London has a reputation for being expensive and often with good reason. A standard cup of coffee will cost you a cheeky £3-4, one stop on the tube can go for as much as a fiver and a trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral will set you back eighteen of your English pounds! However, one redeeming factor is that there are hundreds of free museums in London.
Here are just a few of the free museums in London and why you should visit them:
The British Museum
The iconic British Museum is instantly recognisable for the Great Court (pictured above), which was redeveloped around the original Reading Room. The museum is dedicated to human history and boasts a permanent collection of eight million works, the largest of it’s kind.
The British Museum itself dates back to 1753, though it contains works of art and culture that documents the story of humanity from the very beginning. Whether you fancy learning about Ancient Egypt, scientific research or prehistory, the British Museum has you covered.
Popular exhibitions include ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ and ‘Ice Age Art’. Of all the the free museums in London, make sure this one is at the top of your list, though don’t expect to see it all in one day.
The National Gallery
After dodging clouds of pigeons that patrol the area, the second-best thing to do in Trafalgar Square is to visit the National Gallery. Founded back in 1824, the National Gallery is home to collection of 2,300 paintings, the oldest of which dates back to the mid-13th century.
Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers lives here, as does Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin on the Rocks and works by names such as Michelangelo, Degas, Rembrandt, Monet, Raphael, Botticelli and just about any other artist you can name-drop.
Then again, the stunning architecture of the National Gallery building is a draw in itself.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is another building iconic and significant in its own right as much as the artifacts it contains. The museum has a staggering 80 million items, including life and earth specimens. The five main collections are botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology.
As you may already know, the Natural History Museum is well known for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons. Dippy the Diplodocus is a particular fave. Other must-see areas include specimens collected by Charles Darwin and the Large Mammals Hall.
Night at the Museum eat your heart out.
Southbank Centre is not just one, but a whole complex of artistic venues and free museums in London. The buildings can be found on the South Bank of the River Thames, between Hungerford Bridge and Waterloo Bridge.
These include the Royal Festival Hall, the Saison Poetry Library, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery, to name but a few. Southbank Centre is Europe’s largest centre for the arts and 2,000 events are staged there each year.
Check out their website to see what is currently being performed, be it music, dance, art or literature.
Of all the free museums in London, the Tate Modern is my personal favourite. Housed inside a former power station, this is the eclectic mix of weird, wonderful and thought-provoking that just about strikes the right balance.
The collections at the Tate Modern include works of international modern and contemporary art, which date from 1900 up to the present day. Francis Bacon, David Hockney and their ilk are the sort of artists that like to hang out on the walls here.
If you want to spend the day shaking your head and saying, ‘Is this really art?’ then the Tate Modern is your kinda bag.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum, often abbreviated as the V&A, was named after Queen Victoria and Price Albert, when it was founded in 1852. This London museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. Its permanent collection features over 4.5 million objects.
The works of art on display here span 5,000 years of history as well as across the globe, including Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. From ceramics to textiles, clothing to ironwork, prints to sculpture, furniture to photographs, this museum has something for everyone.
If science and technology is more up your street, then the place to head is the aptly- and succinctly-named Science Museum. Founded in 1857, the museum holds 300,000 items including the oldest surviving steam locomotive, the first jet engine and early models of DNA.
Of course, what would a science museum be without a load of quirky, interactive exhibits too? This museum also has an IMAX 3D Cinema and even a ‘Science Night’ for kids (and big kids).
Other Free Museums in London
Of course, this is nowhere near the full list of free museums in London. I’ve only managed a handful of these so far and it doesn’t end there. Other free museums in London include Somerset House, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of London and the Old Royal Navy College, to name but a few.
However, of all the free things to see and do, I love wandering around a gallery and pondering over a painting. Or writing a blog post in the Tate Modern Cafe (wink, wink). These are, in my opinion, the best of the free museums in London. Happy exploring!