There are many things that you just have to do when you visit London, but most of these ending up costing you a fair amount of money by the end of your stay. What's more, London is expecting a huge influx of visitors this year because of the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics, so those usual tourist hot spots are going to be steaming hot and unpleasant.
Why not try some great things to do in London for free; more interesting than shopping on Oxford Street, and you'll see more than you would on the London Eye.
Go on a Blue Plaque Hunt
No matter where you go in London you are likely to see a blue plaque pretty frequently as you go along your merry way. These are erected by the English Heritage and indicate places where famous people of the past lived or did their work. Some of them you won't have heard of (famous scientists and so on), but of course others will jump right out at you. And it's not just people of long ago who are recognized either as Jimi Hendrix has a plaque outside 23 Brook Street in Mayfair.
If you start your hunt at 48 Doughty Street in London's west end then you'll be treated to a vision of Charles Dickens house, continue in whichever direction you choose and you are sure to find something of interest. It can actually be much more rewarding to uncover one you've never heard of and learn a little bit of history as you go.
Of course you can take the random element out of the hunt and use English Heritage's searchable database if there's a person you are particularly interested in.
Don't Miss the British Museum
Surrounded by controversy at various points in recent history, the British Museum is nonetheless well worth a look around just because of its diversity. This encapsulates the British Empire at its most mighty and is a fascinating place to behold from both outside and inside. If you are traveling with kids then you can't miss the Egyptian rooms that actually have real mummies and sarcophagi along with scans of what is inside them - spooky!
Like a lot of the busier museums in London the British Museum does not charge an entrance fee as it wants to be accessible to all, but does request a donation. You are under no pressure and there are various donation boxes throughout the huge building.
The museum often has special exhibitions on that require a fee but are beyond excellent if there's something you are interested in. I did an Agatha Christie one and it was amazing. If you are visiting between July and end of November 2012 there is a Shakespeare exhibition on - well you don't get much more British than that.
Have a Laugh or Some Free Culture at the BBC
This free activity takes a bit more planning than some of the others, but if you visit the BBC's Shows and Tours page you can sign up for being an audience member in some of their TV and radio shows. It is well worthwhile signing up for the newsletter so you can stay informed of new events that get added - there is often a small window of opportunity for hot shows, or there can be a lottery for the huge shows like Strictly Come Dancing.
Don't dismiss the radio shows either. The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra can often feature meaning you get some top class classical music for absolutely zilch.
Visit Baker Street and Make Like a Detective
One of my most favorite places in London is Baker Street because it really has it all. Even if you aren't a fan of Sherlock Holmes then the area is so quintessentially London you'll still be happy. The buildings are old, the roads busy with black cabs and red buses, and the tube station itself is even interesting.
In fact I would whole heartedly recommend travelling to Baker Street using the London Underground just because you are greeted with Sherlock images from the moment you arrive. Some of the tiles on the walls are pretty old silhouettes of Sherlock, whereas newer installations have a whole load of tiles making up the Sherlock image. It is then just a short walk around the corner and across the road to 221B Baker Street.
Of course, there never really was such an address, and the site where it would have been is now a defunct building society house. Interestingly, the Sherlock Holmes museum is somewhere down the road from this address and for years there was quite a dispute between the museum and the building society about the ownership of the address and who should have the blue plaque. The museum seems to have won this battle as the building society is no longer in existence even though for years they employed someone full time to respond to all the mail that Sherlock would get!
All this aside, the building that we now think of as 221B is a great little museum, and although not free is well worth a visit. If you choose not to, then you can simply admire the house from outside complete with a policeman guarding the door (OK so it's just a man in old fashioned costume but as we are talking about fictional character let's go with it). You can also choose to head straight down to the basement and into the Sherlock Holmes shop, which in itself is worth a look around with staff dressed in appropriate Victorian attire.
Free Entertainment at Covent Garden
If you aren't one for planning things as far in advance as you need to for free BBC show tickets, then do not despair as there is always some free entertainment and bags of atmosphere on offer at Covent Garden. OK, so the entertainment here is very different. I've seen string quartets, soprano singers and jugglers in the Covent Garden square all in the same day.
Covent Garden is a great place to visit all on its own anyway; they have a great market as well as some really different stores. The atmosphere is always buzzing and very family friendly. There are restaurants and bars around for great people watching, and the West End theatres aren't too far away either.
Authentic and Alternative Camden Market and Lock
Camden is one of those places that seems to have always been cool. It's a really great place to visit when you've had enough of the rest of London and just want to do something different.
The Market is amazing, as are the shops in Camden as they feature really different stuff that you can't get anywhere else. Great for fashion and vintage style, as well as unique pieces by local folk.
It's a really arty place, but on a very real level - it's not a place for luvvies. The Lock area is also worth taking in while you are there. Oh yes, there are no shortage of pubs in the area too!
Catch Some Free Entertainment at the Theatre Royal Stratford
Also Home of the 2012 Olympics
Stratford is in the East End of London and is home to the London Olympics. A lot of money has been invested in this area which has such a great history and is now a really great place to visit for many reasons.
The Theatre Royal Stratford is a gorgeous building from the 1800s that puts on regular performances that are well worth catching if you want to avoid the usual West End stuff. They also have a bar that on select nights has free entertainment, as well as holding free comedy nights.
While you are there you can take a look around Stratford village and admire the latest creation by Anish Kapoor called the Orbit Tower which is a specially commissioned structure of modern art especially for the Olympics. It cost something like 19 million GB pounds to construct and you can pay to go up it, but even the artist thinks the price is too much so I would recommend just enjoying it from the ground up.
You can find out more about the Orbit Tower and modern Stratford in the YouTube clip below.
3 Museums for the Price of 1 - Free
Within a relatively small area in London you'll find three of the best museums that can keep you busy for days - especially great when it's raining which it can do on occasion in London!
I say relatively small as the museums themselves are huge, but they are all pretty much next to each other, albeit round a corner, or over the road. The museums I'm talking about are the Natural History Museum (home to the dinosaurs), the Science Museum (see Stephenson's Rocket) and the Victoria and Albert Museum. So whatever your interests are one, if not all, of these will keep you satisfied.
If you are with kids I highly recommend checking out what activities the Science museum has to do - when we last went it was a space passport and you had to spot letters around the museum to get a special stamp in your passport. Make sure to check in at the reception in the Natural History Museum too for explorer packs. These are backpacks filled with clues, binoculars, an explorer's hat, paper, pencils etc. You hire it out (for free) and then hand back in when you are done. The clues are physical so you get maybe 3 pots - one with a replica tooth, another with a piece of fur, another with a claw in for example and you have to find the animal. There are different themed packs for different areas of the museum. DO NOT mention this to the kids until you get your hands on a pack though as they are very popular and there are only so many to go around.
All these are free, but for special exhibitions there is a charge and they also feature free seating areas if you take a packed lunch, so you don't even have to factor in the cost of a meal.
Indulge in People Watching at Hyde Park
OK, so most places in London are great for people watching, but the parks are particularly great as these are also the places where London residents go, so you aren't just spying on other tourists!
Hyde Park gets my vote, purely because it has the added bonus of Speaker's Corner. This is a tradition that dates back 150 years where anyone can literally get on their soapbox and tell people what they think. You don't need to make an appointment, just jump up and start your oratory. No subject is taboo, hence there are often heckles and heated debates. It is a huge attraction for the more famboyant and interesting characters of the city.
Hyde Park is also just great as a place to chill out, feel a bit of green around you, and do some serious people watching.
As an added bonus it's also close to Marble Arch (which you must see) and Oxford Street.
A Touch of the Macabre - Where Jack the Ripper Did His Ripping
Walking tours in London are really something not to be missed, and I especially feel that is so in the case of Jack the Ripper tours. In fact, while we are on the subject, walking in London is highly underrated. Walking means you get to see so much more of the city (remember those blue plaques) and is often quicker than getting the tube anyway if it's only a short distance. If you find yourself saying 'it's only a few stops on the Tube' then walk it!
OK, back to the business of grizzly murder. I highly recommend an official Jack the Ripper walking tour which is only around nine quid and well worth the money, but of course there are places you can check out yourself that are free.
Check out Gunthorpe Street, Durward Street (then called Bucks Row) and the Old Board School (at the end of Durward Street) as well as Hanbury Street; all places where Jack did his evil deeds. There are of course more places than this, but modern cities being what they are, many of them aren't worth a visit. You should try and end your tour with a visit to the Ten Bells pub - the only pub in the area to have survived from 1888.
So that rounds out our list of the best things to do in London for free. If you have any more suggestions I would love to hear them.