London is something of a museum mecca, boasting over 170 museums, with many being completely free to enter. Visiting free museums in London is the perfect way to spend an afternoon- whether you’re a local or a visitor.
You can learn so much for free just by stepping inside, and London has just about every museum you could think of… from the famous Natural History Museum to the obscure Grant Museum of Zoology.
Whether you want do visit something alternative, or something traditional and world-renowned, London has them all. Everyone will find the free museum for them on this list…
This museum has a very recognisable feature- its glass roof. You’ve probably seen it on many an Instagram page, but the real attraction to the museum goes further than this.
The British Museum has a mind-boggling number of objects in its collection- around 8 million, in fact. There are over 60 free galleries at this museum, which means you could visit time and time again and never see the same thing twice. There are also free daily ‘eye-opener’ tours throughout the galleries which is perfect if you’d like to know more about a specific topic.
You guessed it, this museum is all about London. It documents London’s history from prehistoric to modern times.
The museum of London holds over a million objects, and you can learn pretty much all there is to know about London- the gruesome bits like medieval London, the great fire of London and the plague. But also learn more about London in more recent times with galleries dedicated to fashion, technology and modern culture.
Victoria & Albert Museum
The V&A is my personal favourite museum in London, not only due to their fantastic ticketed exhibitions, but also their amazing array of free galleries.
You can see all kinds of textile, pottery and sculptures for free at the V&A, and the museum also regularly holds free workshops, talks and trails for children. Check their website for the most up to date information about free events at the museum.
The science museum has been around since the 1920s, and is still super popular today. I remember visiting back in the 90s when I was a child (my first visit to London) and it was so much fun!
The museum is brilliant resource for both children and adults- as well as lots of interactive displays, there are also a ton of educational galleries about medicine, mathematics and outer space.
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The Natural History Museum is probably one of the best known museums in London, and more than 5 million people walk through the doors each year. Just a stone’s throw from the V&A (and the science museum for that matter) this is a must-see museum in Kensington, West London.
You can discover more about the natural world and its evolution over time- from insects to dinosaurs and more. You can also attend ‘Nature Live,’ which is a free live show held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
This museum explores the effects of wars on societies and houses a permanent WW1 exhibition. Find out more about conflict from WW1 to the present day with additional free exhibitions on the holocaust, and unexpected ‘curiosities of war’ including a makeshift sofa and a wooden horse.
The National Maritime Museum is located in Greenwich, at the bottom of Greenwich Hill (also a delight for fantastic views all over London).
This museum documents tales of exploration across the world, with information on Captain Cook, the East India Company and the history of the Royal Navy. This is another great museum for children, with lots of interactive exhibitions to entertain little ones.
The RAF museum is a must for anyone with an interest in war history and the Royal Air Force. There are several galleries which invite you to learn more about the first 100 years of the RAF, the RAF in the present day, and the future of the Royal Air Force.
Again, this is a great museum for children to learn more about history, and there’s even a themed outdoor play area for kids.
London has not one, but two V&A museums. The second is in Bethnal Green and has a focus on the lived experience of children from 1600 until the present day.
Here you can find galleries filled with toys, dolls houses and clothing from the days of yore. As you can imagine the Museum of Childhood also has a large number of events for children, and encourage visits from Primary Schools.
Check their website for the most up to date information on their free activities for kids- the museum is undergoing major renovations from March 2020 so keep up to date with opening times on their website before planning a visit.
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One of the best pieces of knowledge I got given when I started out my career is ‘everything has a design.’ It was something I’d never considered before, but is something that has now stuck with me, and something that I often ponder.
The Design Museum in Kensington is the leading museum for exploring contemporary design, from architecture to products. There is an entire gallery on level 1 which is completely free to explore.
Perhaps one of the most unusual museums in London, the Grand Museum of Zoology forms part of UCL (University College London) and holds over 60,000 animal specimens.
Not one for those who are squeamish (me) as the museum houses oddities such as a jar of moles, animal skeletons and a collection of bisected heads. If you’re looking for an alternative museum, this one is for you.
The British Library holds large collections of books, manuscripts, music, maps and stamps- amongst other things! There are often several free exhibitions to go to which get rotated every 6 months or so.
Just like any other library, you can go there to read, listen and learn. There are dedicated reading rooms which you can also use to read and study.
This is another more unusual museum, and is a brilliant one to visit if you’re interested in textiles and crafting. There are at least 600 machines on show, one of which was gifted to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter as a wedding present.
The museum has limited opening hours and is open from 2-5pm on the first Saturday of each month- so it’s worth taking some time to plan ahead.
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The National Portrait Gallery is exactly as the name suggests- here you can view famous portraits from the 1400s to the present day.
The gallery holds a number of free exhibitions which usually rotate around every 6 months or so. The exhibitions are usually a mixture of traditional portraiture, photographs and sculpture.
The Royal Academy of Arts has lots of free displays to ponder, and a ton of free taster-talks and lectures which is an absolutely brilliant way to learn a little more about favourite artists and paintings.
Head to their website for information on current free displays, and also any upcoming displays and taster-talks.
It’s hard to visit London without going to the Tate. It’s conveniently located in central London which means it’s the perfect pit-stop whilst you are doing some sightseeing.
The Tate Modern is a contemporary gallery, and you can browse hundreds of works absolutely free of charge. Of course, there are also special exhibitions which are ticketed, but in my opinion there is a huge number of interesting free exhibits to keep you entertained for hours.
There are two Tate galleries- Tate Britain is located around Vauxhall, so is slightly less central than the Tate Modern and has exhibits dating from 1500s.
Just like the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain has a large number of free displays which again get rotated fairly frequently.
The Wellcome Collection describes itself as “the free museum and library for the incredibly curious.” The museum aims to challenge the way that we think and feel about health.
All of the exhibitions shown at this museum are free, with the majority of events also being free. You can find Wellcome Collection next to Euston Square tube station.
You can head to the Horniman Museum and Gardens completely free of charge, but there is a fee for both the aquarium and butterfly house.
This museum is great for children, and boasts an incredible 16 acre garden. The museum has a focus on anthropology and houses a natural history collection also.
This museum is, you guessed it, all about money. At this museum you can try and hold a gold bar, and take a selfie in the ‘gold corridor.’ The museum is built upon the one of the world’s largest stores of gold- there are over 400,000 gold bars in the Bank of England vaults.
You can also learn more about the history of bank notes as we know them today, and explore the reasons for the way they are designed in present day.
The British Museum
“The artists’ gallery for everyone.” Whitechapel gallery has two exhibitions a year that are ticketed, but the rest of the exhibitions are free.
Check out this gallery for contemporary artwork, you could even take one of the free curator’s tours to expand your knowledge on the exhibits. Head to their website to find out more.
There are in fact two Serpentine Galleries- one is the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and the other is simply named Serpentine Gallery.
The galleries are both contemporary art galleries located in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park. Although they are two separate galleries, you can walk between the two of them over a bridge over Serpentine Lake.
Both galleries are completely free to visit, so it’s worth popping in if you are already planning a leisurely walk through Hyde Park.
God’s Own Junkyard
Gods Own Junkyard perhaps doesn’t quite qualify as a museum, perhaps more of a collection, but it’s one of my favourite free places to go in London.
The creator of Gods Own Junkyard has a cult following in London and LA, and has created iconic signage from old and new neon lights. “God’s Own Junkyard, where neon never dies.”
This tiny museum could easily go unnoticed, but I walked past it once whilst walking along the riverbank and had to pop inside.
The museum has limited opening hours, but you can pop by on a Thursday or a Sunday between 2-5pm to have a browse of the extensive reference library.
The Guildhall Art Gallery is just moments away from Bank tube station, and houses many pieces of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite art.
After checking out the gallery you can step into the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre- it was lost for centuries before archaeologist discovered the ruins in the 80s.
Camden Arts Centre is totally free to enter and houses many contemporary art exhibitions. In addition to the galleries, the Camden Arts Centre also has studios which schools can use free of charge.
The centre also runs free talks with artists and writers- but you’ll have to be quick to reserve your free booking online.
The National Army Museum has a focus on the army and its impact throughout the past to the present day. You can find the museum in Chelsea, adjacent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
As well as a number of free exhibitions, there are also many free talks from authors, artists and professors. There are also a number of events and workshops for children which are very reasonably priced.
Who knew that London had a free museum dedicated to dentistry? Here you can find out more about the origins and history of dentistry, as well as temporary exhibitions too. Check out their website to find the current exhibitions being held at the museum.
Visitors can marvel at the development of dentures and drills, and can even use an audio-guide to assist their visit to the museum.
This is another rather alternative museum, located in a church crypt in Whitechapel, you can visit the Royal London Hospital Museum and see a letter written by Jack the Ripper himself.
Another museum not for the faint hearted, there is also a replica skeleton of the ‘Elephant Man’ who was treated at the Royal London Hospital until his death.
The Faraday Museum explores 200 years of science, and is set over 3 floors. The lower ground floor exhibits are dedicated to ‘experimentation,’ with information on the very first experiments that gave us objects that we take for granted today.
The ground floor is themed around ‘people,’ including the 14 Nobel Prize winners who have worked at the Royal Institution.
The first and final floor showcases the past events that have been and gone at the Royal Institution.
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Burgh House houses the Hampstead Museum which explores the history of Hampstead itself- the collection has around 3,000 objects, many of which have been donated by the local Hampstead community since the museum opened in the late seventies.
The permanent exhibition is across two rooms within Burgh House, and has all kinds of artifacts from prehistoric times to present day.
At the Museum of London Docklands there are free daily tours- when you visit, the museum advises you to ask at reception for the time of the next available tour.
Here you can learn all about the connection that London has to the river docks- from traders and pirates, to sugar and slavery, to the world war.