28 Must-See Free Museums In London

The Most Comprehensive List of Free Museums In London


london is a museum-lover’s best friend. Are you into ancient history? natural history? history of any kind in general? what about art? historic art? contemporary art? it doesn’t matter, there’s something for everyone, especially if you’re not looking to break the bank!

There are more free museums in London than you can possibly end up seeing in a single go. In fact, you could live there your whole life and still not have seen all of then. My time in London amazed me with how little Londoners have explored around their city. Nevertheless, with so many museums and galleries, and with a history and culture so diverse, it’s safe to say there is something of interest for everyone.

So if you can’t splurge £10-30 for each place you see, have no worry! You can easily spend your entire vacation exploring these free museums, galleries and historically important landmarks* and still not be able to tick each one off the list! Check out this list and see what interests you.

* these locations may have certain exhibits, galleries, events or activities that are ticketed.

Kensington and Chelsea Boroughs

Natural History Museum

Average visit time: 2-3 hours, depending on exhibits seen.
Dinosaurs, volanoes, wildlife, human history and evolution, space – if any or all of these draw you in, then this is the place to go. Though it’s famous for the giant, blue whale skeleton that looms over visitors, my personal favorite is the earthquake simulation exhibit. See their website for any temporary exhibits they have going on before you go. And once you’re doing visiting, why not walk across the road to the next one on the list…

Science Museum

Average visit time: 2-3 hours, depending on exhibits seen.
As one of London’s must-visit museums, it boast a large collection of amazing inventions, technology, interactive exhibits and scientific history. You’ll also find child-friendly activities and exhibits and a lovely Benugo cafe inside the museum to rest your legs. Check out any limited-time exhibits on their website before you go. Located so close to the next two, it’s a good idea to plan a whole day around them!

Victoria and Albert Museum

Average visit time: 2 hours.
Completing the trio of South Kensington must-visit museums, the V&A Museum allures visitors through its exquisite exterior architecture. Enter, and you find yourself surrounded by endless galleries of art and design history from around the world, from fashion to jewellery, ceramics, paintings, furniture, going back 5000 years. The museum also boasts the “world’s oldest museum cafe”, certainly worth checking out.

Saatchi Gallery

Average visit time: 1-3 hours
Located by Sloane Square, The Saatchi Gallery is a world-renowned gallery for fans of contemporary art. The free part of the gallery is quite limited, but worth paying a visit to nevertheless. Ticketed exhibitions are frequently held, and many such as the current exhibition on Tutankhamun (ending May 2020) is definitely worth seeing if you’re willing to spare about £25.

Westminster Borough

National Gallery

Average time: 2-3 hours
Boasting works of arts from the likes of van Gogh, Monet, Rubens, da Vinci and others and tracing the history of European art through all its masterpieces, the National Gallery is a must-see and very conveniently located in Traflagar Square. Check out their website for guides such as the top 30 must-see paintings or ticketed exhibitions.

Tate Britain

Average visit time: 2 hours
Although the lesser known and smaller one between the two, Tate Britain boasts a captivating collection of British art from the 1500s to today. If you like famous artwork that isn’t confusing, this is the Tate for you. What it lacks in size and a viewing deck, it makes up for in its incredible 17th century Victorian architecture, beautiful spiral staircase and domed halls. The museum is a piece of art itself!

Somerset House

Average visit time: 1-2 hours, depending on visit plan
While it exists as a major arts and cultural center in London, with ticketed concerts, art galleries and exhibits, Somerset House is perhaps better known for the building itself – a breath-taking Neoclassical structure overlooking the River Thames with a beautiful courtyard adorned with 55 fountains that are alive during the summers. Somerset House offers two free 1-hour guided tours for exploring the site itself and all its grand rooms, famous staircases and catacombs, as well as its history. Check the website for information on days and times. Don’t forge to visit the riverside terrace for spectacular views and enjoy a drink in the very reasonably priced cafe’s located there.

Faraday Museum

Average visit time: 1 hour
A top spot for science lovers to let their inner nerd out, the Faraday museum displays instruments, people and achievements that make up the history of science, including Michael Faraday’s Magetic Laboratory.

Serpentine Galleries

Average visit time: 1 hour
A popular venue for fans of modern and contemporary art from around the world, the Serpentine is actually two galleries located across a bridge in Kensington Gardens. If you’re visiting Hyde Park, you may want to pay them a visit.

Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

Average visit time: 1 hour
A very authentic display of polish military and political history from WWII. If you’re interested in learning about the contribution of Polish Forces to the Allied powers during the war and to Poland’s struggle to survive as a nation, give it a visit. Be sure to see their website before you plan a visit as they’re only open briefly on certain days.

Camden and Islington Boroughs

British Museum

Average visit time: 3 hours, at least, depending on exhibits seen
If there is one museum you must visit when in London, it’s the British Museum. It boasts a collection of over 8 million pieces of human history, culture and art, including displays like the Rosetta Stone, mummies from Ancient Egypt, an Easter Island statue, a Sutton Hoo burial helmet, and countless relics from Ancient Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia, as well as artwork by the likes of da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be on your feet for a good few hours as the amazement just doesn’t end. Check our their website for any ticketed exhibits you may find interesting, or any free tours or seminars they may have on.
Check out some interesting facts about the museum, such as the furry little friend who guarded the museum gates till 1929.

Wellcome Collection

Average visit time: 1 hour, at least
A free museum and library with exhibitions from Sir Henry Wellcome’s collection regarding medical antiquities and science, as well as modern art and technologies. The library is also a comfortable and quiet space to work with unlimited cushions! Check out the exhibitions being held, most of which are free, before you plan a visit. It’s also at walking distance from King’s Cross station, it’s a great place to pass some time if you’re waiting for a train or are in the area.

Grant Museum of Zoology

Average visit time: 1 hour
A small museum, part of the UCL collection, but perhaps my favorite of all! It boasts the largest and oldest collection of natural history and zoological specimens in the UK. Get fascinated by the jar of moles, or the brain specimens from various ancient, extinct species such as the dodo, and much more! Check out the website for interesting exhibits, ongoing activities and timings before you plan a visit.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Average visit time: 1 hour
While we’re in the area, this one is worth the stop. As one of the most acclaimed architects in the history of England, you can be sure his own house did not fail to impress. The architecturally stunning building is filled with thousands of pieces from Sir John’s collection, including a 3000-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus, works of art, sculptures and curiosities from around the world.

Museum of the Order of Saint John

Average visit time: 1-2 hours
A medieval church with a spectacular display of the history of the ancient Order of St. John, starting from its early beginnings in the 11th century. Being inside will make you feel like you have time-travelled a thousand years into the past. You will need to join a guided tour in order to see the church, crypt and the upper floors. These tours are free and you can find information about the days and times on their website. While you’re there, why not go sit in the church garden in its tranquility and marvel at the St. John’s Gate located right outside.

City of London Borough

Museum of London

Average visit time: 2-3 hours
If you’re visiting London and museums are your thing, you’re probably wanting to learn about the history of this legendary city, and for that, the Museum of London is the place to go. Tracing the city’s past from pre-historic times to modern London, this vast museum will let you tour London through it’s artifacts and significant events. Don’t miss the Victorian Walk, or the exhibition on the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Plague.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum

Average visit time: 1 hour
As the oldest hospital in Britain, you can bet you’ll find it’s small, yet history-packed museum nothing short of impressive. With displays of artifacts, medical inventions, documents and history going back to 1123AD, this is a little hidden gem for curious minds.

Guildhall Art Gallery

Average visit time: 1 hour
A little hidden gem in the center of the city, boasting not only a collection of Victorian Art and photographs that carry you through a historical timeline of Londonm, but also an Ancient Roman amphitheatre in the basement. I recommend catching one of their free guided tours that are 45 minutes long and take you through the most impressive paintings and the amphitheatre with very friendly and informative guides!

Lambeth and Southwark Boroughs

Tate Modern

Average visit time: 2.5 hours
Stealing the crown for the most-visited museum in England, the Tate’s vast halls display an impressive collection of contemporary and modern art from around the world. And if you’re not into modern art, it’s still worth a visit for the viewing deck on the top floor with free entry and an incredible view of London, stretching as far as Canary Wharf. Not to be missed!

Imperial War Museum London

Average visit time: 2-3 hours
Another impressive museum that should be on the top of your list. The first two floors have a large collection of memorabilia from World Wars 1 and 2 from the British perspective, including films, photographs and diaries. Check out the holocaust exhibition, the museum’s greatest attraction, which takes you through a haunting journey into the experiences of the soldiers and the victims.

Tower Hamlets Borough

Ragged School Museum

Average visit time: 1 hour
A personal favorite of mine in London, this was London’s first “ragged” school, or free school for the poverty-stricken, abandoned and orphaned children of London’s East End. The historical building still features an authentic Victorian classroom, where every first Sunday of the month, you can experience a lesson like it was given during Victorian times, a Victorian East End kitchen, photographs from it’s active days and stories of the many children who lived there, ledgers and notebooks used by the school, and most impressive of all, for me personally, a guest book with signatures going back to the late 1800’s. The museum gives you a vivid look into the life of the Victorian poor in East London.

Greenwich Borough

Royal Observatory Greenwich

Average visit time: 1-2 hours
First off, plan your visit such that you come before 1PM to be able to watch the historic time ball drop, a historic time-telling method used since theearly 1800s. While the observatory is ticketed, there’s still a lot to see and do in the area. Pay a visit to the Astronomy Center which has items of interest for everyone, including the “oldest object you’ll ever touch”. While the Prime Meridian Line is located inside the observatory gates, you’re still able to see it from the outside and also the Shepherd Gate Clock, one of the most important clocks in history and the first to tell the GMT time, which is located outside the observatory gates. Lastly, don’t miss out on one of the most spectacular and picturesque panoramic views of London from the yard right outside the observatory!

Queen’s House

Average visit time: 1.5 hours
A short walk from the observatory, the Queen’s House is a former royal residence and the birthplace of Queen Elizabeth I, built in the early 1600s by famous architect Inigo Jones. The building is breathtakingly beautiful from the inside and out, with stunning floors, ceilings, balconies and staircases. It’s made even more alluring with a great display of artwork that has been carefully displayed to match it’s brightly colored rooms, each having their own unique style. Don’t miss the three Armada portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, an important piece of art history. Keep your camera ready for some amazing photos in this stunning building!

National Maritime Museum

Average visit time: 1.5 hours
Apart from the stunning building itself, the museum, located next to the Queen’s House, is great for anyone who enjoys maritime history! From the beginning of sailing and ships, to the development of engines, maritime trade and maritime battles, this museum is worth a trip. With many engaging displays, it’s a great musuem for kids and adults to enjoy together!

Old Royal Navel College

Average visit time: 1/2 hour
While most of the galleries here are ticketed, if you’re in Greenwich you must stop by the old college, once a royal residence, and explore it’s beautiful riverside grounds, as well as the chapels of St Peter and St Paul to see the neoclassical architecture. If you’re willing to spend some of your budget here, check out the Painted Gallery, also called ‘Britian’s Sistine Chapel’ for its stunning interior!

Longplayer

Average visit time: 1/2 hour
A fascinating lighthouse that’s walking distance from Greenwich, where you’ll find the longest musical composition in the world, a 1000 years long to be exact, which started playing on December 31st, 1999 and will continue to play without repitition! You’ll also find 234 singing bowls that are part of the orchestral instrument and get to go to the viewing deck of the lighthouse where you can catch a beautiful sunset and views of the Thames. Read more about the Longplayer before you go.

Lewisham Borough

Horniman Museum and Gardens

Average visit time: 2-3 hours
Another one of my favorite spots in London, and while it’s a bit out of the way, it’s totally worth the trip! Start your visit by exploring the gardens, which feature the historic Dutch Barn, the Pavillion which offers great views of the city, many hidden sundials, the Animal Walk where you can see many furry friends, the Butterfly House, and the Nature Trail which is the oldest in London, and home to countless plants, animal and insect species that you can walk for a mile! It only gets better inside the museum, where the fantastic displays include the Music Gallery, the Natural History Gallery and the World Gallery, with items from all over the world spanning all of history! The museum also features a Sunday Market where you can find fresh, locally-sourced groceries and food!

Barking Borough

Valence House Museum

Average visit time: 1 hour
The only surving manor house in Dagenham, should you be in the area, and dating back to medieval times, it’s one of the most hidden gems in London. While small, it’s spectacular galleries feature the history of Barking and Dagenham from pre-historical times to the last occupation of the house. Today, it sits inside Valence Park, surrounded by a moat. Don’t miss out the ancient relics on display, found in the area, as well as a glimpse into the original walls of the house with unique drawings on them.

Ayesha Bilal
Ayesha Bilal

A 25 year expat, living currently in Turkey, and living my happiest life exploring the world, bit by bit, with my favorite travel buddy, and my partner, Argun. Follow my travel across England on FellowPrimo, and check out delicious recipes and the best spots to grab a bite around the world on HungryByAyesha.

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