Happy International Museums Day!
London may be an expensive city but it is home to lots of free museums, galleries, and historical country houses, many of which are FREE! Over the last seven months, I have tried to visit as many free museums as possible, although there are still quite a few I have yet to visit (these I will list at the end of the post). In the meantime, I have compiled my top 10 favourite free museums (and galleries) – in no particular order – that everyone will enjoy if you love art and history!
- The Wallace Collection – There’s not a room I did not love and gush over the paintings, furniture, porcelain, and armour in the former home of the 4th Marquess of Hertford and his son, Sir Richard Wallace. I was most excited to see the paintings of Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher and The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
- Victoria & Albert Museum – This was the second free museum I visited in London and I loved it so much that it is the one I have visited most often. I loved the collection of historical clothing (not just in the fashion gallery), the musical theatre gallery, the collection of sparkling tiaras and jewels, and the original plasters of historical monuments and buildings around Europe!
- Sir John Soane’s Museum – You have to visit this house museum that Sir John Soane left behind for all of us to enjoy! He was a man of eclectic tastes and I’m not sure how he managed to cram his collection of fine and decorative art in every nook and cranny. Do look up, left and right, and down, or you might miss something! Also, I recommend asking one of the curators to tell you about Sir John Soane and the house.
Second visit to the #Sirjohnsoane #museum since 2008! It doesn’t look like much on the outside but the #house-museum (no. 12-14) is a treasure trove of fine and decorative art! A #mustsee #free museum in #London. #instalondon #architecture #igerslondon #Holborn
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- Museum of London – The Museum of London near St Paul’s may not look like much on the outside but it is filled with so much London history inside. (Apparently it’s also too small so it will be moving at some point to a new home – a historical building too!) My favourite parts were the Pleasure Garden (18th-19th Century historical clothing with designer hats!) and the recreated Victorian town. If the new museum could expand on the Victorian town, I would love it even more! Don’t forget to have a look at the remains of the old London Wall outside the museum!
- Tate Britain – A collection of beautiful historical and contemporary British art. I was ecstatic to finally see the paintings of Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais and of the Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse. (P.S. Tate Modern reminds me of a crematorium and I’m not interested in what I call ‘modern’ art.) Another great place to see pre-Raphaelite paintings for free, by the way, is at Guildhall Art Gallery (I couldn’t fit it in my top 10, but definitely top 15).
Spent a much-needed #art therapeutic afternoon at #TateBritain. #arttherapy #London #architecture #gallery #Britishart #free #instalondon #igerslondon
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- The National Gallery – Paintings are therapeutic and always worth several visits in this beautiful gallery. Even when it’s busy, you can trust people not to talk loudly in here!
- Natural History / Science Museum – I’m partly cheating with this but they’re connected (and in my experience, it’s far quicker to get in through the Natural History Museum than it is through the Science Museum on Sundays). I admit I like the Natural History Museum mainly for the architecture of the building but it’s a great place for children and adults alike to learn. (Forget your science books. Just go to this museum and have a hands-on learning experience.) I also liked the Science Museum for the escalator that takes guests into the red ‘Earth’ and for the earthquake simulation (I have experienced earthquakes so I took it pretty lightly. Don’t be me. Earthquakes aren’t fun).
- Geffrye Museum – Each room (or part of the room) in this museum shows what living rooms in English homes would have looked like in a particularly century, from the 1600’s to the early 2000’s. I personally think the decor of living rooms went downhill after the Edwardian era.
If you ever want to travel back in time and explore different period rooms from the 1600’s-20th Century, you must visit the Geffrye Museum! This room pictured here is an example of a first-floor drawing room in the 1830’s during the festive season. #London #museum #interiordesign #19thcentury #georgian #drawingroom #ChristmasPast #GeffryeMuseum #domesticinterior #Shoreditch #igerslondon
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- Museum of London Docklands – This museum has at least 3 floors for guests to explore. I recommend you visit the slavery exhibition and learn about what the enslaved (rather than slaves) endured and what we can learn from the past. Then I recommend you explore the dark alleys of a Victorian Sailortown. You will really feel like you’re in a historical drama or, worse, you’ve time-travelled to the wrong place!
- Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood – Until 12th June 2016, there is an important exhibition on the child migrants of the British Isles sent to live in Britain’s colonies / Commonwealth nations, i.e. Canada, Australia, New Zealand. It is heartbreaking – although there are some happy reunions – but is a part of the British and Commonwealth history. Aside from that, I loved the collection of doll houses, some of which were donated by Queen Mary!
‘But wait! What about the British Museum?’
I have mixed feelings about the ‘British’ Museum. 1) There’s very little British about it so maybe it’s the name of the museum that I find very misleading. 2) Of course I found all the artefacts very interesting, some of which were similar to the ones in the Victoria & Albert Museum, but the main question on my mind was, ‘How much of this was stolen (or bought cheaply from the indigenous or locals)?’ (I’m also looking at the other nations with similar museums.) I’m sure I’m being absolutely controversial here – because the same question could be directed to all the museums listed above – but I lost interest in returning after a few visits. 3) Always overcrowded. How are you supposed to see anything with hundreds of heads crowded around the Rosetta Stone, or move when the rooms with mummies and walking humans make you feel claustrophobic?
Having written all this, I do recommend you go visit the British Museum if you have time and walk through as many rooms as possible. I was glad to see so much from around the world, from places I might never get to visit because of the situation in the countries.
‘And the National Portrait Gallery?’
I went just to see the royal portraits. One visit was enough for me.
Other free museums I recommend
- Imperial War Museum London – (23rd May) I recommend visiting this museum for the WWI and the Holocaust exhibitions!
- National Maritime Museum (Greenwich) – I would have visited sooner but I thought it was paid entry. Apparently the world’s largest maritime museum but it didn’t feel that big to me (nevertheless, still impressive). Highlight of this museum was seeing a royal gondola!
- Burgh House & Hampstead Museum – A cute house to visit and a lovely and affordable place to enjoy tea and cakes.
Visited #BurghHouse today, a house that dates back to 1704 during the reign of Queen Anne. Today it houses the #free #Hampstead #Museum which tells the history of Hampstead from 7000 BC to the present day (2000’s). Did you know Hampstead had been a fashionable Spa during the 18th Century? P.S. It’s a lovely place to enjoy a cup of tea. 🙂 #London #historicalbuilding #listedbuilding #garden #instalondon #secretlondon #igerslondon #twitter
- City of London Police Museum – This small museum inside the Guildhall Library gives visitors a brief history on the City of London Police, which, I learned later, is separate from the Metropolitan Police!
Other free museums/galleries on my list to visit:
I’ve visited most of them. The Wallace collection was my first one in London and it impressed me so much. I would include the National Portrait gallery on your list. Good job once again.
I do like the National Portrait Gallery but I usually go for the royal portraits. I ended up visiting NPG a few more times. It’s hard to pick just 10!