Continuing with our free London attractions guide, this time we have the pleasure of talking about the wonderful and absolutely free London museums and galleries. This is one of the most praise-worthy things about our capital city – that you can spend the day in The British Museum or The National Gallery without paying an entrance fee. Spend those saved pennies on a nice refreshing cup of tea in the museum cafe, or on some postcards in the gallery gift shop.
LONDON’S MARVELLOUS MUSEUMS – BIG, SMALL AND FREE
The British Museum, Bloomsbury
The British Museum looms large in Bloomsbury and you could spend months here without seeing a quarter of it! This great collection of wonders is dedicated to human history, art and culture from it’s very beginnings and it is one of the largest museums of its kind anywhere on the planet. The works on display number around the 8 million mark, so you can see that you will need time to enjoy your visit here and plan what you want to see carefully. The permanent collection is free but you may have to pay to see some of the special exhibitions, which is the case in most of the museums and galleries we talk about here.
The Natural History Museum, South Kensington
The Natural History Museum in Kensington is another must, of course, and the building itself is a beautiful one. Delight any dinosaur fans in your family with the enormous cast of a Diplodacus named Dippy, who reigns supreme in the main entrance hall. It’s a heck of introduction to this awe inspiring collection of plants, animals, fossils, insects and rock and mineral specimens. The youngest one’s will be desperate to see the ever popular T-Rex and the latest addition to the museum is a very interesting Human Evolution Gallery which will fascinate everybody.
Science Museum, South Kensington
Still in Kensington, we move onto the equally marvellous Science Museum. Budding scientists and others who thirst for knowledge will have a ball here learning of incredible scientific achievement as well as technological and medical exhibits. This is the place to learn all about space and the cosmos, to marvel at Einstein’s legacy, to perform your own aerial acrobatics and to celebrate over 200 years of communication and information technology. There are countless thrilling and fun activities, simulators, interactive galleries and events for children of all ages going here every day.
The Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington
The ever fabulous Victoria and Albert Museum is, conveniently enough, also in Kensington. Simply known as the V&A, this is the world’s leading museum of art and design which spans 5 million years of human creativity, give or take! Come and peruse the thousands of exhibits concerning fashion, ceramics, painting, architecture, textiles, sculpture, jewellery, photography, book art, glass & ceramics, furniture and theatre.
V & A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green
Always popular is the V&A’s Museum of Childhood which tells the history of toys, dolls, games and costumes. This is the largest institute of it’s kind in the world and curates the material culture and experiences of childhood. The collection ranges from the 1600’s to contemporary items.
The Museum of London, Barbican
The Museum of London informs and entertains us with London’s rather impressive history in style and with verve. What was London before it was London? Enjoy finding out with this fantastic museum’s many exhibits, reconstructed interiors and street scenes. Want to know what it was like during the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed most of the city? What about the bravery of normal Londoners during the Blitz of WW2? Can you solve the mystery of the Burnt Bible? From prehistory to punk and beyond – come and remind yourself how great a town this is and why we love it so.
The Museum of London, Docklands
Ths sister to the Museum of London, this Docklands museum explores London’s heritage as a port city: the home of sailors, globe-spanning import-export business, and all that salty jazz.
The Imperial War Museum, Lambeth
The Imperial War Museum, is fascinating. From Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Battle of Hastings, to the horrors of the Holocaust, come and learn about normal people’s experiences of war, as well as war from a soldiers point of view.
The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is spectacular. Britain’s great naval and sea faring past and London’s maritime history is on display here in dozens of galleries that are free to visit. See Admiral Nelson’s coat, complete with the bullet hole from the great sea battle of Trafalgar. Learn about infamous pirates, The East India Trading Company, Maritime London and there are several special galleries and activities for the younger visitors. Take a riverboat from London and spend the day in Greenwich where you will also find The Royal Observatory, The Cutty Sark, The Queen’s House and Greenwich Market.
National Army Museum, Chelsea
The National Army Museum is the British Army’s central museum. It is located in the Chelsea district of central London, adjacent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the “Chelsea Pensioners”. The National Army Museum has five state-of-the-art gallery spaces taking you on an interactive journey exploring the army’s character and impact from the British Civil War right up to the modern day. The galleries explore what is like to be a Soldier, the origins of the Army, how Battle tactics and technology has changed over time, how the Army influences Society and the impact the army has had around the world.
The Royal Hospital, Chelsea
The Royal Hospital, is a retirement and nursing home for up to 300 veterans of the British Army. It was completed in 1692 and continues to this day as intended. The extensive gardens are Grade II listed and host the annual Chelsea Flower Show amongst other events. Entry to the museum is free and the chapel, designed by Christopher Wren is also open to the public when services are held on Sunday mornings.
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Bloomsbury
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology houses an estimated 80,000 objects, making it one of the greatest collections of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology in the world. It illustrates life in the Nile Valley from prehistory through the time of the pharaohs, the Ptolemaic, Roman and Coptic periods to the Islamic period.
The Grant Museum of Zoology, Bloomsbury
The Grant Museum of Zoology is one of the oldest natural history collections in the UK, and is the last remaining university natural history museum in London. Home to 68,000 zoological specimens, the collection is a unique window on the entire animal kingdom.
The Royal Airforce Museum, Hendon
The Royal Airforce Museum is dedicated to 100 years of British aviation history. From the Red Baron’s blue dog to Spitfires it offers a comprehensive display of life in the airforce. The latest attraction is a 4D theatre which offers simulated rides in the famous Red Arrows.
Welcome Collection, Bloomsbury
The Welcome Collection explores the intersection between art, design, medicine and health. Find changing large-scale exhibitions on topics as diverse as the health effects of architecture, the psychology of magic, teeth and much more.
Sir John Soanes Museum, Holborn
The Sir John Soanes Museum, is the personal and eclectic collection of this famous architect who built the Bank of England. The townhouse is also an example of his work and you will be visiting not only his collection, but also his home and office.
The Bank of England Museum, The City
The Bank of England Museum is the place to go if you fancy holding a bar of gold! Plus you can learn about money, banknotes, the economy, and for course, the Bank of England.
The British Library, Bloomsbury
The British Library is the worlds largest library. If that is not enough it also offer events, exhibitions and tours. Housed in it’s hallowed vaults are priceless manuscripts including the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s notebook, Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbook and hand written lyrics by The Beatles.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens, Forest Hill
The Horniman Museum and Gardens is an intimate museum in spectacular gardens. The collection covers anthropology, musical instruments and natural history including a Dodo. Regular festivals, events and workshops make this a family favourite free museum.
Guildhall Art Gallery and Roman Ampitheatre, The City
Guildhall Art Gallery and Roman Ampitheatre is a collection of treasures worthy of the capital city, see works dating from 1670 to the present, including 17th-century portraits, Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces and a range of paintings documenting London’s dramatic history. Then step into the ruins of London’s Roman Amphitheatre and discover the hidden history under your feet.
The Design Museum, Kensington
The Design Museum covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. The core exhibits are free to visit but temporary exhibitions require a ticket to be purchased.
Kenwood House, Hampstead
Kenwood House features stately architecture and interiors, acres of parkland and masterpieces from Rembrandt to Turner. Children’s activities are arranged together with a family zone. The magnificent building is part of the English Heritage portfolio.
Fulham Palace, Fulham
Fulham Palace was the Bishop of London’s country home for over 12 centuries. Today it offers the museum, substantial gardens and a calendar of concerts, events and workshops.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Covent Garden
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is not as secretive as urban myths would have us believe. The interiors are impressive and a peaceful lounge is a great place to escape central London for a short respite. The exhibition space offers masonic regalia, documents, artefacts and all sorts of bits and bobs. There are daily tours and an extensive library, frequently used researching ancestors and family history.
WORLDCLASS LONDON GALLERIES, FOR FREE
Moving on to the captial’s wonderful galleries, big and small; all of these excellent candidates for our free London attractions guide. Sometimes a gallery is just the thing on a quiet afternoon in London Town. Whether you’re in the mood for the shock of colour and energy of a modern piece or the darker, more formal dignity to be found in a portrait of a King, you will find what you are looking for below.
The National Gallery, Westminster
The original National Gallery was founded in 1824 on Pall Mall and had 40 paintings on display. Today, art lovers can enjoy a couple of thousand works of art here in one of the largest art collections on display in the world. All this, plus the marvellous Trafalgar Square with it’s lions and fountains as a backdrop. Wander round at a relaxed pace and find your favourite Van Gogh, Cezanne, Vermeer or Turner. Enjoy the many free talks and lectures that you can join without charge and there are special activities and art workshops on Sundays for families and children.
The National Portrait Gallery, Westminster
Close to the National Gallery you will find the every popular National Portrait Gallery. It was founded in 1856 in order to gather portraits of famous British people and it was the first of its kind in the world. There are thousands of portraits to view here from the 16th century onwards, some easily recognisable; others less so. The portraits appear in the form of drawings, prints, photographs, miniatures, paintings and sculptures. From the stuffy and serious, to the cheeky and cool, from royalty of old, to modern pop icons and media personalities – this is a fun and friendly gallery.
Tate Britain, Westminster
Tate Britain on Millbank by the river has been the home of British art from the 15th Century onwards and it is formidable. You get a real sense of anticipation and excitement just climbing the great stone steps to the gallery. These buildings were expanded and refurbished in 2013 and both the exterior and interior are awe-inspiring. This is the place to come to see Turner, William Blake or Constable and iconic modern British artists such as Francis Bacon,Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst. Make one of your days a Tate Gallery day: there is the handy Tate Boat which sails down river from Millbank Millenium Pier to Tate Modern every half hour or so.
Tate Modern, Southwark
It’s hard to over state the sheer fabulousness of Tate Modern on Bankside, a little further down the river. This amazing transformed power station is a triumph of space and design and is now home to international modern and contemporary art. The wonderful Turbine Hall runs along the whole length of the building and this huge open space is perfect for displaying large artworks and sculptures. For colour and vibrancy teamed up with space and energy, this gallery is hard to beat. It certainly wins the prize for Coolest Gallery with the best views of the River, in this free London attractions guide.
The Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens
The small and delightful Serpentine Gallery and The Serpentine Sackler Gallery (the latter opened in 2013 in a former gun powder store) sit prettily on either side of the Serpentine Bridge in Kensington Gardens, a few minutes away from each other. What a magical location! They are home to a collection of international and contemporary art, architecture and design. Come and enjoy some art in this lovely outdoor spot, that offers the The Serpentine Pavillion, a shop, restaurant and social space.
The Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea
The Saatchi Gallery is housed in a beautiful building at the Duke of York’s headquarters by the King’s Road in Chelsea. It aims to bring contemporary art to the masses and likes to be a springboard for artists seeking further recognition. It works hard to promote and display unknown artists, or artists that have not been seen in Britain before. Come along and see something totally new and original and enjoy the pretty Duke of York’s Square with it’s cafes and shops.
The Wallace Collection, Marylebone
The Wallace Collection close to Oxford Street is often overlooked by those not in the know about this marvellous gallery which is also a museum. This building was the former home of the Seymour family and it has some wonderful art on display in rooms that are styled as they would have been in the 19th century. Two of the most famous and popular paintings here are The Laughing Cavalier by Hals and The Swing by Fragonard. There are also statues, furniture and miniatures on display, as well as a marvellous armoury. A little gem of a gallery to escape to right in the heart of the West End.
Whitechapel Art Gallery, Whitechapel
For more than a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Lucian Freud, Gilbert & George and Mark Wallinger. The gallery is a touchstone for contemporary art internationally, plays a central role in London’s cultural landscape, and is pivotal to the continued growth of the world’s most vibrant contemporary art quarter.
Newport Street Gallery, Vauxhall
Newport Street Gallery displays the personal collection of artist Damien Hirst. The building was renovated by and Caruso St John and won the RIBA Stirling prize and is worth visiting for the building alone. The exhibitions change between solos and group artists and in addition to contemporary art includes taxidermy and anatomical models.
The Photographers Gallery, Soho
The Photographers Gallery is Britains leading centre for contemporary photography. Their mission is to champion photography for everyone. Admission to the gallery is free before 12.00 so plan your visit in advance.
The White Cube, Bermondsey and Westminster
The White Cube is a commercial contemporary gallery and the largest in Europe. It represents high-profile, international artists. It gained it’s reputation by being the first gallery to promote the works of the Young Brit Artists coming to the fore in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
We hope you agree that it’s an impressive collection of museums and galleries that make up this chapter of our free London attractions guide. It’s a lovely thought that there is so much art and culture out there just ready to impress, delight and inform without leaving you out of pocket. Come rain or come shine – a few hours spent in a free gallery or museum in London Town is a few hours well spent.
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