There’s a museum for every hobby, and best of all, a lot of them cost less than you’d expect. For music lovers there is Handel House Museum (£6) in Mayfair, former home of the composer and in later years, Jimi Hendrix. Kew’s Musical Museum (£8) has instruments that pre-date the digital age, with a particularly interesting collection of organs, including a Wurlitzer.
There’s perhaps a surprisingly large amount of museums relating to medicine in some form or another. The Old Operating Theatre Museum (£6.20) is, as the name suggests, devoted to an operating theatre, the oldest in Europe in fact. It’s of special interest because it’s located in the roof of a church. The Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum (£4) has a reconstruction of the lab where Fleming discovered penicillin; meanwhile the Florence Nightingale Museum (£5.80) pays homage to the famous military nurse with a collection that marks achievements like managing hospitals during the Crimean War and setting up the very first nursing school at St. Thomas’.
While we’re on the subject of war, Firepower (£5.30) displays artillery and weapons manufactured by the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, some of which are hundreds of years old. There’s a firing range too should you wish to test your shooting skills.
One of England’s oldest prisons (and perhaps the most notorious) is open to the public; the Clink Prison Museum (£7.50) operated for nearly 600 years during which it saw all manner of prisoners, from political traitors to prostitutes.
On a more salubrious note, Sutton House (£3.50) is a pretty Tudor house in the heart of Hackney, and the Garden Museum (£7.50) explains the history of the garden and of course has its own example of beautifully maintained greenery.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum (£8), the London Fire Brigade Museum (£5) and Pollock’s Toy Museum (£6) are of particular interest to younger family members; in the case of the Fire Brigade Museum children can try on firemen outfits, while the Toy Museum has china dolls, mechanical toys and puppets, some of which are over 100 years old.
The Freud Museum (£6), the former home of Sigmund Freud has his many books and antiques (he was a keen collector) on display. Charles Dickens’ old residence can also be explored at Dickens’ House (£8). Although the novelist only lived here for two years this is where he wrote Oliver Twist.
Art galleries are generally free, however some of the larger ones like the Hayward Gallery and the galleries at the Barbican, ICA and Somerset House sometimes charge entry for certain exhibitions. The price varies depending on the event.
Collections worth visiting include the Estorick Collection in Highbury( £5), which houses surreal and futurist art by legendary painters such as Giorgio de Chirico, Umberto Boccioni and Amedeo Modigliani. Over in south London the Dulwich Picture Library has a vast collection of work by the European Old Masters as well as British portraiture. Entry is £6, and a tour of the building, which was designed by Sir John Soane, is free.
It’s generally cheaper to wait for the DVD, but watching a movie like Inception on a small screen just doesn’t cut it. Matinee tickets always cost less than peak hour screenings, also check the listings of smaller cinemas like the Prince Charles, Rio Cinema, Hackney Picturehouse, Mile End Genesis, Notting Hill Coronet and the Rich Mix, which all offer tickets under £10.
Now that street food is booming, there are many other tempting, inexpensive offerings. Try Kerb at King’s Cross, Camden Lock Market, Chatsworth Road Market, and the uber-popular Sunday UpMarket to mention just a few.
If wandering around food in hand isn’t your thing you can sit down and fill up cheaply too. There are far more affordable eateries than we can list here, but Soho is a good place to start. Here you’ll find international cuisines like Japanese at ramen bar Bone Daddies, German sausages at The Bratwurst, Korean at Bi Bim Bap, and Chinese in Chinatown. Veggies can head to Beatroot where large cartons can be filled with things like lentil dahl, tabbouleh, shepherd’s pie.
At large West End theatres you can expect to pay anything from £20 to £100 for a ticket, but that doesn’t mean cheap seats aren’t available if you keep an eye out. Some big productions release tickets on the day of the performance at a reduced price, you’ll have to go in person to buy them at the box office. Once they’ve sold out of seated tickets, the National Theatre offers standing tickets for £5 if you can erm, stand it. Off-West End and fringe theatres are cheaper, and some offer standard tickets for under a tenner.
Other cheap stuff
Take the cable car from North Greenwich to the Royal Docks to get a bird’s eye view of the Docklands and beyond. It’s £6.40 for a round trip with an Oyster card.
Learn about the construction of Tower Bridge at the Tower Bridge Exhibition (£8). The view from the walkways extends to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Canary Wharf.
Take a tour of Mansion House, home of the Lord Mayor of London, not to be confused with the Mayor. The tour costs £7.
Go to an indie gig. Camden has the largest proliferation of indie music venues; try the Blues Kitchen and the Lock Tavern which often have free entry, or check listings for the Barfly, Dingwalls and Dublin Castle.
Play crazy golf at dinosaur-themed park Jurassic Encounter in New Malden. It’s £9 per adult and you can play till 9 pm.
We’ve also got a guide to London’s free attractions here.
London for under £10