Whoever said that the best things in life are free has clearly not driven a 5-series BMW, but that doesn't mean that obtaining something without paying for it isn't immensely gratifying.
Many of the free events and venues n London explain far more about the capital and its people than the obvious, expensive tourist spots. An hour in the public gallery at the Old Bailey reveals aspects of the British character in a way that Rock Circus and the like never could.
Artsline (071-388 2227) gives free information for the disabled on cultural and entertainment events and will send individual guides to restaurants, theatres etc.
Charity Sponsorship: Choose your challenge - for example a parachute jump - and let people sponsor it for a charity. Part of the money raised pays for your dare and the remainder goes to the nominated charity.
Cloakroom: You can use the cloakroom services of many museums, theatres and galleries and saunter unencumbered around the capital.
Drink: At the 50 or so London branches of Oddbins Wine Merchants there are wine tastings of five or six wines every Saturday 2pm-5pm.
Fashion: Harrods, Knightsbridge SW1 (071-730 1234; Knightsbridge Tube) Open Mon, Tues & Sat 10am-6pm, Wed, Thur & Fri 10am-7pm. Throughout the year fashion workshops are held, often in association with magazines such as Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, Harpers and Queen and Vogue. There are also occasional fashion shows with a complimentary drink at Selfridges, Oxford St W1 (071-629 1234; Marble Arch Tube) Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-7pm and until 8pm on Thurs.
Food: Hand Made Food, 40 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath SE3 OBD (081-297 9966; Blackheath BR) Open Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat 9am-5.30pm, Sun 10am-2pm. Like many delicatessens and specialist food shops, this one is happy for you to taste everything from its fresh food range. Younger visitors can play with toys provided.
Harrods, Knightsbridge SW1 (071-730 1234; Knightsbridge Tube) Open Mon, Tues & Sat 10am-6pm, Wed, Thur & Fri 10am-7pm. When tastings and product launches occur, a whisk through the huge Food Hall sampling the varied fare can procure you an impressive calorie intake.
Hare Krishna Restaurant, 9 Soho Street W1 (071-437 3662; Tottenham Court Road Tube). Open Mon-Sat 11am-7.30pm. The management does not mind giving away its delicious vegetarian food since it believes it provides spiritual benefit, but consistent abusers of its system and 'the intoxicated and hardcore tramps' are not admitted.
Haircuts: The London College of Fashion, 20 John Prince's Street W1 (071-514 7482 or 071-514 7400; Oxford Circus Tube). Open Mon-Fri during term time (after 3 October), call for class times. Many hairdressing salons also offer free cuts executed by student hairdressers.
Make-overs: The Body Shop, with over 40 branches in London, offers free make-overs (or if you wish, just selected items such as eyes or lips) as well as skin-care, hand-care and foot-care demonstrations. An appointment is usually necessary. Details of participating stores are available from the head office (0903 731 500).
Cosmetic counters in department stores also apply make-up to prospective customers.
Media: A wealth of magazines and newspapers can be read in cosy and quiet surroundings in those libraries that have not as yet been closed down.
Paper: Printers are often overwhelmed with offcuts of paper and card they will never use and will gladly off-load some on to you.
Perfume: If you like a dash of fragrance and are on the way to a party, a quick walk around the perfume counters of department stores won't go amiss.
Postcards: London Cardguide Ltd have 18 new designs each month of postcards in racks placed at 60 changing restaurants and bars in London, including the Cafe at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge SW1. Because advertisers are banished from showing the product or logo on the front, there is always space to write on the back. Also a similar operation, Media Partners, places racks at about 25 venues including Ed's Easy Diner, 335 Fulham Rd SW10 and branches.
Sex: Condoms are available from Family Planning Clinics. The Family Planning Association, 27 Mortimer St W1 (071-636 7866) can specify your nearest one. Because of cutbacks, supplies may be restricted.
Sun Tan: The Tanning Shop, 35 Albermarle St W1 (071-976 7292; Green Park Tube). Open Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat 9am-6pm. This and all of the 20 other London branches have a free trial session.
Television and Radio: Write or ring for free tickets as far in advance as possible as some shows have huge waiting lists. Some have specific audience requirements, for example visitors to Paul McKenna's Hypnotic Show (Carlton) have to sign a form saying they are willing to be hypnotised. Write for details of forthcoming shows, or state the show you want to see, to the BBC TV Ticket Unit, Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12 (081-743 8000).
For LWT and other ITV shows write with an sae to The Ticket Unit, London Television Centre, London SE1 (071-261 3971). An sae to agents Clappers Ltd., 7 Stewards Close, Epping, Essex will get you on their free ticket list. The Duty Office at Carlton Television (071-240 4000) or Channel 4 (071-306 8333) can also give details of shows coming up.
Independent production companies such as Hat Trick (Whose Line Is It Anyway? etc) place classified advertisements in London publications.
Details of tickets for BBC radio are available from the Radio Ticket Unit, BBC, London W1(071-765 5243).
Textiles: Many textile retailers may give sample swatches or scraps of cloth that you can use for a patchwork quilt.
Covent Garden: As well as the many stalls there are often street entertainments from fire-eaters to magicians, clowns and acrobats outside the theatrical Inigo Jones 17th-century St Paul's Church, King St WC2 (071-836 5221) and within the covered piazza.
Africa Centre, 38 King St WC2 (071-836 1973; Charing Cross Tube and BR, Covent Garden Tube) Open Mon-Sat 10am-6.30pm. Has an art gallery, reference library and crafts shop.
Contemporary Applied Arts, 43 Earlham St WC2 (071-836 6993 Covent Garden Tube) Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Thurs until 7pm. Ceramic, glass, metal and other exhibits.
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square WC2 (071-839 3321; Charing Cross Tube and BR) Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 2pm-6pm. Everything in the gigantic collection of 13th to 20th century paintings is on view. The Micro Gallery, the computer information centre in the Sainsbury Wing, can provide you with a personal tour map that highlights the pictures you wish to see. Free lunchtime lectures.
National Portrait Gallery, 2 St Martin's Place WC2 (071-306 0055; Charing Cross Tube and BR) Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm Sun noon-6pm. Various talks, tours, recitals and other events throughout the year.
Photographers' Gallery, 5 & 8 Great Newport St WC2 (071-831 1772; Leicester Square Tube) Open Tues-Sat 11am-6pm.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square WC2 (071-930 1862; Charing Cross Tube and BR) Open 7.30am-6pm. Admire the elegant spire, Grinling Gibbons woodwork or Venetian glass or go to a lunchtime concert. A crafts market is in the courtyard.
City, Holborn and Clerkenwell: Bank of England Museum, Threadneedle St EC2 (071-601 4444; Bank Tube) Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm. Explores 300 years of banking.
Barbican Centre, Silk St EC2 (071-638 4141; Barbican, Moorgate, Liverpool St Tube and BR) Open Mon-Sat 9am-11pm, Sun noon-11pm. Huge cultural arts complex with varied live music in the foyer most weekdays 5.30-7pm and Sun 12.30-2.30pm plus art and craft exhibitions. During the Shakespeare Festival (25 Oct-20 Nov) there will be lectures and events.
Broadgate Centre, Broadgate Circle, Eldon St EC2 (071-588 6565; Liverpool St Tube and BR). Huge variety of mostly lunchtime outdoor events from May to September. Also events at Halloween, Christmas and on Burns Night. Telephone for details.
BT Museum, 145 Queen Victoria St EC4 (071-248 7444; Blackfriars Tube) Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm. The past, present and future of telecommunications.
The Guildhall, Gresham St EC2 (071-606 3030; St Paul's Tube) Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm. See the 152-foot long hall and its stone-arched roof. West wing houses the Guildhall Library and the small Museum of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.
Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Silk St EC2 (071-628 2571; Barbican Tube) Concerts, recitals, plays and other events in term time.
Lincoln's Inn, Chancery Lane WC2 (071-405 1393; Chancery Lane Tube). Open all day. Of all the Inns of Court, this is the most beautiful. Soak up the Oxbridge-college atmosphere.
London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane, WC2 (071-242 3844; Chancery Lane Tube). Open Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-1pm. Britain's finest collection of antique and modern silverware. Vaults and strongrooms. The traders are happy to chat about hallmarks and history.
Mansion House, Walbrook St EC4 (071-626 2500; Cannon St Tube and BR). Write for an appointment for a tour of this striking Palladian building.
Museum of London, 150 London Wall EC2 (071-600 3699; Barbican or Moorgate Tube) Free 4.30pm-5.50pm Tues-Sun.
National Postal Museum, King Edward St EC1 (071-239 5420; St Paul's Tube). Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm. The world's most comprehensive stamp collection.
Old Bailey, Newgate St EC4 (071-248 3277; St Paul's Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10.30am-1.30pm, 2.30pm-4.30pm. If you are lucky enough to be in a public gallery in this, the Central Criminal Court, when there is an exciting case you have the ingredients for quite a spectacle. The oldest courts, numbers 1,2 and 3, are usually the best.
Public Records Office Museum, Chancery Lane WC2 (081-876 3444; Chancery Lane Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm. Documents on show include the Domesday Book of 1086 and Magna Carta.
Royal Courts of Justice, Strand WC2 (071-936 6470; Temple Tube). Open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm. Also known as the Law Courts. To civil law what the Old Bailey is to criminal law.
Sir John Soane's Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields WC2 (071-405 2107; Holborn Tube). Open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, lecture tour Sat 2.30pm. A staggering variety of treasures from around the world.
City churches: A number of churches in the City provide free lunchtime concerts and recitals. Details are available from the City of London Information Centre, St Paul's Churchyard EC4 (071-606 3030). Three of the best: St Bride's Church and Crypt Museum, Fleet St EC4 (071-353 1301; Blackfriars Tube). Open daily 8.30am-5.15pm.
St Lawrence Jewry, Gresham St EC2 (071-600 9478; St Paul's Tube). Open Mon-Fri 7.30am-2.30pm. Beautiful 17th-century gilded plasterwork on show in this Wren church that offers hour-long organ recitals on Mon and Tues.
St Mary-Le-Bow, Cheapside EC2 (071-248 5139; St Paul's Tube). Open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm. This is the church (also Wren-designed) with bells that Cockneys must be born within earshot of.
Bloomsbury: British Library, Great Russell St WC1 (071-636 1544 Russell Square Tube). Mon-Fri 2.15pm and 4.15pm. Tours of the famous Round Reading Room with its 25 miles of shelving.
British Museum, Great Russell St WCI (071-636 1555; Russell Sq Tube). Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2.30-6pm. The vast collection is complemented by gallery talks Tues-Sat at 11.30am, weekday lectures at 1.15pm and talks at other times from Sat-Tues.
The Building Centre, 26 Store St WC1 (071-637 1022; Goodge St Tube). Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Sat 10am-1pm. Exhibitions about the building industry.
Coram's Fields City Farm, 93 Guildford St WC1 (071-837 6138; Russell Square Tube). Open April-Oct 8.30am-8pm. Goats, sheep, geese, ducks and an aviary in seven acres.
Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 53 Gordon Square WC1 (071-387 3909; Euston Square Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10.30am-5pm. 10th-18th century Chinese ceramics.
Salvation Army Museum, 117 Judd St WC1 (071-387 1656; King's Cross BR and Tube). Open on-Fri 9.30am-3.30pm, Sat 9.30am-noon.
Kensington and Knightsbridge: Geological Museum, Exhibition Rd SW7 and Natural History Museum, Cromwell Rd SW7 (071-938 9123). Free admission Mon-Fri 4.30-6pm, Sat/Sun 5-6pm.
Science Museum Exhibition Rd SW7 (071-938 8111). Free 4.30-6pm.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road SW7 (071-589 6371; South Kensington Tube). Open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm, Mon noon-6pm. A free tour of collections of fine and applied art hourly from 11am-3pm. Specialist tours every day but Sundays at 2.30pm.
King's Road antiques (Sloane Square Tube). Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm: with Antiquarius indoor antique market at 135 King's Rd SW3, Chenil Galleries, 181 King's Rd SW3 and the Chelsea Antique Market, 245/253 King's Rd SW3 and more than 30 other dealers you can browse for hours.
Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Sq SW1 (071-235 1461; Knightsbridge Tube). Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm. Ring for details of lectures, exhibitions and other events.
National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Rd SW3 (071-730 0717 Sloane Sq Tube). 10am-5.30pm.
National Sound Archive, 29 Exhibition Rd SW7 (071-589 6603; South Kensington Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm and to 9pm Thurs. Ring to make an appointment to listen from a choice of millions of recordings.
Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore SW7 (071-584 5020; Gloucester Rd Tube) Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm. Exhibitions during term.
Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Rd SW7 (071-589 3643; Gloucester Rd Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10am-5.30pm. Concerts during term time and a collection of portraits of musicians.
Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens W2 (071-402 6075; Knightsbridge Tube). Open daily 10am-6pm. Contemporary art shows. The gallery is in the 275-acre Kensington Gardens, next to Hyde Park, which is next to Green Park, which is next to St James's Park - so go on an epic walk ending up near Parliament Square.
Parliament Square: Houses of Parliament, Parliament Square SW1 (071-219 4272; Westminster Tube). Tours of Parliament and visits to the Strangers' Galleries of both Houses are available but require planning in advance.
Westminster Abbey, Broad Sanctuary SW1 (071-222 5152; Westminster Tube) Free admission to entire Abbey Wed 6pm-8pm. It is worth visiting Dean's Yard and the tranquil Cloisters outside the Abbey.
Westminster and St James's:
Christie's, 8 King Street SW1 (071 839 9060; Green Park Tube). Open Mon-Sat 9am-4.30pm and until 8pm on Tues, Sun 2pm-5pm. See cameras to costumes and Islamic carpets to Impressionist paintings at an auction preview, or attend the auction itself.
Tate Gallery, Millbank SW1 (071-887 8000; Westminster/Pimlico Tube) Open Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm, Sun 2-5.50pm) If you need help around the diverse collection including Constable and Cubists there are guided tours Mon-Fri 11am, noon, 2pm and 3pm , Sat 3pm and Sun 3.45pm.
Westminster Cathedral, Ashley Place SW1 (071-834 7452; Victoria Tube and BR). Open daily 7am-8pm. UK head office of the Roman Catholic Church. Byzantine-style architecture, with a brick, marble and mosaic interior, at its finest.
Piccadilly and Mayfair: British Music Information Centre, 10 Stratford Place W1 (071-499 8567). Free concerts, shows and recitals most Tues and Thurs 7.30pm.
Museum of Mankind, 6 Burlington Gardens W1 (071-437 2224; Piccadilly Circus Tube). Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2.30pm-5pm.
Polish Cultural Institute, 34 Portland Place W1 (071-636 6032; Regent's Park Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Thurs to 8pm. Exhibitions, concerts, lectures and other activities.
Pyms Gallery, 9 Mount St W1 (071-629 2020; Marble Arch Tube). Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-6pm. 19th and 20th century Irish art.
St James's Piccadilly, 197 Piccadilly W1 (071-734 4511; Piccadilly Circus Tube). Open daily 8.30am-6.30pm. This Wren church with a fibreglass spire has lunchtime and evening concerts and a crafts market Fri/Sat.
Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square W1 (071-935 0687 Bond St Tube). Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm. Paintings, applied arts and furniture.
William Jackson Gallery, 28 Cork St W1 (071-287 2121; Piccadilly Circus Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm. This is one of about 15 art galleries in Cork Street. There are even more in surrounding streets.
South Bank: National Theatre, Upper Ground, South Bank SE1 (071 928 2033; Waterloo Tube and BR) Mon-Sat 10am-11pm. Three exhibitions, and at 6pm (and 1pm Sat) there is music in the Lyttleton Foyer.
Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Rd SE1 (071-928 3002). Open daily 10am-10.30pm. Always up to three exhibitions in the foyer along with free music 12.30-2pm daily and on Fridays jazz from 5.15-6.45pm.
Southwark Cathedral, Montague Close and Cathedral St SE1 (071-407 2939; London Bridge Tube and BR) Oldest Gothic building in London, often with organ recitals on Mondays and music recitals Tuesdays at 1.10pm.
NORTH: Burgh House, New End Square NW3 (071-431 0144; Hampstead Tube). Open Wed-Sun noon-5pm. Museum of old Hampstead village and has art shows and recitals.
Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Rd NW3 (071-435 2643; Hampstead Tube). Open Tues-Thurs noon-8pm, Fri-Sun noon-6pm. Exhibitions include video, film, photography, painting, sculpture.
Keats House, Wentworth Place, Keats Grove NW3 (071-435 2062; Hampstead Tube). Open Mon-Fri 10am-1pm, 2-6pm, Sat 10am-1pm, 2-5pm, Sun 2-5pm. A museum to romantic poet Keats, who lived here.
Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane NW3 (081-348 1286; Golders Green or Highgate Tube). Open daily 10am-6pm and from Oct 10am-4pm. Set in the north of the 800 acres of Hampstead Heath this has paintings by Rembrandt, Turner and others and fine furniture.
Crafts Council, 44a Pentonville Road N1 (071-278 7700; Angel Tube). Open Tues-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 2pm-6pm. Ring for details of exhibitions and craft demonstrations.
Glass Blowing, The Glass House, 21 St Albans Place, off Upper St N1 (071-359 8162; Angel Tube). Open Tues-Fri 10am-6pm. Gallery, workshop and glass blowers at work.
East: Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Rd E2 (081-980 3204; Bethnal Green Tube). Open Mon-Thurs. Sat 10am-5.50pm, Sun 2.30-6pm. Games, toys, puppets etc.
Camerawork, 121 Roman Rd E2 (081-980 6256; Bethnal Green Tube). Open Tues-Fri 1-6pm, Sat 1-3pm. Photographic exhibitions, talks and workshops.
Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Rd E2 (071-739 9893; Old Street Tube). Open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm. Life from Elizabethan times to the 50s.
London Buddhist Centre, 51 Roman Rd E2 (081-981 1225; Bethnal Green Tube) Free meditation classes weekdays 1-2pm, and Wed 7-9.30pm.
Mudchute City Farm, Pier St, Isle of Dogs E14 (071-515 5901; Mudchute DLR) Open daily 8am-6.30pm and until 5pm from Nov. 35 acres of farm animals and gardens.
Newham City Farm, Stansfeld Rd E16 (071-476 1170; Custom House BR). Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm.
Ragged Schools Museum, 46 Copperfield Rd E3 (081-980 6405; Mile End Tube) Open Wed/Thur 10am-5pm. Exhibition on East End life.
Whitechapel Art Gallery, 80 Whitechapel High Street E1 (071-377 0107; Aldgate East Tube). Tues-Sun 11am-5pm and to 8pm on Wed.
William Morris Gallery, Lloyd Park, Forest Rd E17 (081-527 3782; Walthamstow Central Tube and BR). Open Tues-Sat 10am-1pm, 2-5pm.
SOUTH-EAST: Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill SE10 (081-858 7755; Maze Hill/Greenwich Tube). Mon-Sat 10am-10pm. Exhibitions in the foyer.
Royal Naval College, King William Walk SE10 (081-858 2154; Maze Hill/Greenwich BR) Open Fri-Wed 2.30-5pm. Nearby is the 200-acre Greenwich Park, and at the Market Square Sat and Sun 9am-5pm is Greenwich Market and Greenwich Antique Market on Greenwich High Rd.
Cuming-Museum, 155 Walworth Rd SE17 (071-703 3324; Elephant and Castle Tube). Open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm. Collection includes superstition through the ages.
Horniman Museum and Gardens, 100 London Rd SE23 (081 699 4911 Forest Hill BR). Open Mon-Sat 10.30am-5.30pm, Sun 2.30-5.30pm (museum) and 8am-dusk (gardens). Anthropology, natural history and music in the museum with a miniature zoo in the gardens.
In our feature Free London on 6 September, we reported that the Hare Krishna Restaurant at 9 Soho Street, W1 gives away food. We would like to point out that the restaurant, properly called Govinda's Pure Vegetarian Restaurant, runs a free soup kitchen for the homeless. For general customers it offers all you can eat for pounds 2.99. Open 11.30 am-7.30pm Mon-Sat. The Radha-Krishna Temple, at 10 Soho Street, holds an introduction programme, 1pm, Mon-Sat; 3pm Sun, which is free for first-timers and where refreshments are served.