10 free things to do in London

british museum While London, United Kingdom, is often thought to be one of the more expensive cities to travel to, it doesn’t have to be. If you plan ahead and add some quality, budget-friendly options to your itinerary, you can actually spend a vacation in London without going bankrupt. To help, here is a list of ten free things to do in London.

Visit a museum

Unlike many other cities, there are many top museums in London that are free to enter. The most popular museum to visit in the country is the British Museum, which was founded in 1753 and was the first national public museum in the world. It is a good idea to visit this museum not only because it will save you money, but also because it will give you comprehensive insight into the history and culture of the region you are visiting. Other noteworthy London museums that offer free entry include:

  • Imperial War Museum – See antique guns, tanks, artillery, and aircraft and trace the history of armed conflict, especially that which pertained to Britain and the Commonwealth.
  • Wellcome Collection– This museum is very unique, and sometimes even a bit disturbing, but is a must-see for those with a curious mind. The exhibits explore the connection between medicine, life, and art in the past, present, and future. Some interesting things you will see include Napoleon’s toothbrush, used guillotine blades, and naturally preserved mummies.
  • V&A Museum of Childhood– For something fun and whimsical, visit this museum and peruse an extensive collection of toys, games, costumes, and exhibits that explore the world of design through childhood.

Take in some art and creativity

As with museums, London also features numerous top-quality art galleries that are free to enter. One of my favorites is the Tate Modern, which features five floors of modern art including abstractions, pop art, cubism, minimalism, and expressionism. If you want to see paintings from the early Renaissance to the Post-Impression periods, the National Gallery features over 2,000 works. And, for the photographers out there (or those who simply like to look at pictures), the Photographers’ Gallery, which opened in 1971 as the first independent gallery in Britain devoted to photography, houses displays of themed photo galleries.

Laugh until you cry at a comedy club

For almost every night of the week you are in London there is a venue that can deliver free laughs. Here is a guide to a week of knee-slapping comedy:

  • Monday- Archangel features new material from established comics as well as up-and-coming comedians working on their first five or ten minutes of jokes.
  • Tuesday- The Source Below features Brooklyn-native Lewis Schaffer every Tuesday (and sometimes more) as he continuously adds new jokes to his already sharp act.
  • Wednesday- Comedy Cafe is one of the best comedy clubs in London and is where many big names in comedy first got started.
  • Thursday and Saturday- Camden Head is a pub, comedy, and music venue that brings in a mix of top-headliners, up-and-coming comedians, and first timers.
  • Sunday- Queen’s Head is a traditional English pub that features a mix of big name and beginner talent in an intimate and friendly setting.

green park london Stroll through beautiful parks

London is home to some of the most beautiful parks in the world. Regent’s Park offers the Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens while Hyde Park is home to the Diana Fountain, a memorial to the Princess of Wales. Green Park is literally right next to Buckingham Palace and has the beautiful Canada Gate while St. James’s Park is the oldest park in London and is surrounded by three palaces. No matter what park you choose, you are sure to be surrounded by beauty on a budget.

Listen to some live music

From Monday-Saturday at 5:45PM and Saturday-Sunday at 1PM you can head over to the National Theatre on the South Bank for free performances of music styles from around the world. Furthermore, on Saturday afternoons at the Notting Hill Arts Club there are free live music concerts hosted from 4PM-8PM. If you’re into a more bar/club type vibe, The Old Blue Last often holds free shows. This is considered by many to be one of the best venues in London and artists like Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Florence and the Machine, and Mumford and Sons have all played here.

Peruse the street markets

While it costs money to make purchases at a market, it doesn’t cost anything to browse. Budget-travelers will especially love Borough Market, an enormous open-air food market that has everything you could possible crave: breads, soups, sandwiches, meats, cheeses, spreads, sauces, cookies, candy, granola, pate, polenta, and more. The best part of all is almost every stall gives out free samples, so you can literally have a free lunch. There is also the famous Portobello Road Market that features an expansive collection of antiques, and the Old Spitalfields Market which sells everything from arts and crafts to clothing to antiques. If you’re looking for a more funkier market in an alternative setting, head over the numerous Camden Markets in Camden Town.

See the changing of the guard

No trip to London is complete without visiting Buckingham Palace and seeing the changing of the guard. This is when a new guard replaces an old guard, kind of like switching shifts, but is a lot more complicated and involves a formal ceremony that must be performed. Click here for a schedule of dates and times.

covent garden Take in a street performance

When in London, there are a few places you can go to see the talented street performers of the area. In the West Piazza of the Covent Garden Market, right outside St. Paul’s Church, you can see acts that are just as good as if you went to the theater. In fact, the street performers actually have to audition before performing, and there have been some really well-known acts, such as “Beautiful Stu” Goldsmith, the Scottish National Busking Champion, the world-renowned comedic stuntman Sean Bridges, and Cirque du Soleil-style performer, Courtney Orange (pictured right). If you’re more in the mood to see a debate or live discussion, head over to Speakers’ Corner in the north-east corner of Hyde Park, which mostly takes place on Sundays.

Learn something at the London Public Library

The London Public Library not only offers a wealth of knowledge through their myriad books and publications, but also through workshops and classes. Learn how to research your family tree, practice Tai Chi, work on mixed media art, relax with Yoga, and even play the Ukulele. Click here for a complete schedule.

Take a SANDEMAN’s NEW Europe Walking Tour

SANDEMAN’s NEW Europe Walking Tours are a favorite within the backpacking circuit and can give you a quality tour for a budget-friendly (free) price. I have personally been on a few of their tours throughout different cities in Europe and can vouch that they are exceptionally run. Most, if not all, of the guides have college degrees and have studied and trained to be knowledgeable in what they are talking about. You will get to see major and less-known sites and learn all about the history and culture of the region. All of the guides I have had have also been extremely funny and entertaining.

Gadlinks for Monday 8.24.09


One of summer´s last weekends has come and gone. Enjoy the warm sun while it lasts! … and take some time to enjoy these travel tales as well.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.

Berlin celebrates 20 years of wall’s collapse

The Berlin Wall was pulled down 20 years ago, giving birth to a new industry: selling pieces of the Berlin Wall. Remember that? Well, all the pieces were probably bought long ago (well, except the “real” one that you picked up last week, of course), but there is still plenty you can do to celebrate. The list of cultural events is long and impressive, like the German translation of a short word in English. So, take a look at what Berlin has to offer.

Long Night of Museums lets you visit 100 museums will be open from 6 PM Saturday until 2 AM on Sunday every weekend from January 31 to August 29.

Take in the 59th Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) from February 5 to February 15; more than 400 films will be screened, many of them European premieres.

At the Festival Days at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Wagner’s Lohengrin opera will be staged, and other classical music performances will be available from April 4 to April 12.

Enjoy even more of the cultural stuff at the Extended Opera and Theatre Night on April 25. Half-hour events are available from 7 PM to 10 AM on 60 stages, and buses take visitors from theater to theater.

Other events include:

  • Berlin’s Lesbian and Gay Street Festival, June 20-21, and Christopher Street Day, June 27
  • Fete de la Musique, June 21, free concerts on over 50 open-air stages throughout Berlin
  • Jewish Cultural Days, Aug 29-Sep 6
  • Classic Open Air Berlin, July 2-6; opera, classical music
  • Berlin International Beer Festival, Aug 7-9, when Karl-Marx-Allee turns into the world’s longest beer garden and bar, with 190 breweries offering beer along a mile-long stretch
  • Real Berlin Marathon, Sep 19-20, a 42-km run
  • Festival of Lights, Oct 13-25; fireworks, light shows
  • JazzFest Berlin, Nov 5-8, with big bands and international jazz stars

Noticeably absent from the agenda: David Hasselhoff.
[Via Toronto Sun]

Bolshoi in Russia: Find me in da club (if I can get past the bouncers)

Greetings from Moscow! Bolshoi in Russia is my variation on Big in Japan. (Bolshoi means “Big” in Russian. Get it?) Stay tuned for my live dispatches from Russia this week.

I don’t think you can ever be ready for clubbing in Moscow. I certainly wasn’t. Granted, I am not really the clubbing type. I arrived in Russia last night and was told that we have VIP tickets to Opera, one of Moscow’s hottest clubs. What can you say to that? I overdosed on caffeine and I went. For research purposes only, of course.

Upon arrival, I have five immediate observations:

  • The DJ is great.
  • The women (especially the dancers) are hot beyond belief (and this is coming from a woman)
  • The guys are not hot (once again, this is coming from a woman but one not necessarily into the whole Armani Exchange and Diesel uniform look)
  • It is virtually impossible to tell “regular girls” apart from those with a pricetag on them
  • I don’t think there are any regular girls here

I realize I am completely improperly dressed because neither my cleavage nor my legs nor my belly is exposed. Then again, I am not here to find a husband like the majority of the local beauties. My friend is telling me that being a male expat in Moscow is great because Russian women are “all over you.” It is also bad because they are only all over you because you have money and a foreign passport, both of which they’d like to obtain.

He tells me this is how all club conversation between a Russian woman and a foreign man go:

  1. Where are you from? (Hopefully from anywhere in the West)
  2. What kind of job do you have? (Anything with the keywords: manager, president, etc. sounds good)
  3. Do you have a driver? (Anyone who is anyone in Moscow has a driver. If you don’t, you are out.)

If your answers are positive, congratulations! You might have a wife on your hands. A trophy wife, too! At that point, you can only hope that nobody else comes along who a) comes from a more desirable country, b) has a better job, c) has a better car (and a better driver). Relationships in modern Russia are Darwinism at its purist free-market form.

I have seen my share of meat markets in my lifetime, but none that take the trade to perfection quite like a Moscow club.

There is way too much visual stimulation in this club: several dancers, few of them practically nude, theatrical performances, disco balls, all that. I need a drink. $12 for a can of Red Bull plus $10 for a shot of vodka. Not a cheap way to get “into the right mood.” However, comparing to getting a table for the night–from anywhere between $2,000-$12,000, gulp–it seems like a bargain. The VIP tickets were great to get in here, but they don’t give you much more than that.

I shouldn’t complain. Getting into a Moscow club is not the easiest thing to do. There are lines of people dressed to the nines every night hoping to be admitted in. The bouncers are trained to perform “face control” (or feis kontrol as they say here) and examine your shoes, face and clothes to see if you are good enough to get in. Opera has a face control rating of 4 (out of 5), aka Tough. Wearing jeans and shoes costing less than $100 is not helping you here, so don’t even try it. Sneakers? Forget it. Unless, of course, you had a Bentley drive you to the club and you are willing to buy a table. That’s a different story.

You might also be saved if you simply speak English to the bouncers because they will assume you’ll be able to afford the drinks (and that you are not just one of “those people” who come here just to stare at the superhot dancers.) Let them assume away!

Theater: Dress Up (or Not)

I have had this conversation with numerous travelers (typically backpackers) in Europe: they want to go to the theater, opera, classical music concert but have no dressy clothes. The theater usually says that it encourages people to dress up but it is not enforced. Yet, all the locals dress up. Should they still go in jeans?

Most of them do. They justify it by saying that the real experience of Aida at the Opera in Vienna should not be dilluted by people wearing jeans (and taking pictures inside the Opera house – like the Stanford U students in the picture) and on the contrary, it shouldn’t be enhanced by wearing a gown.

So why do locals usually dress up? Are they just shallow and think that cultural experience will come with nice clothes?

Over the years, I have adopted the “when in Rome, do as Romans do” point of view when it comes to theater-going. Dress the way the locals dress, even though it might be inconvenient and mean buying an outfit. It doesn’t have to be a gown, but at least a skirt and a shirt (long pants and long-sleeve, collared shirt for men). If you can’t afford it, it might be a good idea to go to see a small, independent show instead. Consider that those locals may have saved up a lot of money to see a show in a majestic theater building and expect it would be special. By wearing jeans and “not caring”, you may just be ruining it for them. You might be able to enjoy the show regardless of the clothes you wear, but they might not.

In most European theaters, you will notice that the people dressed up are the locals and the people in jeans are the tourists. Many shows featuring a high concentration of jeans are thus called “tourist shows.” And that is certainly not a compliment.

Then again, who knows, “dressing up for culture” might be a thing of the past…