London is expensive, everybody knows it. But as far as a tourist visit goes, the best things in London are free!
What follows is my own tour of important London free of charge sights and attractions. Get sturdy shoes, drink and food, a rainproof and sunglasses and let's get going, starting with a walk that would take in a lot of major sights.
As you proceed, you might see places, attractions and buildings that you want to return to (some will be free, some paid for), make note of those. I will point out some - especially free ones - as we go along.
**Victoria & Westminster**
Depending on when you are staying, take a tube or walk to Victoria. Walk up The Buckingham Palace Road to Buckingham Palace. Have a look at the guards - you might actually catch the ceremony of Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace which takes place roughly every two days at approximately 11:15 am. It's crowded and long, but can be worth the look for the whole absurdity of the whole ornate pageant Check the schedule at
Thus entertained, walk down to have a look at Queen Victoria's monument and enter St James Park. Walk along the lovely ponds in the park, all the way down to the Horse Guards Parade and cross the parade ground towards the Horse Guards building to emerge at the Whitehall. Admire more guards in more fancy hats (you can take photos with those ones, both mounted and pedestrian and walk down a little bit to have a peek at number 10 Downing Street, now sadly barriered off, where the British Prime Minister lives and holds office. Whitehall itself is the street where the heaviness of Imperial government still hangs in the air.
As you get closer to the river, you will get near Westminster. You could spend at least half a day just here, in what is one of the oldest centres of population in London (it used to be a separate settlement form the City of London) and traditionally the heart of its power. The formidable Imperial administration buildings behind you, you are now facing two of perhaps the most iconic buildings in London.
The first is Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation and a burial site for English monarchs and a magnificent Gothic church in itself (as well as place of burial for many other notable personages in British history and culture, from Charles Darwin to Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens to Peggy Ashcroft). You can walk round the building and round the cloisters for free, but the The Abbey itself costs £10 to enter, unless you are attending a service there, itself an interesting experience, and the choir is excellent.
The schedule can be found here: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/worship/services/
The second building is the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster), a magnificent neo-Gothic edifice gracing the Thames bank, with its famous Clock Tower (that's where the Big Ben is located). There are paid-for tours in the summer (when the Commons and Lords don't sit) but when the Parliament is in session, visitors can observe the proceedings from the public gallery for free. Waiting in a public queue is the only way to get access for foreign visitors (outside St Stephen's entrance, up to 2 hours waiting time), while UK residents can get tickets from their MP.
**The South Bank and Tate Modern**
By now you have walked more than 1.5 miles and might be wanting a break, but I would urge you to go a bit further. Cross the river using the Westminster bridge and turn left on the other side. You are now on the South Bank and you can walk along the embankment that affords a fantastic view of the opposite bank with its iconic buildings. Pass The County Hall and walk towards the London Eye. Select a bench for your stop, snack and a drink and then walk on to admire (from the outside) the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world.
As you get to Hungerford Bridge (an old Brunel rail bridge flanked by twin modern suspension footbridges commemorating the Golden Jubilee) you will be passing the large and concrete-looking but surprisingly user friendly South Bank complex, comprising the National Theatre, BFI Southbank (formerly known as the National Film Theatre), Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Hayward and few other spaces and venues. None of the major performances are free, but you can often catch street performers outside or free shows inside the foyers of the major spaces, especially in the lunchtime period. Venture inside, and there is plenty of leaflets and posters available that will tell you what's on.
If you have had enough, you can walk to Waterloo station from here or cross the river to Embankment (tube) & Charing Cross (tube & rail) stations.
Otherwise (or the next day, as you start from this point), potter about this surprisingly restful, traffic free area. Browse through the wares of the second-hand booksellers in front of the BFI (under the shelter afforded by the Waterloo Bridge).