Free museums in London

Fancy taking a look around one of London’s museums but don't want to shell out on the entrance fee? Luckily for you, our city is full of incredible free museums
© Tim Grist
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Feeling skint? Why not soak up some of London’s most exciting cultural offerings without spending a penny. From top museum exhibitions at some of the top London museums to quirky shows at weird and wonderful London museums, the capital is home to amazing art and artefacts that won't dent your bank balance in the slightest.

Here’s our pick of brilliant, and totally free, museums in London. Go forth and enjoy, and save your pennies for something else.

RECOMMENDED: Find more free fun and bargain activities in our guide to cheap London.

Free museums in London

Tippos_Tiger_2.jpg
© V&A Images
Museums, Art and design

V&A

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The V&A houses one of the world's greatest collections of decorative arts, in such varied fields as ceramics, sculpture, portrait miniatures and photography. Among the highlights are the Britain 1500-1900 galleries, which are arranged chronologically to trace the history of British design from the reign of Henry VIII to that of Queen Victoria.

The British Museum
© Marc Haegeman
Museums, History

British Museum

icon-location-pin Bloomsbury

One of the world's oldest museums, the British Museum is vast and its collections, only a fraction of which can be on public display at any time, comprise millions of objects. First-time visitors generally head for the mummies, the Rosetta Stone, Lindow Man, the Lewis Chessmen and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial.

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Selfridges lift at the Museum of London
© Museum of London
Museums, History

Museum of London

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The history of London, from prehistoric times to the present is told in the Museum of London through reconstructed interiors and street scenes, alongside displays of original artefacts found during the museum's archaeological digs. Check the website before your visit as a packed programme of temporary exhibitions, talks, walks and children's events is central to the life of the Museum of London.

Museums, Art and design

Design Museum

icon-location-pin Kensington

The Design Museum is looking flash these days. Now located in the Grade II-listed former Commonwealth Institute building on Kensington High Street, it boasts three times the space it used to and has an archive, library, ace restaurant and a permanent collection. Plus, check out its incredible curved ceiling. It’s a design feat in it’s own right. 

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Museums, Science and technology

Science Museum

icon-location-pin Brompton

The Science Museum features seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits, including the Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator. The Wellcome Wing showcases developments in contemporary science, medicine and technology. The Medical History Gallery in the museum's attic contains a substantial collection of medical history treasures and Pattern Pod introduces under-eights to the importance of patterns in contemporary science.

Natural History Museum
© Jonathan Brennan
Museums, Natural history

Natural History Museum

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The handsome Alfred Waterhouse building houses a collection that contains some 70 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens. The Natural History Museum’s Blue Zone is devoted to the diversity of life on earth, from dinosaurs to epic sealife. The entrance hall meanwhile houses Dippy the plaster cast of a Diplodocus, which has been there snce it was commissioned by King Edward VII in 1905, but will be replaced by the skeleton of a blue whale from summer 2017 while Dippy goes on tour.

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Art, Galleries

National Gallery

icon-location-pin Trafalgar Square

Founded in 1824 to display a collection of just 36 paintings, today the National Gallery is home to more than 2,000 works. There are masterpieces from virtually every European school of art. The modern Sainsbury Wing extension contains the gallery’s earliest works: Italian paintings by early masters like Giotto and Piero della Francesca. In the West Wing are Italian Renaissance masterpieces by Correggio, Titian and Raphael; in the North Wing, seventeenth-century Dutch, Flemish, Italian and Spanish Old Masters.

National Maritime Museum_CREDIT_© National Maritime Museum, London.jpg
© National Maritime Museum, London
Museums, Science and technology

National Maritime Museum

icon-location-pin Greenwich

On this Greenwich Park site you'll find the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House, which was designed in 1616 by Inigo Jones but not completed until 1638, and the Royal Observatory, founded in 1675 by Charles II. The museum's Maritime London gallery is a permanent exhibition exploring the importance of London's maritime heritage and its impact on world trade. Exhibits include wreckage from a Zeppelin shot down over the Thames estuary in 1916, the original model for Nelson's Column and early 19th-century plans for the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

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© Tate Photography/Andrew Dunkley
Art, Galleries

Tate Modern

icon-location-pin South Bank

In 2016, Tate Modern opened its new extension, the twisted pyramid-like Switch House. Making room for an additional 60% of Tate's collection to go on display, it was a major moment for a major art gallery. Back in the main building, there's plenty to see. In particular, the annual Turbine Hall commission. Previous years have seen the space filled with ceramic sunflower seeds, giant slides, and three-person swings. The permanent collection is also hard to beat, filled as it is with Mark Rothko, Pablo Picasso, Barbara Hepworth and more - far more.  

Imperial War Museum Plane
Jonathan Perugia / Time Out
Museums, Military and maritime

Imperial War Museum

icon-location-pin Kennington

Located in the stately 1815 building that once housed the Bethlem Royal Hospital for the insane (aka Bedlam), IWM London holds an important collection of twentieth-century art, much of it officially commissioned during WWI and WWII, examples of the machinery of war, official communications, manuscripts of war literature and other, more personal artefacts from the conflicts of the twentieth century.

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Museums, Military and maritime

National Army Museum

icon-location-pin Chelsea

The displays at the National Army Museum concentrate more on telling the story of the individual soldier’s life than on chronicling campaigns and battles. Among the exhibits is the pencil-written scrap of paper that launched the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, sending more than 600 men charging in the wrong direction to attack the Russian Army.

Museums, Childhood

V&A Museum of Childhood

icon-location-pin Bethnal Green

Home to one of the world's finest collections of children's toys, dolls' houses, games and costumes, the V&A Museum of Childhood shines bighter than ever after extensive refurbishment, which has given it an impressive entrance. Part of the V&A museum in South Ken, the MoC has been amassing childhood-related objects since 1872 and continues to do so, with 'Incredibles' figures complementing bonkers 1970s puppets, Barbie Dolls and Victorian praxinoscopes.

Free museums in London: central

British Museum
© Tim Grist
Museums, History

British Museum

icon-location-pin Bloomsbury

Officially the country's most popular tourist attraction, the British Museum opened to the public in 1759 in Montagu House, which then occupied this site. The current building is a neoclassical marvel built in 1847 by Robert Smirke, one of the pioneers of the Greek Revival style. The most high profile addition since then was Lord Foster's popular glass-roofed Great Court, open since 2000 and now claimed to be 'the largest covered public square in Europe'.

Museums, Natural history

Grant Museum of Zoology

icon-location-pin Fitzrovia

The Grant Museum of animal skeletons, taxidermy specimens and creatures preserved in fluid retains the air of the house of an avid Victorian collector while posing questions about issues in life sciences today. The collection includes remains of many rare and extinct animals, such as a dodo and the skeleton of the zebra-like quagga, which was hunted out of existence in the 1880s.

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Museums, Libraries, archives and foundations

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry

icon-location-pin Covent Garden

Freemasons' Hall, the eye-catchingly bombastic stone building where Long Acre becomes Great Queen Street, is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and the principal meeting place for Masonic Lodges in London. It was built between 1927 and 1932 as a memorial to the Freemasons who died in WWI. In addition to the Grand Temple, there is a library and museum, committee rooms and administrative offices. The library and museum houses a collection of Masonic material, accessible to the general public.

National Gallery View through
© National Gallery, London
Art, Galleries

National Gallery

icon-location-pin Trafalgar Square

There are masterpieces from virtually every European school of art. The modern Sainsbury Wing extension contains the gallery’s earliest works: Italian paintings by early masters like Giotto and Piero della Francesca. In the West Wing are Italian Renaissance masterpieces by Correggio, Titian and Raphael; in the North Wing, seventeenth-century Dutch, Flemish, Italian and Spanish Old Masters. In the East Wing are some of the gallery’s most popular paintings: works by the French Impressionists and post-Impressionists.

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Tonkin Liu, RIBA
© Tonkin Liu
Things to do, Classes and workshops

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

icon-location-pin Marylebone

Designed by George Grey Wornum, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) building is a fine example of 1930s architecture. The Grade II-listed building hosts regular talks and exhibitions. There's also a shop and a café with an outdoor terrace, in addition to one of the finest architectural libraries in the world, which contains around four million items and is open to non-members who bring along photo ID.

Sir John Soane's Museum,The No. 12 Breakfast Parlour, Soane Museum
© Martin Charles
Museums, History

Sir John Soane's Museum

icon-location-pin Holborn

Designed by architect Sir John Soane to house his own collection of paintings and architectural salvage, the museum is a tranquil place full of unexpected treasures, with a wealth of intriguing natural lighting effects best viewed on a bright day. On the first Tuesday of each month, Sir John Soane's Museum stays opens late and some parts are lit by candlelight.

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Tate Britain
Umbreen Hafeez
Art, Sculpture

Tate Britain

icon-location-pin Westminster

Tate Modern gets all the attention, but the original Tate Gallery, founded by sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate, has a broader and more inclusive brief. Housed in a stately Portland stone building on the riverside, Tate Britain is second only to the National Gallery when it comes to British art. The historical collection includes work by Hogarth, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Constable (who gets three rooms to himself) and Turner (whose works are displayed in the grand Clore Gallery).

Museums, History

Wallace Collection

icon-location-pin Marylebone

Built in 1776, this handsome house contains an exceptional collection of 18th-century French furniture, painting and objets d'art, as well as an amazing array of medieval armour and weaponry. It all belonged to Sir Richard Wallace, who, as the illegitimate offspring of the fourth Marquess of Hertford, inherited in 1870 the treasures his father had amassed in the last 30 years of his life.

Free museums in London: north

British Library Architecture
eloise Bergman / Time Out
Attractions, Libraries, archives and foundations

British Library

icon-location-pin Euston

'One of the ugliest buildings in the world,' opined a Parliamentary committee on the opening of the new British Library in 1997. But don't judge a book by its cover: the interior is a model of cool, spacious functionality, the collection is unmatched (150 million items and counting), and the reading rooms (open only to cardholders) are so popular that regular users are now complaining that they can't find a seat.

Burgh House Exterior.JPG
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Hampstead Museum

icon-location-pin Hampstead

Hampstead Museum is a small local history museum set in the Grade I-listed Burgh House built during the rein of Queen Anne in 1704. Rudyard Kipling's daughter, Elsie, lived at Burgh House with her husband, Captain George Bambridge. Displays here now include exhibits on John Constable, a Marcel Breuer-designed Isokon chair, the flag of the first Scout troop in the country and a child-friendly history of the area.

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Museums, History

Royal Air Force Museum

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Attractions at the Royal Air Force Museum include 80 aircraft on display, an interactive area, a simulator ride and 'Our Finest Hour', a multi-media account of the Battle of Britain. In the interactive Aeronauts Gallery visitors can take a pilot aptitude test to discover whether they are made of the 'right stuff'.

Wellcome Collection
Wellcome Images
Museums, Science and technology

Wellcome Collection

icon-location-pin Bloomsbury

Founder Sir Henry Wellcome, a pioneering 19th-century pharmacist and entrepreneur, amassed a vast and idiosyncratic collection of implements and curios relating to the medical trade, now displayed in this swanky little museum. The Wellcome Collection’s temporary exhibitions are usually wonderfully interesting, and in the past have tackled such subjects as sleep and dreaming, and the relationship between madness and art.

Free museums in London: east

Museums, History

Museum of London

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The history of London, from prehistoric times to the present is told in the Museum of London through reconstructed interiors and street scenes, alongside displays of original artefacts found during the museum's archaeological digs.

V&A Museum of Childhood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
© Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Museums, Childhood

V&A Museum of Childhood

icon-location-pin Bethnal Green

Home to one of the world's finest collections of children's toys, dolls' houses, games and costumes, the Museum of Childhood shines brighter than ever after extensive refurbishment. Part of the V&A museum, the MoC has been amassing childhood-related objects since 1872 and continues to do so, with 'Incredibles' figures complementing bonkers 1970s puppets, Barbie Dolls and Victorian praxinoscopes. The museum has lots of hands-on stuff for kids dotted about the many cases of historic artefacts.

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Museums, History

Bank of England Museum

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Housed inside the former Stock Offices of the Bank of England, this engaging and surprisingly lively museum explores the history of the national bank. As well as ancient coins and original artwork for British banknotes, the museum offers a rare chance to lift nearly 30lbs of gold bar (you reach into a secure box, closely monitored by CCTV). One exhibit looks at the life of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows and a long-term employee of the bank. Child-friendly temporary exhibitions take place in the museum lobby.

101 Things To Do in London: The Geffrye Museum
© Chris Ridley
Things to do, Literary events

Geffrye Museum

icon-location-pin Hoxton

Housed in a set of 18th-century almshouses, the Geffrye Museum offers a vivid physical history of English interior. Displaying original furniture, paintings, textiles and decorative arts, the museum recreates a sequence of typical middle-class living rooms from 1600 to the present day. It's an oddly interesting way to take in domestic history, with any number of intriguing details to catch your eye - from a bell jar of stuffed birds to a particular decorative flourish on a chair. There's an airy restaurant overlooking the lovely gardens, too.

Geffrye Museum will be closed from January 7 2018 for a two-year redevelopment. 

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AT landfall, museum of london docklands_london_CREDIT_Ingrid Pollard, Untitled, Cermaic, 2008 (c) Ingrid Polla
Ingrid Pollard, Untitled, Cermaic, 2008 © Ingrid Pollard
Museums

Museum of London Docklands

icon-location-pin Canary Wharf

Housed in a 19th-century warehouse (itself a Grade I-listed building), this huge museum explores the complex history of London's docklands and the river over two millennia. Displays spreading over three storeys take you from the arrival of the Romans all the way to the docks' 1980s closure and the area's subsequent redevelopment.

Free museums in London: south

Horniman Museum clock tower
Andrew Brackenbury / Time Out
Things to do

Horniman Museum

icon-location-pin Forest Hill

South-east London's premier free family attraction, the Horniman was once the home of tea trader Frederick J Horniman, it's an eccentric-looking art nouveau building (check out the clocktower, which starts as a circle and ends as a square), with a main entrance that gives out on to extensive gardens. If nothing else, the Horniman is worth visiting to see the fat Victorian walrus, which was overstuffed in the 1880s as its taxidermists had no idea what a walrus was supposed to look like.

Imperial War Museum
© IWM
Museums, Military and maritime

Imperial War Museum

icon-location-pin Kennington

Located in the stately 1815 building that once housed the Bethlem Royal Hospital for the insane (aka Bedlam), the museum holds an important collection of art, much of it commissioned during WWI and WWII, in addition to examples of the machinery of war, official communications, manuscripts of war literature and other, more personal artefacts from various conflicts.

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National Maritime Museum_CREDIT_© National Maritime Museum, London.jpg
© National Maritime Museum, London
Museums, Military and maritime

National Maritime Museum

icon-location-pin Greenwich

The most important of the group of attractions known (since the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012) as the Royal Museums Greenwich, the National Maritime Museum is the world's largest maritime museum, a huge store of creatively organised maritime art, cartography, models, interactives and regalia. It was greatly enhanced in 2011 by the addition of the Sammy Ofer Wing, which provides a new entrance from Greenwich Park, presided over by Yinka Shonibare's Fourth Plinth sculpture 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle'.

Art, Galleries

Tate Modern

icon-location-pin South Bank

This powerhouse of modern art is awe-inspiring even before you enter, thanks to its industrial architecture. Inside, the original cavernous turbine hall is used to jaw-dropping effect as the home of large-scale, temporary installations. The permanent collection features heavy-hitters such as Matisse, Rothko, Bacon, Twombly and Beuys. Tate Modern does weekend after-hours gallery-going extremely well, opening until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Free museums in London: west

Museums, Military and maritime

National Army Museum

icon-location-pin Chelsea

More entertaining than its modern exterior suggests, this museum dedicated to the history of the British Army kicks off with 'Redcoats', a gallery that starts at Agincourt in 1415 and ends with the American War of Independence. Upstairs, 'The Road to Waterloo' marches through 20 years of struggle against the French, featuring 70,000 model soldiers. Also on display is the kit of Olympic medal winner Dame Kelly Holmes (an ex-army athlete), while Major Michael 'Bronco' Lane, conqueror of Everest, has donated his frostbitten fingertips.

Natural History Museum
© Jonathan Brennan
Museums, Natural history

Natural History Museum

icon-location-pin Brompton

Both a research institution and a fabulous museum, the NHM opened in Alfred Waterhouse's purpose-built, Romanesque palazzo on the Cromwell Road in 1881. Now joined by the splendid Darwin Centre extension, the original building still looks quite magnificent. The pale blue and terracotta façade just about prepares you for the natural wonders within.

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Museums, Science and technology

Science Museum

icon-location-pin Brompton

Only marginally less popular with kids than its natural historical neighbour, the Science Museum is a celebration of the wonders of technology in the service of our daily lives. In 'Exploring Space', rocket science and the lunar landings are illustrated by dramatically lit mock-ups and models, before the museum gears up for its core collection in 'Making the Modern World'. Located here are the Apollo 10 command module, classic cars and an absorbing collection of everyday technological marvels from 1750 to the present.

V&A exterior
© Peter Kelleher
Museums, Art and design

V&A

icon-location-pin Brompton

The V&A is one of the world's most magnificent museums, its foundation stone laid on this site by Queen Victoria in her last official public engagement in 1899. It is a superb showcase for applied arts from around the world, appreciably calmer than its tearaway cousins on the other side of Exhibition Road. Some 150 grand galleries on seven floors contain countless pieces of furniture, ceramics, sculpture, paintings, posters, jewellery, metalwork, glass, textiles and dress, spanning several centuries.

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Museums, Art and design

Design Museum

icon-location-pin Kensington

The Design Museum is looking flash these days. Now located in the Grade II-listed former Commonwealth Institute building on Kensington High Street, it boasts three times the space it used to and has an archive, library, ace restaurant and a permanent collection. Plus, check out its incredible curved ceiling. It’s a design feat in it’s own right. 

More completely free things to do in London

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