5 of my Favourite (free!) Museums in London
I love London. It's a city with so much to do and it's so hard to be bored. Around each corner is another awesome opportunity to explore. But London can be expensive. The exchange rate currently is better than it's been in the past (I guess, thanks Brexit?), which has definitely made the city more affordable, but the reality is, a week in London is going to set you back.
The GREAT news is that there are a TON of FREE things in the city to see and do, and many of them are top quality museums, which can easily take anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days to see.
Below are just five of the free museums in London, which just so happen to be my favourite. I've been to them all (some of them twice) and I would happily go to all of them again.
Probably home to one of the most iconic lobby’s of all the museums in London, the British ranks, nationally, as the most visited museum and 8th most visited world wide. In 2017 visitors totaled over 5.9 million. The museum is home to a large Egyptian collection including the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering hieroglyphs and my favourite, a fine collection of Egyptian mummies, marble dating back to 447 BC taken from the Acropolis of Athens as well as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and a fine collection from the Middle East, including the Cyrus Cylinder from Ancient Iran, considered to be the world’s first charter of human rights dating to the 6th Century. History, art and culture from communities across the globe are here.
Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum actually has five different locations, three of which are in London. The museum receives over 2.2 million visitors annually across all five locations, with the main IWM London being the most popular. I have to say, walking up to the building, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the collection is impressive and, if you’re like me with family connections to England, moving. Originally built to showcase the British involvement during the First World War, it now explores all “conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces have been involved since 1914”. The atrium is home to the Baghdad Car, a Harrier Jet, a T-34 Tank, and the Reuters Land Rover. Other permanent exhibits include the Secrets of War exploring espionage, A Family in Wartime which explores family life in the British Empire during war and The Holocaust Exhibition, an exhibit that is excellently curated exploring the atrocities of the Nazi party.
Victoria and Albert
Located next to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, V&A is in a prime location and is an excellent choice for the visitor interested in art and design. It’s a quirky selection (the fused glass piece above the reception desk should be the first tip off to that) that will be sure to have something for everyone with photographs, clothing, furniture and even a section just for Opera. I remember finding myself in a massive length of hall dedicated just to wrought iron fences. You’ll find pieces from the Medieval period alongside Art Nouveau across from Modern items (David Bowie poster anyone?) and items from around the world including the Middle East, South Asia, Japan, and Korea. The museum also has a number of replica plaster casts of some of history’s most noteworthy pieces including Michelangelo's David, Trajan's Column, and Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, some of which are absolutely massive and jaw dropping.
Natural History Museum
What does an Animatronic T. Rex, the world’s largest collection of coloured diamonds, an earthquake and a cursed amethyst have in common? That’s right, London’s Natural History Museum. The museum has a couple of main entrances. The first opens into this gorgeous hall where (it sounds like) they’ve moved the Blue Whale Skeleton out to and the second, you ride an escalator up into what sort of looks like the globe and the Death Star’s love child. The former entrance will start you off in a series of rooms that will be much more animal in nature, while the second takes you to the Earth Gallery where you’ll explore volcanoes, earthquakes, and other geological marvels. I love this museum. And if you have kids, it’s a great option – the Science Museum is next door and is also free.
I like the quirky (hence V&A) and I like the weird, and the Wellcome Collection is definitely both. Located on Euston Road, this museum’s main theme tends to revolve around health. Henry Wellcome was essentially a pharmacy businessman. He founded Burroughs Wellcome & Company which eventually was one of four companies to merge to create GlaxoSmithKline. He was also a collector of medical artifacts which make up a large chunk of the permanent exhibition at the museum. While the other four museums, I’d say, could easily take the entire day, this option is doable in half a day or less (depending on the special exhibits). What is significantly cool, and different than the other museums on the list, is that the special exhibits here are also free and in my mind, set the museum apart – they are often creative and I would argue what really makes this museum a hidden gem. During my visit I got to explore the world of forensics as well as a special exhibit by the Institute of Sexology. Other exhibits have included topics of death, consciousness, emotion and identity.