Museums in London

04 Jun Top 10 museums and Galleries in London

London is surely home to one of the world’s finest collection of museums and art galleries, most of which remain totally free to enter[1]. You could stay in London for several weeks and still not manage to take in everything and, in addition to the world-renowned big hitters, which we will cover in more detail here, there are numerous museums in London devoted to more specific interests. From the  weird to the wonderful for almost every interest you care to mention including *deep breath* Surgery, toys, film, architecture, brands, dentistry, crime, interior design, transport, Freemasonary, magic , sewing, zoology, Sherlock Holmes, Banking, gardening, rugby, Florence Nightingale, fashion, cricket, horology and war.

So, it’s safe to say that London will probably have something for you. However, if your interests are more general, and you want to get a broad experience of British art, history, and culture, here is our guide to the best museums and galleries in London, albeit with a couple more niche ones thrown in for good measure.

  1. The National Portrait Gallery

The largest collection of portraits in the world, the NPG presents a fascinating visual record of the people who have shaped British history, including monarchs, Politicians, and notable personalities from the worlds of culture, media, sport, literature and many other areas. It is often less crowded than the National Gallery and you can easily spend a few hours wandering the galleries undisturbed.

  1. The British Museum

 

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The British were an inquisitive and adventurous bunch and have long since been casting off from these shores to all corners of the earth. The British Museum houses a unique collection of the most significant finds by Britons from around the world and offers a truly fascinating journey through two million years of human history and culture. Here you can see artefacts from the world of the Egyptians, Vikings, Greeks, Romans, Moors and many more, assembled together in a breath-taking setting.

  1. The V&A 

 

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This museum houses a beautiful range of pieces that showcase 5,000 years of human creativity.  The building itself is a work of art and the artefacts from the world of interior design and the decorative arts, including costume, jewellery, fashion, furniture and photography will offer something of interest to almost everyone. There are regularly changing exhibitions from fashion houses such as Dior and Mary Quant (although these are sometimes charged extra), which you can find detail of on the website. There is also a very nice garden and café.

  1. Tate Britain and Tate Modern 

 

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Both these galleries are worth spending some time at, but if your time in London (or your appreciation of art) is limited most people will choose the one that appeals to them most.

The Tate Britain is home to the national collection of British art from the 16th Century to the present day. It contains the largest collection of work by JMW Turner, one of our most celebrated landscape painters, as well as work by Gainsborough, Constable, Hockney, Moore and many of the other British greats. There is a large international collection including Rossetti, Picasso, Rothko and Lichtenstein and much to appeal to the love of Modern Art as well as more traditional.

If your love of Art is strictly 20th Century then head to the Tate Modern. If you’re in Central London then the walk alone will take you past St Paul’s, the Old Globe and across the river, making it a pleasant place to make your way to, with some beautiful views from the 10th floor. Inside is a highly diverse and though provoking collection which will no doubt spark interest and debate and you will be sure to find something of interest.

Again, both these galleries are free, with donations suggested. The temporary exhibitions are usually chargeable and can be busy so try to book in advance or visit out of peak times.

  1. National Gallery

 

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This collection of European Art from the 13th to the 19th Centuries, the National Gallery is one of London’s (and the world’s) most celebrated galleries including work by Van Gogh, Stubbs, Van Eyck. The gallery is free and can often be busy with tourists and school groups so if you want a less crowded experience try going before 11am or after 4pm.

  1. Natural History Museum

 

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Arguably the best museum of its kind in the world, there is really enough in this museum to fill a whole day or several separate visits. Whatever the ages of your party, they will be captivated by the range of exhibits – many of which are interactive. Again, this is a free museum, with some exhibitions that you can pay for, there is also an ice rink in the winter months which is well worth a visit.

  1. Imperial War Museum

 

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Telling stories from both a national, political and personal perspective from conflicts of the last 100 years, the London branch of the Imperial War Museums is set over five floors and explores all aspects of the horror of war, there are also interesting and thought provoking sections on espionage, artillery, terrorism and the Holocaust

  1. The Design Museum

 

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The Design Museum charts the development of all aspects of design from architecture, product development, consumer goods, graphic, fashion, automotive, technology and much more. It is interesting to see every day items placed alongside each other to see how the designs have evolved. A really fascinating museum, often less busy than the others, with something to interest all ages and, again free! Holland Park itself is also a beautiful and tranquil park with a Japanese garden and nice play area. Open daily 10:00 – 18:00 Last admission 17:00. The museum is open late on the first Friday of every month until 20:00.

  1. Museum of Childhood

 

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Although a little further out of central London and away from the larger museums, this hidden gem in east London is a charming and nostalgic walk through toys from the 18th to 20th Centuries. This is less a museum for younger children, as there is less interaction than some of the other museums covered above, however, anyone past a certain age or with an interest in the history of toys will find it fascinating.

  1. Horniman Museum and Gardens

 

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Again, slightly off the beaten track in South East London, but if you find yourself in this area it is well worth a visit to this collection of anthropology, taxidermy, natural history and musical instruments. There is a butterfly house, small aquarium and farm (some areas are chargeable but a family ticket is around £40) making it a very family friendly museum. There are also lovely outdoor areas with beautiful vistas over the city.

 

*These institutions do encourage donations and £5 per head, or £15-20 for a family is generally accepted to be reasonable*

Grace Tebbutt

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