Free Museums and Art Galleries in London
London is the most expensive city in the UK, and one of the hardest for budget travelers to survive. One thing that is cheap, or free actually, are many of the famous galleries and world-class museums. This is one of the many reasons that makes London such a draw for tourists around the world and helps balance out the woes that many budget travelers face here. These are my favorites:
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich (London) England is crucial for anyone interested in geography or history. This museum demonstrates the role astronomy played in navigation of the seas and shows us the last remaining hurdle to great exploration: the longitude problem. This was solved by John Harrison and his timekeepers. The Royal Observatory is home to Greenwich Mean Time, the Prime Meridian, London’s only planetarium, the Harrison timekeepers, and the UK’s largest refracting telescope. Besides the Royal Observatory, the Royal Museums of Greenwich include the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, all of which have free entry. Greenwich is accessible by rail, tube, bus, and river.
The British Museum
Probably the most famous museum in the world, the British Museum holds treasures, in the literal sense, from every corner of the world. Perhaps most prominent for its ancient Egyptian and Greek collections and as home to the Rosetta Stone, this comprehensive museum covers the story of human culture from the beginnings to the present day. Open to the public since 1759, the British Museum has an astounding permanent collection containing some eight million works. The Museum is free and open daily from 10-17:30 (Fridays until 20:30). Note that loan exhibitions have entry fees. Accessible by Underground station Tottenham.
Many of London’s fine art galleries are free for viewers as well. Some of these galleries are museums and others have works on display that are for sale. The National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, and the Tate Britain and some of the most well-known. For an alternative, try Somerset House, Saatchi Gallery, or Photographers’ Gallery, all with various types of fine art and photography for sale. If you can’t make it in for a purchase, artwork can be viewed and bought online.
Museum of London
This is one of those museums that gets overlooked by many visitors. It’s not as well-known but is an astounding recollection of this great city. It covers every period of its history, including the time before London was London. Perhaps the most interesting are Roman London, Medieval London, and the exhibits detailing the great tragedies of this city, including war, plague, and fire. The Museum of London is accessible by Tube stations Barbican or St. Paul’s. Free entry daily, 10 am-6 pm.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The V & A Museum is the world’s largest museum dedicated to decorative arts. Dating from 1852, it collection contains over 4 1/2 million pieces. Its 145 galleries span 5,000 years of art! Some of the items on display are textiles, glass, ceramics, silver, costumes, and jewelry. The museum is located in the Brompton District of London near other (free) museums like the Natural History Museum and Science Museum. The V & A is accessible from South Kensington Tube station and open from 10-17:45 daily.
Housed in the former post-WWII Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern’s industrial architecture is impressive even before you enter. As one of the top modern art museums in the world, and the second most popular in the UK, you won’t regret a visit to the Tate Modern. This cutting-edge museum houses temporary installation in the huge turbine hall and elsewhere holds collections from Matisse, Rothko, Beuys, and others. Open daily from10am-6pm, Friday extended hours until 10 pm. Tube station: Southwark/Blackfriars