Is a London city trip expensive? As a London tour guide I get this question a lot. My answer: not if you plan it well because there are actually lots of great things to do for free in London! What about the dozens of top-notch museums you can visit for free for example? There’s such a wide variety of museums, that there’s bound to be one that fits your preferences. Whether you’re visiting London with kids, love fashion and design or are interested in History or the Second World War. In this blog post I wrote a list of the 10 best museums in London for first-time visitors!
Confession: “Before I moved to London, I wasn’t really into museums”
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a cultural philistine. Far from it actually. I’ve always been interested in history and culture, but I mostly associated museums with art.
And I thought art was B O R I N G.
Of course that misjudgement changed drastically once I moved to the UK and started to explore the plethora of free museums in London. And you know what? I felt like a whole new world opened up to me! Nowadays I frequently write about must-see exhibitions on my cultural blog Dutch Girl in London and on Instagram I’m mostly known as an art & culture aficionado. It’s funny how one’s perception of something can change so drastically once you actually start to explore it more.
Best museums in London: 10 free things to do in London!
Trying to choose which of the over 200 museums in London to visit can be a daunting task. Especially if it’s your first time in the capital. That’s why I compiled this list of 10 best museums in London for first-time visitors. And the best thing is: you can visit them all for free!
1. Tate Modern
With its impressive collection of modern and contemporary art, Tate Modern is truly a world-class museum. But what makes this my favourite museum in London is actually its striking architecture. I have a thing for industrial buildings and it just happens to be that Tate Modern is housed in a former power plant! There’s no way to get past the industrial past of this museum. Not with its nearly 100m-tall chimney – daredevil Tom Cruise climbed to the top in Mission Impossible 6 – and 3,500m2 entrance (and former turbine hall).
Make sure to visit the viewing platform on the 10th floor from where you have an amazing view of ‘neighbour’ St Paul’s Cathedral and across the city.
Tate Modern also hosts several outstanding temporary exhibitions on world-famous artists. These do require a paying ticket.
Website Tate Modern
2. British Museum
The British Museum is without a doubt London’s most famous museum. You might even know it from the film A Night at the Museum 3. With its approximately 8 million objects, the British Museum is also one of the largest museums in the world. It specialises in ethnography and antiquities and its main stars are the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian mummies. And just like with Tate Modern, I’m sure the entrance hall of the British Museum will stop you in your tracks.
Website British Museum
3. Science Museum
The Science Museum is a fantastic destination for kids of all ages. The interactive installations are ideal for children but even as an adult I find them utterly fascinating.
You can find absolutely anything that has to do with science here. From the moon landing to the evolution of transport and communication, to ground-breaking scientific discoveries. And the good thing is that everything is presented in an engaging and inviting way.
You can access the largest part of the Science Museum for free, but there’s a charge for a visit to the IMAX theatre, flight simulator and special events or exhibitions.
Website Science Museum
4. Natural History Museum
It doesn’t matter how old you are, on a visit to the Natural History Museum everybody feels like a kid again. But let’s face it. Who wouldn’t get excited as a kid if you could see dinosaur skeletons from up close?
Get ready to travel through the Earth’s 4.5 billion year-long history at the Natural History Museum. Besides skeletons of extinct animals, you’ll also find special fossils, minerals and even a rare fragment of a meteorite from Mars! Or what about the over 25 metre-tall skeleton of blue whale ‘Hope’ in the entrance hall? Get your camera ready!
Website Natural History Museum
5. Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum, or just V&A, is the destination for art and design lovers. Fashionistas will have the time of their life here, but the main attractions here are the gorgeous plaster casts of Ancient artworks. Some of the highlights include Michelangelo’s David and also the impressive Trajan’s Column that literally towers over you.
Website Victoria & Albert Museum
> Want more insider tips for London?
- How to Plan Your Perfect Weekend in London: Day 1 (+free map)
- Insider Tips for Your First Trip to London – Day 2
- Take Five: 5 Cultural Things to Do in Central London
- St Dunstan in the East: From Saxon Church to secret London park
Let’s continue our Top 10 of best museums in London – free things to do in London!
6. Museum of London
As you might’ve already have gathered from the name, in the Museum of London you’ll get to learn everything about the rich history of the metropolis. From the first living creatures in Prehistoric times to the founding of Londonium by the Romans, the destructive Plague, to the world class city it is today.
Personally I’m especially intrigued by the archaeological finds in the soil of this modern metropolis. What else still lies hidden beneath our feet?
Website Museum of London
7. Design Museum
As expected from a museum about architecture and design, the Design Museum is housed in a stylish modern building. The architecture in itself is worth visiting, but the permanent collection on graphic design and communication is an absolute must-see.
Entrance to the permanent collection is free, but you do need to purchase a ticket for their temporary exhibitions. At the moment there’s a fantastic exhibition on Stanley Kubrick, obviously with an emphasis on the aspect of design in his films. If you’re a film buff, I thoroughly recommend to go see the exhibition before it closes on 15 September 2019.
Website Design Museum
8. National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is another one of my favourite museums in London. Largely because of its location in the green wide open space situated right on the River Thames. But also because of the stately building which could easily be a palace. It’s no surprise the splendid looking museum often features in films, such as Marvel’s Thor.
Expect to learn all about Britain’s naval history, see ancient maps and even Nelson’s costume he wore during the fatal Battle of Trafalgar. Children will also love the interactive installations here.
And if you’ve still not had enough, then you could visit the Royal Observatory on top of the hill or go search for the Greenwich Meridian. This line has been recognised as the world’s Prime Meridian Line since 1884.
Website National Maritime Museum
9. National Gallery
One of the reasons the National Gallery is one of the most famous museums in London is its prime location on Trafalgar Square. The museum is a real treasure trove if you’re into classical paintings because here you’ll find works by true masters such as Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Botticelli. Still haven’t quite had your culture fix in Central London? Then drop by the National Gallery’s neighbour, the National Portrait Gallery. Here you can find portraits of significant British persons throughout history. Of course, I’m super proud that hubby’s portrait is also part of their permanent collection!
Website National Gallery
10. Imperial War Museum
A visit to the Imperial War Museum makes for a truly unforgettable experience. Not only because of its impressive display of tanks and fighter jets, but also because of its main topic: war.
While the main part of the museum is perfect for a visit with children, some areas are restricted to older teenagers and adults. This is due to the gruesome topics of the Holocaust and genocide. You might want to limit your visit to the ‘lighter’ exhibits, which is perfectly fine of course since the museum has free entrance, just like all the other museums in this list.
Website Imperial War Museum
Which museum from this list are you keen to visit?
Let me know in a comment below!
Thanks, Zarina xx