Museums in London

Many of the museums in London scrapped their entrance fees a number years ago, so you can now enjoy their many wonderful exhibits for free! (Although, as with many galleries in London, special exhibits usually require paid tickets.) There are a cluster of museums in South Kensington, so you may like to combine a visit to these in one day (although you’ll probably be exhausted by all you’ve learnt…). Here are some of the best museums in London to visit.

British Museum FREE
Great Russell Street, WC1
Underground: Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road
The most visited museum in London…in fact, this is one of the most visited attractions in the whole of Britain! (About six million people visit it yearly.) The museum is so vast, you may simply want to head for the most famous exhibits, such as the Elgin MarblesPortland Vase and the Rosetta Stone. Equally impressive is the main entrance, which leads into the glass-domed Great Court. History addicts may do well to purchase a guide at the museum store to aid their viewing. The British Museum has a number of online, interactive guides about its various subjects, including those on Ancient EgyptAncient India and Mesapotamia. The Museum also does very good ticketed exhibits (which usually run for a few months); I went to see the one on Hadrian’s Wall in 2008 which was fascinating. These special exhibitions are very popular so tend to get quite busy – go during the day, if you can!

Design Museum
28 Shad Thames SE1
Underground: Tower Hill or London Bridge
Spectacular, modern museum, showcasing the very best of design – be that fashion, graphic, art, technical or architecture. Great location by the Thames, too.

Imperial War Museum FREE
Lambeth Road, SE1
Underground: Lambeth North
A museum housing war and military exhibitions may not be top on your list of things to see and do, but much here is fascinating, particularly the experiences of World War I and II. A exhibition of a British home from the 1940s – a reconstruction of one that was featured in a British television show – is one of the many additional special displays. The Museum also has a cinema that shows various war-related films, and events (such as talks, film seasons) are also held regularly, although paid tickets need to be booked in advance for these.

London Transport Museum
Covent Garden Piazza, WC2
Underground: Covent Garden
As you may expect, this museum covers the history of the different types of transport that have existed in London since the early 1800s. There are both permanent displays, showing many of the vehicles that were used in the past, and special exhibitions that take place at various times during the year. There are also activities for children that are included in the admission price. Great for families, though tickets do tend to be a bit on the pricey side. If you’re a transport geek (like me!) then it’s well worth it. If you’re very into the history of London’s transport system, then you could also visit the Museum Depot at Acton which serves as a kind of over-spill area for the main museum, featuring posters, vehicles, signs and so on. It’s not open every weekend, however, although there are guided tours and open days – check the website for when you can go.

Museum of London FREE
London Wall, EC2Y 5HN
Underground: Barbican
Seeing as you’re visiting London, why not spend some time learning a bit more about it’s history? This fascinating museum tells the story of London from 1666 to the present day through a variety of exhibits. Following a £20 million revamp, the Galleries of Modern London (reopened May 2010) means there’s no better time to go!

Natural History Museum FREE
Cromwell Road SW7
Underground: South Kensington
Opened in 1881 to display the British Museum’s natural history collection, this huge museum has had several high-tech refits since. Perhaps best to go in summer to avoid the school groups (which have – in the past – included me!), highlights are the Creepy-Crawly, Human Biology, Ecology and Earth galleries.

Royal Air Force Museum FREE
Grahame Park Way, NW9 5LL
Underground: Colindale
The Royal Air Force Museum has a wonderful collection of over 100 aircraft (new and old) and aviation memorabilia, plus a number of interactive exhibits – it’s a great day out for aircraft enthusiasts. Situated on the site of the London Aerodrom, it’s only 30 minutes from central London.

Science Museum FREE
Exhibition Road SW7
Underground: South Kensington
An endearing memory of the Science Museum for me is the countless school trips to the Launch Pad, a hands-on and fun experience of science, especially aimed at children. However, as you would expect, this museum is crammed full of science and technology exhibits from the past, present and future which means it’s plenty of fun for the “big kids” too.

Victoria & Albert Museum FREE
Cromwell Road SW7
Underground: South Kensington
Another one of the fabulous museums located in South Kensington, the V&A Museum (it’s shortened name) contains the world’s greatest collection of decorative arts as well as the national sculpture collection. Check the website for the latest new exhibitions, and those that are to open soon.