Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery

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How to make the most of the big 8 free museums and galleries in London

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London, the bustling metropolis renowed for its rich history, vibrant culture, and iconic landmarks, has long been considered a treasure trove for art enthusiasts, history buffs, and curious minds alike. While the city offers a multitude of attractions, it is the fascinating array of museums that truly sets it apart as a haven for knowledge seekers.

What makes London’s museums scene even more remarkable is the fact that many of its renowned institutions offer free entry, allowing visitors to delve into the captivating realms of art, science, and history without spending a penny. With more than 2 million visitors each year, the free museums below rely on the public to keep them open by asking for donations and selling merchandise.From ancient artifacts to captivating artworks, stepping into these cultural havens offers a unique opprotunity to explore the past, gain new insights, and embark on a journey of discovery.

Join us as we take you on a virtual tour through the hallowed halls of these extraordinary institutions, showcasing their highlights and giving you a glimpse into the treasures that await. From the majestic British Museums to the captivating Natural History Museum, we’ll lead you on a journey of discovery that spans centuries and continents. 

So, grab your curiosity and prepare to be enthralled as we unveil the wonders of London’s free museums. Whether you’re a visitor or a local, these cultural gems are sure to captivate your imagination and leave you with a deeper appreciation for the beauty and diversity of our world’s heritage. Let’s embark on this exciting adventure together and soak in the intellectual and artistic riches that London has to offer.

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The National Maritime Museum

The Imperial War Museums are a captivating amalgamation of five museums, narrating the tumultuous history of conflict, with a particular focus on Britain’s involvement in the First World War. As you step inside, you’ll be immersed in a journey through time, exploring how the war shaped and continues to impact Britain’s economy.

From delving into the life and leadership of Winston Churchill to experiencing the eerie reality of a nuclear submarine during the Cold War, the museum offers an array of exhibitions, art displays, and photographs that unveil the profound influence of women during wartime. Prepare to be astounded by the thousands of British war histories waiting to be discovered here.

Don’t miss the remarkable attractions like Miss Britain III, the first boat to achieve a remarkable 100mph speed on open waters, and the Prince of Wales ships’ propellers. Venture into the ship simulator and visit the children’s gallery for an engaging experience. The Voyagers: Britons and the Sea exhibition unravels the bravery and struggles of the English during wartime at sea, while the majestic 1824 painting, “The Battle of Trafalgar” by JMW Turner, stands as a testament to history.

Beyond the First World War, the museum houses various collections, including “Traders: The East India Company and Asia,” shedding light on 19th-century trade between Britain and the East. Uncover the poignant history of “The Atlantic: Slavery, Trade, Empire,” or delve into the captivating tale of Admiral Horatio Nelson in “Nelson, Navy, Nation.” But that’s not all – the Exploration Wing awaits, where the adventures of British explorers in the Pacific are unveiled. Other galleries cover the Polar worlds, seafarers during the Tudor and Stuart era, and the fascinating “Sea Things” exhibition, illustrating how 18th to 19th-century society at sea has left an indelible mark on our present world through love, work, play, loss, hope, and despair. Allocate around 1 to 2 hours to explore each of these fascinating areas.

If you’re in Greenwich, make sure to visit the National Maritime Museum. Here, you can marvel at the iconic Cutty Sark Ship, Britain’s fastest clipper ship, and explore the Queen’s House, a residence for a minor member of the royal family in the 18th Century. Don’t miss the picturesque Greenwich Park, the Planetarium, the Royal Observatory, and the serene St. Alfege Park, where a hidden gravesite is open to the public.

For more information about Greenwich and its nearby attractions, you can visit the Greenwich Park website. Feel free to reach out to me for advice and recommendations on how to make the most of your time at each of these incredible destinations in Greenwich.

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The Science MuseumEnergy Hall, Science Museum

Whether you’re a science enthusiast, an aspiring scientist, or already a seasoned researcher, the Science Museum is a must-visit destination. With a plethora of fascinating exhibits and activities, you’ll find it challenging to cover everything in a single day.

Embark on a journey through time and knowledge as you explore the interactive gallery and examine a collection of medicines from the past to the present. Delve into the intriguing world of codebreaking and enjoy a unique experience at a silent disco. Uncover the wonders of science that thrived in the 14th to 17th centuries, leaving you with a head full of newfound knowledge. Unfortunately, my plans to visit the Science Museum were postponed due to COVID, but I eagerly look forward to sharing a review once it’s safe to do so.

For those seeking suggestions on making the most of their time at the museum, begin with “Exploring Space,” where you’ll encounter rockets, satellites, and a magnificent replica of the ‘Eagle’ lander, pivotal in Neil Armstrong’s moon landing. Move on to the “Making of the Modern World Gallery,” where locomotives, engines, cars, planes, and other remarkable inventions await your exploration. The “Information Age Gallery” showcases the evolution and impact of information and communication technologies on our way of life. In the “Atmosphere Gallery,” you’ll gain insights into the climate over billions of years and learn about combating climate change.

Venture to the third floor to immerse yourself in the “Flight Gallery,” a delightful experience for children, offering insights into gliders, hot-air balloons, and aircraft like the Gipsy Moth, which Amy Johnson piloted to Australia in 1930. On this floor, you can also enjoy the Red Arrows 3D flight simulation theatre, available at an additional cost.

For families with young children, a visit to the basement’s play-zone and water play area offers a fun-filled experience. If you’re short on time, allocate a minimum of 2 hours to explore this area. To get a feel of what awaits you at the Science Museum, consider reading about my past experiences there. For a sneak peek into the museum’s exhibits, you can book a tour and a time slot on their website.

Conveniently located just a 15-minute tube ride away on the Northern Line (black line) from the British Museum is Camden Town. While there, you can explore the Postal Museum, which delves into the history of postal services in London. Additionally, Camden Town offers a plethora of attractions such as Madame Tussauds, Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill, Regent’s Canal, London Zoo, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, making it a perfect complement to your day of cultural exploration.

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The National GalleryThe National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery

 

The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery are two free art galleries in London, situated right next to each other opposite Trafalgar Square. It’s two of the must-see galleries in London. A few walks away from Charing Cross Station, the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery hosts thousands of paintings from all around Europe. From paintings of bathers in France, a woman standing at a virginal, a portrait of Madame Moitessier, sunflowers from Van Gogh, and Monet, you’re sure to find something that interests your creative flair.

 

Here are some suggestions on what to see and do in both galleries:

  • Venus and Mars, from Botticelli. Goddess of Love, Venus looks up at Mars, God of War after they made love. The message “Make love not war because love conquers all” may represent the painting.
  • Sunflowers, by Van Gogh. No need for introduction.
  • Rockeby Venus, by Velazquez. A story about the Spanish Inquisition where Venus is looking at herself in the mirror held by her son Cupid.
  • Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck. The first of middle-class to upper-class oil paintings depicting a Bruges merchant and his wife with her fashionable outfit. She looks pregnant but it’s just a fashion statement.
  • Hay Wain by Constable. You will see an image of a wagon in the river, a life in the Industrial Revolution, where the painter uses white paint to get a preview of Impressionism.
  • Fighting Temeraire, by Turner. This painting has been created by JMW Turner depicting the ship Temeraire, a hero of Trafalgar.

As for the National Portrait Gallery, you’ll learn more about the history of the royal family, scientists, celebrities, politicians, and artists such as Andy Warhol, Sam Taylor-Wood and many more. You can start in chronological order followed by its theme. Your highlights include the Chandos painting of Shakespeare, the portraits of the early Tudors, the “Ditchley” portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, a sketch portrait of Jane Austen by her sister, and several portraits of the fluctuation of the British Empire from the 19th to the 20th Century. Other objects include the statue of Victoria and Albert and modern portraits of David Beckham, low-resolution portraits of Blur and many more. To plan, click here for the National Gallery and here for the Portrait Gallery website. 

As the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery is in the West End, you can make the most of your West End walk and events in Trafalgar Square.

 

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Victoria and Albert MuseumVictoria and Albert Museum

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word Victoria and Albert? Yes, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the most significant members of the royal family. London has dedicated a museum under their name and it’s for you to enjoy getting lost in it. Like the British Museum, the museum hosts 5000 years of art and design created by people throughout history. There are 146 galleries and 6 levels to choose from.  You will see Chinese ceramics, architectural drawings, Japanese swords, gowns from the Elizabeth era to fashion from Alexander McQueen, Korean bronze, the Sony Walkman and many more. You can grab a map so you can navigate your way round the museum.

Here is a suggestion on what you should see when you’re in the V&As. Start off by exploring the Cast Courts, where you can see plaster casts in the Victorian era such as David, a Renaissance sculpture made by Michaelangelo. Then visit the TT Tsui (China Gallery) where you’ll discover lithe wooden statue of Guanyin, one of the most important Buddhist figures in China sitting in a royal position from AD 1200. When you’ve explored this gallery, step into the Japan Gallery, where you’ll discover some Japanese armour in the Domaru style. Other collection includes the Islamic Middle East Gallery containing, ceramics and textiles, the 16th Century Ardabil Carpet and the Medeival and Renaissance Galleries.

On Level 2 & 4, you’ll see the British Gallery, Architecture Gallery, and Contemporary Glass Gallery. Level 3 consists of Jewellery Gallery, Photographs Gallery, Design since 1945, and Level 6 contains Ceramics Gallery Dr. Susan Weber Gallery consisting of design going back to six centuries. You won’t have time to visit all the ones recommended here, so this guide will give you a sneak peek of what you’ll see in the V&A Museum.

The Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and Kensington Gardens, one of the 8 royal parks of London, are approximately close to one another.

 

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The Natural History MuseumThe National History Museum

 

Whether you’re an insect lover or a dinosaur lover, there’s bound to be areas where you can see their fossils, the history descriptions, and several hours of fun and education for children. Scientists, pantologists, and archaeologists are still working tirelessly to dig more in the world of historical species. We look forward to finding more species and animals to add to the collection.

Here are the highlights you can take advantage of:

Step into the Hinze Hall also known as a ‘cathedral to nature’, the grand, dark, and gothic architecture with its cathedral nave have been built during the time when science questioned the ideology of Christian orthodoxy. Find the blue whale skeleton and the huge diplodocus skeleton, step into the Dinosaurs Gallery, the Mammals & Blue Whale Gallery, the Human Biology in the Blue Zone.

The Green Zone consists of Treasures in Cadogan Gallery where you’ll discover a chunk of the moon’s rock and an Emperor Penguin’s egg collection. Why not visit the Vault consisting of a Martian meteorite and the largest emerald found as well as a trunk slice of a 1300-year-old giant sequoia tree? Its diameter is around 6 foot from the centre to the edge of the trunk.

The Red Zone contains Volcanoes and Earthquakes, the Beginning of time on Earth, Earth’s Treasury consisting of Earth’s minerals which mostly used for jewellery and electronics, and the Orange Zone covers the Darwin Centre and the Attenborough studio. There are also paid exhibitions ranging from £10.50 – £20 per adult, and £6 – £8 per child. Family exhibitions costs around £27 – £37. In the meantime, click here to book a time slot for your visit, my experience at the Natural History Museum and check out the virtual tour.

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Tate Modern Tate Modern

 

Situated in the heart of Southbank and overlooking the River Thames, Tate Modern Gallery was once a power station converted into an art gallery. Like many museums and art galleries, you can spend all day every day here. Tate Modern consists of international modern and contemporary art through exhibitions and displays. From modern day paintings to photographs of events that shape our future, 3D contemporary art, and videos on the South African apartheids, there’s always something for everyone. Here is the highlight:

The tower you see in Tate Modern, with its 4.2 million bricks is The Boiler House. Of course, the tower consists of art, and if you go up to level 3, you’ll see a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Explore the Turbine Hall consisting of nothing but a grey 3300 square metre open space. As soon as you step into the entrance, you’ll be in Turbine Hall. This was where the electricity generators were placed, and presently, it is a venue for temporary exhibitions. When there’s no exhibitions, it’s just a wide, open space. I feel I could dance from one room to another while echoing my name. Visit the Switch House where it was once the electrical substation, and the Tanks where they stored fuel.

Click for Things to do in Southbank and read the Tate Modern section. Click here for the Tate Modern website.

Other attractions around Tate Modern include the London Eye, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, Sea Life London Aquarium, Shrek Adventures, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben.

 

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The Museum of London

 

When you visit London, there’s no point of coming here without knowing its history. When you visit the Museum of London, you’ll learn about what London was like in the prehistoric era. Situated next to St. Paul’s Cathedral, you can visit this museum before or after. There is also a hidden gem, a small park nestled behind St. Paul’s Cathedral is Postman’s Park. This is an area where you can relax and chill. It’s a great place to get away from the busy atmosphere, and a great place to have your lunch. You’ll be surrounded by giant ash and oak trees, green plants and tall 14th Century Tudor houses. The special thing about this park is the Watt’s Memorial to Heroic Self. It consists of memorial plaques of over 40 people who have sacrificed their lives to save others. The memorial opened in 1900 and dates to the 19th Century. Two plaques include:

Thomas Griffin, a labourer who died in a boiler explosion so he could search for his mate. Died 12 April 1899.

Alice Ayers, a daughter of a bricklayer, saved 3 children from a burning house. Died 24 April 1885.

It’s worth the read and imagine what they had to go through risking their lives.

Going back to the Museum of London, you will learn about the Romans and the Medieval era that ruled us. Why not discover how the Victorians live in the 19th Century and how it impacted our present-day society? Here are the highlights:

Discover London before London, learn about Roman London and find roman streets around London. The Roman streets are now full of modern shops and office buildings, there’s nothing to see. Then you’ll go through Medieval London, the War, Plague & Fire, including the Fire of London as well as how London expanded its city from the Central as well as People’s City where in 1908, the iconic black cabs started to develop, the 1929 art deco lift in Selfridges as well as learning about the Suffragettes. End your tour learning about WWII and World City where you’ll learn about gay rights, riots, and the Beatles memorabilia.

Your highlight also includes Lord Mayor’s Coach, Victorian Walk, Roman-era Bucklersbury mosaic and a 1750 prison cell.

You’ll see a photo of a young lady staring out of her window while self-isolating, photos of the impact the virus had on the economy and photographs of empty streets of London. I haven’t had the chance to visit the Museum of London, but in the meantime, click here for the Museum of London website. Spend 1 – 2 hours here.

 

There you have it, 8 great free museums and galleries in London worth a visit. If you want to find more ideas on free London attractions like the hidden gems, and the 8 royal parks of London, please feel free to contact me.

In the meantime, stay safe and take care!!!

The free museums are not a part of the London Pass discounts, but if you decide to use the London Pass for paid attractions, I am a part of an affiliate part of an affiliate program with Go City – London Pass, a part of the London Pass group where you get great discount packages on major London attractions. I am also a part of an affiliate program with Expedia.co.uk and Tripadvisor.co.uk where you’ll find comparison prices and reviews on accommodation, restaurants and attractions.

If you book through me with no additional charge to you, I get a commission from them.

In addition, I am able to recommend and advise on your travel plans before you book your travel holidays (vacation as the Americans call it). Contact me on Facebook if you want to tweak your itinerary to suit your taste.

 

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