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Best free museums in London and the UK

There are lots of free museums in the U.K., such as the Natural History Museum in London.
There are lots of free museums in the U.K., such as the Natural History Museum in London. (Image credit: fazon1 via Getty Images)

Explore our list of some of the best free museums you can visit both in London and across the U.K. The cost of living in the U.K. is on the rise, but an entertaining and educational day out doesn’t have to break the bank. 

Whether you want to broaden your horizons, entertain the family during the school holidays or are simply looking for something free to do on a rainy day, a trip to a free museum might be just the ticket. 

Uncover the stories behind the artifacts, dive deeper into our planet's history, and hear the tales of those who came before us and shaped the world as we know it. Museums are a great way to learn about both local heritage and also culture on a global stage. They’re often brimming with rare objects from around the world and have the ability to bring history to life.

The U.K. is home to a wide variety of museums, there are over 30 free museums in London alone. Here we explore some of the best free museums from across the U.K. 

Related: Experiments for kids 

London

 The Science Museum 

Location: South Kensington, London. 

At the Science Museum, you can enjoy award-winning exhibitions and collections spanning the sciences. From Helen Sharman's iconic space suit to Amy Johnson's Gipsy Moth airplane, explore the extraordinary stories of human achievement and the challenges we have overcome.

You can even search through the museum's online collection and learn about objects that have changed our world and the exciting stories behind them. 

The Science Museum also boasts an impressive — recently renovated — IMAX theatre, tickets can be purchased online. 

Natural History Museum 

Natural History Museum London

London's Natural History Museum is one of the capital's most popular attractions and is totally free to visitors (Image credit: Getty Images)

Location: South Kensington, London 

London's world-famous museum is home to over 80 million objects and specimens including plants, creatures, dinosaur fossils, rare bugs and more. Billions of years of natural history is all open to visitors, completely free of charge — you can even get up close to collections made by none other than Charles Darwin.

Conveniently located next door to London's Science Museum, the Natural History Museum is open 362 days a year (closed Dec. 24-26). 

Imperial War Museum 

Location: Lambeth Road, Lambeth, London 

Founded over a hundred years ago, Britain's national military museum chronicles the nation's experience of warfare across the decades. Over six stories of exhibits take visitors from the opening shots of the First World War, right up to the conflicts of the 21st century. 

As well as rare artifacts and impressive military vehicles, the Imperial War Museums' (IWM) London branch is also home to thousands of archives and records, which tell the stories of the real people caught up in conflicts at home and on the frontline. 

British Museum 

The British Museum — founded in 1753 — is London's oldest museum. (Image credit: Michael Mulkens via Getty Images)

Location: Great Russell Street, London

Founded in 1753, London's oldest museum has everything from Egyptian mummies, to Aztec sculpture. Spanning two million years of human history — the oldest object being a Paleothithic chopping tool — you could literally spend days exploring the vast exhibits from across the world.

At the center of the British Museum, you can also visit the Reading Room, which served as the study space of some of the world's most famous writers and thinkers, including Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx, Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf.  

Victoria and Albert Museum  

Location: Cromwell Road, London

For art and design lovers, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) is the perfect free-to-visit attraction in Britain's capital. Named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who laid the building's foundation stone in 1899, the V&A has an impressive collection of original masterpieces, contemporary art, architectural marvels and even a fantastic fashion gallery.

As well as dozens of free permanent exhibitions available in-house and online, the V&A also hosts temporary collections and events throughout the year, many of which are also completely free!  

North East

Discovery Museum 

Location: Blandford Square, Newcastle upon Tyne

The Discovery Museum offers a great selection of exhibits for the whole family. Here you can experience what it is like to fly with the RAF Red Arrows in the museum's new flight simulator or stand in awe at the world's first steam turbine-powered ship Turbina which stands proud in the central hall. 

The Discovery Museum also offers educational workshops and also provides a wealth of online content for virtual learning opportunities. You can even take a virtual tour and explore the "Charge! The Story of England's Northern Cavalry" gallery from the comfort of your own home.

North West

The Science and Industry Museum 

Witness science in action at the Science and Industry Museum. (Image credit: coward_lion via Getty Images)

Location: Liverpool Road, Manchester 

Gets hands-on and witness science in action at the Science and Industry Museum. The museum's interactive gallery is sure to keep everyone busy. See how your reactions measure up against the speed of light, peer into the mirror of infinity, or watch your own skeleton ride a bike. 

You can also learn more about the historic cotton industry in Manchester in the museum's textile gallery and see how the "Cottonopolis" changed the world. Journey through Manchester's industrial innovations in the museum's revolution gallery, and discover the ground-breaking work that helped shape life as we know it. 

Yorkshire

Leeds City Museum 

Location: Millennium Square, Leeds

The Leeds City Museum consists of six impressive galleries: Life on Earth, The Collectors Cabinet, World View: Voices of Asia, The Leeds Story and Ancient Worlds.

The museum is home to an impressive collection of 800,000 animals, vegetables and minerals. The heavy-footed Moa skeleton — one of the largest birds ever to roam the planet — is not to be missed. In the Ancient Worlds gallery, you will find the final resting place of Nesyamun, the 3000-year-old Leeds Mummy, and the only known mummy known to hail from the 20th Dynasty.

East Midlands

Location: New Walk, Leicester

Formally known as the New Walk Museum, The Leicester Museum and Art Gallery is brimming with awe-inspiring collections and displays spanning the natural and cultural world. From ancient Egypt to wild animals, dinosaurs to Picasso ceramics, there is an exhibit for everyone. 

The Victorian Art Gallery contains a range of paintings dating up to the 19th Century and the Picasso ceramics collection was donated to the museum by Lord and Lady Attenborough. 

West Midlands

Lapworth Museum of Geology 

Location: University of Birmingham, Aston Webb A Block

Do you like rocks? If the answer is yes then the Lapworth Museum of Geology is certainly for you. Explore the last 3.6 billion years of Earth history with one of the UK's most impressive geological collections. 

And it is not just rocks! With a range of entertaining and interactive exhibits, from volcanoes to earthquakes and even dinosaurs, there is something for everyone. The museum boasts an extraordinary collection of over 250,000 specimens of rocks, fossils and minerals. There are also large collections of early geological maps and photographic material. 

East of England

Colchester Natural History Museum 

Location: High Street, Colchester

Explore the natural history of Britain, with a particular focus on north-east Essex with the Colchester Naural History Museum. Hear about the earthquake that shook Colchester in 1884 and learn about the mammoths and hippos that used to roam the area. 

There is a range of interactive displays to try out from peeking into a badger's set to hearing the monumental roar of a mammoth. The family-friendly museum is impressive both inside and out and is housed in the former All Saints Church.

South West

The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery contains three floors of impressive exhibits. (Image credit: vandervelden via Getty Images)

Location: Queens Road, Bristol

Explore three floors of exhibits at the remarkable Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Upon entering the museum you are greeted by a grand hall and a Bristol Boxkite aircraft soaring above your head. The second floor hosts a series of stunning paintings as well as one of the best collections of Chinese glass outside of Asia.

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From ancient Egypt to Assyria, dinosaurs to minerals and even Banksy's Paint Pot Angel, the museum offers something for everyone. There is also a dedicated under 5's discovery area designed to entertain the youngest visitors.

Northern Ireland

North Down Museum 

Location: Bangor, County Down 

Situated in the beautiful ground of Bangor Castle, this little museum tells the story of the region's history, archaeology and wildlife.Here you can see examples of incredible archaeological treasures such as the Ballycrochan Swords, dating from 500 BCE. 

Ever wondered what life was like for the Vikings? Get a taste of Viking life in the museum's replica longhouse.

More free museums:

You can also explore the links between North Down and the Far East with the museum's Jordan Collection — a fine selection of decorative Asian objects. 

Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland 

Location: Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Immerse yourself in Scottish history, discover the wonders of nature and learn about global cultures, all in one place. At the National Museum of Scotland, you can stand in the shadow of a giant T-rex skeleton cast or strike a pose in the Fashion and Style gallery. You can also find out more about Scotland's most controversial monarch — Mary, Queen of Scots, and hear her fascinating story. The museum is also home to Dolly the sheep — the first cloned mammal to be created from an adult cell. 

Fancy seeing what the museum looks like before you make the trip? You can take a virtual stroll around the museum and see what it has to offer. You can also explore over 1,000 objects from the national collection that have been added to the Google Arts and Culture online collection. 

Wales

National Museum Cardiff 

The National Museum Cardiff is home to impressive art, geology and natural history collections.  (Image credit: matthewleesdixon via Getty Images)

Location: Cathays Park, Cardiff

Surround yourself with awe-inspiring collections of national art, geology and natural history at the National Museum Cardiff. Wales is home to over 1000 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) covering approximately 12% of the country's surface area, according to Natural Resources Wales. At the museum, you can discover what makes Wales so significant and explore some of the environments that make Wales unique. 

The museum houses one of Europe's finest collections of art from Wales and across the world. Explore 500 years of paintings, sculptures and ceramics as well as a striking collection of Impressionist art. 

Daisy Dobrijevic
Daisy Dobrijevic

Daisy Dobrijevic joined Space.com in February 2022 as a reference writer having previously worked for our sister publication All About Space magazine as a staff writer. Before joining us, Daisy completed an editorial internship with the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and worked at the National Space Centre in Leicester, U.K., where she enjoyed communicating space science to the public. In 2021, Daisy completed a PhD in plant physiology and also holds a Master's in Environmental Science, she is currently based in Nottingham, U.K.