Free exhibitions in London

Soaking up some culture in the capital needn't cost the earth

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London is awash with free exhibitions catering to every taste. Save your pounds for the gift shop and find out what you can see without paying an entrance fee, from major museum shows to niche exhibitions in specialist galleries.

The House of Peroni

  • Free

Sure, the Italian beer brand is interested in marketing its product, but it's also come up with an interesting showcase of contemporary Italian culture covering artists and designers, food and music and, well, plenty of booze. Federico Riezzo's drink menu sees refreshing beverages combining Peroni Nastro Azzuro with orange, grapefruit and prosecco while culinary collective, Bottega Wapping pay tribute to Rome with slow-roasted rabbit and

  1. 64 Lincoln’s Inn Field
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sat Nov 1
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Astronomy Photographer of the Year

  • Free

Among the awe-inspiring shortlisted entries for this year’s competition are pics of psychedelic auroras, spine-tingling meteor showers and the centre of the Heart Nebula. The last example is a star-clustered region of glowing gas in the Cassiopeia constellation – in case you didn’t already know. The free exhibition features remarkable photos from a record number of submissions, showcasing remarkable feats of astrophotography for a sixth

  1. Royal Observatory Blackheath Avenue, SE10 8XJ
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Feb 1
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Witches and Wicked Bodies

  • Free

The British Museum have brought together their most darkly magical exhibits (and borrowed a few from the V&A, Tate Britain, British Library and the Ashmolean in Oxford) for this collection representing the portrayal of the witch and witchcraft in art over the last 500 years. Prints and drawings depicting devils, beasts and broomsticks chart the witch's progression from possessed monster to exotic sirens, and several classical Greek vases will be

  1. British Museum Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Jan 11
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HippopoThames

  • Free

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman's first UK commission is an enormous wooden hippo that bobs around in the Thames. It's been peering up from the river in front of Battersea Power Station for most of September but has now swum down to St Katherine's Docks to take in the view.

  1. St Katharine Docks St Katharine's Way, E1W 1LA
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Oct 26
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Tracey Emin: The Last Great Adventure is You

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

You’d never describe Tracey Emin, the soul-baring queen of TMI, as playing hard to get, but this could be her most opaque work yet. Ambiguity is there from the off, in a series of drawings running down one side of White Cube’s seemingly endless entrance hall. The nudes are immediately Emin-esque, but gone is the scratchy, monoprint style of old. Instead we see fluid arcs of blue gouache paint. Emin recently returned to life drawing classes,

  1. White Cube Bermondsey 144-152 Bermondsey St, SE1 3TQ
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sat Nov 15
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Damien Hirst: Schizophrenogenesis

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Free

Feeling under the weather? Need a quick fix to get you through the day? The pills and potions in Damien Hirst’s latest show can’t be taken orally, but that doesn’t mean they won’t banish the winter blues. Big and bold is what Hirst has always been good at. We expect it from him. And the sculptures of giant tablets and medicine packaging turn the contents of a bathroom cabinet into kaleidoscopic works of art. Sudafed capsules, lined up

  1. Paul Stolper 31 Museum St, WC1A 1LH
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sat Nov 15
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Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Free

The war was just too big, confided Eric Kennington after he had completed his masterpiece ‘The Kensingtons at Laventie’ in 1915, one of the first things you’ll see in the ‘Memory’ section of this captivating two-part show. The authorities had hoped that Kennington would make more paintings to rival his pin-sharp, quietly devastating depiction of his unit – knackered, wounded, each soldier caught in a moment of reflection after their

  1. Imperial War Museum Lambeth Rd, SE1 6HZ
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Mar 8
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Toy Stories

  • Free

Of all the material possessions we get attached to over the years, it's our childhood toys that end up in the loft for decades because parting with them is just too hard. Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti visited more than 50 countries to create portraits of children with their most prized belongings, and this exhibition tells the story of 21 kids from a wide range of backgrounds. Different tastes and economic statuses mean that the

  1. V&A Museum of Childhood Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Dec 14
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Bridge

  • Free

Following on from the Museum of London's superb Estuary exhibition, which looked at artists' responses to the outer edges of the Thames, Bridge explores how bridges influence our visual sense of the city and provide a source of inspiration for artists and photographers. The star exhibit in this show about the structures crossing the Thames is a shot by pioneering photographer William Fox Talbot. It was taken in 1845, the year he perfected his

  1. Museum of London Docklands Hertsmere Rd, West India Quay, E14 4AL
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Nov 2
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The Institute of Sexology

  • Free

The Wellcome Collection's newly expanded gallery space will open with a wink and a blush with The Institute of Sexology, an exhibition that brings together the great pioneers of the study of sex. More than 200 pieces of art, erotica, photography and ethnography will help visitors get a new perspective on perversions, lust and normality, with live events, discussions and performances to accompany the X-rated exhibits. The work carried out by sex

  1. Wellcome Collection Euston Rd, NW1 2BE
  2. Thu Nov 20 - Sun Sep 20
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Gerhard Richter

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Gerhard Richter is as big as they come. In 2012, his painting ‘Abstraktes Bild’ sold at auction for £21m, making it the most expensive work by a living painter. Six months later, his ‘Domplatz, Mailand’ eclipsed that record, going for a whopping £24.4.m. Now, the 82-year-old behemoth is inaugurating mighty New York gallerist Marian Goodman’s first London space with a show of new painting and sculpture. So yeah, it’s a big

  1. Marian Goodman Gallery 5-8 Lower John St, W1F 9DY
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sat Dec 20
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Mexico's Day of the Dead Festival

  • Free

Mexico had spooky down way before we started carving pumpkins. Their Dia de los Muertos celebrations have been happening for around 3,000 years, and the day is devoted to remembering loved ones who have died and sending prayers to those you have recently lost. This event, brought to London by the Embassy of Mexico, will include an exhibition of pieces by contemporary artists, a tribute to those lost in World War I, daily screenings of 1984 cult

  1. Bargehouse Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse St, SE1 9PH
  2. Thu Oct 30 - Sun Nov 2
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Paula Rego: The Last King of Portugal

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Free

Paula Rego is nearly 80 but she hasn’t mellowed. Her paintings still balance fierceness with compassion, and she may never have painted a scene in which a viewer would want to feel at home. If you think pastels mean baby shades you need to see ‘The Last King of Portugal’ and ‘The Relic’, two cheerfully discordant series – one based on history, the other on fiction – in colours ranging from bloody magenta to flood-water green to

  1. Marlborough 6 Albermarle St, W1S 4BY
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sat Oct 25
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Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges' photographs for Shelter, 1968-72

  • Free

This exhibition displays 100 photographs from the archive of British photographer Nick Hedges, commissioned by Shelter during the 60s and 70s. The stark images depict the poverty and poor standards of living faced by people in Britain, and are shown together for the first time following a 40-year restriction to protect the privacy of Hedges' subjects. The exhibition is displayed in the Virgin Media Studio.  READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH NICK HEDGES

  1. Science Museum Exhibition Rd, SW7 2DD
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Jan 18
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Russian Avant-Garde Theatre: War, Revolution and Design, 1913 - 1933

  • Free

Revolutions and World War I twisted 1913-1933 into a changeable twenty years for Russian culture. Artistic, literary and musical traditions were considerably shaken, and new types of theatrical productions demanded a wave of innovative work in unusual media. This exhibition of more than 150 radical designs from the period includes work from some of the Russian avant-garde's most celebrated figures. It includes work by Kazimir Malevich, Alexander

  1. V&A Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL
  2. Thu Oct 23 - Sun Jan 25
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See all free exhibitions in London

Users say

4 comments
Charlotte Heath
Charlotte Heath

The map for Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins is out of date - St Martins now in Kings Cross not Holborn!

Charlotte Heath
Charlotte Heath

The map for Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins is out of date - St Martins now in Kings Cross not Holborn!

N. Al-Ageli
N. Al-Ageli

I attended a private viewing last night at the Reading Room Gallery in Soho, of an exhibition called "A Thousand Words". It is a collection of paintings by the Colombian artist Dairo Vargas reflecting on childhood. Really worth going to and most proceeds will go to Barnardo's Charity. The show is on until December 9 and open Monday to Friday 9am-6pm. Free entry.