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London for free

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Once you've settled in to your hotel or flat in London, it's time to discover this beautiful old city. As everyone says, it's not a cheap city and things we take for granted in Australia can be very costly. However, there are things to do and enjoy that will cost absolutely nothing, and Getaway has done the leg-work for you.

There are around two hundred things on the freebie list — — and here are some for starters:

Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British monarch, was originally known as Buckingham House. Built in 1703 as a large townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham, it was acquired by King George III in 1762 as a private residence. It was enlarged over the next 75 years by architects John Nash and Edward Blore. It became the official royal palace on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, with the last major additions being made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The palace and its famous balcony is a rallying point for its people during times of joy, crisis or grief. The Queen opens the doors to her State Rooms during summer, and the changing of the guard is worth seeing.

A walk down the Mall from Buckingham Palace will take you by some other favourite residences.

St James's Palace is one of London's oldest and most historic. It was commissioned by Henry VIII on the site of the Hospital of St James, a former leper hospital. Built between 1531 and 1536, St James's was a residence of kings and queens of England for over 300 years and remains the official residence of the sovereign.

St James's is still a working palace and the Royal Court is still formally based there. Foreign ambassadors are accredited to the Court, even though they are received by the monarch at Buckingham Palace. It is the London residence of the Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra.

The complex includes York House, former home of the Prince of Wales and his sons, the Princes William and Harry. Lancaster House and Clarence House, home of the late Queen Mother, are also in the complex. Clarence House is now the residence of the Prince of Wales.

The Queen's Chapel, built by Inigo Jones, adjoins St James and is open to the public at selected times. It is one of three buildings in London where household cavalry guards can be seen.

London is home to some of the world's most important works of art, housed in some three hundred museums and galleries, many of them with free entry. The National Gallery, on the north side of Trafalgar Square, houses Western European paintings from 1250 to 1900 from the national art collection of Great Britain. The collection of 2300 paintings belongs to the British public and entry to the main collection is free. You can linger over Monet, Da Vinci and Michelangelo masterpieces.

Founded in 1824, the National Gallery was shaped by its early directors and private donations, and while small in comparison with other national collections such as Paris's Louvre, it is of exceptionally high quality. It offers a well-balanced overview of western art history up to the 20th century and every major development in painting from early Renaissance to post-Impressionist.

The elegant Tate Gallery, overlooking the Thames at Millbank, was built in 1897 through the philanthropy of Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate. The building, with its neo-classical portico, has amassed a superb collection of British works from the 16th to 20th centuries, as well as a collection of modern international art. It has rooms dedicated to Blake, Constable, Spencer and Bacon. Works of Hogarth, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Stubbs and pre-Raphaelites are highlighted.

Tate Modern, in the former Bankside Power Station, is Britain’s national museum of modern art. It can be reached via St Paul's Cathedral and the London Millennium Bridge — lots of free things in one trip!

The Theatre Museum on Tavistock Street is a must for lovers of the stage. It is a branch of the Victoria & Albert Museum and celebrates the history of modern theatre. Appropriately close to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, the West End’s oldest theatre, a large golden statue of the Spirit of Gaiety, from the long-gone theatre of the same name, welcomes visitors to the museum's basement galleries.

It holds an Aladdin's Cave of theatrical memorabilia including playbills, programmes, paintings, costumes, props and scenes. Display cases show the history of the theatre from Elizabethan times to today, and there are models of auditoriums through the ages.

There are daily make-up demonstrations, costume workshops, tours of the museum and Theatre Royal, including backstage and understage.

A trip to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich will teach you all you want to know about time. The world’s official timepiece was commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II. The charming Sir Christopher Wren Building overlooks the Thames. The home of Greenwich Mean Time, there is the meridian line and longitude zero. You can see the time-ball fall at 1pm, marvel at Harrison's time-keepers and historic clocks and climb into the giant refracting telescope.

When you're ready to hit the markets, there is no shortage. Most boroughs have their own markets which reflect the local population. There are eighteen to choose from and weekends are the time to go.

Portobello Road Market stretches for a couple of kilometres and has a character of its own. It has stalls of antiques, clothing, shoes, bric-a-brac and organic fruit and vegetables.

Camden High Street Market is one of London's favourite attractions. It spreads over almost all of the town centre and has lots of hippie clothing, craft stalls, '70s nostalgia and vegetarian food.

Roman Road in the heart of London's East End sells second-hand clothing, Asian clothes and food and household goods.

Brixton Markets has a huge collection of Afro-Caribbean food, herbs, spices, potions, incense, things Rastafarian, clothing and an enormous range of wigs.

The London Silver Vaults on Chancery Lane is home to more than forty dealers, trading in antique and modern silver items. Prices range from 20 to 20,000 pounds — but it costs nothing to look.

If it's one of those cold and rainy days, why not head to the BBC — they are always looking for live audience participation!


The capital of England.

For further information

BBC audience participation

Visit Britain — Australia
Phone: 1300 85 85 89
Fax: (02) 9021 4499

Visit Britain — New Zealand
Phone: 0800 700 741

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