Everyone knows the big attractions and museums in London and because everyone knows about them, they're usually always packed. Though I've written about many of these lesser known attractions in various IgoUgo journals and trips and tips, I thought it might pull some of them all under one "roof", as it were. London is so large and has so many diverse things to see and do that you'll find something to keep your attention no matter what your interests are.
With the recent popularity of the DaVinci Code book, more people have discovered Temple Bar but it's still not that high on the list of attractions. Temple Bar used to be the bastion of of the Knights Templar before they fell out of favour and once they departed, the lawyers moved in. The Temple area is next to the Royal Courts of Justice which is on the Strand and has law offices, residences and colleges for law students. There's a lovely old church in the Inner Temple area and a pretty Fountain courtyard that has had a fountain in that spot for 400 years. It's just near the Courts, there's a monument to the Templars on the main road and you can wander through the little lanes and check out the church. Check out Lincoln's Inn as well, another legal site behind the Courts with lovely old buildings, a chapel and leafy squares. Nearby is Lincoln's Inn Fields and the Sir John Soane museum, a free museum in the house owned by the reknowned architect.
On Sundays, along the Bayswater Road fence of Hyde Park, artists set up their displays and sell their paintings and prints. It's like a free art gallery and you can get some good artwork at very good prices.
Take a walking tour. The company I have used a couple of times is The Original London Walks but there are others as well. Walking tours will take you up alleys and around buildings that might not always be the blockbuster tourist attractions. There are a lot of walks that show you parts of London that tourists don't always see. The guides know so much about the area and the city and they are a fount of interesting information and stories. I took a full day one that took us to Richmond, down the Thames on a boat and in to Hampton Court and we took a normal 1-2 hour one along the SouthBank of the Thames focussing on Shakespeare. Mind you, some of these types of tours have extra costs that they don't tell you about in the brochures, in addition to the 10 pounds for the day-long tour, it also cost extra for the entrance to Hampton Court and for the boat ride and you had to buy a sandwich or something for your lunch. But it was still worth my while and i had a most enjoyable day out. Other extra costs might be things like boat/train/tube fares or entrance fees to sites but you get discounts and get to jump the queues as well.
There are a few major attractions along the Southbank of the Thames including the Millenium Wheel, Tate Modern and the new Globe Theatre but walk from the Wheel to Tower Bridge and you'll find other places to stop and enjoy along the way. Sometimes there is a used book sale set up. There's a little courtyard called Gabriel's Wharf that has some little craft shops and some cafes. The Oxo tower is along here and you can go up to the 9th floor restaurant and out onto the balcony for a great view of the City of London for free. Southwark Cathedral is here and there are some interesting museums too. Vinopolis explores wine, the Museum of Design is near Tower Bridge and there's the Bramah Tea and Coffee museum as well. Don't forget about Borough Market on the weekend. Excellent place to stock up for a gourmet picnic! There are loads of pubs and restaurants, too, some quite old and historic!
Westminster Cathedral is the Catholic cathedral and it's near Victoria train station. Westminster Abbey gets all the press but the cathedral is absolutely beautiful inside and there's a bell tower that has a lift. For a small charge you can go up and have a 360 degree view over London.
Take a canal cruise from Little Venice to Camden (or vice versa). There are several companies that have long narrow boats that will take you on a lovely ride along a quiet canal that runs along the top end of Regent Park for part of the route. The canal was once very busy and industrial. There's a canal museum just east of Camden, too, not far from King's Cross station and some of the companies will stop at the gates of London Zoo. Little Venice is a lovely area to explore, one of the prettier parts of London.
The Geffrye Museum, in the east end of London in Shoreditch, near the City of London. It's an inexpensive museum, free for under-16s but quite interesting. There are various rooms that are decorated to different time periods between the 1600s and present day. It's like walking through time. There is also an old almshouse which is only open on limited dates (see the website) so you need to book ahead for that. There are gardens as well.
There's a clock musuem in the Guildhall in the City of London, and it has free admission. The Wallace museum is large-ish but also free and has an extensive collection of decorative items, arms and armour as well.
The Chelsea Royal Hospital and museum is also a museum that seems to be nearer the bottom of people's lists but definitely worth a go. The chapel is really beautiful and the grounds and gardens are a nice place to wander on a sunny day. Chelsea also has the Physic Garden which is a nice little walled garden and the Army museum, next to the Royal Hospital.
If you really want to go off the beaten track, make the trip to Dulwich and try the picture gallery there. You'll need to take a train to North Dulwich or a bus from the Brixton tube stop. It's one of the oldest galleries in London. The British Library, next to ST. Pancras station, has lots of treasures on display for free including one of the original copies of the Magna Carta and one of the original Gutenberg bibles printed on one of the first printing presses in the 1400s. They also have special exhibits which do have an entrance fee.
I hope this has given you some ideas of things to do in London that don't cost too much and that might not be thronged with people. London has so much to offer and you really are spoiled for choice!