22 free museums in London you need to visit

A question which comes up a lot with first-time visitors to the capital…

Are London’s Museums free?

The answer is yes they are – well, most of them at least!

The majority of London’s best museums don’t charge an entrance fee at all, although there are usually boxes dotted around in case you’re feeling generous and do want to leave a small donation. Many also host special temporary exhibitions and events throughout the year which are ticketed, but this won’t stop you from visiting their permanent exhibitions for free.

Below I’ve outlined the best free museums in London you need to visit…

Must-visit free museums in London:

The 6 top London museums and galleries with free admission that you shouldn’t miss…

 

British Museum

The British Museum in London’s Bloomsbury was founded in 1753 and was the first national museum in the world to cover all fields of human knowledge. The impressive museum now has a permanent collection of over eight million artefacts which span two million years of human history, art and culture.

And if the museum’s extensive free collections aren’t enough to draw you in, then its architecture certainly will. At the centre of the British Museum sits the largest covered public square in Europe, known as the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, a two-acre space enclosed by a spectacular glass roof.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road and Holborn.

Is the British Museum free? Yes!

The covered square of the British Museum London

 

Natural History Museum

London’s Natural History Museum is dedicated to the study of life and earth science and is one of the leading centres of natural history research in the world. Plus, it is located inside one of London’s most architecturally impressive buildings, making it a popular tourist destination for multiple reasons.

Dating all the way back to 1881, the museum has many important historical artefacts among its 80 million items, including specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself.

The museum’s dinosaur exhibition has always been one of its most popular areas, with numerous dinosaur skeletons and a huge animatronic T-Rex (which you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy!). They even have part of the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered.

Other interesting exhibits about the natural world include Volcanoes and Earthquakes with a working earthquake simulator and the central Hintze Hall with a blue whale skeleton tethered from the ceiling.

Nearest tube station: South Kensington.

Is the Natural History Museum free? Yes! There are only admission fees for some of the special exhibitions and events.

Central Hall with Whale skeleton in Natural History Museum London

TREX Dinosaur at the Natural History Museum London

 

London Travel Tip: Exhibition Road in South Kensington (south-west London) is home to three of the best free museums London has to offer; the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A. Plan to spend a whole day in South Kensington if you want to tick off all three in one go.

 

Science Museum

My personal favourite free museum in London has to be the Science Museum in South Kensington.

London’s Science Museum covers various aspects of science and human achievement, from the exploration of space to the invention of modern digital technologies. It is currently the most visited science museum in Europe.

Spanning across multiple floors, the huge museum has over 300,000 items in its collection, including world-famous objects such as the Apollo 10 command capsule, Stephenson’s Rocket and Puffing Billy (the world’s oldest surviving steam locomotive). There are also a number of interactive exhibits, such as a 3D IMAX cinema showing science and nature documentaries.

Nearest tube station: South Kensington.

Is the Science Museum free? Yes! However, you must pay to enter the interactive Wonderlab gallery.

Space Suit at the Science Museum London

 

Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design and is one of the largest art museums in the world.

The museum houses a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects spanning 5,000 years of art, design and sculpture from different cultures all across the world, with exhibitions on textiles, costumes, jewellery, furniture, drawings, printing, photography, ironwork, ceramics, ancient objects and plenty more.

Nearest tube station: South Kensington.

Is the V&A Museum free? Yes! There are only charges for special temporary exhibitions.

Fashion display at the V&A Museum in London

 

National Gallery

The National Gallery is one of the UK’s most important art museums which contains over 2,300 works dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.

With many famous works by artists including Michelangelo, Velázquez, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh and others housed inside a Grade I listed Neoclassical building on the northern edge of Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is certainly one of the most impressive free galleries London has to offer.

Nearest tube station: Charing Cross.

Is the National Gallery free? Yes! There are occasionally some special exhibitions which are ticketed.

Pillared building of National Gallery London

 

Tate Modern

For those who prefer more contemporary art to classical works, head to the Tate Modern on the south bank of the River Thames.

Located inside of the former Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern is Britain’s national gallery of international modern art, housing a huge collection of contemporary and modern artwork from 1900 to the present day, with artists including Picasso, DalÍ­, Pollock and Warhol.

The Tate Modern is the most visited art museum in Britain and the second most visited museum in the UK after the British Museum.

Nearest tube station: Blackfriars.

Is the Tate Modern free? Yes! There is sometimes a fee for special exhibitions and events.

Poster reading: How can art change the world? At the Tate Modern London

Modern Art at the Tate Modern London

 

Other notable free museums in London:

More of the best London free museums…

 

Museum of London

The Museum of London documents the history of the British capital from prehistoric times to the modern-day. Primarily concerned with the social history of the city and its residents, the Museum of London is the largest urban history collection in the world.

Nearest tube station: Barbican and St Pauls.

 

Design Museum

Located in a new ultra-modern building on the edge of Holland Park, the Design Museum is the world’s leading museum devoted to contemporary design in every form.

The museum covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design, looking at everything from the original design of the London underground and interior home design from around the world to how new technologies such as the iPhone are shaping our everyday lives and what we might expect to see in the future.

Nearest tube station: Kensington High Street.

Interior of Design Museum London

 

British Library

The British Library is the largest national library in the world, with an estimated 200+ million items in its collection. As well as its many books, the library holds historic manuscripts, maps, stamps, photographs and even music from every age of written civilisation.

Visit the ‘Treasures of the British Library Gallery‘ to see some of its most significant items, including the Magna Carta, original writings from both Charles Dickens and Shakespeare, Michelangelo’s anatomical illustrations, one of the earliest Qur’ans and a copy of the world’s oldest dated complete printed book, the Diamond Sutra.

One of the best museums in London for literary lovers!

Nearest tube station: Kings Cross and Euston.

 

The Welcome Collection

‘The free museum and library for the incurably curious’.

The Welcome Collection is a strangely fascinating collection of medical antiquities relating to the historical development of medicine around the globe, founded by the 19th-century collector Henry Wellcome.

Nearest tube station: Euston Square and Euston.

The Human Body display at the Welcome Collection London

 

V&A Museum of Childhood

The Museum of Childhood is a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum which specialises in objected designed by and for children such as toys, clothes and more.

Nearest tube station: Bethnal Green.

 

National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is dedicated to Britain’s maritime history and how exploration at sea has shaped the world we live in today.

Nearest tube station: Greenwich and Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR).

National Maritime Museum in Greenwich London

 

Royal Air Force Museum

Located a little outside of central London in what was once the hangers of the former Hendon Aerodrome, the Royal Air Force Museum is dedicated to the history of aviation and the Royal Air Force, from the planes themselves to fascinating stories of servicemen and women who served in the RAF.

Nearest tube station: Colindale.

 

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum looks at the causes of war and its impact on people’s lives, with exhibitions including recreations of WWI trenches and the Blitz, numerous tanks and planes and stories from people who have experienced wars first hand.

Nearest tube station: Lambeth North.

Facade of Imperial War Museum London

 

Other notable free art galleries in London:

More of the best free galleries in London for art lovers…

 

Tate Britain

Another member of the Tate group, Tate Britain is actually older than the larger and better-known Tate Modern, dating all the way back to 1897.

While the Tate Modern holds international modern artwork, Tate Britain is now dedicated to historical and contemporary British art.

Nearest tube station: Pimlico.

Spiral Staircase with artwork at Tate Britain London

 

National Portrait Gallery

Located in an adjoining building to the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery houses a collection of historic portraits of important and famous British people.

Nearest tube station: Charing Cross.

 

The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is an interesting free art museum located inside a large townhouse in Marylebone known as Hertford House. The museum has a collection of paintings from the 15th to 19th century, as well as antiques and sculptures sourced from around the globe by Sir Richard Wallace.

Nearest tube station: Bond Street.

Art at Wallace Collection London

 

Queens House

The aptly named Queens House in Greenwich was the first-ever classical building in the UK in the 1600s with the original purpose of being the royal residence of Queen Anne of Denmark. However, Queen Ann died before the building was completed and the building given to queen consort Henrietta Maria. It was then used by several other royals over the years.

The Grade I listed building is now part of the National Maritime Museum and is used to display parts of their substantial collection of maritime paintings and portraits.

Nearest tube station: Greenwich and Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR).

 

Smaller free museums in London:

The smaller and lesser-known (but still great!) free admission museums in London…

 

Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill (South London) is similar to the Natural History Museum but on a much smaller scale, with collections spanning natural history and anthropology.

The museum is particularly known for its elaborate taxidermy exhibition as well as the large 16 acres of gardens with a conservatory, nature trail, animal enclosure, butterfly house and sound garden with giant musical instruments you can play.

With its smaller size and fun interactive exhibitions, Horniman is one of the best free museums in London for kids.

Visiting London with kids? Check out these other fun free things to do in London with little ones.

Nearest tube station: Forest Hill.

 

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology 

A part of University College of London but free for anyone to explore, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is a small collection of hieroglyphics, carvings, pottery and other artefacts from Egypt and Sudan on display within the university campus.

Nearest tube station: Euston Square.

 

Grant Museum of Zoology 

Another free public museum belonging to University College of London in Bloomsbury is the Grant Museum of Zoology, with many skeletons and preserved remains of animals in Victorian-style glass cases.

Nearest tube station: Euston Square.

 

Bank of England Museum

Located within the Bank of England in the City of London, this rather niche yet very interesting little museum has a unique selection of exhibits detailing what the Bank of England does and the effect this has on our everyday lives. You can also learn about the Bank of England’s historic buildings, find out more about the banknote design and even lift a real bar of gold.

Learn about money without having to spend any yourself at this free London museum.

Nearest tube station: Bank.

Notes Bank of England museum

 

BONUS – Museums in London with paid entrance:

Other London museums worth visiting, even if you do have to pay for them…

 

London Transport Museum

The London Transport Museum in the heart of Covent Garden explores the capitals transport system, emphasising the powerful link between transport and the growth of London over the last 200 years.

The museum’s collection includes real horse and motor buses, trains, taxis, trams, trolleybuses and bicycles, transport signs dating back to 1800, historic tube maps, and photos, posters and artwork documenting the evolution of London’s transport network over time.

Nearest tube station: Covent Garden.

London Transport Museum

 

The Postal Museum

The Postal Museum takes visitors back over 500 years of communication history through the eyes of the iconic postal service.

Plus, for the first time, you can now visit the secret 100-year-old underground tunnels running underneath the city on an exclusive Mail Rail ride, which was the world’s first driverless electric railway (worth the visit alone!).

Nearest tube station: Farringdon, Russell Square, King’s Cross and Chancery Lane.

 

Other London posts to help you plan your visit:

 


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