LONDON’S BEST FREE MUSEUMS & GALLERIES 

 

The British Museum

This is the mother of all London museums and holds all the treasures that England is keeping safe for other countries. This rambling property is the adoptive home of all sorts of rocks and stones, mummies, Samurai armour and the famous Rosetta stone.  This stone has the same text written in 3 different ancient languages, and has helped break the language code for hieroglyphs.  Look for the bog man, who died 2,000 years ago and whose body was perfectly preserved in a peat bog.  If you read ‘Interview with a Vampire’, this was the setting for some of the chapters.

 

The Big Three

The museum of natural history, the V&A and the Science museums are all located in a posh area, tucked in between Royal Albert Hall and Harrods.  They are all massive and the buildings are beautiful.

  1. Natural History  Fantastic look at all kinds of animals, and the brilliant Dinosaur section where they come to life.  They have a nice café too.
  1. Science Museum  It’s worth going in here for the Space exhibition alone.  You enter via a staircase into the universe.
  1. V & A (Victoria and Albert)  This huge museum is also the world’s oldest.  It covers everything: art, fashion, items from Victorian times and collections from the colonies.  They usually have a modern exhibition at extra cost, like celebrity costume collections, of Kylie or David Bowie; famous wedding dresses, or designer’s collections. They also have a stunning café.

 

British Imperial War Museum                                                 

A very informative look at Britain at war since WW1.  Very humbling, extensive collection of the heros and horrors.  I stayed in here for 4 hours on my first visit.  It is south of the Thames, so takes a bit of finding, but well worth it.

 

RAF Museum

This collection of airplanes is massive.  It is a 30 minute tube ride from central to a leafy suburb of London and a 10 minute walk, but worth every minute.  There are several hangars of both British and captured aircraft on display.  The wingspan of some of the craft is staggering.  I love to see what man is capable of creating, and the history of the airplanes is humbling.

 

Museum of London

Just north of St Pauls Cathedral in the Barbican Centre sits a pretty cool little museum. It’s not a must see, but worth a visit if you have a few days in London and are in that area.  You can trace London from pre-Roman origins to present day, so it is popular for school trips, but that in itself is a look at normal life in the capital.  My favourite part was the golden carriage used by the Lord Mayor.  Pomp and ceremony is  never far away in London, but that’s why we love it.

 

Museum of London Docklands

Mainly concerned with nautical history.  I planned an hour stop while doing the multi-transport London tour, but stayed for two, and that was a fast look around. The section about sugar and slavery, and the reproduction of the docks in 1840 are the best.

 

Tate Modern

This was the old Battersea Power Station building, and the main draw is that.  Across the Millennium Bridge from St Paul’s Cathedral, you can sit on the balcony and look back upon the Thames.  The art is very modern, spots and dots, and unrecognisable forms, along with  exhibits of more recognisable names like Picasso and Matisse.  If that’s not your thing, it is on my list for the incredible structure and the outside balcony.

 

Tate Britain

I’ve added this gallery, so you know there are two with Tate in the name.  They are not near each other, with the Tate being a more traditional building. They showcase art from 1500 to present day, with lots of pretty landscapes and photographs.  Only good if you are a real art buff, as not much can compete with the National Gallery.

 

National Gallery

This should be on your hit list, as one of the best all-around collections of art through the ages that you can see in Europe. All the big players are represented, from Monet’s waterlilies to Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rafael and Van Gogh’s sunflowers.  For those with limited time, they offer a one hour tour of the gallery highlights.  Check online for times.

 

National Picture Gallery

Sitting right behind the National Gallery, see portraits of famous people from Oliver Cromwell to Lady Diana, to current high fliers.  Oil, acrylic and photography, housed in yet another iconic building.

 

Somerset House

Holding court between the Thames and the Strand Theatre area, and a stone’s throw from Covent Garden, this Tudor Palace with a magnificent courtyard is home to outdoor events, a fountain for hot days, and a cafés. In winter, an ice rink appears.  The Coulthard Gallery has art displays, some free, some paid.  Good for enthusiasts, but the star is the courtyard.  Check their website for what’s on: music, film, or a party.

 

John Soame’s House

I love John Soames House.  It is in a residential neighbourhood, home of an eccentric collector and untouched since his death 180 years ago.  The first Tuesday of every month, they open in the evening for candlelight visits.  Statues, artwork, curios, architectural drawings and even a sarcophagus. Limited opening hours and closed Sun/Mon.  Get there when it opens, as my hidden jewel has been discovered.