Free Museums in London
In total, there are over 200 different museums in London, ranging from the magnificent Natural History Museum in all of its grandeur, right down to smaller, specialist museums, such as the British Dental Association Museum on Wimpole Road. Most of the many available are free to enter and include free tours and events for families.
There are some fantastic museums for you to spend a day exploring.
Even before you get to see all the amazing exhibits the British Museum has to offer, you can’t help but be a little dumbstruck when you see its wonderful latticed steel and glass roof, created by Sir Norman Foster, a brilliant contemporary architect. The roof is almost an exhibit in itself.
Like the majority of galleries in the museum, it is completely free to stroll around and gaze skywards in wonder. Once you have finished giving the roof of the museum the attention it deserves, you can then start to peruse the 7 million artefacts relating to human culture and history inside. In fact, the museum is so overflowing with interesting things to see, that some of them can’t be displayed and are stored beneath the museum.
After its construction in 1753, the original building was used primarily, as a platform to display the collections of one Sir Hans Sloane, a scientist and physician of some note in his day. It has since evolved into what it is today and there are so many amazing pieces here for you to view for free.
You can see the Rosetta Stone (a hugely significant Egyptian artefact), the Parthenon Marbles, the Mildenhall treasures or the the Portland Vase, to name but a tiny fraction of what’s in store. There is a massive array of interesting objects for you to discover and if you get the history ‘bug’, you might find that you want to sign up a free talk, discussion or museum tour, many of which are available.
Nearest Tube Stations: Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, Russell Square.
Bank of England Museum
Situated inside the walls of the Bank of England, the museum plots the origins of the bank from its Royal Charter in the late 17th century, right through to its present day role, as the central bank of the nation. Inside, there are gold bars dating back many hundreds of years and much newer additions of coins and banknotes. There are also a number of ceremonial muskets and pikes, which are said to be there to defend the bank, but in truth, more than likely aren’t working models.
The bank’s museum also has a collection of Roman mosaics and pottery, discovered at the site, when it was rebuilt in 1930 and a number of historical documents relating to George Washington, Lord Horatio Nelson and the Duchess of Marlborough, a French-American aristocrat and socialite.
Nearest Tube Stations: Bank, Moorgate, Monument, Cannon St, Mansion House
The British Library
This colossal library contains over 150 million pieces and carries a copy of every work published in the UK and Ireland, significant works of art by artists such as Paolozzi and Gormley and a raft of historical artefacts, such as the Gutenberg Bible and the Magna Carta. There really is a lot packed under the roof of the British Library.
If you’re just down in London for the day, you should consider one of the museum’s many guided tours, as you may not have time to look at everything on your own. Not surprising, when you consider that the building the British Library sits in, is the biggest public building constructed in the UK in the entire 20th century.
Whilst the museum has an enormous amount to offer the average casual browser, there are additional exhibitions, poetry readings, films and events held there, most of which, won’t cost you anything to attend. Should you wish to take a guided tour, you will learn so much about this great library, as the guides really know their stuff!
There are so many books here, that it would be easy to be overwhelmed by it all, but a good guide will point towards major literary works, without you having to put too much legwork in. They’ll point out significant items, such as, the world’s oldest surviving book and the sole remaining edition of Beowulf.
There is also a 3 storey glass Tower annex, called the King’s library and it forms the centrepiece of the museum, both historically and architecturally. Containing more than 65,000 volumes in print, King George III’s library is there to be explored…and all for free. Just allow yourself enough time to see it all.
Nearest Tube Stations: Euston, King’s Cros
The Imperial War Museum
Occupying what was once the home of the infamous ‘Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane’, otherwise known as ‘Bedlam’, the Imperial War Museum is dedicated to remembering the brave souls involved in major conflict in the 20th century. Created in 1917, it contains not just an incredibly interesting showcase of the weapons and vehicles used in war, but also details studies of the far-reaching social effects that conflict brings.
From the Polaris missile to the Nazi V2 Rocket, you’ll see all aspects of war covered at the Imperial War Museum, even getting a feel of what life was like in the trenches via the ‘Walk-through’ life-like recreation of the Somme.
Both of the World Wars are recorded in poignant displays of poetry and painting from Wilfred Owen to Sasson and an accurate reconstruction of an air raid shelter during the Blitz. Every effort is made to convey the sounds, sights and smells of war to bring it into vivid reality for the viewer.
More than 30,000 posters and 15,000 paintings going into making it one of the most amazing museum experiences to be had in London.
Nearest Tube Station: Lambeth Nortn
Museum of London
If you want to learn about the very origins of London, from prehistoric times to the modern era, the Museum of London will give you everything you need to experience a true flavour of London life through the ages. Housing more than a million interesting objects, many of which were found at city renovation works and archaeological digs, you’ll leave feeling that little bit closer to the people of the city, past and present.
Ordered chronologically, the museum takes you through the different eras of London, from Roman belt buckles and brooches, through the medieval period to the Victorian era and its many items of glassware.
You’ll even see the macabre sight of skulls thought to belong to those massacred by Queen Boudica, the leader of the Celts and the footwear worn by the Duke of Wellington…the very first example of the Wellington Boot!
Whether you want to know more about parliament or the plight of the Suffragettes, you’ll find everything you need to know right here.
Nearest Tube Station: Barbican, St Paul’
National Maritime Museum
Situated in the very centre of Greenwich, the National Maritime Museum chronicles the history of Britain and its long association with the sea. Housing important relics and records of events past, the museum is a fantastic way to learn more.
The assembled collection was started in the year 1823, when it carried the name ‘The National Gallery of Naval Art’ and displayed more than 300 fascinating paints, artefacts and portraits. The building itself, was once used as a hospital school and insane asylum and it commands wonderful views of the Thames from its lofty position. SInce Neptune Court was added, the museum has had many galleries that tackle topics as wide ranging as Nelson, ecology, exploration and naval battles. Museum visitors get to have a go at gunnery and signalling or just wander the museum’s corridors looking at the majesty and pomp of Britain at sea through the ages via the medium of photography, paintings and poetry.
The museum itself is free to enter, however you may decide to pay to get it and see the inside of the Cutty Sark or buy some tickets to an exclusive exhibition.
Clean, classical and bright, though a little modest when compared to other royal residences, the Queen’s House is a Palladian Villa adorned with majestic colonnades. It may not be the largest or grandiose of all the buildings in central London, but its diminutive stature belies its huge significance in history.
Built a little over 400 years ago for the wife of King James I, Anne of Denmark, the Queen’s House was the first building seen in England with a neo-classical design. Originally intended to be used as a hunting lodge, it also was purposed as a bridge covering the public highway to Deptford, a move which saw the park split in two.
The Jacobean styled house wasn’t completed until the year 1635, when it was taken over by Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria. The house has stood tall during the most turbulent of times, with Oliver Cromwell later reclaiming the residence and its numerous treasures.
The National Maritime Museum now uses the building to display paintings of notable seamen throughout history and the historic port of Greenwich. The house is also the location of one of the first spiral staircase in Britain, with its beautifully ornate ‘Tulip Staircase’ from the Stuart Period.
Entrance to the Queen’s House is free.
Built by Sir Christopher Wren in the latter part of the 17th century, the museum of time and space is located on the precise spot of the Greenwich Meridian (From where we get the term GMT or Greenwich Mean Time) and the geographical site of 0 Longitude. If you happen to be passing at the right time, you may even see the ‘timeball’ drop at 1 o’clock pm each day.
The Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum have accumulated more than 2,000,000 sea, ship and astronomy-related objects, since it open in 1937 and every effort is made to display them in a way that helps visitors understand and feel what life must have been like at sea, all those years ago.
From the famous Harrison Timekeepers to the intricate navigation and telescopic equipment in Wren’s Octagon Room, you’re likely to be mesmerised by the craftsmanship and authenticity of all you see.
Ten years ago, in 2007, the Peter Harrison Planetarium was opened and it was said have cost some £15m to create its wonderful cone shaped appearance. This cutting-edge facility can seat 120 and replaced the old and now obsolete planetarium to the South.
Should you wish to visit the Planetarium, there will be a small charge, but the rest of the Observatory’s centre for astronomy is complete free.
Nearest Tube Station: New Cross
The Natural History Museum
As you enter the Natural History Museum, you are immediately presented with the massive skeleton of a Blue Whale, suspended high above the marble floors. It recently replaced the diplodocus that graced Hintze Hall for the previous 35 years and this amazing spectacle is just one of a number of life-size exhibits of dinosaurs and giant beasts inside.
This interactive and modern museum is home to over 70 million items about the earth, science and life, as it has existed since the dawn of time. Exhibits inside include a diverse range of subjects and species, which stimulate the mind and make you realise that you’re part of something much larger than yourself.
If you see nothing else at the museum, you must visit the ‘evolution of the species’ exhibit and ‘The Power Within’ which provides an insight on the natural phenomenon that is the earthquake. Also, ‘The Vault’ is a place for you to see a fascinating collection of rare stones, gems and meteorites, some of which are extremely valuable.
The museum runs a number of free demonstrations and lectures and during the summer months, you can access the peaceful wildlife garden (Between April and October) for no charge. Most of what you see in the Natural History Museum is totally free, but you should check before entering.
Nearest Tube Stations: South Kensington, Gloucester Road
The Science Museum
Probably the most interactive museum in London, The Science museum displays past and present innovations that have come to be as a result of our growing understanding of the world of science. From industry to medicine to space travel, you’ll find much to see and enjoy here.
In the 19th century, Prince Albert had an obsession with promoting knowledge regarding industrial technology and part of his vision led to the establishment of the Museum of Science. Created using funds raised by the Great Exhibition of 1851, it contains some 300,000 objects that span the entire timeline of western science.
The interactive displays you’ll find inside were designed to encourage emotional investment from all ages of children and adults. A popular attraction inside, is the Launchpad Gallery, which teaches those visiting about the laws of force and motion. The great thing is that they get to learn through playing with the exhibits, which is always the best way to be educated.
Designed for children between the ages of 8-14 years, there is an almost limitless supply of things for them to do whilst they have their minds stimulated. Want to find out how an aircraft stays in the air or what friction is?
Then this is the place to come – and it’s all free.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Situated on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, this strange but wonderful house is a an aladdin’s cave of treasures and artefacts. Inside its walls, you will find more than 30,000 items of historical interest, from architectural drawings to victorian figurines.
Artistic work by Canaletto, Piranesi and Turner all feature prominently, with canvasses from ‘A Rake’s Progress’ by William Hogarth, taking centre stage. Each individual area inside the museum has its own distinct identity and each complements the other perfectly – from the Gothic Library to the Roman oriented study, there is so much inside to explore.
One particular piece we recommend looking out for is Seti’s Sarcophagus, dating back almost 2,500 years.
Nearest Tube Station: Holborn, Chancery Lane
The Victoria and Albert Museum
This museum boasts more than 4 million objects to view and upwards of 145 galleries for you to explore. The Victoria and Albert museum is arguably the most influential in London, in terms of the world’s decorative and applied arts.
Created in the mid 1800s, with the purpose of educating and encouraging British design and manufacturing, it provides home for a mesmerising collection of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian and European glass ware, ceramics, metalwork, sculpture, furniture, weapons and armoury
It is also home to the National Collection of the Art of Photography, which represents the oldest collection in existence. Those visiting the museum are able to get up close to the fascinating collection of clothing from across the ages.
The gallery within is frequently named as the most notable collection of Italian Renaissance work outside of Italy, whilst there is an also an ode to British design from likes of Morris, Chippendale, Mackintosh and Adam, as you venture further in.
Other notable attractions include James II’s wedding suit and the Great Bed of Ward, which even gets a mention in ‘Twelfth Night’ by Shakespeare. The architecture of the house itself, is a combination of Edwardian and Victorian aesthetics, with high glass roofs and elevated walkways.
Nearest Tube Station: South Kensington
The Design Museum
Located in Shad Thames, just a short time ago, the Design Museum has now moved to Kensington High Street and more specifically to the former Commonwealth Institute Building, which is around three times bigger than its former home.
The new building, which is Grade II listed, was reimagined by John Pawson, a contemporary architect with a leaning towards minimalism. The building now includes a 202 seat auditorium, a Foundation for learning sponsored by Swarovski and a gallery for the artistic work that permanently resides there.
The collection, includes the innovative Boilerhouse Project and notable designs that have helped to shape the modern world as we know it. Created in 1982, it includes all aspects of architecture, design, transport and digital media. The gallery features both temporary and permanent exhibits that trace the history and origins of various developments in design, including contemporary and mass produced work.
This, like many others, is entirely free of charge and yours to enjoy.
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