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Top Five Free Museums in London You Have to Visit

Updated on December 4, 2018
Khal Rasdam profile image

Khal Rasdam is a semi-retired business consultant who enjoys traveling and writing. He spent four years living in London.

Introduction

There are over 150 museums in London devoted to a wide range of interests. Museums here range from the small to some of the world’s most renowned housed in huge buildings. There are museums devoted to human civilization, natural history, military history, science and technology, decorative arts and designs, fashion, and even cartoons. Best of all, most of London’s major museums are free to the public.

The following are the five most popular museums (excluding the art galleries or museums) that offer some of the best free attractions in London and are easily accessible by public transport. The five museums open throughout the week but close from 24th to 26th December.

British Museum

The British Museum is a fascinating museum that tells the history civilization around the world. Opened in 1759, it’s the most popular museum in the United Kingdom and attracted 5.9 million visitors in 2017. The British Museum is a huge museum with one of the world’s largest collection of artifacts devoted to the history of civilization. Exhibits in the museum’s collections are under numerous themed galleries based on periods and locations in history. The museum is too big to see it all in a day and most visitors spend 3-4 hours seeing the exhibits.

The British Museum
The British Museum | Source

The British Museum is a showcase of human history with its large collection of artifacts. There are galleries devoted to the history of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, Middle East, Europe, Asia, Americas, and Africa. Many of the exhibits include collections from the Stone Age and Bronze Age. There’s also a gallery devoted to the history of money from prehistoric times to the present day and exhibits include seashells, coins, bank notes, and mobile phones.

Elgin Marbles from Ancient Greece
Elgin Marbles from Ancient Greece | Source

The British Museum has one of the largest collections of artifacts from the civilization of Ancient Egypt after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The most popular exhibits from the civilization are the mummies and coffins! Exhibits from Ancient Greece and Rome include sculptures, inscriptions, columns, vessels, and jewelry. From the Middle East are exhibits from the Islamic World and the ancient civilizations of Assyria, Iran, South Arabia, and Mesopotamia. The European collection includes during the Roman rule of Britain, Medieval and Renaissance periods, and from the 19th century to the present.

Going to the British Museum

The British Museum is located on Great Russell Street and about 10 minutes walk from the London Underground Tottenham Court Road and Holborn Stations.

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is another interesting museum in London and devoted to explaining the history of our natural world. The museum is internationally renowned and in the same league as the famous American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The museum occupies a huge 19th century building with Gothic architecture and is the second most popular museum in London, attracting 4.4 million visitors in 2017.

The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum | Source

Categories of collections at the Natural History Museum include botany, zoology, entomology, paleontology, and mineralogy. Exhibits include fossils, skeletons, plant and zoological specimens, minerals, gems, and rocks. There are also animatronic displays of lifelike dinosaur models including the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex and short-legged Ankylosaur. Some of the exhibits are also of historical value such as collections by the famous 19th century naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin.

Popular areas of the museum are the galleries devoted to dinosaurs that include animatronic displays and fossils such as the Tyrannosaurus rex, Baryonyx, Iguanodon, and Triceratops. Hanging from the ceiling of the Large Mammals Hall gallery is the skeleton of a large blue whale. Another highlight of the museum is the Human Evolution gallery that includes a hominin fossil dating back 3.5 million years, skull of a Neanderthal, and the skull and hand casts of a Homo naledi.

Skeleton of the bule whale
Skeleton of the bule whale | Source

Going to the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is on Cromwell Road and a short walk from the London Underground South Kensington Station and 15 minutes from Gloucester Road Station.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum is a leading fine arts museum in London devoted to the world of decorative art and design. In fact, the museum is the largest of its kind in the world and draws visitors from around the world with an appreciation for fine art. It’s major cultural institution in London and the city’s third most popular museum, attracting 3.8 million visitors in 2017. The V&A Museum is within short walking distances from the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum | Source

Collections at V&A Museum span five millennia and are not only from the United Kingdom but also from cultures in Europe, North America, Asia, and North Africa. Exhibits include embroidery, costumes, fashion, wedding dresses, sculptures, ceramics, furniture, wallpapers, paintings, photographs, and jewelry. Periods and styles include Baroque, Medieval, Renaissance, Aestheticism, Art Deco, Art Novo, Modernism, and 1960s fashion.

Highlights of the visit are the 15 British galleries covering art and design from the Tudor period in the 16th century to the Victorian era until 1900. The museum has one of the world’s largest collections of fine art from the Islamic world including Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East that span 14 centuries. Collections from East Asia namely China and Japan include silk, textiles, embroidery, robes, lacquer ware, porcelain, and jade. Other highlights include jewelry and textile from Egypt, Africa and Asia from the 1st century to the present.

Sculptures at the museum
Sculptures at the museum | Source

Going to the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum is on Cromwell Road and nearby the London Underground South Kensington Station and slightly further is Gloucester Road Station.

Science Museum

The Science Museum is the largest as well as the most popular science museum in London. Opened in 1857, the museum explains how science and technology have influenced society and the impacts on our lives. It encompasses seven floors exploring human ingenuity with exhibits that kids will enjoy and fascinate adults. The Science Museum is the fourth most visited museum in London and the most visited science museum in the United Kingdom, attracting 3.3 million visitors in 2017.

The Science Museum
The Science Museum | Source

The museum’s fascinating exhibits include collections devoted to the world of engineering, energy, communications, flight, space exploration, and digital technology. There are also exhibits devoted to bioscience and the environment. Besides the artifacts, there are plenty of interactive exhibits and some designed especially for young children. There’s a IMAX 3D theater (must purchase a ticket) screening interesting 45-minute documentaries about the world of science.

Popular exhibits include the oldest surviving steam engine named Old Bess built by James Watt in 1777. Another interesting exhibit is the famous steam locomotive named Stephenson’s Rocket built by Robert Stephenson in 1829. There’s a replica of the Apollo 10 command module and the historic Eagle lunar module (Apollo 11) that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969. Other popular exhibits are the full-sized aircrafts including the famous Supermarine Spitfire and Hurricane used in World War II.

Stephenson's Rocket
Stephenson's Rocket | Source

Visiting the Science Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum is on Cromwell Road and nearby the London Underground South Kensington Station and slightly further is Gloucester Road Station.

Royal Museums Greenwich

Royal Museums Greenwich comprises of four nearby museums in Greenwich, a London borough on the south bank of the River Thames. Admission to the National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House are free but must purchase tickets for the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the Cutty Sark. All four museums are part of Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and together the fifth most popular museum destination in London, attracting 2.6 million visitors in 2017.

The National Maritime Museum is the largest museum in the United Kingdom devoted to exploring Britain’s maritime heritage. The museum covers five hundred years of maritime history with its exhibits of navigational tools, scientific instruments, uniforms, maps, flags, and memorabilia. The 17th century Queen’s House was once the royal residence of Queen Anne. It’s now a renowned art museum with over 450 paintings including portraits dating from the 17th to 20th century.

National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum | Source

King Charles II commissioned the Royal Observatory Greenwich in 1675 and its location is the meridian line that gives the world Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The old observatory now houses a museum with exhibits of navigational instruments, astronomical tools, timepieces, and a new planetarium. The Cutty Sark is a 19th century clipper that was once the fastest sailing ship during its time. Visitors can walk beneath the hull and board the restored clipper exploring the deck, crew’s quarters, and captain’s cabin.

The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark | Source

Visiting Royal Museums Greenwich

Docklands Light Railway (DLR) trains stop at Greenwich and Cutty Sark Stations and boats under the London River Services stop at Greenwich Pier.

The Museums on the Map

A
British Museum London:
Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, UK

get directions

B
Natural History Museum:
Cromwell Rd, Kensington, London SW7 5BD, UK

get directions

C
Victoria and Albert Museum:
Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL, UK

get directions

D
Science Museum:
Exhibition Rd, Kensington, London SW7 2DD, UK

get directions

E
Royal Museums Greenwich:
Romney Rd, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF, UK

get directions

Comments

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    • Khal Rasdam profile imageAUTHOR

      Khal Rasdam 

      7 months ago from Penang but occasionally traveling.

      Hello Poppy.

      Actually there are other free museums in London but I only listed the top 5 most visited museums in this article.

      Other free museums in London that I can think of at the moment are the Imperial War Museum, Royal Air Force Museum, Museum of London, and Museum of London Docklands.

      There are also several renowned art galleries, which are also free but that's in my next HP article.

      ------------------------------------------

      Hello Liz Westwood.

      I lived in London for nearly 5 years and envy Londoners. London has many attractions that a visitor or tourist could enjoy for free like museums and art galleries.

      I've been to a couple of museums and art galleries in many parts of the globe. Often there's an entrance fee and many times very pricey. I've even visited parks outside the UK where you have to pay an entrance fee!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      7 months ago from UK

      I was recently at the maritime museum. It was much cheaper than one I visited in Amsterdam recently, which charged an admission fee. You have reminded me of how fortunate we are to have free museums.

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy 

      7 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Wow, I didn't realise there are so many free museums in London! It's definitely a great option for those who are travelling around the city on a budget, and of course you can learn a lot while there, too.

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