The Royal Opera House | Free London

London is one of the most vibrant cities in the world. You might think that you can’t enjoy all that the city has to offer on a student budget, but in truth, there are so many things you can see and do absolutely free.

If you’re looking for free things to do in London, you might have already checked out the museums, libraries and parks. Something that you might not realise is that a trip to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is completely free, and if you want a sophisticated night out, as a student you can watch ballet and opera here for as little as £1!

Production of Swan Lake
Photo by me from the whole house student production of Swan Lake last season, featuring the absolute queen that is Marianela Nunez

Doors are open

The Royal Opera House is one of London’s most iconic landmarks, featuring the stunning glass Paul Hamlyn Hall, red-carpeted sweeping staircases, chandeliers and a beautiful blue domed ceiling. Having recently undergone extensive redevelopment work, as of September 2018, the building is now open to the general public every day from 10am.

The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
The stunning exterior of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden

So you can come along during the day to look around the building, grab a cup of coffee or a pastry in the café, and use the free WiFi to do some work in the inspirational surroundings. Or, come along to the bar in the evening for a drink and take in the atmosphere – the beautiful surroundings make for great photo opportunities! There is also a new programme of lunchtime performances and activities that you can enjoy if you choose. If not, it’s still completely free and open to come and have a look around and to enjoy the building.

Young ROH

If you want to make a night of it, as mentioned above you can come and see a ballet or opera performance for as little as £1. The Royal Opera House runs a scheme for students and young people to make coming to see performances more affordable, and the deals are hard to beat! As much as we love a night out at Grand, sometimes you just want to live your best and most extra life, and that doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money! You can sign up to the student scheme by providing your personal (not uni) email address and selecting your institution. It’s completely free, and enables you to get all sorts of benefits, including cheap tickets, discount at the bar, priority booking and 2-for-£10 cinema screening tickets.

The Student Opera House

How to have a night out at the Royal Opera House for less than £20

So, you’ve enjoyed the building for free, and you’ve signed up to the student scheme to be eligible for amazing offers. Here’s a how-to for a great night out at a bargain price!

Step one: Book your tickets

The Royal Opera House puts on 4-5 Student Amphitheatre performances every season, where the whole amphitheatre is reserved for students, with ticket prices from £1 to £20. There is also one whole-house student performance a year, 10 standing and slips ticket for every single performance at face value for students, and any unsold last-minute tickets go to students for £10. So, let’s say you’ve booked to see the student amphitheatre performance of The Royal Ballet performing a mixed bill (including Wayne McGregor’s Infra for contemporary dance fans, a world premiere and a Balanchine piece which hint-hint first year dance students might be able to use in their written work), which is coming up in November. Cost: £1.

Step two: Outfit

Coming to the Royal Opera House is a wonderful opportunity to dress up and, as I mentioned, live your best and most extra life. However, contrary to popular belief, there is no dress code for the ballet or the opera! So if you want to wear jeans or joggers or leggings and trainers, I promise you won’t be alone. There’s always a real mix. So don’t feel you need to spend money on a new outfit. But if you do, the pleated pink dress I’m wearing below is from the charity shop and cost £4. Cost: nothing: wear whatever you have that you feel comfortable in!

Two students enjoying the Opera House
Me and my fellow dancing friend Beth geeking out at Swan Lake

Step three: Transport

Getting into central London from university is really easy. Take the free shuttle bus from outside campus to Barnes station (or hop on the 72 or the 265). You can then get the train in to Waterloo, and take the Northern line just a couple of stops to Leicester Square. From there it’s a short walk up the road to the opera house (which is on Covent Garden Square). Or if you’re feeling lazy, change there for the Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden which drops you off right outside! Cost: about £4.20 off peak one-way, so with the return journey you’ll hit the £8 fare cap for the day.

Step four: Programme

Getting a programme is a good idea when seeing a performance because it is so much more enjoyable when you know what’s going on (and if you’re a dance, music or theatre student and want to write about the performance for your course, you can reference it!). Usually they’re £12, but for students they’re about £4 and you can pay for it when you book your ticket, or buy one on the day with your student ID. Cost: £4.

Step five: Drinks

During student amphitheatre and whole-house student performances, you can benefit from discounted prices on certain drinks at the bar! So during the interval, you can enjoy a bottle of beer for around £4 or a glass of prosecco for £5-6. Soft drinks are even less. Cost: around £5.

Total cost: £18…

…and that includes travel, a drink and a programme. So a great, sophisticated night out costs a lot less than you might think. Join Young ROH today to take advantage of the great deals, and get yourself down to the Opera House any time to soak up some of London’s culture absolutely free!

Sign up for the Royal Opera House Student Scheme for free here.

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