Free Museums in London: Best Museums for a Great Day Out

With London so steeped in history there are lots of museums to explore and learn about the culture and immense rich history of London throughout the last thousand years.

Surprisingly some of the largest and best museums in London are free!

If you’ve ever been to the capital, than you may already be familiar at least some of free museums in London, but if not, there will be some I’m sure you haven’t heard of before.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the best free museums in London, so if you’re looking to expand your knowledge on any subject or get a taste of what it’s like to live in one of the most prominent cities in the world, then check out the list below and make a great day out of it.

  • Natural History Museum
  • Science Museum
  • British Museum
  • National Gallery
  • Imperial War Museum
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Museum of London
  • Royal Air Force Museum
  • Grant Museum of Zoology
  • National Maritime Museum
  • The Wallace Collection Museum

As Greater London especially is a relatively small area it’s possible to visit two or maybe three museums in a single day.

In this post we’ll look at each of the free museums in London, why you should go, what to expect and how long you should allow for your visit.

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is the biggest and most popular museum in London, and it’s free!

The museum is so large you could spend all day.

Made famous by Dippy, the full scale replica diplodocus skeleton used to greet visitors inside the huge entrance, unfortunately a decision was made to remove Dippy.

There were lots of reasons for this. Dippy was never a real bone dinosaur skeleton. It was a replica and took up a lot of floor space. That said he is sorely missed by many, especially the 30,000 people who signed a petition for him to be kept in place at centre stage.

It is still a museum with the rare ability to excite kids young and old.

I first visited the Natural History Museum with my grandparents many years ago when I was 7. I still remember by awestruck by Dippy to this day.

I have visited a few times since then. There is so much to see it feels as you’re visiting for the first time every time you visit.

Location: South Kensington

Nearest Tube Station: South Kensingtonis the closest. An alternative is Gloucester Road which is around a 10 minute walk away

Nearest Bus Routes: 14, 345, 414, 70, C1

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 3-4 hours

Website: Natural History Museum

Science Museum

Science Museum

The Science Museum of London has a lot of interactive exhibitions and displays to fascinate and inspire.

It offers so much for curious children.

I have been to the Science Museum three or four times now and have always been impressed how the museum is evolving and keeping up with rapidly changing times in both technology and science.

They are also passionate about environmental causes and host a range of exhibits and talks from passionate influencers and those seeking change.

Exhibitions change frequently, there’s always something new going on at the Science Museum.

Much of the Science Museum is free although some exhibitions, and the IMAX Laser 4K cinema requires a payable ticket.

Fortunately, the Science Museum is right next door to the Natural History Museum!

It’s possible to cover both museums in a full day and have an amazing free day out in London!

Location: South Kensington

Nearest Tube Station: South Kensington is the closest. An alternative is Gloucester Road which is around a 10 minute walk away

Nearest Bus Routes: 14, 345, 414, 70, C1

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 3-4 hours

Website: Science Museum

British Museum

Although called, and described as, the British Museum, it is in fact a celebration of the culture of the world over the past millennia.

With no less than 8 million artefacts – yes 8,000,000! – it encapsulates and fascinates as it guides you around the world through every period and every culture in beautiful and brilliant detail.

With so many objects and artefacts spanning centuries it’s difficult to explain the grandeur using words alone.

Instead, this walk through video of the British Museum should give you a great idea as to what to expect:

Room after room and floor after floor of jaw dropping objects with a true history and story behind them, standing the tests of time and many in pristine condition.

Location: Holborn

Nearest Tube Station: The closest tube station is Tottenham Court Road on the Central Line. This is only the closest by a minute or two of walking time. Other nearby stations include Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street.

Nearest Bus Routes: There are 20 bus routes that pass within walking distance of the British Museum. These include 1, 8, 14, 19, 24, 25, 29, 38, 55, 59, 68, X68, 73, 91, 98, 134, 168, 188, 242 and the 390.

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 3-4 hours

Website: British Museum

National Gallery

For those with a passionate appreciation of art will absolutely fall in love with the National Gallery.

Open every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, it provides free admission to everyone.

What sets the National Gallery apart, aside from being one of the largest curators of fine and historic art in the world, are the stories it attempts to tell behind every painting.

It isn’t just a walk around a nice gallery with beautiful paintings, the National Gallery have spent as much time curating as they have researching and understanding the history behind each piece.

You can even view some of the collections through virtual online tours.

It perhaps isn’t the type of museum that will excite small children, but if you have any appreciation for historic art from across the globe, you must take some time out to visit this amazing place.

Location: Trafalgar Square

Nearest Tube Station: Charing Cross Station and Leicester Square Station are the two closest tube stations.

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 2-3 hours

Website: The National Gallery

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum is an incredible account of the wars through the eyes of those who lived and experienced the atrocities.

It is through others courage and bravery we remember the sacrifices made, years of hardship and times of despair and hope, and all portrayed in a thought provoking way.

As well as one the largest residential exhibitions of war memorabilia in existence, there are a range of frequently changing exhibits and talks from historians and volunteers.

We often know of the wars through school education, news stories, documentaries and TV and films – but there is so much history and so many untold stories waiting to be read, shared and discovered.

New, on loan, artefacts are exhibited almost every month, so there is always something new to discover even if you have visited before.

Location: Lambeth

Nearest Tube Station: Elephant and Castle and Lamberth North are both at a similar distance away.

Nearest Bus Routes: Bus routes 344 and 360 pass within close distance to the museum.

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 2-3 hours.

Website: Imperial War Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Despite its name, the Victoria and Albert is does not contain royal historic artefacts but it’s more of an art, design, and performance museum.

Perhaps not one to excite a younger audience but thousands of visitor’s flock to the Victoria and Albert Museum every year to browse through the collections from both yesteryear and today. In fact, spanning over 5,000 years!

With over 2.3 million permanently exhibited objects and new exhibitions held every month, it’s an inspiring and educational way to look how fashion and art not only changed throughout history but how it changed the thoughts, feelings and inspired.

The museum gets its name from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of course, but did you also know that Queen Victoria herself, in 1899, laid the first stone.

Location: South Kensington

Nearest Tube Station: South Kensington

Nearest Bus Routes: 14, 345, 414, 70, C1

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 2-3 hours.

Website: The Victoria and Albert Museum

Museum of London

So far, all the free museums we have covered focus on national or global history.

The often overlooked Museum of London just looks at the heart and soul of London over the centuries.

From the permanent exhibitions telling the story of medieval times in London, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 to current London activities and movements, it brings London to life in never seen before ways.

Free to enter all year, it promises visitors they’ll ‘discover the greatest stories from the greatest city’.

There are in fact two Museums of London.

The Museum of London focuses on London as a vibrant city and the changes over the past century, whereas the newer Museum of London Docklands, at Qwest India Quay, tells the story of early trade coming in from far and wide through the Thames.

Location: City of London

Nearest Tube Station: St Paul’s

Nearest Bus Routes: 4, 8, 25, 56, 100, 172, 242, 388 and 521

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 2-3 hours.

Website: Museum of London

Royal Air Force Museum

If you, or anyone if your family, is a plane enthusiast and history buff they will simply love the Royal Air Force Museum.

As well as the full history and story of the Royal Air Force over the past 100 years, there are a number of really cool interactive exhibits and planes to see across a number of hangers.

Get a glimpse at the very first flying machines that took to the skies and if you time your visit right you can take an in-depth tour of the historic planes, step over the barrier and get up real close!

Both young and old can find something of fascinating interest here.

The flight simulator is definitely one to try. Just to note the flight simulator costs £3.50 per person, or a family of four can ride together for £12.

Aside from the flight simulator (£3.50 per person) and the 4D theatre (£5 per person), the rest of the Royal Air Force Museum is free.

If you want to get your children excited about an up and coming visit, this video should get them raring to go!

Location: Finchley, North London

Nearest Tube Station: Colindale – then the 303 bus which is 7 minute bus ride

Nearest Bus Routes: 303

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 2-3 hours.

Website: Royal Air Force Museum

Grant Museum of Zoology

Even Londoners haven’t heard of the Grant Museum of Zoology, so you’ll be forgiven if this one has passed you by.

Although it may not be the most famous of London museums, it definitely deserves a mention.

The Grant Museum of Zoology sits within the University College of London.

It’s one that children are simply going to love!

It houses a collection of thousands of animal skeletons and preservations from the rarest animal skeleton in the world, the quagga, as well as the most popular artifact the jarful of moles!

It will either fascinate you or cause your skin to crawl!

If you’re unsure as to exactly what to expect at the Grant Museum of Zoology, then this video should give you a great idea, and why it will probably appeal to many kids:

It’s worth noting that this museum has different opening times to most museums. It’s open Tuesday to Friday between 1pm and 5pm, and again on Saturday 11am to 5pm. It’s closed on Sunday and Monday.

Location: Euston

Nearest Tube Station: Euston Square

Nearest Bus Routes:

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 1.5-2.5 hours.

Website: Grant Museum of Zoology

National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich group of museums and attractions of historical interest.

If tales of the sea have ever captured your imagination, you’ll see that imagination come to life at the National Maritime Museum.

From ship replicas from the Tudor period when Christopher Columbus was sailing the seven seas, to current boat shapes and designs, and every object and artifact in between it’s a wonderful museum to go and explore.

What is impressive is the effort put in to making the day fun and activity filled for young visitors.

From tours to interactive exhibitions helping educate and involve.

Location: Greenwich

Nearest Tube Station: Greenwich

Nearest Bus Routes: 129, 177, 180, 188, 286, 386 and N1

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 1.5-2.5 hours.

Website: National Maritime Museum

The Wallace Collection Museum

The Wallace Collection Museum is one of those hidden gems that is often overlooked, which is why we thought it deserved a mention.

It takes its name from by one of its founders, Sir Richard Wallace, who in 1897 along with the Marquesses of Hereford, gave the collection to the British Nation to continue to be enjoyed over the coming generations.

Its comforting to realise over 120 years later the collection is still being enjoyed by visitors both young and old.

The Wallace Collection Museum houses a number of internationally outstanding paintings, sculptures, arts and arms and armour.

It may not be as exciting to younger visitors, but the historic collection and stories of all works will certainly be of interest to those with an interest in the collective works of important historical art.

Location: West End

Nearest Tube Station: Bond Street is the nearest tube station, but Baker Street, Marble Arch and Oxford Street are also within a 15 minute walk

Nearest Bus Routes: 2, 10, 12, 13, 30, 74, 82, 94, 113, 137 and 274

Average Time Needed for a Visit: 1.5-2.5 hours.

Website: The Wallace Collection Museum

Free London Museums Exciting for Kids

Keeping kids entertained on a budget, especially in London, can be a real challenge!

Museums are a great place to spend a day out, especially as so many museums in London are free of charge.

Some free London museums though, will appeal more to kids than others.

Some of the free London museums in this list would perhaps not be as exciting to the younger visitors than older visitors, but here are a few that strive to make younger visitors welcome with interactive experiences and tours and exhibits set up specifically for children:

  • Natural History Museum
  • Science Museum
  • Royal Air Force Museum
  • Grant Museum of Zoology

Aside from the Royal Air Force Museum which is North London, the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Grant Museum of Zoology are all in Greater London.

As the National History Museum and Science Museum are next door to each other, they can both be done in one day.

If after visiting both museums you still have some spare time, the Grant Museum of Zoology is only a 25 minute tube ride away, or a 50 minute ride by bus – it would be a rush but all three could be done in a day.

Grant Museum of Zoology is closed on a Sunday and Monday, and only open from 1pm on Tuesday to Friday, so you’ll need to plan your travel around the different opening hours of this museum.

How many people visit free London Museums each year?

According to the official UK Government data source, the % of people in the UK visiting museums in London has slowly risen by 3% between 2008 and 2016.

In 2008-2009, 59.8% of residents visited a museum in London. As of 2015-2016 this had increased to 62.8%.

Considering the number of people living in the UK currently stands at 8.9 million, this means 5.58 million London residents visited a London based museum during the year!

The pandemic would of course hit these numbers very hard for the 2020-2021 season, but there is predicted to be a bounce back from 2022 onwards.

Unfortunately, the data for 2017 to 2021 and beyond has yet to be released.

Free London Museums – In Conclusion

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does include the most popular and most quirky free museums that London has to offer.

All museums in this list offer free admission, although some exhibitions and attractions within the museums may require a small fee.

It’s a testament to London as a capital city on the investment made to preserve the history of not only London, but the world – and offers to share this with visitors from near and far for free, so generations can continue to enjoy, discover, and learn.

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