How to make the most of the big 9 free museums and galleries in London
Getting around the big 9 free museums and galleries in London can be overwhelming. On average, people visit one museum for 2 hours if they’re short of time. If they want to cover the whole museum, it will take around 3 – 4 hours and you won’t have time to visit the others. Visiting one museum for an hour is very tiring, so make sure you research what it is you want to see. Make sure you spare 1 – 2 hours of your time in each museum. You’d have to dedicate three days in London to cover everything that’s in the museum. Unless you want to visit London for that purpose, feel free to dedicate those three days to cover the whole museum. If you want to make the most of the other attractions, then, it’s better to organise well. They are great attractions to visit in London if you’re on a budget.
The government has made its mission to open the museums and galleries to the public for free to drive diverse visitors. 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.
The big five are the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and the National Gallery. I suggest visiting the British Museum first because that’s on everyone’s bucket list. Then, head over to South Kensington and visit the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, as they are next to each other.
Before visiting London, make sure you read my London guide for first-time visitors. You’ll find information on the British culture, how they use public transport, visas, things no one tells you about London, areas to avoid and many more.
How to make the most of the National Maritime Museum
The Imperial War Museums hosts five museums in one building. It tells a story of conflict and the First World War in Britain. It covers the history of Britain and how the war affected our economy, then and now. From learning about Winston Churchill, and finding out about life on board a nuclear submarine in the Cold war to various exhibitions, art showcases, photographs and women’s impact on the war, there’s surely thousands of British histories of war you could immerse yourselves in.
I haven’t had the chance to visit the National Maritime Museum because of COVID, but be sure to check out Miss Britain III, the first boat to travel at 100mph on open water, the Prince of Wales ships’ propellers, experience the ship simulator and the children’s gallery. Step into the Voyagers: Britons and the Sea where you’ll discover how the English survived and fought during the war at sea. You’ll also see an 1824 painting from JMW Turner’s the Battle of Trafalgar.
Other collections include Traders: The East India Company and Asia, a 19th Century trade between Britain and the East. Why not learn about The Atlantic: Slavery, Trade, Empire, or learn about Nelson, Navy, Nation where you’ll learn about Admiral Horatio Nelson? Not enough? People also visit the Exploration Wing where they’ll learn about the British exploring the Pacific for the first time. Other galleries include learning about the Polar worlds and the seafarers in the Tudor and Stuart era. The Sea Things gallery will show you how the society at sea in the 18th – 19th Century has impacted the present society through love, work, play, loss, hope, and despair. To explore these areas, spare 1 – 2 hours of your time. Click here for the Imperial War Museums website and the virtual tour. The National Maritime Museum is situated in Greenwich. There’s the Cutty Sark Ship, the fastest clipper ship in Britain, the Queen’s House, a resident for a minor member of the royal family in the 18th Century, Greenwich Park, Planetarium, the Royal Observatory and a hidden gravesite St. Alvege Park, open to the public. Visit the Greenwich Park website to find out more about Greenwich and the nearby attractions. Contact me for advice and recommendations on how long to take in each attraction in Greenwich.
How to make the most of the Science Museum
Whether you’re a science buff or you want to become a scientist or you ARE a scientist, then head over to the Science Museum. There are so many things to see and do that you have little time and day to visit everything.
From visiting the interactive gallery and visiting a collection of medicines from the past to the present, to learning about codebreaking, silent discos as well as discovering the science city between the 14th to the 17th Century. You’re bound to walk out with science knowledge in your head. I haven’t had a chance to visit the Science Museum because of COVID, but when it’s safe to do so, I’ll write a review on it.
Here are some suggestions on what collections you should visit to make use of your time. Start with Exploring Space. The title needs no introduction really. You will explore rockets and satellites and see the gigantic replica of ‘Eagle’, the lander that helped Neil Armstrong to the moon. Then go to the Making of the Modern World Gallery where you’ll learn about locomotives, engines, cars, planes and many more inventions. The third place you should visit is the Information Age Gallery where you’ll learn about how information and communication technologies have evolved and impacted our way of living. The Atmosphere Gallery is another great one to visit as you’ll learn about climate over billions of years. You’ll get to read about how to fight against climate change. Go up to the third floor and visit the Flight Gallery, and children would love this. On this floor, they’ll learn about gliders, hot-air balloons and aircrafts including the Gipsy Moth, the aircraft Amy Johnson flew to Australia in 1930.
In this floor, you can also experience the Red Arrows 3D flight simulation theatre. This isn’t free though. It’s £6 for adults and £5 for children. Other paid attractions include the Fly 360 Degree flight-simulator capsules for £12 per capsule and the Wonderlab for £6 to explore scientific phenomena. Pop to the basement for children under 5’s, and they’re able to roam free in the play-zone, the water play area. If you are short of time, spare 2 hours here. Read more about my experience at the Science Museum to get a feel of what it would be like there. Click here if you want to take a tour of what you’ll see in the Science Museum, book a time slot on their website.
Camden Town will only take 15 minutes by tube on the Northern Line (black line) if you finish touring the British Museum. Nearby museum near the British Museum is the Postal Museum where you’ll learn about the history of postal services in London. Once you’re in Camden Town, you can visit Madame Tussauds, Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill and Regent’s Canal, London Zoo, and Sherlock Holmes Museum.
How to make the most of the 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.
I haven’t had the chance to visit the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery because of COVID, but once it’s safe to do so, I’ll write a review on it.
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. Click for the National Gallery virtual tour and the National Portrait Gallery virtual tour.
How to make the most of Victoria 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.
How to make the most of the 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.
How to make the most of 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 places and now 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.
I’ve had the chance of visiting Tate Modern when I visited Southbank. Click for Things to do in Southbank and read the Tate Modern section. Click here for the Tate Modern website to get a sneak peak of what you’ll find in the gallery and the virtual tour.
How to make the most of 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.
When everything’s safe, you’ll be able to see several photos about COVID-19. 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 to get a sneak peek of the museum and the virtual tour. 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!!!