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Where to get free wifi to do some work in London

Posted on Friday, June 1st, 2012 at 11:00 am. #

St Paul's from the bridge

[UPDATED June 2012: Costa]

I joke that Media UK, the website that I run, has 500 offices in Central London – and then add that half of them say “Starbucks” and half say “Pret a Manger” on them. On Twitter and other places, I’ve noticed a few questions about where you can get a place to work like I do – free wifi in London. Here are my tips:

Starbucks
By far the most convenient working spot is a Starbucks: almost all come with a quiet-ish ambience, power sockets, and a loo. Free wifi is in nearly every store – look for the BT Openzone sticker on the window.
To get free wifi: just open a browser, find “BT Openzone – Starbucks”, and click the green button. (On a phone? Click the “Log into Openzone” button that appears, then click the big green button).
Minimum purchase needed: probably a filter coffee, for £1.50.
Wifi provider: BT Openzone. No timeout.
Tips: Your filter coffee comes with unlimited free refills. (Careful of the caffeine, though). Additionally, bring your own mug and save 25p on whatever beverage you buy.

Pret a Manger
Free wifi is in most stores, though not all. Excepting lunchtime, Pret is a surprisingly quiet and enjoyable place to work. Less power sockets than Starbucks.
To get free wifi: register, free, with The Cloud.
Minimum purchase needed: probably a filter coffee, which is 99p in most Pret stores, though prices vary.
Wifi provider: The Cloud: no time out.
Tips: Many Pret stores have additional seating behind the tills – not always visible from walking in. Avoid lunchtimes.

EAT
Free wifi is in some stores – look for “FREE WIFI” on the window next to the door. Few power sockets.
To get free wifi: register, free, with The Cloud.
Minimum purchase needed: probably a filter coffee, which is around £1.60.
Wifi provider: The Cloud: no time out.
Tips: Avoid lunchtimes. Seating can be difficult.

Caffe Nero
Free wifi is now in most stores. Look for the window-sticker.
To get free wifi: register, free, with The Cloud.
Minimum purchase needed: probably a latte, which is around £1.80.
Wifi provider: The Cloud: no time out. More agressively filtered than other locations: notably, no BBC iPlayer access!
Tips: Generally quieter than others. Their loyalty card is paper: collect ten stamps and get a free coffee.

Costa Coffee
Costa appears to be trialling wifi in some stores in central London. Look for a dangly thing on the cash till.
To get free wifi: register, free, with O2 wifi. You’ll need a mobile phone.
Minimum purchase needed: probably a coffee, around £1.60.
Wifi provider: O2 wifi: 30 minute timeout for everyone, timeout removed if you register a Costa Coffee Club card (free at the counter)
Tips: If you’re already registered with O2, you still get an annoying pop-up message from Costa before proper connection.

McDonald’s
McDonald’s appear to come with free wifi in stores right across the world. Rarely any power sockets, louder music, uncomfortable seating, and a clientele of kids. That said, if you’re desperate…
To get free wifi: register, free, with The Cloud.
Minimum purchase needed: probably a coffee, which is £1.19.
Wifi provider: The Cloud: no time out.

Wetherspoons pubs and Lloyds No. 1
Wetherspoons pubs have cheap food, and cheap coffee; there is no piped music. Pub layouts normally afford some quiet partitioned areas. Power sockets are difficult to find but not impossible. These normally have “A Wetherspoon pub” branding outside, or “JD Wetherspoon”. Some are branded Lloyds No. 1.
To get free wifi: register free, with The Cloud.
Minimum purchase needed: probably a coffee, which is 79p.
Wifi provider: The Cloud: no time out.
Tips: Wetherspoons pubs can be large, and free wifi may not stretch throughout the pub. Check signal strength on a mobile phone first.

Fullers pubs
One of the largest pub chains across London, Fullers pubs have a “Fullers” sign on the top of their signs. Increasingly these are being fitted out with wifi.
To get free wifi: some Fullers establishments use The Cloud; others use a bespoke system, requiring you to ask for the daily code at the bar.
Minimum purchase needed: probably a coffee or a half of beer.
Wifi provider: as above.

O’Neills pubs
This chain of large irish pubs is moderately unpleasant, cavernous, and don’t sell real hand-pulled beer. But, they do fairly cheap food and some, at least, offer free wifi.
To get free wifi: Connect to “AP PARAGON” – they require your name and email address every time you connect, and they don’t always connect.
Wifi provider: Paragon, from their gaming machines.

Other pub chains also offer free wifi: most don’t offer something as convenient as The Cloud. Caution: some offer “The Cloud” wifi but don’t pay for it, so you need a Cloud subscription.

Pizza Express
This restaurant chain has free wifi, and recently they have advertised with a picture of a computer, a coffee, and a headline “No pizza required”: probably trying to attract the working crowd out of hours. Restaurants can get loud during peak times.
To get free wifi: register, free, with The Cloud.
Minimum purchase needed: if the advertising is to be believed, just a coffee will do.
Wifi provider: The Cloud: no time out.
Tips: if you’re going to eat as well, check for vouchers first (using things like foursquare, Google Shopper, or O2 Priorities).

Café Rouge
This fake-French restaurant chain offers free wifi courtesy of O2.
To get free wifi: register, free, with O2. You’ll need a mobile phone: they send you a text. However, once you’ve registered, you’ll never have any more splash-screens whenever you connect: it’ll always work, forever.
Minimum purchase needed: I’m guessing a coffee.
Wifi provider: O2.

Regus Offices
You may be eligible for a free Regus gold card, which gives you free access to business cafés inside Regus managed offices. I had one last year with a BMI gold card; this year, TripIt Pro comes with a free Regus gold card on application. Regus offices are very quiet, very businesslike, and not (in my experience) very relaxing or creative places to work.
To get free wifi: sign into the Regus office (normally requiring signing in on the building’s reception desk, then the Regus office reception desk). Instructions are posted in the Regus business café.
Minimum purchase needed: none, other than your membership. Coffee is free.
Wifi provider: themselves.
Tips: Regus offices are worldwide, and every one has a business café. Good for travellers. All business cafés also include a printer.

Places with free wifi also include…

London Overground stations
While London Underground stations will be offering Virgin Media wifi (free to their subscribers, otherwise a paid-for service), London Overground stations – the suburban rail stations – are shortly to offer 15-minutes free wifi courtesy of The Cloud.

Carphone Warehouse
Most of the Carphone Warehouse stores appear to have a free and open Carphone Warehouse signal. No good for working in, of course.

Oxford Street
Some of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road appears to be covered with free wifi courtesy of Nokia. I’ve not got this working satisfactorily enough on any device, and it quickly vanishes indoors, but if you need an iPad fix, this might be enough for you.

The City
If the only thing you want to do is quickly check your email, the City of London is blanketed with hotspots from The Cloud that give you 15 minutes of free wifi every day: so you don’t even need to go into a coffee shop.

Stations with free wifi include…

St Pancras Station
This is blanketed throughout with free wifi. Connect to it, then look for the tiny button marked “surf the internet”. It’s accessible in most areas in the station. Tip: Pret a Manger in The Circle also offers free wifi via The Cloud.

Euston Station
You’ll want the Pret a Manger or the Caffe Nero just outside; or the Doric Arch pub close by.

Paddington Station
There’s a Caffe Nero Express near the Heathrow Connect platforms that offers free wifi, but no seating space. Alternatively, go into The Lawns, the adjoining shopping complex, and you’ll find an EAT on the top level (the wifi leaks into the accompanying pub) and a criminally small Starbucks on the mezzanine level.

The wifi-worker’s etiquette

1. Sit on the smallest table in the place – not a big “seats three or four”. Don’t put your bags on the other chair; etiquette for café workers is to let another café worker sit there.

2. Smile at the staff, tip where polite, help them keep the place tidy, always tidy up after yourself. Don’t get away with the minimum purchase all the time; tweet about good service while geotagged (the MD of Starbucks UK is @starbucksukmd; use the server’s first name and the store’s number on your till).

3. If the place gets full, and you’ve been there for a few hours, leave. You’re taking a table that others could use. Take a screen break and a walk, and find somewhere else.

4. Be considerate – don’t be that guy. No loud telephone calls. Turn your laptop speakers off, or use headphones. If you’re plugged-in, never trail the wire so it’s unsafe to others. No looking at anything even slightly naughty. Stream music, fine, but don’t torrent (remember that you’ve probably registered to use the wifi).

5. If you’re café-working in a small local independent place, be a great customer: buy food, buy drinks regularly, tip well, and always be conscious of using a table that a better customer could be.

18 comments

Martin Phillp
commenting at August 1st, 2011 at 1:25 pm

City of Westminster libraries wi-fi is free to anyone regardless of if you have a library card.

Derek Tallent
commenting at August 1st, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Nothing to do with free Wi-Fi in London, but if you use the BT Openzone at Starbucks at Munich Airport, it thinks you’re in the UK so you can access the BBC iplayer.

Obviously using a UK ip address somehow…

Sorry, off topic…

James Hamilton
commenting at August 1st, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Derek: I read something about a programme to have ‘certified’ WiFi hotspots recently (something about that here: http://www.engadget.com/2011/03/22/wi-fi-alliance-launches-hotspot-certification-program-aims-to-e/).

An article I read about the idea did mention tunnelling. For example, GSM operators tunnel all their traffic back through the UK (as far as I know?). However if you use East Coast’s on-board WiFi, you appear to the outside world as if you’re in Sweden as that’s where their provider tunnels their traffic through.

Anyway, back to the original topic! Good tips, James. I didn’t know that the £1 Starbucks Card filter coffee included free refills!

Wetherspoons’ tie-up with The Cloud seems to be the best in terms of pubs with free WiFi. Hitting ‘Get Online’ in a browser window isn’t much hassle.

Fullers’ own system is anything but easy. It’s normally flaky or just doesn’t work at all.

I’m not sure I could go into Pizza Express for just a coffee, but given that they’re now encouraging punters to pay via PayPal I wonder if they really are going all-out to encourage the tech-savvy…

I wonder why, when 3G coverage and WiFi is so ubiquitous in London, more businesses don’t have open WiFi hotspots; no browser window to load and press ‘Get Online’, no daily codes that are for the wrong day etc.

Some of the newer cafe/restaurant owners seem to be going with the easier-all-round option. I’m quite lucky in that I can just about walk around the whole outside of the Blue Fin Building and never be without WiFi. Amano, Leon and Del Aziz all have open WiFi hotspots.

Chris Woods
commenting at August 2nd, 2011 at 9:34 am

Hi James.
Thanks for mentioning Regus and particularly our businessworld membership scheme in your post. Readers may be interested to hear that a week’s businessworld membership can now be purchased for very low cost (certainly cheaper than a coffee or two a day) from many WH Smiths Travel stores at London rail stations and airports.
Your post is a good overview of different types of ‘third places’ in London. However, I agree with Martin – please don’t overlook local libraries. They certainly have a place in the mix for the mobile worker (of which there will be 1.3 billion worldwide by 2013).

Will Jackson
commenting at August 3rd, 2011 at 6:34 pm

The Southbank Centre is my free wifi haunt of choice. Excellent views of the Thames from the 5th floor balcony, decent coffee from the shop – and lots to do and see both inside and out when you need a break. There’s also a members area with comfier seating on the top floor for £45/year which is much cheaper than a swanky London meejah club! And I’m not even going to mention the temporary roof garden on the Queen Elizabeth Hall…

Vincent Lo
commenting at August 4th, 2011 at 9:31 am

St Pancras International station.
Requires you to click on a button to connect first, though.

Candengo
commenting at October 16th, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Apostrophe have free WiFi throughout London as well.

My name is Wilson
commenting at December 23rd, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I’m in an EAT store right now, the new one on St Martin’s Lane (using my phone’s 3G) Gonna switch to the wifi. Thanks a lot!

Lars Hoel
commenting at March 3rd, 2012 at 11:03 pm

And of course your local Apple stores: Regent Street and Covent Garden. Also Stratford City, Brent Cross and White City.

Matt Jamison
commenting at March 7th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

The British Library is mine. Although I always feel as though I am walking straight into the opening scene from a bond movie. It’s a great quiet space, yet it’s not as silent as that scene from Ghostbusters.

Jonathan Marks
commenting at March 8th, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Shame that London didn’t keep this map up to date. Kinda useful what with the Olympics and visitors and all that. http://londonist.com/2007/05/free_wifi_in_lo.php

Niall
commenting at March 14th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Near the City the 15 min free overlaps the Pret unlimited (on a PC at least) so you are limited even in a free area!!

Phil Edmonds
commenting at May 30th, 2012 at 10:48 am

This is based on my experience of using the BT Openzone powered Starbucks free wi-fi in Manchester, but I’d assume similar will apply across all their outlets.

There maybe no time out on the connection, but their firewall/proxy doesn’t let you download large(ish) files – just letting the connection ‘time out’.

So it was back to my 3 dongle to download the 150MB backup file from a webserver.

This is probably not a great worry for the average bit of e-mail type work, but a bit of a pain if you are trying to do some web development while on the go.

Ash
commenting at June 11th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

James,

the London Overground wifi offering through The Cloud will actually be free access for 60 minutes per day, not 15 minutes.

Ash

Chris
commenting at June 13th, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Hey,
Just wanted to say thanks so much. It was a very thorough and complete guide to many different options. It’s very helpful as we are just figuring out our options for a stay in London.
Great job.

Tanya L
commenting at June 26th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Now that it’s summer and we need to get as much sun as we can.. When and as it decides to shine. Where are the best free wifi spots with outside sunny tables?

Brad
commenting at June 30th, 2012 at 4:34 am

Excellent intel for an Aussie family about to pour tourism dollars into London, thank you. Double excellent points for the etiquette section.

Brianna
commenting at July 23rd, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Hi James! I work for a chain of International backpacker hostels around London and we all provide free wifi (well, with the purchase of a beverage that is). The Great Eastern, Best Place Inn, Docklands has a huge coffee lounge where we provide free wifi, and amazing Illy coffee. We have quite a few customers who come in to use our facilities as they’re clean, the coffee is good, staff are friendly and it’s simply a really nice environment! The other Best Place Inns properties around London are located in Paddington, Victoria, Clapham Junction and Waterloo. Come and visit us one day if you’re in the area and need free wifi! Cheers

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