One of the most fantastic things about London is that nearly all the public museums and galleries are free.
1. The National Gallery
Located on Trafalgar Square and with one of the best collections of painting anywhere in the world, the National Gallery is free which means you can return several times to cover the whole collection. A great place for avoiding the rain!
2. History Museum
One of the most popular and best of London’s museums, it’s located in Kensington near the V&A and the Science Museum. The queues can get very long so plan your trip.
It opened in 1753 and has never charged for entry except for some special exhibitions. These days the central courtyard is enclosed under a wonderful glass roof and you can head upstairs and have traditional English afternoon tea (unfortunately that’s not free).
4. Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A is the applied arts museum and has fashion, furniture, stained glass, jewelery, as well as sculpture and photography. You’ll always find lots of people sitting sketching as you wander through.
5. Tate Modern
The jewel in the contemporary art crown in London, the Tate Modern is riverside in a redeveloped power station, complete with tall brick chimney so it’s easy to find. The collection is great, the views from the cafes equally good.
6. Tate Britain
As the name suggests this museum a little way upriver focuses on British art. There is a boat (not free) running between the two Tate Galleries.
7. Saatchi Gallery
Over in Chelsea in a historic building, this is the brainchild of famous art collector Charles Saatchi. It’s free because he wants everyone to love art as much as he does. What they show is often so contemporary that it’s challenging. Exhibits change a few times a year.
8. National Portrait Gallery
Head inside and up the escalator for the free collection of famous faces from Britain’s past and present.
9. Museum of London
This is the world’s largest museum about a city. Not far from St Paul’s Cathedral with seven permanent exhibitions, all free. Also with a second site at Docklands.
10. RAF Museum
If you like planes head to this airfield in northwest London to see over 100 aircrafts and learn the history of flight in their sound and light spectacular.
11. Welcome Collection
A very well regarded collection of paintings and artifacts focused on the history of health and medicine. Some free events are ticketed due to popularity.
12. Geffrye Museum
The museum of the home: eleven rooms chronicling the different domestic environments through periods of history. They also have herb and period gardens, and usually do special Christmas decorations.
13. Imperial War Museum
A popular attraction charting the history of Britain and the world in conflict.
14. Kenwood House
On the edge of Hampstead Heath this is a lovely house with an excellent painting collection including Vermeer, Rembrandt and Turner. A good café too.
15. National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory and Queen’s House
A trip downriver to Greenwich is definitely worthwhile especially with the wonderful complex of free historic buildings and museums. The restored clipper ship Cutty Sark has just reopened to visitors though it’s not free.
16. Wallace Collection
Just off Oxford Street, this is a collection of 17th and 18th century French pictures, porcelain, furniture and a whole room of armor.
Although the permanent collections are free, most of these museums charge for their special exhibitions – you would be wise to book ahead for the very popular ones.