Free sights in Britain
Sights and experiences you can get for free in the U.K.
Some of the very best sightseeing in Britain is free.
In London, many of the top sights—including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, V&A, Museum of London, British Library, and much more—are all admission free.
And let's not forget the grand cathedrals and churches—living textbooks of art history in the form of architecture, paintings, frescoes, stained glass, tapestries, and sculpture. A few of the most famous (Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's) do charge admission, but the vast majority of others across Britian are absolutely free of charge.
There are free church concerts, and bustling markets that make for a photographer's dream.
Striking up a conversation with a shopkeep or taxi driver costs you nothing but time and gets you an insider's view of the country.
A hike into the countryside outside some small town or riverside hamlet to visit a ruined monastery, mountaintop, castle, isolated church, ancient Celtic ring fort, whatever—that's free, too.
The possibilities for amusing yourself at absolutely no charge in Britain are nearly endless.
- Viator.com - Best one-stop shopping site for all sorts of activities, walking tours, bus tours, escorted day trips, and other excursions. It is actually a clearinghouse for many local tour companies and outfitters, and since it gets a bulk-rate deal on pricing (and takes only a token fee for itself), you can actually sometimes book an activity through Viator for less than it would cost to buy the same exact tour from the tour company itself. (I once booked a Dublin pub crawl via Viator and later discovered that I saved about $1.50; also, the tour turned out to be sold-out, and they were turning away the folks in front of me in line, but since I had a pre-booked voucher I got in.)Partner
- Londonwalks.com - Since the 1970s, the gold standard in city walking tours and museum tours—and cheap, to boot. Just meet your guide at the appointed time and place (usually a Tube stop), pay your £10 (students or over 65s are £8; under 15 free), and prepare for a good two hours of amazing cultural insight and historic anecdotes. If you plan on taking three or more walks, buy a "Frequent London Walker" card for £2 from your first guide, then each subsequent walk costs £8. They also run popular excursions outside London for £18. Note that the fee just covers the guided tour; you pay for any admissions (or, for excursions, travel expenses) yourself.
- Contexttravel.com - This bespoke walking tour company doesn't even call its 200 tour leaders "guides." It calls them "docents"—perhaps because most guides are academics and specialists in their fields: history professors, archeologists, PhDs, art historians, artists, etc. Groups are miniscule (often six people maximum), and most docents can be booked for private guiding sessions as well. They aren't always the cheapest tours, but they are invariably the best. People rave about Context.Partner
- City-discovery.com - Chief rival to Viator (though with a less spiffy interface and often sub-par text descriptions), representing many of the same tours (at the same prices). However, it also seems to cover more destinations, especially secondary ones. When it comes down to it, City-Discovery and Viator have maybe 70% the same inventory, but then 30% will be completely different (some Viator has City-Discovery does not, other vice-versa) so it pays to check through the offerings from both.Partner
- London Pass - Covers more than 60 major London sights and tours, plus discounts on several others, and an option to buy a transit pass to use on the Tube and buses.Partner
- iVenture Card - Covers several sights not on the London Pass, plus a handful of tours, free meals, 40% off last-minute theatre tickets, and other discounts. Worthwhile if you'll be doing the three popular sights it covers (St. Paul's, Madame Tussauds, London Eye).Partner
- English Heritage Pass - Covers Stonehenge, plus loads of castles, historic homes, ancient sites, and monuments across England.
- Historic Scotland Explorer Pass - Covers 76 attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, Urquart Castle, and Gaslgow Catehdral.Partner
- Scotland Discover Ticket - Covers 90 National Trust for Scotland attractions, including many historic and literary homes, manors, and castles.Partner
- Royal Edinburgh Ticket - I only include this pass to advise against it. At £49.50 it covers two days of hopon/hop-off bus service (which is otherwise £14/day) plus entry to a trio of attractions: Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse, and Royal Yacht Britannia (total standard admission: £42.10). If you happen to want to do all of those things, yes, it saves you about 12% (29% if you use the bus both days); but skip just one and it's overpriced.
- York Pass - Enjoy free entry to 30 top York attractions with the York Pass, a flexible sightseeing pass that allows you to visit the sites that interest you most. Entrance to some of York’s finest showstoppers such as York Minster and York’s Chocolate Story are included. Choose from a 1-, 2- or 3-day pass and sightsee as you wish; all options include an informative York guidebook, discounted entry to attractions in the wider Yorkshire area and discounts on meals at popular York eateries.Partner
- Shakespeare's Birthplace -
Shakespeare’s family homes and gardens offer something for everyone:
- Shakespeare's Birthplace: Walk in Shakespeare's footsteps and explore the house where he was born and grew up.
- Hall's Croft: Explore the beautifully furnished Jacobean home of Shakespeare's daughter Susanna and her wealthy physician husband, Dr John Hall.
- Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Gardens: Relive Shakespeare's Tudor love story where he courted his bride-to-be.
- Mary Arden's Farm: Experience the sights, sounds and smells of his mother's working Tudor farm.
- Shakespeare's New Place: Visit Stratford-upon-Avon’s newest and most exciting attraction. Walk in his footsteps on the site of his family home for nineteen years with specially commissioned sculptures in a contemporary landscape setting.