We spend a lot of time carping on about all the negative things that governments have do, from the Iraq War to austerity, and from Brexit to Brexit to more Brexit. But everyone agrees that one of the most positive government initiatives of recent times was to make museums free (well, that and the NHS). Unlikely champion of free museums was Tony Blair and it was one of the first policies the 1997 New Labour government enacted when it came to power, and the result has been far-reaching and nearly entirely positive. Boris take note! Here are some of London’s best free museums…
The grand daddy (or maybe that should be mummy? – they’ve got loads), is one of the world’s greatest museums, with a collection lovingly assembled, collected and looted across the best part of two centuries to bring together a unique insight into world history.
Where: Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, WC1B 3DG
The RAF Museum at Hendon really needs to be on your radar. The huge museum (which overflows into a second site in Shropshire) charts the Royal Air Force through its first 100 years with more planes, models and exhibits than you can shake a Bloodhound Missile at.
Where: Royal Air Force Museum, Grahame Park Way, London NW9 5LL, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Colindale (0.9 miles)
Sat on Manchester Square, just off Oxford Street, The Wallace Collection is well worth a visit. The national museum is a collection of works of art collected over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the Marquesses of Hertford and descendent Sir Richard Wallace and displayed at the grand Hertford House. It’s unexpected and glorious!
Where: Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Bond Street (0.4 miles)
Formerly one of London’s main power stations, the monster turbines have given way to masterpieces as the huge structure has been repurposed as the heart of modern art in London. One of the four Tate galleries (including two outside London, in St Ives and Liverpool), the Tate Modern concentrates on international modern and contemporary art. There’s also a great skyline restaurant.
Where: Bankside, SE1 9TG
Guaranteed to keep children and adults engaged, entertained and engrossed for the foreseeable. The South Kensington museum opened in 1857 as The Patent Office Museum and has since morphed into the world’s leading museum of science, invention and innovation.
Where: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, United Kingdom
Nearest station: South Kensington (0.4 miles)
Founded 150 years before selfies were even a thing, the National Portrait Gallery houses the nation’s premier collection of portraits of the men and women who have contributed the most to British history and culture. With stunning old masters as well as contemporary depictions, the central London gallery is a must-visit to tourists and seasoned Londoners alike.
Where: St Martin's Place, Charing Cross, WC2H 0HE
The accolade of world’s leading art and design museum is thoroughly deserved. The vast collection of over two million objects cover 5,000 years of human history and creativity and the museum showcases the very best design throughout the ages.
Where: Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, SW7 2RL
London makes sure that art sits right at the centre of British life, by placing the National Gallery right in the epicentre of the capital’s beating heart. Dominating the north side of Trafalgar Square, and within sight of parliament and Buckingham Palace, not to mention within close proximity of cultural and financial centres, the National Gallery houses some of the greatest artworks in the world.
Where: Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, WC2N 5DN
Tate Britain is one of the country’s largest museums, occupying a large site in Milbank, a short walk from Parliament. Founded as the National Gallery of British Art, the gallery changed its name in 1933 to honour founder Sir Henry Tate. The gallery showcases the best of British artwork, as well as being the home of the Turner Prize exhibition each year.
Where: Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RG
Dippy is dead, long live the blue whale! Well, to be fair, they’re both dead, but the famous diplodocus skeleton that dominated the main entrance hall of the Natural History Museum has been replaced with the equally impressive ‘Hope’, the skeleton of a blue whale and, like everything else at the museum, it’s a sight to behold. Founded to educate Victorian Britain about the natural world at the end of a century of discovery, the museum remains the leading natural history museum on the planet with over 80 million specimens that span billions of years. Look out for their ‘lates’ sessions and regular ‘sleepovers’!
Where: Cromwell Road, South Kensington, SW7 5BD