London has some of the best museums in the world, and many of them are free to visit! For such an expensive city, London is very generous with its art. Here’s my quick guide for making the most of London museums:
1. NATIONAL GALLERY
Right at Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is a great place to see amazing art. You can easily spend a whole day wandering around, staring at masterpieces such as the Arnolfini Portrait and The Ambassadors (two of my favourites). It’s also a great place for British art, with anything from Turner to Hogarth.
It’s free to visit and there are many free talks and even drawing lessons!
Around the corner is the National Portrait Gallery. Visit on one of their late shifts to enjoy special talks and live music.
2. TATE MODERN AND TATE BRITAIN
Split on either side of the Thames, Tate Modern and Tate Britain are among the most well-known galleries in the UK.
The Tate Modern specialises in (obviously) modern art, with exhibits cleverly displayed in a range of broad themes. The building is an attraction in itself, with the massive Turbine Hall serving as a unique venue for large displays which are specially commissioned annually.
Tate Britain is the home of British art (my words). Here you can see the best of the Pre-Raphaelites alongside Henry Moore sculptures. The building has been renovated recently, when all the displays were reorganised strictly by date.
Both are free to visit (temporary exhibitions are paid). Check for special events as well as free tours.
3. THE BRITISH MUSEUM
It’s impossible to visit the British Museum without ending up reflecting about colonialism. This museum holds a massive collection of historic objects from all over the world, from Easter Island Moai to Egyptian mummies.
Entering the permanent collection the first thing you will see is Rosetta Stone. Just a few rooms away are the equally famous Elgin Marbles – the insides of the Parthenon are not in Athens after all.
The British Museum is located within a beautiful building with a Greek façade which is replicated inside the museum with a modern twist. The main court houses nice souvenir shops and a good cafe. Free to enter except for temporary exhibitions.
4. EXHIBITION ROAD: V&A, Natural History Museum, Science Museum
Exhibition Road in South Kensington is home to three amazing museums.
The V&A is just too wonderful to describe. The beautiful building is home to the largest collection of design objects in the world, with room after room filled with beautiful displays. Join one of their free tours and then chill out at their fancy cafe.
Across the road is the Natural History Museum, where you can see dinosaur fossils alongside dodo models. It’s a great museum, but avoid weekends as it’s always too packed with children.
Next door is the Science Museum, a fun and interactive museum which include exhibits like a lunar module. Again it’s full of children on the weekends, so it’s best avoided then.
All of these are free to enter, except for special exhibitions.
5. OTHER POPULAR MUSEUMS
- Royal Academy: Very centrally located, it’s not free to visit, but it has great exhibitions on all the time.
- Courtauld Gallery: Housed in the beautiful Somerset House, this is the best place to see impressionism in London. Tickets at £7.
- Wallace Collection: The building has just opened after a long renovation, so it’s a good time to visit. Stop for a meal at their popular restaurant.
- Transport Museum: I visited this recently, and it was really fun! Tickets are expensive at £16, but you can visit as many times as you wish throughout the year.
- Soane Museum: An unusual home filled with a unique collection.
There are countless galleries around London, with new displays available every day. Just wander around Hoxton or Soho and you will find lots of places with great art.
Famous galleries such as the White Cube or the Saatchi Gallery are always a good starting point.
Within the Southbank Centre, the Hayward Gallery has great temporary exhibitions, with tickets at around £10.
HOW TO PLAN:
There are endless options of museums and galleries in London. For up to date information, TimeOut and the Art Fund have comprehensive listings of what’s on at any given time.
Go get lost in a museum!