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Every visit to London should include these top London attractions. Not only are they fascinating and unique, but they’re also all free!
And we’re not the only ones to think they’re pretty good. These world-class venues were the top 10 free attractions in 2012 across London – and England too (source: VisitEngland Annual Survey of Visits to Visitor Attractions).
Home of the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and mummies of Ancient Egypt, the British Museum is a treasure trove of world history and culture. The collection is free to explore, though some special exhibitions are ticketed. Free temporary displays currently include Perfect Timing: The Mostyn Tompion Clock and Wise Men From The East: Zoroastrian Traditions In Persia And Beyond.
Located along the River Thames in Bankside, Tate Modern is the bright, spacious and throbbing hub of modern and contemporary art in London. There are free guided tours of this former power station every day, or you can explore the collections yourself – from Russian Revolutionary Posters to Cubist works by Picasso, Duchamp and Diego Rivera.
Where the Tate Modern showcases the new, the National Gallery celebrates the old – specifically Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Look out for Vermeer’s A Young Woman standing at a Virginal, Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, van Gogh’s Sunflowers, da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks and many other unmissable classics from the masters.
Natural History Museum
There’s plenty to discover and delight at the Natural History Museum, from the renowned Dinosaurs gallery to Treasures in the Cadogan Gallery, a permanent exhibition of historic gems such as the rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a dodo skeleton and the first adult skull of a Neanderthal ever discovered. Entrance is also free to the Attenborough Studio, where you can see films, join talks and meet the experts.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Billed as the world’s greatest museum of art and design, the V&A (as it’s commonly known) is known for its world-class exhibitions on fashion, culture, art and style. As well as the huge central collection and (ticketed) special exhibitions, there are free temporary displays. Current highlights include Making it up: Photographic Fictions, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting: Digital Dragons and The Jameel Prize 3, featuring works inspired by Islamic traditions of art, craft and design.
Founded in 1857, the Science Museum explores the past, present and future of scientific discoveries through its amazing galleries, interactive displays and historic collections. Go hands on in the Launchpad interactive gallery, learn about yourself in Who Am I? and see iconic inventions such as Stephenson’s original Rocket locomotive, Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1 and Crick and Watson’s DNA model.
National Portrait Gallery
Princess Diana, Ian McKellen, Emmeline Pankhurst, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens… beautiful captured moments of the great and good from throughout British history line the walls of the National Portrait Gallery. See how man familiar faces you can spot – and don’t miss the current star-studded special displays, such as Michael Peto Photographs: Mandela to McCartney, Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration and Bob Dylan: Face Value.
Old Royal Naval College
Built on the site of Greenwich Palace, along the River Thames, the Old Royal Naval College encompasses a series of fascinating historic and royal edifices. Must-sees include the magnificent Painted Hall and Chapel, located in the twin domes designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and the exhibitions and relics on display in the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre.
Beyond its famous and hushed reading rooms, the British Library is a top visitors attraction – full of fascinating exhibitions relating to literature, culture, music and more. Check out the Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics display (open until 26 Jan) or explore the permanent galleries’ gems, including no less than the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks and Shakespeare’s First Folio.
National Maritime Museum
Tales of adventure, discovery and daring deeds bring fresh life to the fascinating history of life on the high seas. The world’s largest maritime museum, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has something for everyone: a Children’s Gallery and Ship Simulator for the little ones, free exhibitions such as Maritime London: 1700 To Now and Nelson, Navy, Nation (featuring Nelson’s iconic uniform) and art from the likes of George Stubbs.