If you’ve never been to London then you just haven’t lived. The sights, sounds, and smells of this immensely popular travel destination are unequalled anywhere else and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything quite like it in the world. It is a full-frontal assault on all your senses and there are loads of things to do – even at night – with an annual program of events and entertainment that is quite literally fit for Royalty.
While the queen and co might be big tourist pulls in these parts, London itself is the real jewel in the crown – but you don’t have to pay royal prices to see it. While it might seem that the capital is exorbitantly expensive (and it is for the most part) there are still options for those on a budget to enjoy what the city has to offer. With that in mind, we’ve put together this guide of free or cheap London night attractions.
A small disclaimer though – we’re focussing more on a variety of activities rather than simply wining, dining, pubbing, and clubbing. Cheap eats and drinks are readily available – but we won’t be covering it here. So, without further ado…
Theatre and Musicals
Without a doubt one of the most popular things to do during the evening, London is the premier city in the world when it comes to musicals. The West End is famous the world over, and even wandering through its streets can be thrilling as the excitement builds prior to the raising of curtains, eager crowds gather as the performers prepare backstage with adrenaline buzzing. The lights on theatre façades dazzle, beckoning you to come and see a show – and there are plenty to choose from that’s for sure!
“But hang on!” We hear you cry! “There’s nothing cheap or free about going to a musical!” Not so, say we. If you’re willing to do a bit of digging around, you’ll find that many shows offer tickets with big discounts, and some are even giving them away. And if you’re really canny, you will be interested to learn all about something called ‘papering’, where freebies are readily available. Also, on just about every street corner you’ll find discount ticket booths where you can get great deals on shows– especially on the same day as the performance. Online tickets can also offer seriously budget briefs too.
The west end theatre district (or “theatreland” as it is commonly known) is located roughly between Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Tottenham Court Road, and Covent Garden. You’re right in the thick of the action here, with over 40 venues to choose from. Musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, and Blood Brothers have been running for decades, but newer productions arrive all the time, like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Needless to say – you’ll be spoilt for choice! Non-musical theatre is also extremely popular, with the chance to see A-list films stars treading the boards. Most shows start at 7.30 pm every evening unless otherwise stated, with Sunday as the no-show day. Always double check the prices though as there might be some touts trying to make a quick buck off tourists.
Often the best way to enjoy a sightseeing tour of any city is to simply put one foot in front of the other and walk around it. One of the best things about this experience is – it’s totally free! While paid walking tours are available, you’ll find many that just ask for a tip or offer a pay-what-you-feel arrangement.
Of course, you can still enjoy the lights of London on your own and see the famous landmarks spectacularly lit up without paying a penny for the privilege. Ask at your accommodation for the best options and decide if you’re happy without a guide.
Free Comedy Clubs
If musicals or theatre isn’t your thing, why not try one of London’s many comedy clubs for an alternative night out? The UK and Ireland have produced among the best comedians in the world – and almost all of them will have cut their teeth on the London comedy circuit. This means you’ve got a real chance of catching the next big thing at one of the city’s many free comedy evenings. Angel Comedy is arguably the most famous and popular, but there many more cheap or free events to be discovered, so keep your eyes peeled.
Cheap or Free Concerts and Gigs
For all those music lovers out there, London is the capital of cool when it comes to free concerts and gigs. While seeing global acts in stadiums will set you back a small fortune, the city’s abundance of music venues means you’re never too far from live sounds that won’t cost the earth.
There are loads of cheap or free music options out there, catering for all tastes, but if you don’t feel like visiting a club or bar – just walk the streets. Buskers in London are up there with the world’s best and you could discover a hidden gem. Wannabe entertainers even have to audition to be allowed to play on the underground!
The Ceremony of the Keys
The Tower of London needs little introduction. Infamous as a site of torture and imprisonment and today housing the Crown Jewels, every evening there is a fascinating ceremony that takes place in order to ensure the “Queen’s keys” are safe under guard for the night. It’s the oldest military ceremony in the world and it’s totally free to observe it.
However, there is a small catch. Only 40-50 people can attend and it’s booked out up to a year in advance. At the time of writing, you’ll need to be visiting in April 2020 to stand a chance of seeing it! Still, it can’t hurt to check the booking schedule – you might get lucky!
London is extremely haunted, not least thanks to the efforts of the likes of Jack the Ripper in the 18th Century. As such, ghost tours are cropping up all over the place (some better than others) but they’re a really great option for an inexpensive way to enjoy an evening in the city. Most shouldn’t be more than £10-12 (or possibly even less) and will depart every night unless otherwise stated. If you don’t fancy walking – try the hugely popular ghost bus instead!
TV Show Audience
If you’ve ever fancied sitting in the audience of a television show, you might get the chance when visiting London. From talent TV like the X-factor to chat shows like Graham Norton, networks are always on the lookout for audience members to cheer on the action.
Best of all, tickets are completely free! Pick from loads of options to find something to your taste and have a really entertaining evening without paying a penny.
Stargazing on Hampstead Heath
Visiting London’s observatories might cost you a bit of coin, but simply enjoying the sky at night is completely free. Being one of the city’s largest green spaces, many keen astrologers make their way up to Hampstead Heath to turn their attention skyward. There’s less light pollution up there and you can enjoy celestial events lying on your back in the grass. Make sure you wrap up warm though – it’ll get chilly even in warmer months.
London’s dance scene has never been more popular and there are plenty of events and shows you can attend. Ballet performances are accessible and discounted seats are available, with tickets being surprisingly affordable.
But why not actually take part? Learning how to dance a particular style is a great way to spend an evening, and many classes are free if not really cheap. Salsa and swing dance lessons are particularly popular, but there’s something to suit all tastes and abilities.
Many museums and galleries will offer free entry and late nights on certain dates of the month, but it can be a fiddle to fit that into your itinerary. However, there are some that don’t ever charge admission. The British Museum offers eclectic exhibits and is open until 20.30 every night, while the National Gallery closes at 21.00 on Fridays. There are other options, but balancing free entry and late opening times can be tricky.
Have you been to London? What free or cheap attractions did you enjoy?