My first winter in London has been a pleasantly surprising experience so far. In the Midwest winter is a chance to spurn all social relations and rekindle that annual romance with your couch and comfy blankets because you’re not moving until spring. Or at least, you’re not going to be near as active because it’s just too much of a hassle to go out.
Unless you’re a kid. Then it’s the best thing ever. (That’s me…queen of the mountain over my siblings 😉 )
But in London there is NO excuse for your couch to develop a derrière- shaped indent. Winter is your chance to enjoy the copious amount of free indoor events that you skipped during the summer in favor of enjoying the weather. Just because the temperature is plummeting doesn’t mean you have to abandon yourself to the friendless, magnetic pull of your couch. Or at least, not every night.
A few of the free activities I’ve had a chance to experience this winter so far are:
Tate Modern: I had always wanted to visit the Tate, but didn’t realize it was free until I went with the LUIP Ambassadors. It still blows my mind how many museums are free (basically all of them), especially considering the quality of the pieces on exhibition. There are exhibits you have to buy tickets to view, but we had a great time walking through the free exhibit halls and “contemplating” the artwork. Luckily we had some really intelligent ambassadors to help clarify some of the pieces 🙂
Fellow Ambassadors Sarah, Beatriz, Jamaal, and Brittany
Volunteering: Queen Mary offers quite a few one-off volunteering opportunities, which is awesome. Although it might sound kind of selfish, my primary motivators for getting involved with one-off opportunities are: it means I get to see a lot of the city I wouldn’t have sought out otherwise, I get to make new friends, and it’s not a weekly or even monthly time commitment if you don’t want it to be. Less selfishly, it means I get to help out in my new community. I’ve only done a couple so far, but they have been really fun!
Whitechapel Mission clothing drive
St. John’s Christmas Fayre workers
Christmas markets: Markets are some of the most fun things around Christmas time. We have them in the States of course, but it’s a slightly different twist when you walk around a London Christmas market. For starters, there’s usually a lot of mulled wine around…tried that for the first time at a Christmas market. YUM. On top of that, there are lots of new, different food stalls. And then the icing on the cake: there are fun, new, British goods being sold in the stalls. Wine, and shopping, and Christmas…well, what more can a girl ask for? One thing to be aware of though–some of the best markets are only one day long. So make sure you scout out which ones you want to go to in advance to ensure you don’t miss the good ones!
Mulled wine stall at the market outside of the Tate Rides at St. John’s Christmas FayreRows of books and prints and vintage maps at Southbank’s Winter Festival
Decorations: They’re not explicitly offered on most of the ‘Activities’ lists, but just walking around and seeing all the different decorations is a really fun way to spend a day. Since it’s London, most places are done up right. 🙂 The unusual thing (for this Midwest girl, anyways) is that it’s the businesses and shops that are decorated much more than the houses. Of course, there aren’t really any yards for people to decorate, but there are some admirably tenacious souls in London who decorate their windows, doors, or ornamental trees.
Covent Garden treeCovent Garden baublesRandom beautiful (and huge!) blue wreath on my walk to the tube from Senate House Library
Concerts and Lectures: If you look at the list of lecturers and performers who put on free events around London, you’re moronic to not attend some of the concerts and lectures offered at institutions around town. As a student you’ll have access to more than a tourist would, so take advantage of it! Visit other universities, go see a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, or attend a late-night event at one of the museums. My friend Brittany wrote a great blog on her night at the Natural History Museum. If you Google “free concerts and lectures in London”, the results will give you more than enough to start.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields after a free lunchtime concert.
This is obviously just a cursory list of activities available in London for free. To find out what else is available, Google is your best friend. If that gets too overwhelming or frustrating, TimeOut London and Londonist are two of my favorite websites to use when looking for free events in London. They always have a great, comprehensive lists of free activities going on around town. Even if you’re only here for a short time (tourists, I’m talking to you), you can use these sites to help you get the inside scoop on what’s going on in London during your visit.
Takeaway tidbit: London offers so many free, awesome activities — there’s no excuse for you to sit on your bum all winter.