Free London attractions – museums and galleries
Continuing with our free London attractions guide, this time we have the pleasure of talking about the wonderful world class museums and galleries of London, which are absolutely free! 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 any 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 AND SMALL.
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 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.
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 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. A recently refurbished collection which is always popular is the V&A’s Museum of Childhood which tells the history of toys, dolls, games and costumes.
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 Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum and The Cabinet War Rooms are all 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. Visit the secret WW2 bunker and museum that shows us how Winston Churchill and his team won the Second World War. The National Army Museum has an imaginative learning environment for children, where they learn about team-work, challenge and exploration.
The Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch is close to the City. This is a very special place and the kind of museum you can return to again and again. It explores and defines the home, from around 1600 onwards. Come and view beautiful displays of interiors and gardens and learn how fashion, attitude, style and tastes have changed through the centuries in the home and how they define us as a society. The museum itself is beautiful with some lovely gardens attached – it is a restored almshouse and is a good opportunity to view how the poor and elderly were housed in the late 1700’s.
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.
WONDERFUL GALLERIES, INCLUDING A TRANSFORMED POWER STATION.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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.