Penny-wise art: What are the best free museums in London?

London is a city where your wallet seems to develop a mind of its own, shedding pounds quicker than autumn leaves falling from the trees. We’ve all been there, trying to strike a balance between savouring delicious meals and exploring attractions without going broke.

But what if I told you that amid this financial whirlwind, there’s a marvellous secret hiding in plain sight? London boasts an array of world-class museums and galleries that won’t cost you a single penny. 

Now, if you’re scratching your head, wondering where to begin, fear not. We’ve scoured the cultural landscape to handpick the crème de la crème of London’s free museums!

Natural History Museum

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Location: Cromwell Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7942 5000

Website

The Natural History Museum is a sight to behold, even from the outside. This architectural marvel is like a grand old castle, with intricate stone carvings and a spectacular Romanesque design.

Once you enter the museum’s impressive doors, you’ll be greeted by a colossal Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton named “Dippy”. And Dippy is just the beginning. 

The museum is home to over 80 million specimens that cover everything from minerals and meteorites to mammoth bones and the famed Hope Diamond. 

Science Museum

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Location: Exhibition Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 330 058 0058

Website

The Science Museum houses over 300,000 objects that showcase the evolution of science and technology. It’s like a treasure chest for anyone with a curious mind. 

Ever wondered what the first commercial jet looked like? Or perhaps you’re keen to see the mighty engines of a World War II Spitfire. Well, this museum has you covered.

But the real highlight here is the Wonderlab, a space where science becomes a thrilling spectacle. From giant bubbles that defy gravity to fiery chemistry demonstrations, it’s a place where kids and adults alike can explore the fun side of science.

The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A)

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Location: Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7942 2000

Website

The V&A is a colossal art and design museum that’s so grand, that it could make even the Queen’s Guard crack a smile. It’s got a collection that spans over 5,000 years, from ancient civilisations to contemporary masterpieces. 

If pottery gets your pulse racing, you’re in luck. The V&A boasts one of the most extensive collections of ceramics in the world. From Ming Dynasty porcelain to avant-garde contemporary pieces, you’ll be amazed at what can be crafted from clay.

British Museum

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Location: Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7323 8299

Website

The British Museum is a time machine that transports you through the ages. From ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire, Greek mythology to African art, this place is a crash course in human history.

It’s like stepping into Indiana Jones’s wildest dreams (minus the boulder-chasing).

Okay, here’s a little secret that’ll make any history lover’s heart race – the British Museum is home to the Rosetta Stone. Yep, THE Rosetta Stone! This unassuming slab of stone was the key to decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics and unlocking the mysteries of the pharaohs. 

National Maritime Museum

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Location: Romney Rd, London SE10 9NF, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 8858 4422

Website

What sets the National Maritime Museum apart is its interactive spirit. You can try your hand at tying nautical knots, plot your course on a virtual sea chart, and even captain a ship in a simulation game. It’s like a maritime amusement park in Greenwich for both young and old.

Oh, and speaking of Greenwich, the museum is nestled in the stunning maritime heart of the city, alongside the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark. You can make a day of it and explore the iconic sites of Greenwich while you’re at it.

Imperial War Museum

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Location: Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7416 5000

Website

The Imperial War Museum brings history to life. The Holocaust Exhibition, for instance, is an incredibly moving portrayal of the horrors of World War II. 

The Trench Experience, on the other hand, offers a spine-tingling glimpse into the grim reality of trench warfare during World War I. You’ll feel like you’ve travelled through time and witnessed these historic moments.

Plus, the museum’s gift shop boasts an impressive range of books, memorabilia, and unique wartime-themed gifts. It’s the perfect way to take a piece of history home with you.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

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Location: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7405 2107

Website

First things first, let’s give credit where credit is due. Sir John Soane was an architectural genius of his time, and he designed this splendid house museum. His quirky, out-of-the-box thinking transformed his home into an immersive art piece in itself. 

Now, unto the museum. The place is positively packed with curiosities, from classical sculptures and ancient Egyptian artefacts to peculiar knick-knacks and an impressive collection of Hogarth paintings.

Who doesn’t love a good hidden gem? Beneath the main house, you’ll discover the eerie yet fascinating crypt. It’s not a place for resting in peace but rather an underground treasure trove of more of Soane’s extraordinary collection.

London Mithraeum

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Location: 12 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AA, United Kingdom

Contact: [email protected]

Website

Imagine a secret time capsule buried beneath the modern city. The London Mithraeum offers just that. Tucked away beneath the towering skyscrapers of the City of London, this archaeological marvel was discovered during construction work in the 1950s.

While the main attraction is the Mithraeum itself, the museum also offers a fascinating exhibition space that provides context to the temple’s history and its rediscovery. It’s like having the perfect historical appetiser before the main course of the temple visit.

Wellcome Collection

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Location: 183 Euston Rd., London NW1 2BE, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7611 2222

Website

Sir Henry Wellcome, a pharmaceutical tycoon and philanthropist, was a collector with an insatiable appetite for the curious and bizarre. The Wellcome Collection is his legacy, a melting pot of medicine, science, and art, all blended in a splendid setting.

Here, you’ll find mind-bending exhibitions that explore the relationship between medicine, life, and art. From quirky anatomical sculptures to thought-provoking contemporary art pieces, every corner of the Wellcome Collection is a gateway to the extraordinary.

Royal Air Force Museum

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Location: Grahame Park Way, London NW9 5LL, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 8205 2266

Website

As you might guess from the name, this museum is a tribute to the Royal Air Force, the UK’s aerial defenders. It’s a collection of their achievements, a reminder of their sacrifices, and a celebration of their courage. 

If you’re a fan of the iconic Spitfire, you’re in for a treat. The museum boasts one of the world’s largest collections of Spitfires, the legendary fighter plane that played a pivotal role in World War II. 

And if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to sit inside a bomber plane? The museum offers a chance to climb aboard and explore the interior of some of these behemoth aircraft.

Petrie Museum

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Location: Malet Pl, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 3108 9000

Website

The Petrie Museum houses over 80,000 archaeological objects, and that’s just the tip of the pyramid. This place is like Aladdin’s cave, but instead of gems, you’re surrounded by ancient artefacts that whisk you away to the land of the pharaohs.

Sure, there are massive statues and grandiose artefacts, but what makes the Petrie Museum truly special is the mummies. You’ll find ancient mummies, complete with the wrappings and the stories they bring to life. 

Museum of the Home

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Location: 136 Kingsland Rd, London E2 8EA, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7739 9893

Website

Ever wondered how your ancestors decked out their digs? This museum is like a time-travelling adventure through the evolution of home life. From Victorian parlours to swinging ’60s living rooms, you can literally walk through different eras of interior design.

Unlike some museums that keep you at arm’s length, the Museum of the Home encourages you to touch, feel, and immerse yourself in the experience. From antique tea sets to retro kitchen gadgets, you can get hands-on with history.

Design Museum

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Location: 224-238 Kensington High St, London W8 6AG, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 3862 5900

Website

If you’re a fan of cutting-edge design and innovative ideas, this is your playground. The Design Museum is like a crystal ball that showcases the future. It’s all about what’s fresh, what’s bold, and what’s pushing the boundaries of creativity.

What’s great about the Design Museum is that it recognises the importance of sustainable design and often features exhibitions and events focused on eco-friendly and socially responsible design solutions.

National Army Museum

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Location: Royal Hospital Rd, London SW3 4HT, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 7730 0717

Website

For those fascinated by the glory and sacrifice of the British Army, this is your ticket to a journey through time and battles. The museum covers everything from the Redcoats to the modern soldiers, giving immersive insight into centuries of military history.

Ever fancied yourself as a secret agent? The museum has a whole section on military intelligence and espionage. You’ll learn about covert operations and the unsung heroes who worked in the shadows.

Horniman Museum

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Location: 100 London Rd, London SE23 3PQ, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 8699 1872

Website

If you’ve ever wondered what a walrus looks like up close, the Horniman Museum is the place to quench your curiosity. It has more than 80,000 objects from across the globe, offering you a peek into the remarkable diversity of the natural and cultural world.

Remember that walrus? Well, it’s the star of the show! The Horniman’s taxidermy collection is famous for its quirky and fascinating specimens. This Arctic icon alone is worth the visit, and you can get up close and personal.

Bank of England Museum

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Location: Bartholomew Ln, London EC2R 8AH, United Kingdom

Contact: +44 20 3461 5545

Website

Money makes the world go round, and this museum explains how. It’s like a journey through time, exploring the evolution of money, from cowrie shells and beaver skins to modern banknotes and digital currency.

The Bank of England houses a considerable portion of the UK’s gold bars deep in its vaults. While you can’t swim through it like in a Scrooge McDuck fantasy, you can catch a glimpse and feel like you’re in a Bond movie.

Queer Britain

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Location: 2 Granary Square, London N1C 4BH, United Kingdom

Contact: [email protected]

Website

Queer Britain is on a mission to shine a light on LGBTQ+ stories that have often been overlooked or erased. It’s a journey that uncovers the experiences, struggles, and triumphs of queer individuals throughout history.

On top of this, the museum explores the roots of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, including the infamous Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York, which played a pivotal role in the fight for equality. These events ignited a global movement, and Queer Britain is here to tell that story.

Vagina Museum 

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Location: Museum 275, Vagina, 276 Poyser St, London E2 9RF, United Kingdom

Contact: [email protected]

Website

The Vagina Museum is breaking ground by smashing societal taboos surrounding the female body. It’s about challenging stigma and starting conversations around an essential yet often misunderstood topic.

From menstruation to the history of the vibrator (yes, you read that right), the museum explores a wide range of topics related to the female body. 

But It’s not all biology – the Vagina Museum also celebrates art and culture with exhibitions, installations, and events that bring together artists, activists, and scholars to explore themes related to the female body.

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