The trafalgar square fountain is pictured against a dramatic grey sky and a column with a statue on top

Favourite Free Museums to Visit in London

Finding free things to do in London as a student with a limited budget is no easy feat. Transport alone is an investment, and if you’re wanting to eat while you’re out, London is not cheap. When I lived in London as a child, so many of my core memories were made in museums with my mum and my brothers. She took us there to pass the time because they were fun, interesting, and free.

I’m a firm believer that you cannot outgrow museums.

I’m a firm believer that you cannot outgrow museums. They have such a wealth of knowledge and culture that you appreciate more and more as you get older. A massive advantage of living in London is how many museums there are to choose from, so I have listed my five favourites below along with the reasons why you should visit them while you’re at university to save your wallet on a rainy day with nothing to do.

The Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum is the one that struck me most as a child. There was one interactive exhibit in particular that has remained in my memory: a reenactment of what a World War Two bomb shelter would feel like. It was dark, cramped, and noisy, and really helped me put myself in the shoes of those who suffered in the Great Wars. It has been removed since then, but all the exhibitions are thought-provoking and intense.

The Imperial War Museum is the one that struck me most as a child.

The Holocaust exhibition on the top floor of the museum has received a lot of recognition, and contains a trigger warning before you go in because the content of the exhibition is very sensitive. There are also massive exhibits on both the First and Second World Wars. Old fighter planes hang from the ceiling and the gardens outside the building are quite beautiful. It isn’t exactly a light-hearted visit, but it is massively interesting and important to go see it.

The British Library

A collection of old books stored behind glass casing

The British Library contains some of the biggest treasures in the country. For English majors, there is a display of Shakespeare’s first folio and hundreds of other old, beautiful texts, including the magna carta! However, if you want to bring your engineering friend along, you can observe things like the enigma machine used in World War Two and other pieces of history that aren’t just to do with literature.

Aside from the must-see artefacts, the British Library is the perfect study space. It’s quiet, peaceful, scenic and a nice escape from your usual study zones. It is also, *drum roll*, free! So get down there as quickly as you can for some solo study or with some friends.

The Natural History Museum

As a kid, this one was my favourite because of two words: dinosaur bones. The Natural History Museum is perfect for fans of Jurassic Park and science. I personally am more of an English-oriented person than a science-oriented person, my trips to the museum have always been incredible because of how cleverly set up the exhibitions are.

Two words: dinosaur bones.

The building is stunning, too. You can really get lost in the exhibits, and when I was scrolling through Tik Tok the other day, I saw that the Natural History Museum actually holds a silent disco once a month on the last Friday of each month! Unfortunately, it is not free, and tickets sell out quickly, but it’s a great extra feature if you are wanting to spend on a night out and do something completely different.

Tate Britain

A black statue of the head and shoulders of a man is pictured in front of two paintings, one small and framed, the other large and unframed.

You’ve probably heard of the Tate Modern – the big, rather ugly industrial building on the Southbank housing some of the UK’s most radical modern art. But have you heard of its lesser-known cousin, Tate Britain?

Tate Britain’s exhibitions contain older art as well as modern art. My favourite exhibit in the museum is the old collection starting in the 1500s and finishing in the 1920’s. Other exhibitions pick up from that time period with modern art, but the reason I rate Tate Britain so highly is that there is something for everyone: art fans that refuse to look at anything past the Renaissance and art fans who prefer to relate to the abstract, contemporary stuff.

It is also less intimidating than the Tate Modern. The building is a lot smaller and it doesn’t take too long to work through all the free exhibitions. I’d pick the Tate Britain over the Tate Modern any day!

The Wallace Collection

A massive conservatory roof covers a space with small trees next to a pink building with white details and big windows

Finally, the Wallace Collection is the most charming Museum out of the five. Again, it is smaller, meaning it is less of a pain to walk around for hours and hours staring at artefacts. To me, the Wallace Collection simply feels like walking around someone’s fancy house that has been frozen in time – alongside several beautiful exhibitions of art and collections of old artefacts that will blow you away.

When I was little, my brothers and I used to go downstairs and try on the chainmail and armour that was available to the public. When I think back, I can still feel the weight of it on me and smell the cold iron! Since then, I’ve been back for a gorgeous afternoon tea in the conservatory pictured above. The tea is not free but like the silent disco, it is a great event to splurge on for a birthday or a celebration.

London is an incredible place for museums, and we definitely take it for granted. Try and work through these five favourites to keep you entertained during term time and to keep your wallet happy!

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