If you’re visiting London with a teenager, there’s a huge range of fun, interesting and quirky things to see and do in the city for free. From world-class museums to unique festivals to outdoor activities, there really is something for everyone to enjoy in London – without paying a penny. There are also some hotels which offer free places for teenagers to stay (with their families) – go to the end of this post to see details of these.
Here’s my list of the top free things for teenagers to do in London. Everything included here is free to visit, see or do, and I’ve tried to include information about any extra charges involved.
Theatre & music
London has a rich variety of live music and theatre venues to choose from, and it’s also possible to see performances free of charge, if you know where to look.
London is a great place to see street performers of every kind, from singers and musicians to dancers and acrobats. Some of the best spots to find performances are the South Bank, Covent Garden Piazza, Trafalgar Square and in dedicated places at London Underground stations. If you enjoy a performance, do support the artist by giving them some money if you can!
The National Theatre has a free Entry Pass membership scheme for 16-25 year-olds. The scheme gives access to £7.50 tickets, as well as exclusive workshops and events at the theatre.
The Passion of Jesus
On Good Friday each year an open-air, full-scale performance of Jesus’ final days takes place in Trafalgar Square. The Passion of Jesus is open to people of all faiths and none and usually features more than 100 actors and animals.
Kids Week: free for under-17s:
Kids Week (which should really be called Kids Month) runs each year for the whole of August and is when kids can go free to a host of top West End shows.. Each adult paying full price can take with them one child age 16 or under for free, and two extra children for half price, and there are no booking, postage or transaction fees. Tickets for Kids Week are usually on sale from June.
West End Live
This annual event gives you the chance to see performances from top West End musicals for free in Trafalgar Square. West End Live takes place in June and showcases musicals such as Les Miserables, Kinky Boots, Wicked and The Lion King.
The Proms is London’s annual eight-week orchestral music event, and it’s the biggest classical music event in the world. Starting in July, there are concerts, talks, workshops and more, culminating with the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall which is in September. Tickets are half-price for all under-18s and some events are free.
Carols at Trafalgar Square
There are groups of carol singers performing at Trafalgar Square each afternoon in the days before Christmas (but dates vary each year). The singers perform next to the square’s giant Christmas tree. Donations are appreciated as the singers are usually raising money for charity.
Queen Elizabeth II’s official London residence is Buckingham Palace, and there are ceremonial events around the palace and elsewhere in the capital throughout the year.
Buckingham Palace: Changing of the guard
The formal Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace takes place every day during the summer and every other day for the rest of the year. The ceremony is accompanied by music and starts in front of the palace at 10.45am with the handover from the old guard to the new guard happening at 11am.
The Queen’s Birthday Gun Salutes
The Queen’s birthday is on 21st April, and the occasion is marked in central London by Royal Gun Salutes and galloping horses towing cannons. At midday there’s a 41-gun salute in Hyde Park and at 1pm there’s a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London. It’s quite a spectacle, and is a separate event from the Queen’s official birthday, which is in June.
Trooping the Colour
Trooping the Colour is a military parade to celebrate The Queen’s official birthday. The event is open to the public to watch and it is always on a Saturday in June. The ceremony takes place on Horseguards Parade in Whitehall and there’s an RAF fly-past at 1pm, watched by The Queen and members of the Royal Family from the famous Buckingham Palace balcony.
London is home to a variety of iconic locations, many of which you can see for free.
You can watch 19th-century landmark Tower Bridge open from the banks of the River Thames. The bridge opens to let boats through approximately 1,000 times a year or three times a day. To find out when the bridge is scheduled to lift you can check the Bridge Lift Times page of the Tower Bridge website.
How about visiting some film locations while you’re in London? There are many well-known film locations which you can visit for free in the city, such as Kings Cross Station, which was used for some of the Harry Potter films, the National Gallery, where James Bond meets Q in Skyfall, and Tower Bridge, which appears in Mission: Impossible, Tomb Raider and many other films. Check out my London film location posts:
17 places to find the world of Harry Potter in London
Where to find Mary Poppins film locations in London
Visiting London film locations: Paddington
Festivals & traditions
There are free festivals and events taking place every month in the capital.
New Year’s Day Parade
Each year on January 1st thousands of performers take part in a spectacular parade through the streets of London’s West End. The parade includes groups of traditional Pearly Kings and Queens, classic cars, marching bands and cheerleaders. The parade sets off from Piccadilly at midday.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year celebrations in London are the biggest outside of Asia. The London events to mark the occasion (which falls on a different date in January or February each year) take place in Chinatown, Trafalgar Square and across the West End. The celebrations begin with a lion dance parade which sets off from Trafalgar Square. If you’re going along, be sure to wear something red, to bring you luck in the New Year (according to Chinese tradition).
Pancake Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, falls on a different day each year. Shrove Tuesday is the feast day before the start of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter), and was traditionally the day when people used up the foods (eggs, butter and milk) which they wouldn’t be eating during Lent. In London Shrove Tuesday is celebrated by eating piles of pancakes, and also by having charity pancake races (a race where the competitors run while tossing a pancake in a frying pan). There are various pancake races in London, and there’s usually one at the Houses of Parliament.
London St Patrick’s Festival
The London St. Patrick’s Festival takes place over a weekend in March. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and more than a quarter of a million people come together in the capital for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which goes from Piccadilly to Whitehall. On the day of the parade, there’s free entertainment in Trafalgar Square from midday, with Irish music and dance and an Irish food market. There are also talks, walking tours, music, poetry and film screenings during the three-day festival.
St. George’s Day
St. George is the patron Saint of England, and the Feast of St George is celebrated each year in April in Trafalgar Square with live music, English food stalls, family games, dance and storytelling.
Canalway Cavalcade is an annual waterway festival in Little Venice in early May. The festival features an array of boats as well as live music, Morris dancing, competitions, food stalls, family-friendly activities and a real ale bar. The cavalcade includes an evening procession of illuminated boats.
Open House Families
Open House Families is an annual festival of architecture for families and young people. The festival offers a weekend programme of fun, free architectural activities across the city. During the festival, architecturally inspiring buildings, places and spaces host a variety of tours, workshops, trails and competitions. The festival is open to everyone.
Greenwich + Docklands International Festival
The Greenwich + Docklands International Festival is an annual celebration of outdoor performing arts (theatre, dance and street arts). The festival takes place in and around Greenwich, and events include street theatre, dance, workshops and games.
Everyone’s welcome to celebrate the end of Eid and learn about Islamic culture at this annual festival in Trafalgar Square. Eid marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. The festival features food from around the world, live music, and family activities such as face-painting, calligraphy and storytelling.
The annual Pride in London Festival is a month-long celebration of London’s LGBT+ community and includes events across the city. The summer festival has a different theme each year, and culminates on a Saturday with the colourful Pride Parade through the West End from midday and live music in Trafalgar Square.
Notting Hill Carnival
The annual Notting Hill Carnival is Europe’s biggest street party and Caribbean festival. There’s great music, floats, costumes and hundreds of Caribbean food stalls. The carnival takes place in late August, and includes a family day.
Pearly Kings & Queens Harvest Festival
The London Pearly Kings & Queens come together for this annual charity fundraising Harvest Festival event at Guildhall Yard in September. The Pearly Kings & Queens wear elaborate outfits patterned with hundreds of bright pearl buttons. There’s traditional entertainment such as morris dancing and maypole dancing, and a parade through the streets to a service at St Mary Le Bow Church. Harvest Festival donations are welcome.
Open House London
This is your chance to see inside some of the most iconic buildings and architecturally unique spaces in the capital. Open House London is an annual event where a range of buildings around the capital, which aren’t usually accessible to the public, open their doors for free. Buildings such as the Leadenhall Building (the Cheesegrater) and Paddington Central take part in this event.
Japan Matsuri is London’s annual festival of Japanese culture, and it takes place in September at Trafalgar Square. There’s Japanese food, performances, karaoke, origami and more.
Bloomsbury is an attractive area in central London, and the Bloomsbury Festival is a five-day celebration of its creativity. The festival takes place in October, and offers a programme of arts, science, literature, performance, discussion and reflection, including some free events.
Diwali is celebrated around the world by Sikh, Hindu, and Jain communities, and is also known as the Festival of Lights. There’s an annual Diwali celebration in Trafalgar Square which attracts thousands of people. The programme includes live music, dance performances and food stalls. Diwali coincides with the new moon (the darkest night of the month) in October or November, so its date changes each year.
Regent Street Motor Show
The UK’s largest free motor show comes to London’s West End in November. With displays of hundreds of vintage and futuristic motor vehicles, live music and dance performances and motorbike stunt shows, the Regent Street Motor Show is a great annual event.
Bonfire Night, which is also known as Fireworks Night and Guy Fawkes Night, takes place each year on 5th November, which is the anniversary of the foiling of Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up London’s Houses of Parliament in 1605. On and around this date, there are firework displays all over the city (as well as all over the country) from Blackheath to Brent to Alexandra Palace, and many of them are free of charge.
Lord Mayor’s Show
In 1215 King John allowed Londoners to elect a mayor. Every year since, the Lord Mayor of London travels from the City of London to Westminster to pledge their loyalty to the King or Queen. This has evolved into the Lord Mayor’s Show, a vibrant winter procession across London which features the Lord Mayor’s splendid coach, marching bands, dancing and live performances and which attracts around half a million people annually. Today the role of Lord Mayor of London is ceremonial, and is separate from the Mayor of London, which is an elected post.
Each year on November 11th there are events across the city to remember those who lost their lives in both world wars and in combat since. This day is also known as Armistice Day, when World War I ended on 11th November 1918. At 11am on that date every year many people observe a two-minute silence of remembrance, including in Trafalgar Square at a special Silence in the Square event. Remembrance Sunday is on the nearest Sunday to Remembrance Day, and is when church services, parades and events take place, including at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which is attended by the Queen.
Each December there are beautiful Christmas light displays across London. Big light switch-on events take place from early- to mid-November and usually include free entertainment. Some of the best are on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Covent Garden and Carnaby Street. There are always some excellent Christmas shop window displays to enjoy along these streets too.
Museums & art
The UK’s national museums offer free entry for everybody, although visitors are encouraged to make a donation, and there is sometimes a charge to see special exhibitions within the museums. London has dozens of free museums and art galleries.
You can discover some of the world’s most important and beautiful books, manuscripts and sound recordings at the permanent exhibition at the British Library, the UK’s national copyright library. The library’s treasures include the Magna Carta, Gutenberg’s bible and the original handwritten copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The British Museum was the world’s first national public museum. Its outstanding collection of objects from around the world spans two million years of human history and interconnected cultures. Its collection of ancient artefacts includes the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures and an archive of prints dating back to 1400.
Horniman Museum and Gardens
Victorian philanthropist Frederick John Horniman founded this museum when he opened his house and collection of extraordinary objects to visitors. Today at the Horniman Museum and Gardens you can see an eclectic collection of musical instruments, anthropology and natural history, including a butterfly house and a gigantic walrus. The 16-acre gardens are also free to explore.
Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum tells the story of modern war from the perspectives of both combatants and civilians. Interactive displays help you to learn about conflicts from the First World War to the present day.
Museum of London
You can learn about the history of the city from prehistoric times to the present day at the Museum of London. The interactive displays show how London has evolved from before the city was even built, through Roman times, the Middle Ages and the Victorian era, up to the present day.
National Army Museum
The National Army Museum tells the story of the British Army and its impact on society. It has five permanent galleries which are organised thematically to show what it feels like to be a soldier, what the army’s for and how its role has changed over time. The museum uses personal and inspiring stories to show the importance of national defence and security.
The National Gallery has more than 2,000 paintings from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The collection includes works by artists such as Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Caravaggio and Botticelli.
Natural History Museum
With more than 80 million specimens spanning billions of years, London’s Natural History Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of natural history. The Victorian building is beautifully decorated throughout with carvings, ornaments and statues of animals and plants. From dinosaur skeletons to furry frogs, from a meteorite to an earthquake simulator, there are amazing exhibits to see wherever you are in this museum.
National Maritime Museum
Set in Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the National Maritime Museum tells the story of Britain’s naval history. There are ancient maps and ship models to explore, and you can see the uniform which Admiral Nelson wore on the day of the Battle of Trafalgar. Each February the National Maritime Museum celebrates LGBT history month.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is home to the world’s largest collection of portraits. The museum’s aim is to promote an ‘understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture’ and also to promote ‘the appreciation and understanding of portraiture’. It has portraits of everyone from William Shakespeare to Ed Sheeran, the Bronte sisters to Darcy Bussell.
The Science Museum’s interactive displays showcase the wonders of science and technology. The museum’s collection encompasses more than 15,000 objects, including exhibits such as Amy Johnson’s Gipsy Moth plane, the Apollo 10 command module (which has been around the moon) and the first ever jet engine.
Sculpture in the City
Sculpture in the City is an annual event which features contemporary art works on display in public spaces in the City of London’s insurance district. The free open-air summer event includes different works each year, by artists such as Sarah Lucas, Amanda Lwin and Tracey Emin.
Situated a few minutes’ walk from each other in Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine Galleries are two separate exhibition spaces: the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Both spaces are dedicated to displaying modern and contemporary art. Each summer, a new Serpentine Pavilion appears in the Serpentine Gallery garden, showcasing the talent of a specific artist or architect.
Tate Britain showcases the best of British art from 1500 to today. The works are exhibited chronologically, and include the world’s largest JMW Turner collection, as well as paintings by Gainsborough, Whistler and Francis Bacon.
Housed in a former power station on the South Bank, Tate Modern is London’s centre for modern and contemporary art. Visitors can enjoy world-class paintings, photographs and performance art, and take part in free workshops. There’s a panoramic view of the River Thames from the upstairs cafe terrace.
Frieze Sculpture Park
Frieze Sculpture Park is a free outdoor sculpture display which comes to The Regent’s Park each summer. The display features new and significant works by leading 20th-century and contemporary artists from around the world.
The beautiful Victoria and Albert Museum is home to one of the world’s greatest art and design collections. Highlights of the museum’s 2.75 million objects include Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, The Three Graces sculpture and a coronet designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria. One of the rooms in the cafe was designed by William Morris, and the museum’s attractive central courtyard features a large, shallow pool where you can paddle.
Parks and gardens
There are public parks and open spaces across the capital, and each of them is unique. Here are some which are particularly interesting.
Hyde Park: Speaker’s Corner
If you’re in London on a Sunday, head to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park to hear orators share their opinions with the world. Speaker’s Corner has been the site of public debate and demonstrations since the mid 1800s, and people such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell used the area to demonstrate free speech. Today anyone can turn up to speak on any subject, as long as what they say is lawful.
Stretching across 2,500 acres, Richmond Park is the largest Royal Park in the city. 650 wild deer live in the park’s hills and woodlands – if you spot any deer, the advice is to keep at least 50 metres away from them. There’s a car-free 7-mile trail around the edge of the park, so it’s a great place for cycling.
The Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden. The landscaped gardens are in three storeys at the top of the building known as the Walkie Talkie. There’s an open air terrace and there are observation decks to enjoy 360-degree views across the city. There’s also a restaurant, a brasserie and a bar. You need to book online in advance to visit the Sky Garden, as space is strictly limited.
Sport and exercise
If you want to get active in London, there are many ways to do so without paying a fortune.
House of Vans: skate park
The House of Vans is London’s only permanent indoor skate park. Built in to the tunnels beneath Waterloo Station, the park welcomes skate enthusiasts of all levels. The House of Vans also has an art gallery, and is a live music venue
RideLondon is an annual traffic-free cycling event through the city centre. Tens of thousands of riders take part each summer, cycling past landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral. Riders of any age or ability can take part.
Geocaching is a fun way to explore new places. It’s a kind of high-tech treasure hunt that anyone can join in with, looking for hidden containers (‘geocaches’) whose location has been shared online. To take part, you need a GPS enabled phone or a handheld GPS device.
Walking tours: guided
There are many guided walking tours of London on offer where there is no charge to take part, but at the end you can pay the guide whatever you can afford and think the tour is worth. Strawberry Tours offer a Harry Potter walking tour and a Street art and graffiti walking tour.
Walking tours: self-guided
If you’d like to go on a self-guided walking tour you can either plan your own or follow someone else’s. Free Tours By Foot have this very helpful compilation post of self-guided London walks, divided into categories: Self-Guided London Tours.
Our Parks: exercise classes
Our Parks brings free group exercise classes, led by experienced, fully qualified and insured instructors, to London parks. Classes are for all ability levels and ages, and last for an hour. Under 16s can attend with an adult.
The following section includes some affiliate links – this means that if you click through and make a booking I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you.
Where to stay
If you need a place to stay in London, at the time of writing, these hotels offer some free places for teenagers who are sharing a room with an adult:
Apex Hotels – under-17s stay free when sharing a family room.
Crowne Plaza – under-18s stay free when sharing a family room.
Holiday Inn – up to two under-18s stay free if sharing a room with up to two adults. (Check out my review of the Holiday Inn Camden Lock from when I stayed there).
Novotel – under-16s stay free and have a complimentary buffet breakfast if sharing a family room with an adult.
Premier Inn – free breakfast for under-16s.
More on London
Each month I publish a new round-up of top things to do in London, featuring quirky and interesting things to see and do – you can find the latest version here.
If you’d like to subscribe to my blog (by entering your email address in the box on the right, where it says ‘YOU’D LIKE MY POSTS BY EMAIL?’), new posts will be emailed to you automatically. (By the way, I do not share subscriber details with anybody, ever).
If you’re planning on visiting any London attractions which you have to buy a ticket for, check out The London Pass. It’s a moneysaving sightseeing pass which includes a hop-on hop-off bus tour, and free entry to more than 80 attractions, tours and museums, such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and The View from The Shard. The pass also gives you fast-track entry at some of the most popular attractions, which means that you don’t have to waste time queueing.
If you’d like a London guidebook, I recommend both the Lonely Planet London Travel Guide and the London Marco Polo Travel Guide.
Over to you
If you have any comments or queries on this post, or any suggestions of free things to see and do in London, do please let me know in the comments section below.
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