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Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey
Photograph: Tavi IonescuMaltby Street Market, Bermondsey

Free things to do in London this weekend

Make the most of your free time without breaking the bank, thanks to our round-up of free things to do at the weekend

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Things To Do Editors
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Don't let your cash flow, or lack of it, get in the way of having a banging weekend. Read our guide to free things to do in London this weekend and you can make sure that your Friday, Saturday and Sunday go off with a bang, without eating up your bucks. After all, the best things in life are free. 

If that's whetted your appetite for events and cultural happenings in London, get planning further ahead by having a gander over our events calendar.

RECOMMENDED: Save even more dosh by taking a look at our guide to cheap London.

Christmas by the River
  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
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  • Tower Bridge

London Bridge City’s annual Christmas market is back from November 16. You can expect extremely scenic views over the river and a bunch of lovely winter cabins offering pop-up boozers, street food and festive craft items. There will, as per usual, be lots of workshops and events organised, so keep an eye on official announcements.  Local bars will be serving up Christmas cocktails, warm cider, mulled wine and craft beers, while over 60 traders will be on hand selling gourmet treats and handmade gifts. Find more festive fun with our guide to Christmas in London

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Mayfair

David Shrigley’s gone full Ronseal. ‘Mayfair Tennis Ball Exchange’, his latest show, is exactly what it says it is: a gallery filled with fresh new tennis balls that you can come and swap an old ball of yours for. That’s it. That’s the show. And somehow, it’s great. The gallery has that new ball pong wafting through it, it’s eye-tinglingly bright with the lights bouncing off the fluorescent fluffy material, a proper assault on the senses. And over the course of the exhibition, that smell will dissipate and the neon will fade as these new balls get replaced with manky old ones. Already on the first day one has the word ‘PIG’ scrawled across it in thick marker, one is filthy grey, another is torn in half. The pristine shelves are already becoming nasty and gross. It’s decay happening in real time on the gallery walls. It’s very silly, obviously, but it’s also very good. Partly because it looks like a classic art installation – it feels and reads like something that should be in a contemporary art gallery – just made out of tennis balls. But also because it’s proper conceptual art, with proper ideas about time and ageing and wear and tear and decay and use. It’s about going from clean to filthy, from new and nice to old and shit, just like all of us, like our bodies and minds. It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s probably the best thing David Shrigley has ever done. And you should all be very grateful that I didn’t end this review by saying this is art worth making a racquet about.

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
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  • Covent Garden

There's arguably nowhere in London that's Christmassier than Covent Garden Piazza in December – and this year it's taking those festive vibes to the next level. From November 9, it's going to transform into Arendelle from 'Frozen' to mark the opening of the new West End musical. (If you want to build a snowman or find out why reindeer are better than people, you should pop in.) Covent Garden Christmas Village opens on November 15 with craft stalls, a fir-tree forest and bauble-shaped dining domes. Best of all? The likes of Frenchie, Avobar, Ladurée, The Smokey Gaucho, Mr Pig Stuff and The Cheese Toaster will all be serving up their takes on the Christmas sarnie this festive season. There’ll be more than 15 to try. Probably best not to do that all in one sitting. Other exciting events hosted at Covent Garden this year include London's first-ever Christmas Sandwich Festival, which starts on November 15. There’s also a mulled wine festival, aka The Winter Warmer Fortnight, beginning December 10. An immersive Lego experience promises to transport shoppers into a colourful brick-based world, plus there are new shops from Lisa Eldridge, Guerlain and Bullard’s Gin and a shopping lounge, created by American Express. It all sounds very good.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
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  • Soho

Carnaby Street’s Christmas lights are usually pretty damn special. This year’s iteration looks to continue that trend. Not only will they make the shopping street look extremely festive, the new installations are created to raise awareness for Choose Love, a shop set up by the charity Help Refugees, that supports (and raises money for) refugees all over the world. The show, named Carnaby Kaleidoscope, sounds pretty spectacular this year. You can expect more than 600 3D and 2D butterflies fluttering around the area, each one hand-decorated with shining wings and eye-popping neon patterns. The Carnaby arch itself will shine bright in pink shimmer disks with brightly coloured 3D butterflies perched above.  Choose Love, at 3 Carnaby Street, will be full of gifts including emergency blankets, children’s shoes and mobile phone credit. Once you’ve made your purchases, the products are sentout by one of more than 80 projects that the humanitarian aid organisation works with around the world. If that wasn't enough, on November 4, all of the local shops and restaurants will be coming to together for a big ol' party, offering customers stuff like 20% discounts, in-store events, free drinks, live music and goodie bags.  Find more Christmas lights in London Find more festive fun with our guide to Christmas in London

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
  • price 0 of 4
  • Fitzrovia

Rachel Maclean does Disney for the Instagram age. The main film installation in the Scottish artist’s brutally bright, saccharinely coloured new exhibition is a fairytale about a young blonde Disney princess/beauty vlogger called Mi. Her anxiety about ageing and greying and wrinkling overwhelms her, leading to a battle with her own ugliness, an axe fight with a withered version of herself. Her world keeps spinning upside down, the gravity flipping, everything going all topsy turvy.  The mirror into which she looks attempts to peek up her skirt, grab at her breasts and strangle her. Gradually Mi is pushed further into a violent battle with herself. Maclean’s one of the most interesting, direct, instantly recognizable artists working in the UK today. This film, which is all digital animation, lacks the visual impact of her previous hybrid live-action-CGI films, but still packs a punch. It’s nasty, vicious stuff, all wrapped in candy floss. Upstairs, the same Mi character appears in paintings and tapestries, even as a doll: a dual figure, grey-scale and zombified on one side, young, blonde and perfect on the other.  It’s nasty, vicious stuff, all wrapped in candy floss. The paintings are big, chaotic, messy things, filled with symbolism and the signature Maclean emojis-meets-My-Little-Pony aesthetic. They’re digital, but covered in hand-painted crackles that make them look like they’ve been stuffed in an attic somewhere for years and years. These are complex-looking works, but

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • price 0 of 4
  • South Bank

Everyone’s favourite riverside culture hotspot Southbank Centre will once again be aglow with festive illuminations. Winter Light is a free, open-air exhibition featuring no fewer than ten lightworks (which is what we’re calling these now) from properly famous and talented artists from around the world. All of them make mind-bending use of light, colour and even boundary-pushing film to deal with issues and topics surrounding nature, technology, urban life and spirituality. Works featured include: Dichroic Sphere (a light sculpture powered by a single energy-efficient bulb); Car Show (a beautifully glowing ‘graveyard of cars’); Loomin (a lovely neon canopy above the trees of The Queen’s Walk) and Noste (projected layers, pulsating colour onto the Centre’s concrete columns). And that’s just four of them! Why not combine your visit with a trip to Southbank Centre’s Winter Market? Find out all about London’s other massive festive light shows

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • price 0 of 4
  • South Bank

Once again you are cordially invited to eat, drink and be merry beside the River Thames. Great news. The Southbank Centre’s seasonal food stands and winter pop-up bars will be on hand serving up festive favourites, warming drinks and whatnot. You can even dine in private, heated igloos. Gourmet cheese toasties, truffle burgers and duck wraps, fondue, bratwurst, eggnog, dutch pancakes, mince pies and loads more. Jimmy’s Winter Lodge, and the heated snowglobes, will be making a return also. Get cosy in your little private globe while making a mess with Jimmy’s legendary cheese fondue. Further down you’ll find vibey boozemongers Beltane & Pop, who’ll have you sorted for cider, mulled wine. and hot toddies.  Meanwhile you’ll have Plonk at Bar Under The Bridge, a nine-hole Yule-themed minigolf course. Heated? Yes. Covered? Yes. With a bar? Mais oui. Between The Bridges will be hosting Winterella, offering street food, fun family activities and drag brunches. Meanwhile the Spiegeltent venue is actually being taken over by the legendary Clapham Grand, so you can expect a load of risque shows featuring cabaret, drag and comedy.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
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  • Hoxton

Semi-literally step into the future to see what our homes could look like in the year 2050. Discover the impact on people's health, the community and the planet in this interactive exhibit 'Tomorrow's Home'. From research at UCL's Institute of Healthcare Engineering and designed by The Liminal Space, this multi-sensory experience at the Museum of the Home allows visitors to witness new technologies like living wallpaper and a talking toilet. Other upcoming activities at the Museum of the Home include the family event Robotic Christmas Carols on December 16 and Cork House Show and Tell on January 6, where you can step inside a plant-based home. See the full in-person event schedule on the UCL website. The online events calendar is also available on the UCL website.

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  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • price 0 of 4
  • Belgravia

The charming cobbles of Belgravia are going to be transormed winter wonderland once again. From November 10, Belgravia will be illuminated with beautiful Christmas displays to kick off the festive season. The spectacular white lights will be spread across Motcomb Street, Elizabeth Street, Pimlico Road, Eccleston Yards and Halkin Arcade. They’re calling it ‘With Bells On’, which we like. The Eccleston Yards Christmas Market is open every day from 11am to 5pm and will feature hand-made gifts, mince pies, mulled wine and all the other Christmassy things you’d expect.  Then, from December 4, at 6-7 Motcomb Street, you’ll find The Gingerbread City. Put together with input from more than 100 architects, designers and engineers, this is a whole bloody city made from gingerbread. Wow. You’ll also get to take part in gingerbread house workshops. 

  • Things to do
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  • Soho

If you’re looking for London’s main lighting attractions this winter, it’d be well worth popping along to Oxford Street. The busy shopping thoroughfare’s display is brand new for this year, consisting mainly of nice, calming stars, which make a lovely impact in the night sky. Pretty magical looking, really. Traditionally Oxford Street is the first to unveil its lights, but this year 20 streets across the West End, including Regent Street, Bond Street and areas in Mayfair and Piccadilly, all lit up in sync for what was the biggest switch-on in the world. Nice to celebrate with your neighbours, isn’t it? Find out more about London’s brilliant Christmas lights.

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