There’s one word that’s used more often than most to describe London: sprawling. Architecturally speaking, it’s the defining feature of London’s city layout, but in a more free-flowing way, it’s also how one might describe London’s culture. London has it all. In a city of nearly 10 million people, there are enough types of museums for every type of person. And so many of the museums are quite sprawling themselves. But hey! Big bonus for London: many of its museums are F-R-E-E!
Museums Should be Free
You see, it was when I was living in London as a university student that I discovered the amazing benefits of free access to art & culture. Being priced out of so many other activities and attractions in London, London offers up more than a few free, donation-only museums.
Much like America’s capital city, Washington D.C., London is the heart and soul of England and, as such, the state-owned museums provide a certain amount of culture to its inhabitants and residents.
And as someone with a lot of free time and not much money, London’s free museums were a life savior. I used to visit the Tate Modern gallery once a week, maybe just for a few minutes as part of my walk home after my internship.
But those brief moments of passing through a museum, soaking in a tiny bit of culture, watching people and learning how they look at art. Those were defining moments in my own quest for creativity and culture.
I love all museums, but when they’re free, that’s something special. For me, a museum is a place to meet friends. To casually stroll and discover new things.
A place to look for inspiration. Of course we should pay for this, but sometimes we can’t. And that’s why these big museums — these state-owned museums of nationalistic culture and pride — that’s why they need to be free.
I’d rather visit museums multiple times a month to soak up the culture, instead of just once a year. When the museums are free this is much more possible, otherwise the admission price scares away far too many people who otherwise might not visit.
Free Museums in London
When I studied at a university in South Kensington, I was hardly ever more than a stone’s throw away from London’s biggest museums. The Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria & Albert make up a trifecta of culture along Exhibition Road. And all are free! When living in London I used to regularly visit the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
Special exhibitions at most of these museums are not free but they’re often well worth the cost. Especially when you consider all the free culture you’ve likely been taking in.
Also important to note is that many of these museums accept donations, and probably need them to continue providing free. If you’re planning to spend a whole day exploring a museum, maybe drop some quid in the box.
- British Museum — Probably London’s most famous museum, it’s got a bit of a tomb raider feel to it. So many cultures are represented in their collection a visit to the British Museum is like traveling through time.
- National Gallery — Making up the backdrop to millions of tourists’ Trafalgar Square photos, the National Gallery has an extensive art collection spanning from the 13th century to the 1900s, with more than a few famous artworks.
- National Portrait Gallery — One of my favorites, the National Portrait Gallery is just behind the National Gallery and houses a collection made up of entirely portraits. And exclusively of British individuals.
- Tate Modern — Along the Thames River, it’s the museum that probably shows up in more contemporary museums than most. The contemporary art collections and huge exhibition space makes it, in my opinion, one of the most unique museums in the world.
- Tate Britain — Part of the same collection as the Tate Modern, this is the more historical art museum, with works by British artists throughout history. Their collection of JMW Turner paintings and other classic British artists is unrivaled.
- Natural History Museum — It’s hard not to be impressed by this museum because its building is so special. There’s so much history inside here, it needs several visits.
- Science Museum — A surprisingly fun and, at times, interactive museum, the Science Museum changes its exhibits regularly. Unlike other museums which are more about seeing and experiencing art, the Science Museum is all about learning.
- Victoria & Albert — A truly special museum in London, the Victoria & Albert has a vast collection of decorative arts (but don’t let that bore you!). It’s an incredible place to visit for any sort of design inspiration and their special exhibits (not free) are sometimes surprising. They’ve also got an entire museum set up specifically for children!
- Museum of London — Part of the Barbican Centre, this has to be one of the coolest history museums. The Museum of London spans time and showcases the history of London. And anyone who has read anything will know London has had an incredible history spanning plagues, Kings & Queens, wars and revolutions. It’s almost amazing to think that the city has withstood it all.
WHERE TO STAY: Thankfully London seems to have ten times as many hotels as it does museums. Hotels are scattered across the sprawling city, but if you’re able to snag a stay in the center of the city, near London’s biggest museums, you just might save some money on the Tube! Try The Stafford London, centrally located near Buckingham Palace, for a luxury hotel in London.
While you could spend weeks visiting London’s free museums, it’s also important to note that with over 270 museums in the city, there are many more places of art and culture. Many of which have an admission fee and are likely worth the cost. Not all museums can be supported by a legendary name and a mention in a guidebook.
Museums like the Design Museum, the Museum of Brands and the Pollocks Toy Museum all charge admission prices, but with their carefully curated and hyper-selection collections, they’re well worth the cost of admission.
[…] Authored By Adam Groffman – See the Full Story at Travels of Adam See Adam’s full blog here. […]
I love the V&A museum, I could spend hours there alone just wondering the beautiful building
Completely agree Rebecca! The V&A building is beautiful and its collection is so vast and special – love it!
When in London, check out the Hunterian – unique and always free.
Yep I’ve heard about that one! Plan to check it out on my next visit, thanks for the tip Maria
Free museums are absolutely the best. I hate going to a museum and feeling like you have to see EVERYTHING to get your money’s worth. When they are free that feeling disappears, and you are able to explore so much more freely. It’s great to be in London walking around and just pop into the natural History Museum or the V&A for an hour and then be on your way. You can absorb and then reflect over a good meal – the way museums were meant to be! Safe travels!
Well said Travis! There’s a lot of pressure to see and do so much more once you pay. Having the time to take in and see what you want makes the museums so much more enjoyable for everyone.
The best places are the places you can visit for FREE. No entrance fee. Will definitely drop by when we are in the area!
We will definitely love the places too. The best places are the places you can visit for FREE. No entrance fee. Will definitely drop by when we are in the area!
The free museums is one of the things that I think makes London such a great city to visit (though I still maintain it can be a pretty awful place to live sometimes), and it’s one of the few things I’m rather proud of my hometown for. It’s not just London, though, by the way. There are free museums all over the UK!
There are other cities in the UK besides London?!? (Kidding…sort of!)
Haha, yes. I think London is a great destination for visiting and it’s set up pretty well for tourists. Plenty of sightseeing and attractions, free museums, easy transportation — it’s no wonder the city gets so many tourists every day!
[…] But if you’re strapped for cash and looking for a dose of culture in the English capital, check out one of these glorious –and free — museums. […]
This is one of the reasons I love London too! :-) I don’t know how many times I’ve just nipped in to one for a couple of hours since living here.
Hey Kirsty! I’m so jealous of how easy and accessible art is in this city.
PS – So glad to have seen you this weekend! xoxo
[…] sprawling with museums, and a big bonus is that many of them are free. Travels of Adam tells us ‘Why I Love London’s Free Museums’ in this […]
[…] fashion for most visitors, though it’s also within walking distance to some of the best London museums. Staying in the Kensington/Knightsbridge area of London I was able to not only get some necessary […]
Love London’s free museums – on my several trips I’ve only scratched the surface, but I think they’ve got it about right. Charge for the super-special exhibits, the rest is free (donation suggested).
To me, it creates a feedback loop, especially for the locals. People form a relationship with a museum they like. They’re more likely to donate to it when they are able and to pay for special exhibits if they already feel connected to that institution. It makes the main exhibits almost an entry-level drug. ;-)
You don’t know me, but I am your Gramma’s roommate at Masonic Home. Your Aunt Anne had me look up your website and after I found it, she said to send you an email to say “Hi”.
Congrats on your London blog being picked up by nat’l geographic.
Your Aunt and Gram say “hello” too.
Thanks for stopping by!! Please give my aunt and grandma a hug from me :) xoxo
Nice list! Pinning it so I can remember. I didn’t know all of those big museums were free!
I know – the UK is really great about offering free entrance to their national museums.
[…] musicals: Wicked! And I would see it again and again and again. And again! I love to get lost in London’s museums (most of them work with donations) and I’ve been lucky to spend hours admiring paintings […]