London for freeloaders: 10 things that don't cost

London for freeloaders: 10 things that don't cost

Leave your wallet, bring your smile -- the best free exhibitions, events and trips in the capital

Good things come to those who wait, and free things come to those who spend a few hours researching. 

We've done the hard part for you, and picked out what we consider some pretty fine activities that don't cost a penny. 

Some do involve a little travel expenditure -- such as a trip to Paris -- but they're worth it. And you can get to Paris from London in less than two hours and for less than US$100 these days. 


1. Bell ringing: Various locations, United Kingdom

All the Bells Bell ringers pose at Christ Church Spitalfields.

Hand bells, door bells, school bells, tower bells, bicycle bells. You name it, they will all be ringing at precisely 8 a.m. on July 27, the first day of the Olympics.

The bell-ringing bonanza is the brainchild of Martin Creed, a Turner prize-winning artist and musician who has titled the event “Work No. 1197.”

His goal is for people all across the UK to ring any bell whatsoever as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes.

“It’s by people and for people,” says Creed. “On the morning of the opening of the Games it’s a massive signal that something is happening.”

Many churches will let you ring their bells, but check Creed's website too for other details.

More on CNNGo: Ultimate guide to the Olympics 


2. Gold exhibition: London, England

Gold Power and Allure 1The Canterbury Pendant, which dates back to the early 7th century, is part of the “Gold: Power and Allure” exhibition.

From June 1 to July 28, The Goldsmiths’ Company will host “Gold: Power and Allure,” the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged at Goldsmiths’ Hall.

We’re talking 400 golden beauties ranging in date from as early as 2500 BC to the present, including the Irish Lunula, a crescent-moon shaped piece thought to have been worn by tribal chieftains and a pure-gold Olympic medal dating back to 1908.

Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, London EC2V 6BN, England; +44 (0) 20 7606 7010;


3. Hadleigh Castle: Essex, England

Hadleigh Castle 1Visitors love Hadleigh Castle for its views of Essex.

As spectators cheer on Olympic mountain bikers at Hadleigh Farm in southeast England, they’ll see Hadleigh Castle in the background.

The ruins of the 700-year-old royal abode, which overlook the Essex marshes, were once owned by three of Henry VIII’s wives and immortalized in the paintings of John Constable.

It’s a dreamy spot to picnic, and nearby Hadleigh Country Park is a prime spot to encounter butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

Castle Lane, Benfleet, Essex, England; 0870 333 1181;

4. Daredevil dancing: London, England

One Extraordinary DaySee daredevil feats during the London 2012 Festival.

As part of the London 2012 Festival, choreographer Elizabeth Streb has carefully planned a series of pop-up performances.

Known for daredevil feats of extreme athleticism, her dancers will showcase a mix of gymnastics and circus-style tricks from daybreak until late at night.

Since this troupe of dancers thrives on the element of surprise, a date will not be announced. Just expect that one day in July, you will likely be wowed.

5. Changing the Guard: London, England

changing of the guard londonHer Majesty 12, bears nil.

The inside of Buckingham Palace is elaborate, but outside there’s a lot to see too. More than 2 million people watch the Changing the Guard ceremony each year.

Scope out the bearskin hats and fancy uniforms that make up this iconic, 45-minute ceremony, which takes place daily at 11 a.m. from May until the end of July and on alternate days, except Sunday, throughout the year.

Want to know how to spot the different regiments? There’s an app for that. 

Buckingham Palace, London, SW1A 1AA, England; +44 (0) 20 7930 4832;

More on CNNGo: London's World Heritage sites

6. Tate Britain: London, England

Tate BritainKarla Black’s work on display at Tate Britain.

If you want to see masterpieces by British artists, this is the place to do it. Tate Britain holds the largest collection of British art in the world, and many exhibits are free, including Karla Black’s contemporary work, “At Fault,” which is on display though January 2, 2013.

The unusual art installation incorporates pink, blue, yellow and green powder spread over the floor, extending from a central piece that looks like a group of giant pastel-colored rocks.

Millbank, London SW1P 4RG, England; 0207 887 8888;

More on CNNGo: Best of London -- a city guide 


7. Guanabara: London, England

GuanabaraLearn the basics of samba and forró at Guanabara.

Wear your dancing shoes to Guanabara, a Brazilian bar located in Covent Garden, for complimentary dance lessons. Styles include Brazilian favorites like samba and forró, which encompasses a number of Northeastern Brazilian dances.

“Anyone can learn,” says Samara Reis, Guanabara dance instructor. “It’s very basic, and it’s a warm up for the evening. It’s mainly to entertain.”

The 45-minute lessons are offered Wednesdays at 9 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.

Parker Street, WC2B 5PW London, England; 0044 7242 8600;

8. Cabaret workshops and more: Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales

Wales Millennium CentreThis popular visitor attraction offers plenty of freebies.

A two-hour drive down the M4 you'll get to the Welsh capital and can expect a slew of worthwhile freebies at the Millenium Centre.

Step inside the massive arts venue, locally known as “The Armadillo,” for interactive workshops ranging from cheeky cabaret acts to Afro-Caribbean storytelling events to an Olympics-inspired craft workshop from the Makers Guild.

Just popping in is highly encouraged, but consider checking the website first. Most of the events don’t require sign up in advance, but a few do.

Bute Place, Cardiff Bay, CF10 5AL, Wales; 02920 636464;

9. Musée Carnavalet: Paris, France

Musee CarnaveletSave time to check out the gardens at this popular museum.

Hop onto the Eurostar train for a quick getaway to Paris and you'll find this city-run museum, housed inside two Renaissance-era mansions, giving a detailed account of Paris’ colorful past from prehistoric times to the present.

There are 100 rooms filled with around 600,000 works of art. Besides the paintings, sculptures and photographs, there are other relics including a 13th-century chest with ornate ironwork, the imperial prince’s cradle and brilliant tapestries.

Save time afterward to roam around the museum’s hyper-manicured garden.

Musée Carnavalet 23, rue de Sévigné 75003 Paris, France; +33 01 44 59 58 58;


10. Paris Plages: Various locations, Paris, France

Paris PlagesSeveral tons of sand blanket central Paris during Paris Plages.

How’s this for a non-traditional Seine-side holiday? From July 20-August 19 Paris transforms into a sandy paradise as part of the urban-beach program called Paris Plages.

Locals and visitors lounge in deck chairs, play beach volleyball and kayak on the river. Kids will love the wave simulator, where they can body surf on inflatable boards, while parents can check out the mobile libraries packed with books to borrow.

Find the faux beaches at Louvre/Pont de Sully, Port de la Gare and Bassin de la Villette.

More on CNNGo: Best ways to cut the queues at London 2012