London has some of the best museums and galleries in the world

From the famous British Museum to the fairly recent Tate Modern art gallery, there is something of interest to everyone. And the great news is that most of the museums and galleries are free to visit, unless you wish to see a special exhibition.

London’s museums are located on both sides of the river Thames, and from the East End to West London. There are quite a few grouped near each other in Kensington, including the Science Museum, the Museum of Natural History (used as a backdrop in many films) and the Victoria and Albert museum.

The British Museum

The British Museum was founded in 1753 and began with three privately-owned public collections.Over the next fifty years, Egyptian antiquities and the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in Athens were added.

The museum now holds around 13 million items of historical interest.It is also an impressive building, particularly since the transformation of the Round Reading Room following the opening of the new British Library in 1997.

Map and Street Views
Nearest underground stations: Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street

The Tate Modern

Part of the group of galleries known as Tate, this gallery was opened in 2000 in the old Bankside power station on the south bank.

It houses modern artwork including abstraction, expressionism, minimalism, cubism and pop art.

Map and Street Views
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

The Museum of London

Step inside the Museum of London for an unforgettable journey through the capital’s turbulent past.

The Museum tells London’s story from 1666 to the present day.

The museum includes prehistoric, Roman and medieval London galleries, as well as events and exhibitions for all ages including London’s Burning, a special exhibition which explores the Great Fire of London.

Nearest underground stations: Barbican, St Pauls

Tate Britain

The first of the Tate galleries, Tate Britain was opened in 1897 on its current site, on the site of Millbank Prison.

It displays historic and contemporary British art from 1500 to the present day, including art by David Hockney and Tracey Emin.

Nearest underground station: Pimlico

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design.

Its permanent collection of over 4 million items spans 5000 years and every continent.

It holds items such as costumes, ceramics, prints, photographs and drawings and houses the world’s largest collection of post classical sculpture.

Nearest underground station: South Kensington

National Gallery

Established in 1824, Britain’s National Gallery contains over 2,000 paintings, from the Early Renaissance to the Post-Impression periods.

Though the collection is small by comparison with galleries such as the Louvre in Paris, it includes pieces by a number of famous artists such as Botticelli, da Vinci, Raphael, Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh and Britain’s John Constable.

Nearest underground stations: Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Square

Science Museum

Founded in 1857, the museum holds over 300,000 items including Stephenson’s Rocket, Puffing Billy and a working version of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine (considered by many to be the “first computer”.)

The museum also houses many items collected by Henry Wellcome related to medicine. This includes historic medical instruments and a lifesize iron lung.

Nearest underground station: South Kensington

National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery houses around 10,000 portraits of famous British people throughout history. Since 1969, it has also included portraits of famous people still living.

It opened to the public in 1856. Famous portraits include one of the best known paintings of William Shakespeare, a self portrait of William Hogarth and Branwell Bronte’s famous painting of his three sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte.

Nearest underground stations: Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Square

National Maritime Museum

This museum, at Greenwich, is situated in the impressive buildings of the former Royal Naval School, part of Maritime Greenwich which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

The museum holds maritime artwork, maps, drawings, ship models and instruments of navigation. It also holds the largest collections relating to Horatio Nelson and James Cook and paintings taken from Germany after World War II.

Map and Street Views
Getting to Greenwich: riverboat to Greenwich Pier / train to North Greenwich / DLR to Cutty Sark

The Photographers Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery was the first independent gallery in Britain devoted to photography.

It was established in 1971 and its photos are displayed in a series of themed galleries.

Nearest underground station: Leicester Square

Imperial War Museum

This museum is housed in a former psychiatric hospital, known as “Bedlam”. It includes memorabilia from all modern British conflicts since World War I.

Items range from medals, weapons and ration books through to tanks and a fragment from the Berlin Wall.

Nearest underground stations: Lambeth North, Waterloo

Whitechapel Gallery

The newly renovated Whitechapel Art Gallery stages temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.

It also hosts free film screenings, poetry readings and music.

Nearest underground station: Aldgate East

The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum, housed in an impressive building opened in 1881, contains 70 million items within 5 main collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Zoology.

Many of its items were collected by Darwin himself on his various expeditions.

Its most popular exhibits are its dinosaur skeletons, including a cast of one donated by Andrew Carnegie and located in the museum’s central hall.

Nearest underground station: South Kensington

Museum of Childhood

Also known as the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, this museum holds the largest collection of childhood objects in Britain.

Items include toys, games, dolls houses, rocking horses, childhood equipment and costumes.

It also holds exhibits related to the social history of childhood such as the lives of children during World War II.

Nearest underground station: Bethnal Green

Royal Airforce Museum

The Royal Air Force Museum is Britain’s only national museum dedicated wholly to aviation and science of flight. It has two sites: one in London and one in the Midlands.

The Museum offers a programme of free family based activities during the holidays and at weekends throughout the year.

Nearest Underground: Colindale (25 minutes from Kings Cross Station)

Sir John Soanes Museum

This interesting museum was established during Soane’s lifetime by an Act of Parliament requiring the house and its contents to be retained as near as possible to how they were at his death.

The museum contains architectural models and drawings, as well as various antiquities.

Nearest underground station: Holborn

Bank of England Museum

This fascinating Museum tells the story of the Bank of England since its foundation in 1694 to its role in today’s economy.

Interactive displays, audio-visuals and artefacts help explain its many and varied roles. There’s even a genuine gold bar which may be handled!

Nearest Underground: Bank

London Transport Museum

Sadly one of the few major museums in central London that isn’t free, this museum is still worth visiting for a fun day out.

Exhibits include interactive transport maps, full size original London buses and London Underground memorabilia.

Nearest underground station: Covent Garden

Fitzroy House

Fitzroy House is a 1791 Georgian period building. Set in Fitzrovia, it was formerly inhabited by Playwright George Bernard Shaw. It now shows the life and work of L. Ron Hubbard who worked here in the late 1950s.

Awarded ‘Most Published Author’ by the Guinness Book of World Records, he is one of the most prolific writers of his time.

37 Fitzroy Street, London
Nearest Underground: Warren Street

London Film Museum

The London Film Museum is a unique interactive museum attraction right next to the London Eye, giving the visitor a fantastic look behind the scenes of some of the greatest films ever made.

The experience is suitable for the whole family and covers how films are made, the genres, the history of the British Studios and all the individuals and industries that come together to make movies a reality. You will also see original props and costumes from favourites including Superman, You Only Live Twice, Star Wars and Alien amongst others. Admission fee.

Nearest Underground: Westminster or Waterloo