One of the best parts about London is the amazing museum scene. London has a group and network of museums that I would say is unsurpassed by any other city in the world. And the best part about them is that nearly all of them are free. As a big museum person, I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you, especially if you’re new to London and unfamiliar with them.
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is my favourite London museum. Unfortunately, it temporarily closed earlier this year for renovations and won’t re-open until spring 2023. But, since it’s my favourite, I had to include it. Located next to The National Gallery near Trafalgar Square in Central London, the name of the museum gives away its purpose. If you’re really into history like I am, then this is a great museum for you. Strolling through the halls of portraits allows you to step back in time and immerse yourself in British history. In particular, I have always enjoyed the paintings of the British monarchs. Not to mention, each portrait has a fascinating description that actually tells you a lot about its subject and the painting itself. All items in all museums are labelled and described, but I find the descriptions in the National Portrait Gallery are a notch above the rest. Anyway, this is a fantastic museum to spend an afternoon and I highly recommend you go when it re-opens in a few years!
The National Gallery
If you’re already going to the National Portrait Gallery, you might as well pair it with The National Gallery located right next door in Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery is home to some of the world’s most iconic paintings and pieces of art, including works by Caravaggio, Cézanne, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, van Dyck, van Eyck, and Van Gogh, just to name a few. Its collections range from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and the early Modern period all the way up to contemporary art. It’s one of the finest museums in the world, and you could easily spend an entire day there. My suggestion is to make a day out of it and go here and the National Portrait Gallery together.
Imperial War Museum – London
The Imperial War Museum has several locations throughout the UK, including three in London alone. However, in this post, I’m referring to what’s called “Imperial War Museum – London”, which is their main campus just south of the River Thames in Lambeth. (The Churchill War Rooms and the HMS Belfast, both in London, are also part of the Imperial War Museum). The London museum tells the story of modern war and conflict going back to the First World War, and it is a generally fascinating place. They tend to have many types of exhibitions going on at the same time, and their permanent collections are mesmerising if you are interested in war and armed conflict. At the London museum, their collections on the First World War, the Blitz, and their array of tanks, fighter planes, and weaponry are really gripping.
The British Museum
Last but not least, we have the British Museum, one of the UK’s top attractions. In my opinion, you can never go to the British Museum enough, and I’ve often spent entire days in there. I think the British Museum speaks for itself, so I won’t drag on about it, but what I will say is that you absolutely should go and go multiple times. You will not regret it and I think it is a very important museum to engage with on multiple levels. It will often leave you with many questions after your visit, but if one of a museum’s main objectives is to provoke and inspire, then the British Museum fulfils that goal.
This post was written in late September 2020. Please consult the UK government website for the latest coronavirus guidance.