London has a wide range of museums, covering everything from palaeontology to science; the majority of which are free to enter and peruse. As England’s capital city, London sees millions of tourists from all over the world visiting the city each year, and if you’re one of the many who enjoy weekend breaks in the capital here is my take on the best museums in London to check out while you’re there.
London’s museums can be found throughout the capital, although three major museums do share the common location of Exhibition Road in South Kensington. These three are the National History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. All are free of charge to visitors, although there are donation boxes at the entrances.
The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum has more than 70 million items, which fall into five main categories. These are palaeontology, zoology, botany, entomology and mineralogy. It is perhaps most famous for its palaeontology section, not least the huge replica of the diplodocus dinosaur that stands in the entrance hall.
In contrast, the Victoria and Albert Museum across the road is a museum of art and design. Exhibits range from clothes through the ages to furniture. It also has some sculpture. Occasionally, it has exhibitions on subjects such as architecture, for which you have to pay to attend.
The Science Museum
The Science Museum, the third museum in this location, is full of interactive exhibits, which makes it very popular with children of all ages. Exhibits fall into the four main categories of science, medicine, ICT and engineering.
The exhibits show how man has developed knowledge and understanding in all of these areas. Exhibits range from everyday objects to the Stephenson Rocket. Although entry to the museum is free, there is a charge for some sections, such as the IMAX cinema.
There is also a special section in the basement of the museum that is designed for those aged six and under and is perfect for those visiting with very young children.
The British Museum
The British Museum categorises itself as a museum of history and culture. It has over 13 million items in its exhibits, including world famous items such as the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. It has sectors on Ancient Egypt, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Ancient Greece and Rome.
Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum offers a fascinating insight into war. There is war memorabilia from wars in Britain’s imperial past as well as more recent conflicts. A major part of the museum is also dedicated to the first and second world war. There is also a part of the museum where you can see large exhibits, vehicles and weapons.
Part of the Imperial War Museum, although located separately, are the Churchill War Rooms. You can tour the rooms and there is also a museum. There is a charge for this of £14.50.
The Tate Gallery is the national museum of British and modern art. It is housed in two main venues in London, the Tate Modern on the South bank and the Tate Gallery in Pimlico. Along with the permanent exhibitions that are free, they often run special exhibitions that are charged for.
Currently there is an exhibition on John Martin: Heaven and Hell which runs until January 15th. Martin was a contemporary of Turner. The cost of entry is £12.70.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery, situated in Trafalgar Square, is a museum of Western painting from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. These include works by Vermeer, Monet, Cezanne and Titian. Although entry to the museum is free, entrance to special exhibitions are charged for.
There is currently a major exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, which runs from November 9th to February 5th. The cost of an adult ticket is £16.
The National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is located in Greenwich and offers a fascinating insight into Britain’s naval history. It includes exhibits on sea ships, astronomy and time.
These are some of the best known museums in London, but there are plenty more museums to be found throughout the capital, including the Museum of Transport, the Museum of London and the Bank of England Museum.
Despite everything else in London costing considerably more than most places in the country, at least some of the museums are free to enter, meaning you can help keep the cost of your stay down, and if you book early enough you can find some great deals on hotels in London, just make sure you shop around to find the best price!