Free museums and galleries in London
This is the second part of my guide to free museums and galleries in London. In the first part, I covered my top 5 museums, but here are some more that you should definitely consider.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk) houses an impressive collection of over 2,300 paintings covering most of the great artists working between the 13th century to the early 20th century.
It’s a ‘traditional’ gallery - hushed halls, low lighting and earnest fine art students - but that’s probably only fitting given the calibre of the paintings on display. Expect to see work by Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Constable, Degas, Cezanne, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rubens, Monet, Van Dyck, Vermeer etc etc. Iconic works include ‘Sunflowers’ by Van Gogh, ‘The Virgin on the Rocks’ by Da Vinci and Constable’s ‘Hay Wain’.
The building itself is pretty impressive too, with Trafalgar Square just out front and Nelson looking down on it from his his Column.
*Insider Tip* The ‘fourth plinth’ situated in Trafalgar Square just outside The National Gallery is used as a contemporary art installation space and is often worth a look. Originally designed to hold a statue similar to those on the other three plinths, funds were never found for a fourth sculpture so the plinth remained empty for 150 years. It’s now used to showcase modern artworks that change every year or so.
The British Museum
The collection at The British Museum (http://www.britishmuseum.org/) comprises an astounding 7 million objects covering history across the world from antiquity to the modern day.
There’s a vast amount to be seen and it’s advisable to plan what you want to get out of the visit before going. Highlights include the Rosetta Stone, sculptures from the Parthenon, Egyptian mummies, Samurai armour and the Lewis chess set.
The building is also notable for the Great Court, which was reopened by the queen in the year 2000 and was designed by Norman Foster & Partners (who also designed the Gherkin, London’s iconic City Hall, the new Wembley Stadium amongst many others worldwide). It’s a fantastic space, light and airy, making the most of the original building’s classic lines whilst adding a modern twist.
The Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum (http://www.iwm.org.uk/) is actually a collection of museums across the UK, all exploring the history of war in Britain. In London these include the IWM London, the HMS Belfast warship and The Churchill War Rooms - only the main museum is free to enter however.
Focusing primarily (although not exclusively) on the first and second world wars, the permanent exhibitions at the IWM are varied and interesting and including everything from Sherman tanks and Spitfires to a reconstructed blitzed street and air shelter. The temporary exhibitions are also well worth a look and are generally beautifully curated, engaging and great fun for kids and adults alike.
*Insider Tip* Although not free, The Churchill War Rooms are well worth a visit if you have any interest in the second world war. The rooms have been left exactly as they were at the end of the war and give a real sense of how Churchill and his cabinet conducted the war from this underground base of operations. You can see the maps they kept, marking the ever shifting lines of battles and even the board where officers kept a tally of ships sunk - forever immortalised at the point it sat when peace was declared.
Other free museums/galleries you might want to consider:
The National Portrait Gallery (http://www.npg.org.uk/) - over 160,000 portraits (not all on show!) from the 16th century to the present day.
The Tate Britain (http://www.tate.org.uk/britain) - gallery of British art from 1500 to the present day.
The Geffrye Museum (http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/) - charts the history of the British home from 1600 to the present day.
The National Maritime Museum (http://www.nmm.ac.uk/) - includes the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House, Greenwich and the Royal Observatory.
The V&A Museum of Childhood (http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc/) - museum of toys and childhood related history from the 1600s to today.
Fashion & Textile Museum (http://www.ftmlondon.org) - museum of contemporary fashion, textiles and jewellery founded by British designer Zandra Rhodes.