With museums in the UK breathing a collective sigh of relief following George Osbourne’s announcement that they will escape the worst of the government spending cuts announced on Wednesday, it’s worth remembering just how fortunate Britons are when it comes to the arts.
London is home to some of the greatest museums in the world, and amazingly, it seems most of them will remain free to enter. In fact it remains possible to explore some of the very best in art, entertainment and culture in England’s capital without breaking the bank. Train companies regularly offer special discounts on fares to London, and National Express are currently offering coach tickets to the capital for as little as £1. Even hotel accommodation can be found relatively cheaply if you know where to look. For example some companies offer visitors two nights stay for the price of one at hotels across the UK, making a long weekend or short break in the capital much more affordable.
So with the Autumn leaves providing a beautiful backdrop, and the Summer crowds thinning out, what better time to celebrate the huge array of free museums, galleries, attractions, bars and places of interest that London has to offer.
Make the most of London’s fantastic free museums
London is home to some of the greatest museums in the world, and amazingly, most of them are still free to enter. For example, The British Museum hosts new exhibitions including ‘Impressions Of Africa’ and ‘Buddism Across Asia’ this Autumn, both of which are free.
The Science Museum has just opened a free interactive exhibition on genetics entitled ‘Who Am I?’, while The Victoria & Albert Museum is displaying the short-listed artists for its 2010 Illustration Awards until December 19th. There’s also The Natural History Museum with its famous collection of dinosaur skeletons, The Imperial War Museum, which features interactive exhibitions on life in the trenches and The Holocaust, and many more.
Take a free guided tour of Tate Modern
Not only is Tate Modern free to enter, but it also offers free tours of its various galleries at set times throughout the day on a first-come-first-served basis.
Exhibitions at Tate Modern this Autumn include a series of works from Italian artist Rosa Barba, and an instillation from outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, that has seen the entire back half of the gallery’s Turbine Hall covered in over 100 million hand made porcelain sunflower seeds. The gallery also features permanent works from the likes of Peter Blake, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, Anish Kapoor, Francis Bacon and many more.
Experience a heavenly choir at Westminster Abbey
Visitors to Westminster Abbey can not only explore this wonderful building for free, but can also enjoy a performance from the Abbey’s choir if they visit at the right time. The choir plays a central role both in the daily choral services at the Abbey and in the many royal, state and national occasions which take place there, so it’s well worth taking the time to see a performance.
The Abbey’s Autumn programme includes services of thanksgiving for the life and work of patrons such as Baroness Park of Monmouth and The Baroness Elles, a concert to celebrate the Festival of St Cecilia in November, and concludes with the famous Westminister Abbey Christmas Concert on December 14th.
Get on your soapbox at Speaker’s Corner
Symbol of free speech and the democratic rights of the British, or rabid soapbox for the inane and insane? Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park is probably a bit of both, and has been used to spread the views, beliefs and theories of anyone brave enough to stand up and have a go since 1872.
Famous speakers include Karl Marx, George Orwell and Emily Pankhurst, and while you’ll be lucky to find anyone of that magnitude holding court, an afternoon at speakers corner is still a fascinating experience.
Visit one of Britain’s finest stately homes
Kenwood House sits within beautifully landscaped gardens on the edge of Hampstead Heath, and is home to one of the most magnificently decorated libraries in the world, as well as a great collection of paintings by the likes of Rembrant, Turner and Gainsborough.
The site is particularly beautiful in Autumn, when visitors can enjoy a stunning backdrop of russet browns, glorious yellows and striking reds as they explore the lakes, woods, wild meadows and sculptures that adorn the grounds.
Be in the audience of Britain’s top TV shows
London is home to some of the UK’s biggest TV production companies, and there is no shortage of TV shows looking for audience members. From cutting edge pilots to established game shows and comedy programmes, you can not only enjoy live entertainment free of charge, but be among the few present to view the unaired footage, or even witness television history.
You can apply for tickets through the relevant production companies as well as specialist websites which list all the upcoming shows. TVrecordings.com for example, has tickets for Russell Howard’s upcoming ‘Good News’, Harry Hill’s ‘TV Burp’ and much more this Autumn.
Catch the stars of tomorrow at the Notting Hill Arts Club
There are plenty of great nightspots in London offering free entry for various nights throughout the week, but special mention has to go to the Notting Hill Arts Club. Their Saturday afternoon showcase, Rota, has been running in conjunction with Rough Trade records for the last 11 years and is a great place to check out up and coming bands for free.
Razorlight, Hot Chip, Jamie T, Art Brut and The Young Knives have all graced the Rota stage before going on to bigger things, so it’s worth taking a punt on some unknown bands for an afternoon and see the stars of tomorrow before they become huge.
Expand your horizons at the Dana Centre
The Dana Centre in South Kensington is a café bar run by The Science Museum which holds regular talks, lectures and debates on issues in contemporary science.
Previous lectures have seen stand-up comics debunking science myths, artists ‘painting’ with bacteria and special test-lab nights where visitors can enjoy some hands-on experimentation. All talks are free, Autumn’s line-up includes ‘The Future Of Science’, ‘The Horror Of Dreams’ and ‘How Will It End?’- a discussion on the fate of the universe.
Enjoy free films and free drinks at Roxy
Roxy bar and cinema on Borough High Street combines high quality food and drink with cutting edge digital screenings including new releases, cult classics and themed film evenings. Entry is usually free, though a £3 cover charge may be required for some new releases, and the sofas, lighting and general ambiance makes it a fantastic place to while away an afternoon with food, drink and great films.
Plus, this Autumn the venue is celebrating a refurb and marking the occasion with nights offering free whiskey sampling, free Tiger beer to the first 50 people through the door and more.