23 Best Free Museums in London (And 10 Worth Paying for)

The best free museums in London have so much to offer: incredible exhibits, gorgeous architecture, and totally free entry. The only downside? There are so many that it’s overwhelming.

As a history and culture nerd I spend a crazy amount of time in museums. In this post I’ve broken them down by category and ranked them, so you can find the best free museums in London that fit your interests and itinerary.

If it’s your first time in London and want to only see the best stuff, while still saving money, here are the absolute best free museums in London.

1. The British Museum

Interior of the grand staircase at the British Museum with light coming in from the skylights

The number one, the icon, the original: the absolute best free museum in London. If you only have time for one museum, this is it. Yes, most of the artifacts are the product of colonialist pillaging and is morally and ethically questionable. All the more reason to see them before they are hopefully given back to their rightful owners).

It gets crowded in some of the galleries on weekends and holiday breaks, but it’s worth it. There’s no need to book ahead, even during peak times, as security moves quickly.

Plan for at least two hours, and don’t miss the gift shop in the middle: it’s actually full of really cool stuff and amazing books. If you want to do more nearby, you can also make a day of it and go shopping on Oxford Street.

Don’t miss the British Museum, the top of the top free London museums!

2. The Natural History Museum

grand staircase at the natural history museum with gothic architecture
The gorgeous, historic and definitely haunted Natural History Museum.
Mdbeckwith, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Natural History Museum is by far the prettiest free museum in London! This Kensington gem has incredible artifacts from Darwin’s dodo to the (new!) Titanosaur skeleton. You’ll find something interesting in every single display.

It does get crowded on weekends and school holidays, and I once had a (real) panic attack in a very slow line through the Jurassic exhibit. Fair warning to anyone claustrophobic: don’t go during peak times. 

Note that the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum (#3 below), and the V&A (#4 below) are all right next to each other in South Kensington. They are all some of the best free museums in London, and since they are all close together, it makes for a fantastic and cheap day out.

3. The Science Museum

Take the jaw-dropping escalator up through a glowing planet and explore the coolest science on our planet Earth. This is the best free museum in London for kids, as there are lots of hands-on activities (my favorite paid museum for kids is the Transport Museum). Adults will never be bored, though, as there’s so much to explore.

4. The V&A Museum

The Victoria & Albert Museum (known as the V&A) contains a huge curated selection of art, fashion and design. There’s a big haunted bed, the coolest costumes, and excellent rotating exhibitions.

Separate paid ticket required for special exhibitions; general entry is free. Their sister museum, the Young V&A, (formerly the V&A Museum of Childhood; not at this location), is fantastic for kids.

5. The Museum of London

[Currently Closed]

This is my all-time favorite free London museum! And sadly, currently closed for moving.

The Museum of London focuses on the most significant events in London’s history (The Great Fire, the Gunpowder Plot, Roman occupation, etc.). Plus it has some of the coolest artifacts, like this coach above, plus a bit of pop culture (Rolling Stones! Elton John!), and an incredible recreation of a Georgian high street.

Currently closed until 2026. Can’t wait for that opening day!

6. The Museum of London Docklands

Explore the maritime history of London, focused on the evolution of trade, East End culture and dock workers, import/export, and the Thames’ impact on London life.

This one is superb for kids and has its own interactive children’s area. 

7. Royal Museums Greenwich

exterior of the national maritime museum with people walking the paths in front
Katie Chan, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This gorgeous grouping of museums in Greenwich is worth a day out to explore the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House, and the famous Cutty Sark.

Some areas require paid tickets, so check before you go. The Cutty Sark is one of the best paid museums in London for Thames lovers and maritime history buffs.

8. The Tate Modern & Tate Britain

skyline view of the tate modern on the banks of the thames with millennium bridge stretching across the water
View of the Tate Modern looking out across Millennium Bridge.
Bernard Gagnon, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Double the Tate, double the fun. Tate Britain was known as the National Gallery of British Art up until the 1930s, and the Tate Modern is, well, modern art. They’re not close together, but both are free museums and worth a visit. 

9. The Imperial War Museum

the imperial war museum (formerly Bedlam mental asylum in the victorian era), with large cannons stretching out over the leaf strewn lawn
The Imperial War Museum, formerly Bedlam mental asylum.
Rosch.Goes, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you have any interest in military history, or any of the 1.5 million wars Britain has been involved in, you’ll want a good few hours to explore this incredible historic collection.

This one wins the award of best free London museum with the darkest history! The building used to be Bedlam (Bethlehem) mental asylum, the most infamous mental hospital in the world.

History and paranormal nerds, this one is a must-visit. 

10. The British Library

overhead view of the reading rooms at the British Library, with tables and tables of people reading and studying
View of the King’s Library, British Library, St Pancras.
Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net), CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, it’s an epic library. But did you know that the British Library also contains one of the best free museums in London?

In the Treasures of the British Library collection, see original Shakespeare manuscripts, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, Jane Austen’s desk, and so much more. Plus, the library itself is amazing to visit with its famous reading room. 

11. The National Gallery

This is like the Met of London, without the Gossip Girls sitting on the steps. See all of the greats: Monet, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, VanGogh, da Vinci, Botticelli and more in a gorgeous building in the heart of Trafalgar Square.

Free entry but rotating exhibitions require a fee.

The Best Free Museums in London: Small and Unique

I’ve listed the heavy hitters above. Below are the best free museums in London that are smaller, completely unique, and definitely worth a visit.

1. The Guildhall & London’s Roman Amphitheatre

Guildhall, home to the city of London corporation, holds its own collection of incredible art. During renovations, archaeologists discovered a 2,000 year-old Roman amphitheater underneath the building, which is now an exhibit itself. 

2. The Wellcome Collection

A massive collection on health and the human experience. Henry Solomon Wellcome was an 19th century philanthropist and traveler who amassed a huge collection of books, manuscripts, talismans, objects and art related to human health. It’s a unique collection with a fascinating history, and also has a very unique and valuable Picasso. 

3. The Sir John Soane Museum

One of the great English Architects, Soane’s house was kept just as it was after his death in 1837. It’s a giant cabinet of curiosities! This is definitely one of the most unique and curious museums in London.

4. The Horniman Museum & Gardens

Giant collection of taxidermied animals, notably a giant walrus, and exhibits on anthropology and natural history. 

5. London Mithraeum

Roman London up close! The Mithraeum is an ancient Roman temple that was discovered during a building project. Free entry, but book ahead to guarantee you won’t have to wait. 

6. Royal Air Force Museum

Exactly what it says on the tin. If you’re an aviation enthusiast, a must-see. The RAFM isn’t exactly small, but it’s definitely a niche museum.

7. The Wallace Collection

Masterpieces of painting, sculpture, furniture, armor, and porcelain in a gorgeous museum in the heart of Marylebone near Oxford Circus. Pop in if you’re doing some shopping for a nice tea break in their stunning courtyard.

8. The Royal Academy of Arts

Both a gallery and academy, this is art for and by artists since the 1700s. Rotating exhibitions.

9. The Serpentine Galleries

There’s now two galleries on either side of the Serpentine, both instagrammable and in a lovely setting in Kensington Gardens. The Serpentine focuses on contemporary art and media. 

10. The Bank of England Museum

If you’re not humming the Abba song the whole time, you’re doing it wrong. Fascinating history of the role of the Bank in English history and life since its inception in the 1600s. Money, money money makes the world go round.

11. The Grant Museum of Zoology

University College London museum of amazing zoological artifacts, from dodos to quaggas to pufferfish. 

12. The Hunterian Museum

Run by the Royal College of Surgeons, this incredible space holds over 70,000 anatomical and pathological specimens. Some of it is not for the faint of stomach. If you’re a weirdo like me, it’s your dream come true. 

The Best Paid Museums in London Worth Your Money

Have you been to all the best free museums in London? Here are the best paid museums that are very much worth visiting and worth the price of entry.

A note to my American friends: when you go to book attractions in the UK, you’ll see two prices: adults and concessions.

Concessions doesn’t mean popcorn and soda here; it means a lower price for children, seniors, students, etc. You must show relevant ID for the discount because the Brits are rule-followers.

1. The Churchill War Rooms

The bunkers near Downing Street where Churchill ran the war have been kept pretty much intact, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into history. The entry fee is steep with adults from £27.25, but children under 5 free. This one of the best paid museums in London, hands down. And if you can afford the entry fee, it’s a must-see.

2. The Foundling Museum

This one will tug at your heartstrings. In 1739, Thomas Coram set up the first UK children’s charity in this home to care for abandoned and sick babies. Learn about how hard it was to live to adulthood in London, why parents abandoned their children, and how these kids were given a chance at life. Adults from £9.50. 

3. The London Transport Museum

This one is a hit with kids and adults alike. Discover original vehicles, train cars, and the intricate history of getting around in London. £24 per adult, (£18 for Londoners) gets you unlimited visits for a year. Trust me, your kids will want to go back again. Since you’re in Covent Garden, you’re a 5-minute walk to my favorite food hall: Seven Dials. Go there for lunch.

4. The Postal Museum

Another hit for adults and kids. Ride the “Mail Rail” underground train that gets our correspondence around the capital, read original postcards, see unique stamps, and more. It sounds boring but it’s actually really immersive and cool! Separate play area for kids, too. £16 gets you admission for a whole year. Book ahead to save £1 per ticket. 

5. The Courtauld Gallery

Painting, drawing and sculpture from the Renaissance through to the 20th century. Works from masters such Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Monet, and more. Adults from £11. 

6. The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities

The weirdest, most wonderful exhibits in the Capital: taxidermy, occult objects and art, skulls, mummies, and more. Definitely haunted and has come cursed objects. Book ahead, and if you’re of age, have a tipple in the absinthe bar after you browse the collections. £10 entry. 

7. The Jack the Ripper Museum

If you’re interested in the Whitechapel Murders, this is a must-see, plus while you’re in the East End you can easily walk to all of the murder locations. Intricate recreations of the murders, original artifacts, wholly immersive. One of the best paid museums in London for dark history! Adults £10. 

8. The Old Operating Theatre

This is the oldest surviving surgical theater in Europe, and houses original instruments and medicines in the adjacent lofty herb garret (where medicinal herbs were dried and prepared). Don’t miss it if you like medical history, or if you work in medicine. Adults £7.50. Please note: no disabled access and the stairs are a steep and narrow spiral. 

9. The Charles Dickens Museum

Laid out over 5 floors to look exactly what it would have been like when the man himself lived there, along with some of his belongings and writings. Not far from the British Museum; makes a good pairing.  Adults £12.50. 

10. The Sherlock Holmes Museum

221b Baker Street, where the fictional detective lived, is a pretty cool museum, and if you watched the BBC series you’ll recognize much of the interior. It gets busy; book ahead or you’ll wait a long time standing on Baker Street. Adults £16, kids £11. 

Final Thoughts on the Best Free Museums in London

If you only have time for one museum during your visit to London, go to the British Museum. If you have more time, go down the list and see what interests you.

Ultimately, the best free or paid museum in London will be the one that you like the best, so try them all!

More on Visiting London: 

London Hotels for Family: 10 Great Values to Book Now

Your Ultimate Guide to a Family Trip to London on a Budget

33 Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in London

Printable London Packing List to Save you Money

London 1 Day Itinerary 

Itinerary for 3 Epic Days in London: An Insider’s Guide

Where to Stay your First time in London

15 Things to Buy in London

Weekend in London like a local 

The Best Viewpoints in London

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