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6 amazing free filming locations in London

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Written by Becky T

Published Sep 04, 2023

London is one of the most iconic and recognisable cities in the world, with major historical sites and hidden oases sprawling its 600 square miles. From Brutalist housing estates to old cobbled streets, imposing skyscrapers to humble park corners, London is a city that can transcend generations at the turn of every corner: nothing short of a filmmaker's paradise.

So if you're a low-budget filmmaker or video production company looking for beautiful spots to feature in your film, we've collated 6 amazing free filming locations in London, as well as a quick guide to the laws and regulations surrounding filming in public in London.

Contents:

  1. Before you film
  2. Trafalgar Square
  3. Millennium Bridge (& other City Bridges)
  4. St Dunstan-on-the-East (& other City Gardens)
  5. Thamesmead Estate
  6. Piccadilly Circus
  7. Richmond Park (& other Royal Parks)
  8. Wrapping up

1. Before you film

Requesting permission

As long as your project doesn't break any other laws (such as impersonating a police officer, public indecency or wilful obstruction of the highway), then technically you're free to film in public spaces and the police can't prohibit you. However, things usually aren't this simple, as many spaces that you may think are public are actually private, and you may find yourself breaking laws or attracting conflict without intention. Many councils will also charge an administration fee for necessary permits, even where filming is technically "free".

Therefore, it's always a good idea to consult with local authorities to give yourself the best chance at a smooth filming experience. Each of the 33 boroughs in London has its own Borough Film Service (BFS) - make yourself familiar with them as they will be your point of call for all public filming enquires. Staff at the BFS are able to consult with local council departments on your behalf to find out where you may need permission to film, as well as help you to obtain any necessary licenses or permissions.

image showing a man watching as a photographer takes a photo of the London skyline from a bridge
Photo by David Marcu

The Met Police also have their own filming department, making it easy for filmmakers to notify the police about their film and request police assistance to aid crew safety and public reassurance.

You may be able to obtain a Notice of No Objection from your local council or from the Met Police, which is confirmation that local authorities have no objection to filming taking place. This won't give you unlimited freedoms but may help if you find yourself in dispute with the public or officers while filming is taking place. Some boroughs offer these free of charge and others may cost between £25-£100. It's particularly important to obtain a Notice of No Objection if you're filming with a tripod.

You should begin consulting with the necessary film officers and local councils as soon as possible, as many require you to gain permission well in advance of filming.

Insurance

No matter where you're filming, it's crucial that you invest in public liability insurance to protect yourself and the public from any damages incurred from your production.

Some local councils and authorities will require a minimum insurance coverage (usually £10 million cover value, or £5 million for smaller productions) to allow you to carry out filming.

Scenes involving weapons and drones

If your film project involves the use of weapons or imitation weapons, you'll need to obtain lawful authority to carry it in public. You may need a qualified armourer to be present during your shoot. See the Met Police's Guidelines for Filming with Weapons for specific advice.

image of a drone flying with a cityscape in the background
Image by Goh Rhy Yan

If you're filming with a drone, you'll need to register with the Civil Aviation Authority and obtain an Operator and Flyer ID, which involves completing an online theory test as well as a practical flight assessment. For more in-depth advice on using drones in your film project, check out our essential guide to filming with drones.

Filming members of the public

When filming in public, you don't need to ask passers-by for their permission, however, if you're interviewing members of the public or engaging with them in some consistent way then it's a good idea to get them to sign a model release form. This will protect you both from any future disputes or misunderstandings.

Whilst not an obligation, it's good etiquette to let the public know that they're being filmed, especially if they're stationary and being filmed for an extended period of time. If you have permission, you can put up signs to let people know that you have a film production underway.

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2. Trafalgar square

From James Bond to Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who to Sweeney Todd, Trafalgar Square has served as a backdrop for some of Britain's most iconic characters.

Image of the fountain at Trafalgar Square in London
Image by Diane Picchiottino

Residing in the City of Westminster, Trafalgar Square is a public space owned and managed predominantly by two separate bodies. The GLA (Greater London Authority) owns the main square, whilst the City of Westminster owns the North Terrace and surrounding areas. The National Gallery also owns small portions of its surrounding exterior.

image of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in London
Image by Tânia Mousinho

If you're a crew of less than 5 people filming on a handheld video camera, you won't need to request permission from the City of Westminster council to film on their land. However, for larger productions, you will need to request permission and pay a small application/administration fee. The GLA are a little stricter and requests that everyone receives permission and pay a minimum hourly fee of £1000. Therefore, if you're looking to film on Trafalgar Square for free, we recommend you stick to the North Terrace, which is the area in front of the National Gallery, up the steps from the main square.

Contact the City of Westminster Filming & Events department at eventsandfilming@westminster.gov.uk.

3. Millennium Bridge (& other City Bridges)

Featured in the likes of Harry Potter, Black Mirror and 28 Days Later, this iconic steel suspension bridge over the River Thames is a popular location for British film crews. It's an iconic landmark in London and its modern, industrial appearance makes for an interesting filming backdrop.

Image of Millennium bridge in London with St Pauls Cathedral in the background
Image by Viktor Forgacs

Managed by the City of London Corporation, you are allowed to film on City bridges for up to 30 minutes with small crews, without paying a location fee. Land belonging to the City of London Corporation is private property, however, so you'll need to obtain permission to film no matter the size of your crew, and you'll need to sign a Contract to Film on Private Property.

image of Millennium Bridge in London on a sunny day
Image by Johan Mouchet

Other bridges owned by the City Corporation include Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Tower Bridge and London Bridge.

Contact the City of London Corporation Film Team at film@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

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4. St Dunstan-in-the-East (& other City Gardens)

Tucked away amongst London's bustling Square Mile, St Dunstan-in-the-East is part of the City Gardens owned and managed by the City of London Corporation. The site is home to the ruins of a 12th-century parish church that was bombed during WWII.

image showing the church ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East, covered in greenery
Image by Kyle Bushnell

Also featured in our best places to photograph in London, this gothic oasis has to get a dual mention as one of the best free filming locations in London. There is something uniquely poetic and ethereal about this piece of history buried beneath curtains of foliage and just a stone's throw away from the financial district. If you're looking to escape modernity and find a spot better suited to mysticism and fairy tales, St Dunstan-in-the-East may be the perfect spot.

image showing a man standing amongst the church ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East, with autumn leaves on the ground
Image by Lee Scarratt

Other City Gardens include Beech Gardens at the Barbican Estate, Festival Gardens, Whittington Garden, Postman's Park and Tower Hill Garden. You'll need to receive permission from the film team (email below) for all filming within the City Gardens, unless you're filming for personal documentation of your visit such as for a vlog on YouTube or personal footage.

Contact the City of London Corporation Film Team at film@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

5. Thamesmead Estate

A brutalist housing estate located in South East London, the Thamesmead Estate was made famous for its use as a set in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and later, the hit TV show Misfits. Its grey, angular exterior makes for an imposing and dystopian backdrop, overlooking an artificial lake on the bank of the River Thames.

Film still from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), filmed at Thamesmead estate in London
Film still from A Clockwork Orange (1971)

This original development falls within the Borough of Bexley (whilst some more modern areas lie within the Borough of Greenwich). The Thamesmead estate itself, however, is owned by Peabody Group, with whom you'll need to gain permission if you want to film.

image of a concrete walkway in Thamesmead estate, London
Image by Fraizer Dunleavy

As with any public highway or pavement, you won't need a licence for crews of less than 5 people with a simple handheld camera as long as you stay in public areas. You can consult the local councils if you're unsure of where these lie. You'll also need a minimum of £5 million cover in your Public Liability Insurance to film within the London Brough of Bexley.

Contact the Bexley Film Office at info@bexleyfilmoffice.co.uk or Peabody Group's Filming Management at peabody@filmfixer.co.uk.

6. Piccadilly Circus

Located in the City of Westminster, Piccadilly Circus is a bustling junction in the heart of London, surrounded by large illuminated billboards contrasting with beautiful Victorian architecture, including the Criterion Theatre and London Pavillion.

image of Piccadilly circus at night with large illuminated billboards in the background
Image by George Morina

A great number of major Hollywood films have used Piccadilly Circus as a backdrop, including Bridget Jones's Diary, The Dark Knight, Trainspotting and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This iconic free filming location in London represents the pace and scale of this global city, whilst honouring its historical roots and quintessential British atmosphere.

image of Piccadilly Circus underground station with the busy junction in the background
Image by Ben Kirby

The City of Westminster Council are responsible for dealing with all filming requests regarding Piccadilly Circus, but you don't need to make an application if your production crew is less than 5 people and you're only using a handheld camera.

Contact the City of Westminster Filming & Events department at eventsandfilming@westminster.gov.uk.

7. Richmond Park (& other Royal Parks)

Richmond Park is the largest of London's Royal Parks as well as a national nature reserve and refuge for wildlife such as deer, rabbits, snakes and frogs. This makes for a beautiful free filming location in London, however, crews must be carefully vetted to make sure that they don't pose a threat to the diverse wildlife that live in this delicate ecosystem.

Image of a herd of deer in Richmond Park, London
Image by Johan Mouchet

The Royal Parks are a collection of parks across London, which along with Richmond Park, also includes Regent's Park, Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, Kensington Gardens and Brompton Cemetery.

image of a wooden bench in Richmond park in London with the sun rising in the background
Image by Simon Wilkes

You'll need a minimum of £5 million cover in your Public Liability Insurance to film in any of the Royal Parks. You must fill out a Filming and Photography Application Form detailing the size of your production and the purpose of the shoot, from where the Royal Parks Filming Department will set a fee.

Contact the Royal Parks Filming Department at film@royalparks.org.uk.

8. Wrapping up

Location scouting for film projects in London can be a difficult process to navigate; with so much of the city now privately owned, and such variation across when and how to obtain permission across different boroughs and organisations, it can feel like a minefield trying to find free filming locations in London. They do exist however (albeit often with some small application fees) and hopefully, this list of 6 of the best in the city will get you started on your budget filmmaking journey.

You can always contact these authorities directly to iron out any confusion or visit the Film London website for further advice on filming for free or cheap in London. And if you need some help marketing your independent film, why not check out our essential guide to independent film promotion.

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