One of my very favorite things about London is that, not only do they have quite a few world-class museums, but entrance to many of them is completely free! Whether you’re interested in science, art, archaeology, or home decor, you’ll be able to find an amazing museum there that you can check out for no money at all. Check out this list of my favorite six to get you started:
1. The British Museum
The world-famous British Museum is a truly global museum, featuring amazing archaeological artifacts from all over the world. In fact, many other countries are in dispute with them on over the British Museum should even have the artifacts from their cultures, or if they should be returned to the countries they were taken from! The Egyptian sections–one with the Rosetta Stone and huge artifacts like the Colossal Head of Ramses, and the other with mummies and burial artifacts–are probably my favorite. However, other treasures, like the Assyrian Lion Hunt Reliefs, the Parthenon sculptures and Elgin marbles, the Moai head, and the dazzling two-headed turquoise mosaic serpent in the Americas section, shouldn’t be missed either! If you’re a library lover like myself, you might also enjoy the long “Room of Enlightenment”, which features plenty of books and artifacts like a touchable Rosetta Stone replica!
2. The Victoria & Albert Museum
When Rebecca and I visited the V&A Museum, we split up and when we met up a few hours later we realized that not only had we seen almost completely different areas of the museum, but that between the two of us we had probably seen less than half of what the place has to offer–it’s that huge! The collection is vast as well, covering many areas of art from painting to fashion design and many time periods in history. I loved the silver and jewelry galleries, and the interior of the cafe is quite decadent too. Tipu’s Tiger is one unique artifact that I guarantee you won’t find anywhere else! The Great Bed of Ware and the Ardabil Carpet are two even older artifacts that you should try to see while there. Finally, be sure that you stop by the Cast Court, where you can see life-size casts of many famous sculptures, like Michelangelo’s “David”, all in one place!
3. The National Gallery
Located right of Trafalgar Square, London’s National Gallery features many well-known works of art in a lovely building. If you enjoy paintings of the Renaissance era, be sure to see “Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian, “Venus and Mars” by Botticelli, “Madonna of the Pinks” by Raphael, and “The Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci. If your tastes lean more towards the Baroque, try “Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens, “Toilet of Venus” by Diego Velazquez, or “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger (be sure to note the optical illusion hidden in the painting!). For iconic British paintings, check out “Whistlejacket” by George Stubbs or their collection of H.M.W. Turners, including “The Fighting Temeraire”. Finally, if you prefer Impressionist or Post-Impressionist art, you won’t be disappointed either. The museum has works by Renoir, Van Gogh, Seurat, and other painters of that era as well. The collection is so varied and of such quality that I guarantee you’ll find something you like there!
4. The Wallace Collection
I can’t believe I missed out on the Wallace Collection on my first visit to London, but that was corrected for on this last trip! The collection is housed in a very fine building known as Hertford House, which is sumptuously decorated. Each room is a different lovely color and there are lots of fine furnishings and walls full of wonderful art in gilded frames hung salon-style. As far as paintings go, they have many in the Orientalist and Rococo styles, and many by Old Masters as well. If paintings or decorative arts aren’t your thing, there is also a large collection of armor from throughout history and around the world as well! The Wallace Collection is a bit off the beaten tourist path, but if you do go consider checking out the wonderful travel-focused Daunt Books Marylebone, which is in the neighborhood.
5. The Natural History Museum
If you love animals, science, architecture, or the natural world, do yourself a favor and visit the Natural History Museum while you’re in London! The building that houses the Natural History Museum was completed in 1881, and is quite a marvel in itself… be sure to look up and around you as you tour the museum at some of the little architectural details here and there! Be sure to check out the life-size blue whale model, the dinosaurs, the paintings and replicas of the Dodo bird, and artifacts collected by Charles Darwin himself. And while you’re at it, go ahead and see if they have a specimen of your favorite animal–with over 80 million items, odds are, they do!
6. The Tate Modern
Curious about modern art, but also intimidated by it? Then you and the Tate Modern are a match made in heaven! Of all the modern art museums I’ve visited, this is the one that makes modern art the most accessible to the average person. Start at the aptly-named Start Gallery, where you will see some famous works like “The Snail” by Henri Matisse, and be given a mini crash course in modern art appreciation. Then as you move through the museum, you’ll be able to see other works by great artists, like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Piet Mondrian. I also really liked the room full of Mark Rothkos and another room that featured paintings by surrealist artists like Rene Magritte, Georges Braque, and Salvador Dali. The informational plaques in the museum are very helpful, and the website is quite good too if you want to do some further research after your visit. You might just find that you do like modern art after all!
This is by no means a complete list of the free museums that London has to offer, but a list of some of the ones I think are most worth visiting on a first or second trip to London. Depending on your interests, you may also enjoy the Museum of London, the Science Museum (located near the Natural History Museum), the National Maritime Museum or the Tate Britain. Just be sure that if you are visiting London, you pick a few of its amazing museums to see–after all, there’s no reason not to when entrance is free!
Planning a budget-minded trip to London? Check out these other free attractions that London has to offer! What did you think? Did I miss any major free museums in London? Have you visited any of these? Let me know in the comments below!