10 free things to do in London: The ultimate student edition

free things to do in london
From theatre festivals to outdoor light installations, London is brimming with free experiences. Source: Justin Tallis / AFP

If there’s one thing students love more than anything, it’s the opportunity to partake in amazing experiences for free. This is in part helped by the fact that, as a student, you’re more likely to come across great deals or offers that will give you the chance to explore a new environment with little to no cost to you.

Fortunately, you’d be hard-pressed to find a modern city that doesn’t offer free experiences for students in abundance — and London is no exception. With its host of historical museums, beautiful galleries, vibrant street art, live performances, and more, there’s no doubt that there are plentiful free things to do in London that will fill up your time spent outside of university — you just need to know where to look.

Here’s a list of some of the most exciting things to do, from a former international student:

1. For London’s best views: Sky Garden

The view from Sky Garden, a free deck with stunning views of London. Source: Tolga Akmen/AFP

There’s no doubt that London has some of the best views to offer from a city. From its towering structures to ancient castles and bridges, there’s always something to see in London — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better view than at the Sky Garden

It’s located in Fenchurch Building, just a stone’s throw away from Monument station. Tickets can be booked in advance on Sky Garden’s website, where you can reserve a spot on both weekdays and weekends. If you want to complete your experience with a fancy meal, you can always venture over to one of the restaurants up top — though, of course, you’ll have to pay for this.

If you can’t get tickets, you can always try queueing for walk-in tickets. However, sometimes you’ll have to wait for up to two hours, and even then, your spot isn’t guaranteed.

2. For a splice of culture and history: museums and galleries

We can’t go on without mentioning London’s collection of museums and galleries, all of which show off many different aspects of the city’s rich culture and history. The best part? You get to see amazing exhibitions, collections, and more — all for free. 

That’s right. As a student in London, you have the opportunity to spend your days exploring the city’s vast accumulation of art, heritage, and more. And if you’ve not got any lectures for the day, you can always hang out at one of these spots for a change of scenery. 

Here are some of our favourites:

  • The V&A 
  • The National Gallery
  • The Natural History Museum
  • The Tate Modern
  • The British Museum 
  • The London Mithraeum

There are many more museums and galleries for you to visit, so do your research to get the best out of your time in London.

3. For fitness junkies: get active with free fitness classes and more

Rollerskating classes are among those being offered for free. Source: Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP

There’s a common notion that attending fitness classes is expensive — and for good reason. For most students, most gyms in big cities are unaffordable, with the only accessible gyms being in their universities themselves. 

Not in London. From free roller skating classes to lunchtime meditation sessions, there’s always a way for you to keep fit. Sometimes, studios offer free fitness and yoga classes, too.

4. For a little extra credit: free lectures, debates, and libraries

As much as London is a hub for creativity and reckless, wild fun, it’s also buzzing with centuries worth of accumulated knowledge. Students are especially well-placed to explore this, as all University of London institutions give their learners access to a host of libraries, archives, and more across London. 

Want to change up your study spot? Visit one of the many libraries on offer in London. There’s Maughan Library, a stunning building home to vast study spaces, an impressive collection of texts, and has the added benefit of acting as backdrops to many famed films in the past. Or perhaps you’d prefer to venture over to Senate House Library, the central University of London library with over two million books, 50 special collections, and 1,800 archival collections. 

If you’re looking for something a little more interactive, you can sign up for London’s many free lectures and debates. Universities and halls all over London offer special lectures or talks after academic hours, often attended by distinguished guests, professors, diplomats, and more, all of whom offer their input on a variety of important issues. 

Your university will typically notify you of any events they’re hosting, and you can keep an eye on websites such as eventbrite for this. Facebook Events is a great space to watch, too. 

5. For aspiring musicians: Nando’s Soho Studio

Ever wanted to eat and make music at the same time? With Nando’s Soho Studio, you can do exactly that. 

Yes, you heard that right. Nando’s has now opened a professional recording studio at its Frith Street branch in Soho. It’s stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, including a Neumann U87 microphone, and is in full view of restaurant diners.  

It isn’t exactly free — you’ll have to pay for your own food and drinks. However, if you’ve ever tried to rent out a studio in London, you’ll know that’s a small price to pay.

The studio will also play host to a variety of expert and artist-led workshops throughout the year, so be sure to apply for a spot in advance if you don’t want to miss out.

6. For theatre lovers: West End Live

Every year, the casts of acclaimed West End shows gather to put on free performances in the heart of Trafalgar Square. Source: Will Oliver/AFP

West End Live is London’s biggest celebration of theatre all around. Every year, performers from acclaimed musicals across London’s West End gather to perform some of their greatest songs. You can expect to find every show from “The Lion King” and “The Phantom of the Opera” to “& Juliet” and “Dear Evan Hansen”right in the heart of Trafalgar Square.

In between, expect to see stalls selling merchandise, tickets, and more. It’s an unmissable event for all theatre lovers, and one that will leave an impression on you for years to come.

7. For future performers: Almeida for Free

For anyone with a love for the arts, Almeida for Free is an unmissable event. The acclaimed theatre plays host to an annual festival for 25s and under, giving them the chance to watch shows at a West End theatre, attend workshops and activities around acting, writing, theatre-making, and design, and sit in on debates around the realm of theatre. 

To top it all off, you can experience all of this and more for free

Previous festivals ranged from one day to five. Almeida for Free: Hamlet saw over 1,000 tickets being made available to 25s and under, and 2,260 young people participated in the theatre’s events and workshops, 69% of whom had never visited before. The Summer and Smoke festival offered performances by drag supergroup Denim and workshops run by a director of a real West End production. 

Whatever’s on offer, there’s no doubt that Almeida for Free is an incredible way for you to hone your craft or explore your appreciation for theatre, no matter your level of experience in the field. 

8. For something a little different: God’s Own Junkyard 

Neon signs, pop art, and quirky quotes — you’ll find all this and more at God’s Own Junkyard, a vibrant art gallery and store just off Walthamstow. 

Described as a “wonderland of creativity”, God’s Own Junkyard has an origin story as atypical as its offerings. It was created by late owner Chris Bracey, who kickstarted his career by making signs for Soho’s strip clubs and brothels. His bold work was discovered by Hollywood talents, and soon, he began designing props for famed directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan. 

It’s a wonderful little space for a self-indulgent photoshoot, a quirky cafe stop, or simply just to take in the creative art on display. You can purchase some of your favourite signs for yourself, too — but be warned, they don’t come cheap. 

9. For outdoor art lovers: Lumiere London

Every year, London is lit up in a stunning festival of light. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP

Every year, the streets and buildings of London light up in a spectacular show that brightens the entire city. Dubbed “Lumiere, visitors to London are treated to the UK’s largest light festival that challenges local and international artists to reimagine familiar buildings and public spaces. 

Students in London, however, are already given a front-seat view of the incredible light show that takes over the entire city. Watch as the streets you walk down every day are transformed into something entirely new through light and colour, providing a sense of wonder to the ordinary. 

10. For concert tickets: tips and tricks

Want to book tickets for a concert or show, but prices are too steep for your budget? Don’t worry — just check Facebook or Reddit.

Lots of Londoners and other folk tend to give out experiences on online groups or message boards. These aren’t always free — sometimes, people have booked tickets for something but aren’t able to make it at the last minute, and are hoping to salvage their loss by letting go of these at a lower price. 

If you’re lucky, though, you might come across a generous Facebook user who’s giving out their tickets for free — making for a great opportunity to spend your time doing something a little different for a change. 

If you’ve got a specific show or concert in mind, it’s a good idea to search up its Facebook Event page and mark yourself as ‘interested’, then navigate to the discussion board to see if there are any second-hand tickets available. You might not notice anyone posting up anything just yet, but don’t despair — you’re likely to find more people letting go of their seats a day or two before the event. 

Similarly, keep an eye on r/London on Reddit and similar discussion boards you can find across other platforms to see if anyone’s posting about the event you want to go for.

Or you could join these Facebook groups for free things or services:

A word of warning: always be careful when dealing with second-hand dealers if you’re making a purchase from another person. If you see an offer that looks too good to be true, it probably is, so do some thorough research before you agree to a deal.

Other free things to do in London

If you’re still searching for something to do, here are some of our favourites:

  • Free comedy shows at The Top Secret Comedy Club and Angel Comedy Club
  • Sample some tasty food at London’s many markets (we love Borough Market)
  • Tickle the ivories of one of London’s many street pianos 
  • Sit in on a lunchtime performance at Covent Garden
  • Explore London’s variety of gorgeous and peaceful parks (we love Hyde Park, Kyoto Garden, and St Dunstan in the East)
  • Show your appreciation for street artists and performers (catch them outside Trafalgar Square, Tottenham Court Road station, Covent Garden, and Leicester Square)

London can be full of exciting and enriching experiences, and as a student, this is your time to explore it to the fullest. We hope this guide on free things to do in London can give you some insight into making the most of your student experience!