One of the best things about visiting London is that many of its world-class museums and galleries are free to visit. Whether you’re only in London for a short visit or just what to know about some of the upcoming exhibitions, these are the top must-see museums and galleries.
Below are my top picks for some of London’s best museums and galleries to visit in 2021 and 2022 – ranked in no particular order.
Gallery and Museum are two words that are often confused when it comes to their meanings and connotations.
A private gallery refers to an establishment that exhibits and sells the artwork of different artists. Galleries are funded by private individuals or organizations to earn a profit.
When one visits a gallery, one goes there to get to know an artist’s work and possibly buy some artwork.
On the other hand, the word museum is defined as “a place where artifacts are stored.”Artifacts can be anything from antiques, paintings, coins, zoological items to geological items and more.
Most of the museums are operated on a non-profit basis, and almost every country in the world has museums. These establishments are critical in helping share knowledge and history of the country with fellow citizens, as well as visitors.
The National Gallery opened in 1824, is home to more than 2,000 rare and precious painting masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.
When booking a trip to London, you definitely need to add a visit to this gallery to your list of things to see and do. It’s open every day from 10 am and 6 pm.
You’ll see works by western European masters of painting such as Da Vinci, Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Van Gogh. The Gallery is also home to many fabulous sculptures, such as statues of the first American President, George Washington, and 17th-century monarch, King James II.
Upcoming Exhibitions (free admission):
- After Impressionism (25 March – 13 August 2023
). The exhibition includes some of the most iconic works of art created between 1880 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
- Saint Francis of Assisi (6 May – 30 July 2023). One of the first-ever UK art exhibitions to explore Saint Francis of Assisi’s life and legacy
- The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance (16 March – 11 June 2023). This exhibition looks at Massys’s 16th-century depiction of an old woman, a painting known as ‘The Ugly Duchess’ next to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting: ‘An Old Man’.
2. Natural History Museum
This beautiful museum is famous for its ever-expanding collection includes more than 70 million botanical items, 55 million animal exhibits, nine million archaeological relics, and 500,000 rocks and minerals.
The museum has free admission every day from 10 am to 5 pm, but it’s best to book a free ticket in advance for guaranteed entry. You might also have to pay a small fee for special exhibitions.
The museum’s operations are kept running through donations and government funds.
Thanks to its stunning building, which has Romanesque architecture is similar to many religious buildings, the Natural History Museum has gained the nickname “A Cathedral to Science.”
Upcoming Exhibitions (paid):
- Dippy Returns: The nation’s favorite dinosaur (Ongoing – 2 January 2023). Experience Dippy’s memories of nature throughout the UK and see how different communities are connecting with it.
3. British Museum
Opened in 1759, the British Museum in London is the world’s oldest national public museum. It accommodates 8 million artifacts, including the world-famous Oxus Treasure, the Rosetta Stone, and the Elgin Marbles.
You can visit the museum any day of the week from 10 am to 5 pm. Given its popularity, it’s best to book a timed slot in advance to guarantee entry and help the management control the number of individuals who can visit.
An interesting fact about the British Museum: one of the sites considered for the museum’s construction was Buckingham House, which was later rebuilt as Buckingham Palace!
The Trustees settled on moving into Montague House, where the British Museum has now been for over 250 years.
Upcoming Exhibitions (free admission & paid):
- Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt (13 October 2022 – 19 February 2023). This major exhibition takes you through the trials and hard work that preceded, and the revelations that followed the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
4. Science Museum
Officially established in 1909, the Science Museum is packed full of impressive displays of human ingenuity, from steam engines to super-computers, rockets, cars, and more.
The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00–18.00 and every day during the school holidays.
Book a free ticket and experience the wonders of science and technology first-hand with the displays of more than 15,000 objects. The permanent collection includes must-see exhibits such as Amy Johnson’s Gipsy Moth plane, Black Arrow rocket, and the Iron Lung.
The museum has also held temporary exhibitions on typewriters, noise reduction, 3D Printing to Psychology, a giant 27ft horn loudspeaker, and even an exhibition about rubbish.
Upcoming Exhibitions (free admission)
- Science Fiction: Voyage To The Edge of Imagination (17 October 2022 – 4 May 2023) Join this dynamic and interactive voyage and gain a deeper understanding of how the global reach of scientific imagination inspires the future of tomorrow.
- Stephen Hawking at Work (Ongoing – 6 March 2023). Marvel at the extraordinary contents of Hawking’s office and leave with an insight into the working life of the world-renowned theoretical physicist
5.Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum hosts the world’s largest collections of applied and decorative arts (more than 2.3 million items, to be precise).
On your next trip to London, schedule some time ( Wednesday to Sunday (10:00 – 17:00) to explore its beautiful collections. This will be a perfect opportunity to retrace the history of creativity through fashion, furniture, sculpture, photography, jewelry, and more.
Make sure to spare some time to see the famous reproductions of famous effigies!
Did you know that the Victoria and Albert Museum has gone through several names and location changes over the decades? When it was established in 1852 at Marlborough House, it was called the Museum of Manufacturers.
A year later, it became the Museum of Ornamental Art. In 1857 it was moved to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and was renamed South Kensington Museum. It received its current name, the Victoria and Albert Museum, in 1899.
UPCOMING EXHIBTIONS (PAID)
- Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature (Ongoing – 8 January 2023). Go on a journey through the life and work of one of the most renowned children’s authors of the 20th century.
- Africa Fashion (Ongoing – 16 April 2023). Africa Fashion explores the vitality and global impact of a fashion scene as dynamic and varied as the continent itself.
We are halfway through our list. Just a quick note:
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6. Tate (Tate Modern)
Tate Modern is London’s center for modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present day. From Picasso’s “The Three Dancers,” Dali’s “Autumnal Canibbalism,” to Rothko’s “The Seagram Murals,” Tate Modern is a one-stop shop for modern art lovers.
A crucial point to note about Tate Modern is its preferred way of displaying its contemporary art collection. Instead of following a chronological order, the artwork is displayed by theme.
This means 21st Century art can be found right next to works from the early 20th century as long as they share a similar theme. The themes are regularly altered, so expect a frequent change of displays as well.
Tate Modern also has an online store where you can shop books, prints, jewelry, and homeware created by their extensive team of artists.
Tate Modern offers a wide variety of events and exhibitions:
- Free displays
- Private views
Just make sure to book your preferred event in advance to avoid last-minute disappointment.
7. Museum of London
Open from 10 am-5 pm, Wednesday-Sunday, the Museum of London sets the history of London at your feet.
The interactive displays allow visitors to travel through time and witness London’s evolution from prehistoric times, through the Middle Ages and the Victorian era, up to the present day.
The Museum of London is actually comprised of three separate museums. The first is the main museum at the Barbican complex.
The second is the Docklands Museum, which focuses on the history of the docks and how they influenced transport and trade.
The third location is the Museum of London Archaeology, an outreach of the museum that assists with archaeological explorations across the United Kingdom.
To be updated soon.
8. Imperial War Museums
The Imperial War Museum was established in 1917 as the First World War was still being fought.
At the museum, you’ll discover the troubled history of wars—from the First World War to the present day—through the captivating displays of the war stories.
The Imperial War Museum explores key moments of the 20th-century wars and presents its visitors with facts and context from both sides of the conflict. It’s free entry for everyone from Wednesday to Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.
Upcoming Exhibitions (free admission and paid):
- War Games: Real Conflicts | Virtual Worlds | Extreme Entertainment: (30 September 2022 – 28 May 2023) The UK’s first exhibition to explore what video games can tell us about war and conflict through a series of titles that, over the last forty years, have reflected events from the First World War to the present.
- The Holocaust Galleries: (Ongoing) Private tour outside museum hours that give you exclusive access to the extensive Holocaust Galleries.
9. Horniman Museum and Gardens
The Horniman Museum and Gardens is a true hidden gem! It first opened as the Surrey House Museum in 1890 in the Horniman family residence. In 1901 it changed its name to the Horniman Museum when it re-opened in a new purpose-built museum building.
It is now home to an enormous collection of 350,000 objects, including musical, anthropology, and natural history artifacts and even a gigantic walrus.
The museum hosts a variety of special exhibitions, festivals, shows, workshops, and activities every year. Entrance to the Museum and Gardens is free, but you’ll need to book your entry ticket to the museum in advance.
There is also a small charge for visiting the Aquarium, Butterfly House, and some events.
Horniman’s management is environmentally conscious and reuses 187,000 liters of wastewater from the Aquarium’s water filters each year to water the 16 acres of Gardens.
Ongoing Exhibitions (free admission)
- Dolphin Head Mountain (Ongoing – April 2023) Dolphin Head Mountain is a shifting display by London-based artist Harun Morrison. It shares his immersion in the ‘backstage’ areas of the Museum including the collection stores, piles of out-of-print publications, and curators’ offices
10. National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum showcases Britain’s naval history, from sea battles to exploratory expeditions. It forms part of “Royal Museums Greenwich,” which also includes the historic sailing ship Cutty Sark, the Queen’s House, and the Royal Observatory (home of the Prime Meridian).
The collections of the National Maritime Museum are diverse and extensive. On your visit, expect to see ancient maps, ship models, nautical instruments, and cartography records.
And don’t fail to check out the iconic coat Nelson wore the day of the Battle of Trafalgar when he faced off against the combined French and Spanish fleet off the southwest coast of Spain.
Ongoing Exhibitions (free admission)
- Astronomy Photographer of the Year (August – September Yearly). Visit the museum to see this annual exhibition showcasing the world’s 100 most extraordinary space photographs.
- Exposure: Lives at Sea (ongoing). This is a photography exhibition that showcases the lives of different people who spent a lot of time working at sea.
Planning a Trip to London
Travel Hack: Do Londoners Give Tips?
London does not have a huge gratuity or tipping culture.
Sometimes a discretionary service charge will be added to your restaurant bill, so do read the receipt carefully. You can ask for it to be taken off if the service you received wasn’t good.
If your bill doesn’t include a service charge and you were pleased with the food and the service, you may leave a 10-15% tip.
You may tip taxis, porters, housekeepers, concierges & door staff at your discretion. Typically, Londoners do not tip in pubs, for fast food, self-service or takeout meals.
Did you find that travel tip helpful? Then you’ll want to download my Ultimate Guide to London. I’ve crafted this gorgeously stylish resource to spark your imagination and inspire your next adventure.
Plan Your Next Trip Stress-Free
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