Free family day out in East London

By Ben West, a Travel Professional

Read more on London.

Overall rating:3.8 out of 5 (based on 5 votes)
Recommended for:
Cultural, Family, Short Break, Free, Budget, Mid-range

Want to spend a day in London without breaking the bank? This guide reveals a host of East London attractions that are completely free - and well away from the crowded, well worn tourist track

A day out in London can be prohibitively expensive, especially for a family. Fortunately, the UK capital is large and diverse enough to offer a huge choice of things to do that are completely free, and there are plenty of budget eaterie and accommodation options, especially outside the centre.

Most visitors to London are aware of the top sights, such as the British, Science and Natural History Museums, Madame Tussauds and the Tower of London. Whilst some are free to enter, many of the top tourist attractions have hefty entrance charges, and most become impossibly crowded at peak times.

For a refreshing, more tranquil change that is also likely to be far kinder on your wallet, head for East London. There’s a wealth of attractions in close proximity to each other that will delight both adults and children alike.

First off is the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood (Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA; 020 8983 5200; open 10am-5.45pm daily; stacked with toy nostalgia by the pram-load. Being both a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the national collection of childhood-related objects means that this is a top-notch museum, displaying hundreds of toys, games, clothing, dolls and dolls houses through the years.

Its cafe, the Benugo, provides hot dishes, salads, sandwiches, pastries and cakes, as well as coffee, hot and cold drinks, wine and beer. More details at

It is just a short stroll to another excellent free museum, the Geffrye Museum (Kingsland Road, E2 8EA; 020 7739 9893; open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm;, containing reconstructed room displays showing homes from before 1600 to the present. Located in elegant almshouses overlooking pretty gardens (including a herb garden open 1 April - 31 October during museum hours) visitors walk through a series of period rooms from 1600 to the present day.

Its excellent Geffrye Restaurant offers cakes, bagels, sandwiches, salads and lunches. For something more exotic there is a choice of Vietnamese restaurants along the Kingsland Road, although the one next door to the museum, Song Que (020 7613 3222) at number 134, has had very mixed reviews of late.

Between these two museums you can stroll around Haggerston Park, which is bordered by Queensbridge Road, Hackney Road and Goldsmith's Row. Facilities include a children’s play area, BMX and athletics tracks, and football and basketball pitches.

It also contains Hackney City Farm (1a Goldsmith’s Row, E2 8QA; 020 7729 6381; open Tues-Sun 10am-4.30pm;, which is again free to enter. Residents include pigs, calves, goats, sheep, a donkey, ducks, chickens, rabbits and other small animals and birds. There is also a garden and the eternally popular Frizzante Cafe, serving Mediterranean food.

Opposite the farm is Columbia Road ( As well as its famous flower market on Sundays from 8am to 3pm, where the road is packed with endless plants and punters, it has around 60 independent shops selling anything from antiques to vintage clothes and artworks, jewellery and gardening goods - a window shopper’s delight. Opening times vary. There are also some great cafes, pubs and restaurants.

Columbia Road is just a short distance from Brick Lane and its huge selection of inexpensive Indian restaurants. Other culinary options here include the 24-hour Beigel Bake at 159 Brick Lane, with prices starting at under £2.00. Spitalfields Market has lots of food stalls and inexpensive cafes and restaurants - as well as its vast  selection of clothes, furniture, cds, antiques, books, jewellery and other items. Be sure to admire Hawksmoor’s magnificent Christ Church on Commercial Street, which is open to visitors on Tuesdays 11am-4pm and Sundays from 1-4pm, and often at other times too. Some of the local streets, like Fournier Street, adjacent to the church, contain some impossibly attractive 18th-century houses.

Older children will appreciate another free attraction in the vicinity, the  Whitechapel Gallery (77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX, 020 7522 7888; open Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, until 9pm Thursday;, which has recently been completely revamped into a snazzy major showcase of modern art. 

For very contemporary local accommodation try the Hoxton Hotel  (81 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3HU) with rooms from £59.00 and a quarterly prize draw to win a one-night stay for £1.

The clean and comfortable Days Hotel London Shoreditch (419-437 Hackney Road, E2 8PP) has rooms from £73.00, and there are regular offers.

If you wish to congratulate yourself on all the cash you have saved during the day by splashing out on a swanky nearby hotel, try Bethnal Green’s new Town Hall Hotel and Apartments (Patriot Square, E2 9NF), a Grade II listed building with double rooms from £290.00, there is a 50% discount until 31.08.10. There’s a pool, gym, restaurant and bar.

Save money on booking

flightshotelscar hire

by following our money-saving guides. They are written by our Simonseeks team of travel gurus.

More information on Free family day out in East London:

Ben West
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
Average: 3.8 (5 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
27 July 2010
Last updated:
4 years 29 weeks 5 days 16 hours 50 min 36 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Family, Short Break
Budget level:
Free, Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
budget, family, free

Ben recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Town Hall Hotel
2. Hoxton Hotel
3. Days Hotel London Shoreditch

What do you think of this guide?

Did it tell you what you needed to know?
Do you agree with the writer's recommendations?

Share your views by leaving a comment on this page.

Community comments (5)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Ben

Free is always good in my book and what a great idea to look at what's on offer in the End End. As I recall there are a lot of good ethnic eating places around Hackney and Bethnal Green including a couple of Brazilian restaurants!


Was this comment useful?
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I thought this guide was really interesting. I visit East London quite a lot but had never heard of the Geffrye Museum before. It'll be on my 'must visit' list next time I'm up that way though - especially as it's free! Thanks for the tip, Ben!

Was this comment useful?
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Ben,

The 'Free' theme works quite well especially for popular destinations like London. You have done a great job in bringing out this excellent guide.

I have a few suggestions to make:

1. Many of your website link don't seem to work. The inclusion of a semi-colon at the end of the website link seems to the culprit. You may edit and remove them
2. Highlight some key words or phrases and include some sub-headings to make the guide more appealing.
3. Include some more photographs if possible and remove the underscores from the captions.

Was this comment useful?
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

this is an interesting and well written guide.
It is pleasing to read a positive account of this often maligned area of town. I used to know the East End well, your description of the museums and the park brought back childhood memories.
There is tons of history there, I do hope you put it on the tourist map.
Just one point to add, the text on the photos would benefit from respacing.

Was this comment useful?
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

London is hugely expensive amd any guide to free attractions here is very welcome. I have read about places I have never heard of before, and will certainly look them up next time I am in that part of town.

Some good hotel tips offerring very reasonable prices, for those coming from out of the city.

At times I felt I was reading too many lists, especially with respect to the eating places mentioned. A description of a particularly good cake or sandwich would have inspired me more, or even a recommendation and description of your favourite Brick Lane curry house (I never know which one to choose.)

Was this comment useful?