City life can be expensive, but you can always get your culture fix for free in London. Our city is home to countless world-class and totally free museums, with incredible exhibitions that don’t cost a single penny. From shows at some of the top ten museums in London to alternative exhibitions in the city’s weird and wonderful museums, here’s our guide to free art and musuem exhibitions in London all year round.
RECOMMENDED: More budget-friendly culture in our guide to free London.
Free exhibitions in London
See brilliant Kodachrome images of the East End back in the day at this exhibition of long-lost photos by Stepney-born-and-bred photographer David Granick. The scenes will be hanging up at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives and span 20 years from the 1960s, including sights such as now-demolished Stifford Estate and the wonderful George Tavern in Whitechapel. Find out more here.
Thank your lucky stars for antibiotics. The wonder drugs have helped humans combat disease that was once untreatable, even deadly. But now, bacteria are fighting back by evolving into superbugs that are resistant to event the most powerful antibiotics. 'Superbugs: The fight for Our Lives' features twelve real bacteria colonies, an interactive exhibit examining the microscopic world of bacteria and personal stories of those waging war on superbugs, all exploring how humanity is tackling this unprecedented threat. Find out more here.
This exhibition commemorates the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, 1916, a day on which there were 57,000 British casualties. The show examines what the medical and human impact was of the severe wounding soldiers sustained during and beyond the war.
Fred Butler is the latest artist to take over the Now Gallery at Greenwich Peninsula, this time with an exploration into the energy of chromotherapy. Visitors can pop their heads into ‘healing spheres’ which provide washes of colourful light and are intended to enhance moods and allow participants to switch off from everyday life.
To mark the launch of the new Jane Austen £10 note, the Bank of England Museum’s exhibition ‘Stories from the City’ is celebrating the big ol’ bank’s fictional appearances and connections to literature over the last three centuries from George Eliot and Charles Dickens to TS Eliot and Robert Browning. Head along to see exhibits drawn from the vast collections amassed by the Bank since 1694, including a hand drawn artwork for the £10 which featured Charles Dickens and a special £1000 note signed by George Eliot. Find out more here.
The Representation of the People Act was passed 100 years ago, giving (some) women the right to vote in the UK for the first time. Take a closer look at some of the less well known suffragettes whose perseverance made it all happen at Votes for Women, an exhibition from the Museum of London. As well as a film showing some of the figures who campaigned tirelessly to achieve votes for women, Emmeline Pankhurst's hunger strike medal and Louise Mary Eates pendent, presented to her on her release from prison, will be on display. Find out more here.
London accidentally gained a new celebrity earlier this year when an enormous ‘fatberg’ – a huge, congealed blob of wet wipes, condoms, nappies, fat and cooking oil – was found lurking in a sewer under Whitechapel Road. The ‘evil, gut-wrenching, rancid blob’, as Thames Water affectionally called it, was the largest ever recorded. It weighed the equivalent of 11 double-decker buses and measured 250m – that’s six metres longer than Tower Bridge. One final piece of the putrid mass remains and now you can see it for yourself at the Museum of London as part of the museum’s ‘City Now City Future’ season in 2018. It might not be the Elgin Marbles, but it’ll certainly spark a few reflections on our consumer-driven, disposable society. Find out more here.
William Harvey was a 17th Century doctor and anatomist who spent his days looking at the animal's beating hearts and the dissections of hanged men and in the grizzly process revealed revolutionary new truths about blood and circulation. This exhibition, 'Ceaseless Motion', features Harvey’s personal possessions and explores the his pioneering work, how it was received in his lifetime and the legacy of man as important to the development of medicine as Newton was to physics and Darwin to biology. Find out more here.
Discover the best free museums in London
Chucs Dover Street
A spin-off from the yachtwear shop next door, Chucs is pitched at Mayfair's ultra-wealthy residents, who will happily spend £165 on a pair of lilac men’s swimshorts, or £150 on a women's long-sleeved t-shirt. The interior continues the yacht theme with staff wearing nautical uniforms, right down to gold-braided epaulettes, while photographs of the picturesque port of Positano and other gilded holiday destinations adorn the walls.Mayfair isn’t the place to come looking for a bargain meal of course, and Chucs is no exception, with an Italian and continental menu where a starter of grilled vegetables costs £15, or a main course of octopus salad weighs in at £29. But there was no faulting our dishes: the Italian staff in the kitchen turned out a fine seafood tagliolini, studded with baby clams, tender octopus and freshly-made pasta. A small side of caponata (£5) was also exemplary, the aubergine correctly soused with sweet and sour notes; but the the £4-a-head cover charge (for bread and radishes) an irritation.Chucs is a likeable place, but given the size of our bill we had hoped for more efficient service; on our visit, the staff seemed to be barely coping with a not particularly busy lunch service.
Venue says: “The original and much-acclaimed Chucs restaurant and cafe. Authentic Italian favourites in the heart of Mayfair.”