Culture vulture freebies: how to enjoy London’s richest attractions for nothing


Let’s face it, the price to pay for all of London’s incredible artistic and entertainment diversity is literal – it’s a pretty pricey place. However, if you’re canny enough you can experience a choice selection of the UK capital’s culture (among it, some of its most luxurious too) at a decent price; so decent in fact, you don’t have to pay a penny for it. Except travel fare, that is. Doubtful? Here are some examples…

Enjoy a virtual visit to the Royal Opera House

An outdoor live screening of an opera or ballet production is a terrific experience. Especially if it’s of one staged at the globally renowned Royal Opera House, letting you in on the awesome atmosphere of world-class opera or the buzz of brilliantly performed ballet – and, best of all, without the hefty price tag of attending the actual location in Covent Garden.

Royal Opera House

This spring and summer, The BP Big Screens at Canary Wharf – blessed with the area’s impressive and inspiring modern architecture as a backdrop – and their equivalent screens right in the heart of Central London’s Trafalgar Square will be showing three productions on different evenings.Specifically, you can catch the world premiere of Liam Scarlett’s ballet version of Frankenstein and two operas by the legendary Giuseppe Verdi,Nabucco and Il Trovatore. Best of all, you don’t have to dress up to the nines and can tuck into a picnic with the breeze of a warm London evening on your face.

Pop along to a free private gallery viewing

Organised by Whitechapel Gallery, the First Thursdays programme sees at least 130 galleries throughout East London throw open their doors on the first Thursday evening of every month and stay open until 9pm. While admittedly you may need an invite to some of them, for others you’re welcome to just turn up and walk in – a fantastic inducement if you’re on a break in the capital and based nearby already, say, at The Montcalm Brewery London City hotel. And it’s not just about checking out the dynamic, refreshing and at times downright unusual artwork, as there are workshops to participate in and behind-the-scenes sessions at artists’ own studios to attend – and, of course, always wine and nibbles to savour. And for a more involved, guided experience, there’s also an Art Bus tour that’ll take you along to three of each month’s best exhibits.

Bask in the best new classical and jazz music

The Friday Tonic events at the Southbank Centre are a fantastic opportunity to discover and enjoy highly regarded up-and-coming talents in the classical and jazz fields – entirely for free. Held either at lunchtime or in the evening, these free London attractions are a staple feature of the venue’s gigs list and, understandably, are a firm favourite with everyone from music devotees to tourists who’ve merely wandered into the centre out of sheer curiosity.

Events to look out for this spring include jazz pianist Robert Mitchell performing with his ensemble Panacea (Central Bar in the Royal Festival Hall; 25 March at 5.30-7pm). Having already produced three acclaimed albums, this four-piece love nothing more than painting in unusual but delightful musical colours; taking listeners on wonderful jazz journeys.

Jazz Music

If you’re up for some truly progressive classical musical, then you might fancy catching a performance from the Southbank Sinfonia (Central Bar in the Royal Festival Hall; 22 April at 5.30-7pm). Comprising work by the ‘modern’ composers Derek Bermel, Osvado Golijov, Bryce Dessner and John Adams, this chamber music set is advertised as ‘propulsive’ and, believe it or not, inspired by the hyperactive soundtrack on 1950s cartoons – so it’s bound to be refreshing and good fun.

Finally, for some ‘immaculately played swinging jazz’ – according to BBC Radio 3 – why not check out the stylings of jazz pianist Jonathan Vinten and his trio (Central Bar in the Royal Festival Hall; 29 April at 1-2pm), as they play tracks from their most recently released album, which was listed among 2015’s top 50 jazz albums by The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Go along to a museum or gallery late opening

There’s nothing like popping into a museum or gallery when it’s open late – no overwhelming crowds, no school trips and no kids throwing temper tantrums. Nowadays, many venues throughout the capital stage ‘lates’ for their more discerning visitors (not least for those at work during the day) and maybe the greatest thing about them is that because a plethora of London’s biggest galleries and museums have free admission, you don’t have to fork out for them of an evening either. Indeed, who could resist the talks, live performances, music and films (as well as open bars and restaurants) that these places often have going on? All the following are open late at least one day during the week and, unless otherwise stated, entry to them is entirely free:

•British Library – Tuesdays until 8pm
•British Museum – Fridays until 8.30pm
•Camden Arts Centre – Wednesdays until 9pm
•Institute of Contemporary Arts – Thursdays until 9pm
•National Gallery – Fridays until 9pm
•National Portrait Gallery – Thursdays and Fridays until 9pm
•Royal Academy of Arts – Fridays until 10pm (price £11 but some exhibitions free)
•Science Museum – Wednesdays until 10pm
•Sir John Soames’ Museum – first Tuesday of the month until 9pm (first 200 people)
•Somerset House – daily in the summer until 11pm
•Tate Britain – selected Fridays until 10pm
•Tate Modern – Fridays and Saturdays until 10pm (selected exhibitions £11 but some free)
•Victoria & Albert Museum – Fridays until 10pm
•Wellcome Collection – Thursdays until 10pm
•Whitechapel Gallery – Thursdays until 9pm