Cheap days out in London

Caroline Cassidy

There are few better ways to spend a day out than visiting the country's capital. London is one of the finest cities in the world with masses to see and do but it can be costly. If you are planning a day seeing the sights then you will be pleased to know there is a way to reign in expenses and still have a great time. Here's our guide to making the most of London without breaking the bank.

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Most of London's museums and galleries are free, including the Science, Natural History, Imperial War and British Museum. The Department of Culture has invested lots of money to make Britain's museums available to all so why not enjoy them. Those that do charge will usually have a free period or day. The Old Naval College in Greenwich is free on Sundays after 15:30 and definitely worth a visit.

Art Galleries are also virtually all free, including the Tate, Tate Modern, the National Gallery and The Photographers' Gallery. Some other galleries may charge but will still have a free day or a free period.

The Changing of the Guards is one of the most famous events in the capital and still attracts thousands of tourists. The Changing of the Guards or Guard Mounting happens everyday at London Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle at 11am. See the Beefeaters, dressed in customary red tunics and black bearskin hats as they parade in front of the royal buildings. This is a free attraction in London with great views from the street all around.

How about enjoying a few laughs? You can take in some free comedy at the Comedy Café. Every Wednesday night the stage is given over to the city's aspiring comedians and everyone is welcome. For 'Aspiring New Acts' they throw on eight live acts.

For entertainment of a different kind how about some political knockabout? The Houses of Parliament make a great visit if only for the building itself. Admission, when the house is sitting, is free. You queue up outside but are unlikely to get into the Commons much before 16:30. Try better going later in the evening when the queues have gone down.

There's no shortage of history in the city and much of it can be enjoyed for free. Although most of the Royal Palaces charge, there are lots of historic buildings and houses that don't. Sir John Soane's museum for instance and London's rarely explored churches are all free to visit. The Ceremony of the Keys can be seen every evening at the Tower of London for free.

This 700-year-old ceremony is a great piece of history and tradition but tickets need to be booked in advance. Every night the Tower is locked up by the Chief Yeoman Warder wearing a scarlet coat, and Tudor bonnet. Carrying a lantern and with foot guard escort, he arrives at the gates from the Byward Tower at exactly 21:53.

A visit to London wouldn't be complete without a night in theatre land. A night out watching a play can be very reasonably priced, especially if you leave it late and try for a cancellation. You don't have to smell the greasepaint for theatrical entertainment; there are plenty of street entertainers in Covent Garden.

Try the free foyer events at the South Bank Centre and Barbican; they are usually of the highest standard. The Royal Academy of Music also runs a 'Free on Friday' programme of concerts with their young promising performers taking centre stage. They start at 13:05 in the college on Marylebone Road, by Baker Street Tube. .

Walking around some of London's colourful markets is free and fun. Browsing stalls, taking in the sights, sounds and smells is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. Check out Borough, Leadenhall, Brick Lane, Greenwich or Petticoat Lane market.

The largest of the London parks and one of the prettiest, Richmond Park is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. Woodlands, hills, pastoral land, free roaming deer will make you feel you are a hundred miles from the city.

Greenwich Park on the other hand feels like it's right at the centre of London. Look down the hill for views of St Pauls and the Thames, or pop next door to the National Maritime Museum instead.

To find out more pick up a copy of Time Out. In each section Art, Comedy, Film, Music, Nightlife and others - they specify which events are free. You should also check the main rail companies like First Great Western, Virgin or Southern Railways. Many of them will offer two-for-one deals if you buy a train ticket from them.