Quintessentially British Touring, Nearly For Free

I had such a whirlwind of a time in the US, taking care of one errand after another, traveling from one city to another and then back again, trying to see as many friends and family as I could, that I basically didn't have a moment to breathe. And other than my one Sunday where I did three amazing and frugal things, I didn't do touring. The purpose of my trip was to get errands done, and I did it amazingly. And that was good.

But that meant that on my next leg, the leg in London, that happened because I didn't realize when booking my ticket that I had an impossible stopover between airports and ended up booking another ticket home from London a few days later, I wanted to take it easy and make it truly be a vacation and not be rushing from place to place. For that reason, I didn't even make plans about what I'd do in London (other than sleeping arrangements at a friends) until I already got there. I wasn't too stressed about it, because I'd already heard from my friend Michelle how to tour London on a shoestring budget, so I knew it was definitely possible.

When I go to new places, I like to not only find enjoyable things to do on a budget, I like to also go to places that are unique to that location. I mean, you can go to a zoo or a water park or a mall or a park almost anywhere, so I wouldn't want to spend my limited time in a foreign place doing something I can do countless other places in the world. For that reason, when I saw this list of 51 free things to do in London, I went through the list and tried to pick out the things that were most unique to London, the most "quintessentially British" things there, and not just things that you could do anywhere else.

But first, when I got to London, I crashed, and spent the first 3/4 of the day I was in London sleeping. (I mean, the two nights beforehand I barely slept, first taking a bus from Cleveland to New York, and then flying from New York all night) and then when I first arrived I didn't have wifi (I didn't know the code where I was staying) so I wasn't able to figure out what to do with the rest of my time that day. Instead I just hopped on the underground, went to the center of town, found a place with free wifi, looked up free things to do in the evening in London, found a free night walking tour along the south bank of the Thames river starting 30 minutes from then, hopped back on the underground and made it to the tour, just as it was starting.
Our tour guide Matt was a very lovely and engaging tour guide, and not only did he teach us a lot about London and its history (I had no idea that London was founded by Romans and originally was named Londinium), he also made it personal, telling us lots of stories about individuals and their contributions to British and world history.

We learned about Rosalind Franklin, the first person to photograph DNA (and then died young from cancer), to Elizabeth Garret Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in England (through no small amount of fighting on her part) to Doctor John Snow who was able to track the spread of cholera in London to the sewage.

We learned about the Millenium Bridge and how it was closed immediately after opening because it was wobbly and then they reopened it with pylons to help it wobble safely. We learned about a man who bought the London Bridge thinking it was the Tower Bridge and was very disappointed.

We heard a story about a hero double decker bus driver who managed to safely jump across the opening Tower Bridge with is passengers when the person who was in charge of opening the bridge did it badly and endangered people in the process.

We learned about the Waterloo Bridge's nickname, the Ladies' Bridge, because of all the work they did for it.

And we learned about the time Shakespeare's Globe Theater caught on fire, and that its the only place in London permitted to have a thatch roof, and saw a scale replica of Sir Frances Drake's ship, and learned about Clink Prison's corruption. We learned about the strangely named and nicknamed buildings in London, from the cheese grater to the walkie talkie to the pickle to the Shard building. And there was just so much more he covered.

It was a fascinating tour, and at the end, as with all free tours, I tipped him for the great tour he gave us. It was a great introduction to London.

That evening, I got back to my accommodations, and fortunately got the wifi code, so was able to look up things to do. I knew I wanted to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace, and looked up information about it. From the website I found, it started at 10:30 or so from the Wellington Barracks, and then continued to Buckingham Palace, and it made it seem like you could just follow the procession.

If you want to do that, don't. You won't really be able to. They close the crossings to Buckingham palace about half an hour beforehand, so if you try to walk along with them, you won't be able to get close.

In terms of places to stand, everyone was rushing to be near the gates of the palace, as close to the middle as possible, but there were also a bunch more people standing on the steps around the Victoria Memorial, opposite Buckingham palace.

There really is no one place to see everything, because the troops come in from two different directions, coming down two different roads, and entering the place in two different gates, and then again, leaving at two different gates. So basically if you want to see this, you want to get close to either the road or the palace, and be aware that if you see nothing at first, you probably will see more later on, because no one can see every part.

Its a nice ceremony, but it does get tiring to stand there for thirty minutes before they even start, and the part without music when you can't really see anything does get a little bit boring to be honest.

 I also found out that once they leave they go to St James Palace, and from the point that they start marching there, you can follow them along the road, get the best view, and then have a great view when they go through their ceremony at St James Palace, because there's virtually no crowds there, since everyone is at Buckingham palace.

I was surprised to learn that these guards aren't just for show, they actually are trained soldiers, and carry loaded automatic rifles, and have guns and knives. Even the musicians are soldiers (I think!) and carry knives on them.

After seeing the changing of the guards ceremony, I walked to the National Gallery, an art gallery featuring some of the best artists in the world.

To be honest, usually when I travel, I don't go to art museums, because art museums are a dime a dozen, but since this was something special (I also plan on going to the Louvre in Paris when I get there one day) so I made the trip there.

And it was worth it. I literally spent hours going through the museum, and I didn't even have a good look at most of the paintings, only some of them.

Something you should be aware of. It is free, but they sell maps and guides.

The layout is really confusing and I found I did wander from place to place sometimes in circles because I didn't buy a map.

The museum was stunning, and I got to see originals by:

Da Vinci...


Monet, Manet...

Van Gogh...

This was actually a Van Gogh painting I'd never seen before, but I really love it, and I want a print of it for my house, to be honest.


Gotta love those ballerinas!!! Rubens, Vermeer, Cezanne, Michaelangelo, Raphael, Van Eyck, Michaelangelo...

Picasso (yes, he has some realistic looking paintings! I had to look twice to see that it was in fact Picasso!!!) and Boticelli.

It was amazing to see these paintings that I've seen in textbooks, on websites, in movies, etc... in person.

There were such old paintings there that I was shocked how well they lasted.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

This one renewed my desire to visit Venice one day...

 If you enjoy art, highly, highly, highly recommend a visit there.

If you love to paint, or draw, apparently you can request to be allowed to bring an easel and work on your art there.

I saw quite a few artists there at work, and it was beautiful and special.

Right around the corner from the National Gallery was the National Portrait Gallery, which was filled with paintings and statues of historic figures from Britain's past.

 It was filled with many people I'll admit I never heard of, but the museum did a good job of filling you in about the biography of the people pictured and how they fit into British history. 

Unfortunately by the time I was at the National Portrait Gallery, my feet were quite tired, so I didn't spend as long here as I would have otherwise...

But I would have loved to have been able to spend a full day or two here, literally just learning about British history, from A to Z, through the portraits there.

 I got to see many people I did know of, like Florence Nightingale, Darwin, Anne Boleyn, Henry the Eighth, King Charles, Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, George Elliot, 

...and even more modern people like Margaret Thatcher, Baron Rothschild, and Ed Sheeran!

This post is honestly long enough, so I'll leave the last quintissentially British thing I did for another post.

But wow, I'm so glad I got to see so many amazing things in England!

Have you ever been to London? What are your thoughts on these places that I visited and things that I did? Did you do those and enjoy them? What were your favorite free things to do in London?
Since I didn't catch the names and artists of every painting/portrait that I shared here, anyone want to name the ones that I missed?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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