You can’t come to London without dipping into one or two of its world-class museums and galleries. Whatever your interests: from art to architecture, F1 to fashion, dinosaurs to design icons, there’s a museum here for you. And lots of them are free. Plus they have wonderful cafes and shops too. Here’s a selection of the best free museums in London.
Central London has a spectacular array of museums and art galleries. Whatever your interest you’ll find something here to capture your imagination. And most amazing of all? You can enter the majority of the great London museums for free. Their temporary exhibitions may often carry a separate charge but the permanent collections in London’s free museums are open to the public year round.
I’ve lived in London all my adult life and my sons have grown up here, so unsurprisingly I’ve been to lots of London’s free museums on repeat. Here I’ve divided them into neighbourhoods to make it easier for you to plan your next London itinerary.
Free museums in West London
South Kensington, to the west of London, has no less than three of London’s major museums, and plenty more cultural finds. You could easily spend all day here.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Best free London museum for: art history and fashion
The V&A, as it’s universally known, is loved by London’s fashionistas for its blockbuster shows. Christian Dior, ocean liners, the role of divas, Chanel: its roll call of deeply researched and gorgeously presented exhibitions is memorable.
But the thing about the V & A is that true to its Victorian roots it also holds a vast – and free – permanent collection of decorative arts from all over the world. You can visit the fashion room with Jane Austen-style everyday gowns and iconic couture. Or view the Cast Courts: Victorian plaster reproductions of some of the most epic sculptures in the world from Michelangelo’s David to the massive Trajan’s Column from Rome.
Don’t miss: not free, but try to see one of the V & A’s famous exhibitions, though you may need to book months in advance.
Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL
Best free London museum for: Space exploration kit
You don’t need to be a scientist to enjoy the Science museum. From Tim Peake’s Soyuz landing capsule to the search for a Covid vaccine it covers a broad remit and is very family-orientated. To get the best from the Science museum – especially with children – you’ll want to visit a paid-for interactive exhibition like Wonderlab. But you can still pop in for an hour or two to enjoy the free displays.
Don’t miss: The medieval clock mechanism, dated 1390, from Wells Cathedral. It still chimes every 15 minutes.
Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD
Natural History Museum
Best free museum in London for: dinosaurs
Worth a visit for the epic Victorian building alone, the NHM’s entrance hall is a cathedral-like space watched over by a statue of Charles Darwin. Look out for the terracotta gargoyles on the exterior and the teaming wildlife in the architectural embellishments. The museum is famous for its dinosaur gallery with its animated T Rex and adults can learn just as much as children here. But there’s much more: from the story of the Earth and evolution to the balance of nature and the environment.
Don’t miss: the Hogwarts-style Hintze Gallery: you half expect those staircases to start moving. And literally feel the earth move in the earthquake simulator.
Cromwell Rd, London SW7 5BD
Design Museum Kensington
Best free London museum for: design icons
This is a small museum that you can easily fit into a shopping visit to Kensington High Street. Founded by Terence Conran, it celebrates modern design and its role in everyday life. You can try your hand at designing a car or see how a 3D printer works. Its 1960s modernist home, the former Commonwealth Institute, is worth a visit itself.
Don’t miss: see if you agree with the crowd sourced ‘most important objects’ display at the entrance.
224-238 Kensington High St, London W8 6AG
National Army Museum
This is the museum of the British Army, sited in Chelsea next to the Royal Hospital, home of the army veterans known as the Chelsea Pensioners. It asks: Could you be a soldier? And helps you decide through artefacts and stories from the Civil War to present day.
Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT
Free Museums in London
Best free London museum for: antiquities from all over the world
There’s two million years of human history around the world here and you can stroll 50 galleries full of treasures. School groups go straight to the Egyptian mummies, whilst there’s always a crowd around the Rosetta Stone. But my favourites are the Anglo-Saxon wonders from Sutton Hoo, the Lewis chessmen and the Parthenon Sculptures from ancient Greece, also known as the controversial Elgin Marbles. Find it in leafy Bloomsbury, close to Russell Square.
Don’t miss: the glorious glass and steel roof of the Great Court, designed by Foster and Partners. It complements the original neo-classical building and together they form the largest covered public square in Europe.
Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG
Best free London museum for: a quiet read
Not just any library, this is a treasure trove of some of the most significant books, manuscripts, maps and recordings in the world. Head to the Treasures of the British Library room to see its greatest hits.
Don’t miss: King John’s Magna Carta from 1215, and lyrics by Lennon and McCartney
96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Best free London museum for: Grand Tour vibes
Sir John Soane was the Regency architect who designed the Bank of England, and this extraordinary building was his home. A keen collector, to put it mildly, Soane filled his house with art, architectural models and antiquities. A master of small-space living his ingenious panel system allowed him to hang 118 paintings in one small room. And his collection includes Hogarths, Turners and Canalettos. He bequeathed the house to the nation and it hasn’t altered since his death in 1837.
Don’t miss: the candlelit tours, not free but an atmospheric way to experience this Georgian collection as Soane himself would have enjoyed it.
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP
Free Art Galleries in London
Best free London museum for: 500 years of British art
From Hogarth, Turner and Constable to the pre-Raphaelites. Lowry and Hockney, Tate Britain is the place to discover British art through time. You’ll find much loved favourites like Singer Sargent’s luminous Carnation Lily, Lily Rose, along with the work of lesser known stars like Mary Beale, a professional female portrait painter in the 17th century.
Don’t miss: Art buffs can hop on the Tate to Tate boat which runs a shuttle service on the Thames river between the Tate Britain and Tate Modern.
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
Best free museum in London for: modern and contemporary art and installations
Dramatic commissions hold centre-stage in the vast Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, a former Bankside power station. Families, students, sightseers and locals all flock here to the tune of nearly 4 million visitors a year. The galleries are arranged by theme rather than date so dive in to see ever-changing displays of art by the likes of Picasso, Warhol, Dali and Rothko. Take a map: it’s not the easiest museum to navigate.
Don’t miss: the additional grandstand views of St Paul’s and the river Thames.
Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Best free London museum for: famous masterpieces
The National Gallery, standing in the centre of London in Trafalgar Square has one of the world’s greatest collections of Western European paintings. You’ll find over 2300 works of art here dating from the 13th to early 20th centuries.
Don’t miss: some of the most famous paintings in the world: Sunflowers by Van Gogh, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus and The Umbrellas by Renoir.
Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
National Portrait Gallery
Best free London museum for: close ups of famous names
This newly re-opened gallery is one of my favourites in London. Images are chosen according to the subject rather than the artist: these are people who’ve made history in Britain. From Shakespeare and Anne Boleyn to Grayson Perry’s Map of Days, a self portrait of what’s going on inside his head, it adds up to an engrossing visit. Get a map: like Tate Modern, I find it easy to get lost in here.
Don’t miss: To see the collection chronologically start at the top and work down, you’ll pass an Antony Gormley figure above the escalator.
St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE
Royal Academy of Arts
Best free London museum for:
The RA was first formed by and for artists and sculptors in 1768. It is still run by 80 elected Royal Academicians, all leading names in art and architecture. Current RAs include Thomas Heatherwick, Sir Anish Kapoor and Tracey Emin.
The RA is a prestigious post-graduate art school, it supports new artists and holds a mind-boggling collection of more than 30,000 works of art, displayed on rotation in its free-to-enter permanent collection.
Don’t miss: the Summer Exhibition one of the key summer events in London in June. Anyone can submit a work to be hung and successful candidates can find themselves sharing gallery space with legends of the art world. You’ll need to buy a ticket but the Summer Exhibition is a must-do on the London social season.
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
Best free London museum for: a stately home collection
Tucked away behind Selfridges in Marylebone is a grand townhouse that was once the private residence of an aristocratic family. Their home is now a public museum with a rich and lively collection of art amassed over generations. From armour to Old Masters you’ll find something to enjoy here.
Don’t miss: Fragonard’s The Swing, considered very naughty in its time and newly restored. And make time for lunch or afternoon tea in the lovely cafe in the covered courtyard. It’s worth a visit in its own right if you’re in Marylebone.
Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN
Free Museums and Galleries in the City of London
Best free London museum for: Romans in London
In 1954 a Roman Temple of Mithras was discovered during building work. It was dismantled, moved 100 metres and an office block was built in its place. In 2010 Bloomberg returned the Temple to its original position, below the street, to become a permanent exhibition space within their new headquarters. It’s one of the few significant traces left of the Romans in London. This is a relatively quick immersive experience conjuring Roman temple rites.
Don’t miss: the Roman writing tablets, including evidence of an early financial deal in the City!
12 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AA
Guildhall Art Gallery
Best free London museum for: a Roman amphitheatre
This small gallery is home to the City of London’s art collection which includes many Victorian paintings including Pre-Raphaelites as well as fascinating images of London itself.
As an added bonus you can see the remnants of a Roman amphitheatre in the basement. It was discovered in 1988 when work began to re-develop the art gallery. Nowadays it’s cleverly displayed and is just a short walk from the Mithraeum if you plan to see both London’s major Roman sites.
Don’t miss: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s masterpiece La Ghirlandata
Guildhall Yard, London EC2V 5AE
Museum of London – temporarily closed
The Museum of London is moving from its old site on London Wall to a new complex in the Victorian market buildings at West Smithfield. It will re-open in 2026 as the London Museum.
South and East London Free Museums
Young V & A
Best free London museum for: a child’s eye view
Newly transformed from the Museum of Childhood, the Young V & A has become a museum for children rather than about them. The collections that illuminate childhood across the centuries are still there, but alongside are interactive displays, mainly for younger children.
Don’t miss: the street of dolls houses
Cambridge Heath Rd, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PA
Museum of London Docklands
Best free London museum for: London social history
Flying the flag whilst the Museum of London moves to its new site, this outpost in Canary Wharf appropriately occupies an old sugar warehouse. It conjures up the teeming and vibrant life around the docks and river in the days when they were the heart of London’s commercial success.
Don’t miss: the recreated Victorian street of Sailortown
No 1, West India Quay, Hertsmere Rd, London E14 4AL
Imperial War Museum
Best free London museum for: a close-up look at battlefield conflict
For obvious reasons a visit to the IWM can be moving and disturbing in equal measure. It focuses on modern warfare from WW1 to the present day and looks at the toll it takes on individuals and populations as well as combatants. But it’s about individual heroism as well as loss and you can get immersed in the rich details here as well as being awestruck by the machinery on display.
Don’t miss: the secret agents, especially from days gone by, when success relied on courage and great ingenuity.
Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ
Museum of the Home
The development of domestic homes and gardens through time is shown in this small museum in Hoxton. Fits neatly into an east London itinerary as it’s around 20 mins walk from Brick Lane.
136 Kingsland Rd, London E2 8EA
Free Museums on the outskirts of London
Royal Museums Greenwich
The historic museum complex in Greenwich is good reason to take a boat trip along the Thames. Maritime Greenwich is a UNESCO World Heritage site and includes several free entrance museums as well as paid-for attractions like the Cutty Sark clipper and Planetarium.
- The National Maritime Museum the history of the UK’s seagoing exploits
- The Queen’s House a world-class art collection in a classically stunning 17th century villa
- Old Royal Naval College the Painted Hall here has been called the UK’s Sistine Chapel and featured in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon
Lots to see with six hangars of planes, artifacts and stories to explore from the early days of flight to the present.
Grahame Park Way, NW9 5LL
Map of London’s Free Museums
Top Tips for Visiting London’s Free Museums
- Although all the museums I’ve listed are officially free, that doesn’t mean they aren’t very grateful for donations. You’ll find that most have collecting boxes by the main entrance.
- Many of London’s free museums have very good in-house shops and cafes. Support their work by investing in stylish London souvenirs and excellent coffee, cake and lunches.
- Before your visit, check the website for opening days and times, some of the smaller museums may not be open every day. Others offer late opening on some days of the week.
- Many museums offer free enhancements like ’10 minute talks’ or free tours at certain times of day.
- Smaller galleries may also request that you book in advance to ensure you can get in at busier times.
- Plan ahead and book tickets to a paid-for exhibition or two during your stay.
Since 2001 all the UK’s national museums offer free entrance although some exhibitions and displays may be charged at an additional fee. Not all museums in London are free since some don’t belong to the state.
The British Museum holds a collection of more than 3 million objects making it one of the biggest in the world.
No, the British Museum holds a collection of art and artifacts from around the world. The Museum of London (when it re-opens in 2026) and Museum of London Docklands, both concentrate on the history of our city itself.
Please note that all visitor information here is for guidance only. Please check the relevant websites for the most up to date information on tickets, entrance requirements, opening times etc.
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About the author Nancy Roberts is a former women’s magazine editor and writer. She lives in London and is mum to two 20-something boys. In Map&Family she shares info and inspiration for curious travellers: singles and couples as well as families travelling with teens and young adults.
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