’re there. If you love farm animals and would like to learn more about them then you can also volunteer to help out at the farm. For more information take a look at the Get Involved section of the website.
Where: Buxton Street, London, E1 5AR.
When: Tuesday-Sunday: 10am-4pm.
#8 Get creative at Drink, Shop & Do
There is always something new, fun and exciting happening at Drink, Shop and Do and this cute little café/bar is one of my favourite places in London. You can Papier Mache, customise your coffee mug or build Lego robots – just check out the What’s On tab of the website to get inspired. The best thing is that lots of the activities are free if you buy a drink!
Where: 9 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX
#9 See another side of London on the Alternative London Walking Tour
If you’ve said hello to the Queen and heard the bells of Big Ben on a traditional sightseeing tour, then why not venture east and go on an Alternative London Walking Tour. The tour not only showcases the creativity, culture and street art scene of the East End but will also help you understand the importance of this area and the struggles it has faced throughout history. You might even be lucky enough to see a street artist at work! The tours are run on a pay-what-you-like basis but you will need to book online.
Where: Tour meets at Spitalfields Market.
When: Monday-Friday: 12pm and 2pm; Saturdays: 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm.
#10 Marvel at the interesting collections at the Hunterian Museum
The Hunterian Museum contains one of the largest and oldest collections of anatomical, pathological and zoological specimens in the UK – fossils, drawings, paintings and surgical equipment all have a place there. Some of the more interesting pieces include the skeleton of Charles Byrne – the ‘Irish Giant’ who stood at 7’7” tall, an array of skulls, jaws and teeth both from human and non-human species and a denture that once belonged to Sir Winston Churchill. If you think your stomach is strong enough then the museum is definitely worth a look.
Where: Royal College of Surgeons, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PE
When: Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-5pm
For 10 more free and quirky things to do in London check out the part 2.