London museums & galleries

Anyone with a thirst for history and culture will feel right at home amongst London’s world-beating museums and galleries. Here are a few of our favourites...

Museums

Consider yourself a mad scientist? Or are you mad for all things pretty in fashion and design? There are lots of museums in London that will tick all your boxes…

British Museum: the British Museum hosts one of the largest collections of human history and culture in the world, covering ancient Greece, Egyptian architecture, jade from China, and that’s barely scratching the surface. Entrance to the museum is free, but some of the special exhibitions you have to pay for, and it’s open 10am-5.30pm every day. The nearest Tube is Holborn Station.

Design Museum: a relatively new museum (founded in 1989) in comparison to the others in London, the Design Museum boasts permanent and pop-up exhibitions across product, fashion, graphic, architectural and industrial design. Open seven days a week from 10am-5.45pm, the museum costs £6.20 for kids and £12.40 for adults to enter, with free admission for the under 6s. The museum is the same distance from London Bridge, Bermondsey and Tower Hill Tube stations.

Science Museum: the Science Museum is another one of London’s great free museums, though you may have to pay if you want to see certain special exhibitions. It’s a great place to visit for kids, big and small, with a very hands-on approach to learning. Find out what makes you who you are in the Who Am I? area, or enter Energy Hall and marvel at the giant steam engines. Open 10am-6pm daily, the closest stations are South Kensington or Gloucester Road.

Imperial War Museum: The Imperial War Museum tells the unique and courageous stories of men and women through various wars and conflicts, with a focus on the world wars. Admission is absolutely free and the museum is open daily, 10am-6pm, except for three days over Christmas (24, 25 and 26 December) when it’s closed. It’s a quick walk from Tube stations Lambeth North, Waterloo, and Elephant and Castle.

HMS Belfast: ahoy, there! Step onboard this warship and explore nine decks of life at sea. See where shipmates slept, where the whole operation was led from, and take part in a simulation of the Battle of North Cape. The ship is open daily, from 10am, and tickets start at £15.50 for adults, with free entrance for the under 16s. It’s just a short walk from London Bridge or Tower Hill Tube stations.

Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum: dedicated to the decorative arts, the V&A is filled with beautifully thought-out articles and is a free museum to go to, with regular and fantastic pop-up exhibitions – some of which you may have to pay to get into. Open 10am-5.45pm daily, the closest Tube being South Kensington, it’s a visual feast to explore.

Natural History Museum: located within a short walking distance of both the V&A and Science Museum, the Natural History Museum gives a fascinating insight into natural sciences across botany, zoology, paleontology, entomology and mineralogy. And, the best part is that it’s free, with a charge for some exhibitions. Open every day from 10am-5.50pm, close to South Kensington Station.

Cutty Sark: the way this 19th-century ship has been set-up and conserved, you can not only go onboard to see what it was like for the crew, but you can also walk underneath the ship, and engage with interactive digital displays, to give you a full 360 experience. Open daily, from 10am-5pm, the Cutty Sark costs £7 for kids and £13.50 for adults. The nearest Tube station is Cutty Sark (on the DLR), but Greenwich Station, on the Overground from London Bridge, is also nearby.

Galleries

Is it a stroke? Is it a canvas? Is it art? All these questions you may ask yourself at one of the many contemporary and free art galleries in London, or if traditional art is more your thing, there’s plenty for you too…

Tate Modern: this dramatic space, situated along the South Bank, houses amazing contemporary works of art, with regular changing exhibits. Entrance is free and the gallery is open daily, from 10am. Entrance into special exhibitions is normally at a charge and Southwark is the nearest Tube station.

Tate Britain: located on Millbank, just along from the Houses of Parliament, Tate Britain displays historic British art, with a significant collection of Turner. But it also touches on contemporary work too. Admission is again free, but tickets for special exhibitions need to be purchased, and the gallery is open daily, between 10am-6pm.

National Gallery: open 361 days a year, from 10am each day, the National Gallery is on the north side of Trafalgar Square and a stone’s throw from Leicester Square and Covent Garden. It houses art from the 13th to the 19th century and maintains a vast collection of works, showing the trends and progression of art across the years. You can easily walk from either Charing Cross (the closest), Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus or Embankment stations. And the great thing is that general admission is free. 

The Photographer’s Gallery: the first gallery in the UK to be completely devoted to photography, the gallery is situated just off of Oxford Street, in London’s Soho, and spans over several floors. With a programme of events and exhibitions that change regularly, the gallery is open seven days a week, with varying opening hours depending on the day of the week. Entrance costs £4.50, but it’s free for the under 16s. However, there’s also completely free admission Monday-Friday between 10am-12pm, so time your visit right and you’ll save yourself a few pounds.

Hayward Gallery: part of the Southbank Centre, which also includes the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Poetry Library and the Purcel Rooms, the gallery building represents one of the last few remaining examples of 60s brutalist architecture. It displays stunning contemporary art and clever garden furniture designs and is open daily from 11am (12pm on Mondays). Tickets cost £7.50 for kids (under 12s go free) and £12 for adults. The nearest station is Waterloo.

The Barbican: the Barbican is more than just a gallery, supporting the arts across theatre, dance, film and music. With their history of interesting and experimental installations, their art gallery is well worth a visit, so see what they’ve got on when you’re in town. Ticket prices vary, as do their opening hours, so visit their website for more info. The nearest Tube station is Barbican.

Saatchi Gallery: another fantastic and free gallery in the heart of West London’s Chelsea, supporting young and emerging talent that may be unknown both to the general public and the art world. This gallery has made a big impact on the industry since it was founded. It’s open 10am-6pm every day, with last admission at 5.30pm, and the nearest Tube station is Sloane Square.