Free museums and galleries in England.
- Free museums in London
The British Museum holds world-class collections including the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies. The building itself is stunning; the core was designed in the 19th century and the Great Court, designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster, is an iconic London feature.
Home to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and stunning works by Leonardo da Vinci and the French Impressionists, the National Gallery is one of London’s unmissable sights.
Situated on the pedestrianized Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum is home to an extensive dinosaur gallery, a giant sequoia tree dating back 1,300 years and offers the chance to see how it feels to be in a volcano or earthquake.
A great museum for all ages, the Science Museum boasts interactive exhibits, fascinating objects and an IMAX 3D Cinema. It also offers an adults-only “Lates” programme on the last Wednesday of the month, offering strange and wonderful experiences – past hits have included a silent disco among exhibits with a group of strangers.
Rothko, Pollock, Warhol and Hockney grace the walls of the Tate Modern, a free-to-visit contemporary art gallery that is particularly renowned for the installations in its vast Turbine Hall. The oil tanks at the building’s base have been turned into a new space; ‘The Tanks’, which opened in 2016, offer the world’s first museum galleries permanently dedicated to exhibiting live art, performance, installation and film.
Tate Britain Boasting an outstanding collection of paintings by Turner, Tate Britain also features a permanent collection of historic and contemporary British art, with rooms dedicated to Tracey Emin, John Latham and Sam Taylor-Wood.
Victoria and Albert Museum: An excellent museum dedicated to both British and international art and design. Special themed events are held every Friday of the month, with DJs, dancing, food and unique experiences; one past event saw the museum floor covered in icing sugar and professional dancers twirl the tango over it.
The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, north-east London: Following a £5million refurbishment the gallery – the only public gallery devoted to Walthamstow-born designer, craftsman, writer, socialist and conservationist William Morris – reopened in 2012 with innovative new displays, a dedicated learning space and a programme of temporary exhibitions.
NEW in 2016
London home of Jimi Hendrix opens permanently. Handel & Hendrix in London celebrates the London lives and musical legacies of two of the most important figures in musical history, who lived, wrote and played in neighbouring buildings, 240 years apart. After a two-year period of restoration, building and development, the top floor Mayfair flat that Jimi Hendrix called home during a pivotal period of his life is now open permanently to the public. Web: handelhendrix.org
OTHER PLACES IN ENGLAND - Free museums in Manchester, Liverpool, York, Newcastle, and other places in England.
Founded in 1683, the Ashmolean (Oxford) was Britain’s first public museum and is home to Oxford University’s world-class collection of art and archaeology. The rooftop terrace is one of the city’s hidden treasures. Located in the city Centre, it is a ten-minute walk from Oxford’s train station.
The Fitzwilliam (Cambridge) celebrated its 200th birthday in 2016, owing its foundation to a certain Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion who, in 1816, bequeathed to the University of Cambridge his works of art and library, together with funds to house them, in order to further ‘the Increase of Learning and other great Objects of that Noble Foundation’. Discover historical treasures from Egypt, Greece, Ancient Rome, Asia and more.
Situated in a 1950s transit shed, M Shed (Bristol) tells the story of Bristol from prehistoric times to the present day with a rich collection of objects, art and film footage. There are also working exhibits on the harbourside including steamboats, trains and cranes, plus the chance to add your own personal stories of Bristol through interactive displays.
The Birmingham museum and art gallery, located in the city Centre, boasts one of the world's finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite art, as well as extensive collections of fine and applied art, social history, archaeology and ethnography.
National Railway Museum (York): Britain’s national rail collection is housed in this impressive museum which is home to more than one million objects that span 300 years of rail history. See the 1938 Mallard that broke the world speed record for steam locomotives as well as the only Shin-Kansen – better known as a ‘bullet train’ – outside of Japan.
The Hepworth in Wakefield – less than an hour’s drive from the historic city of York – opened in 2011 and was winner of the British Design Awards that same year, celebrating the area’s unique artistic legacy and exploring the work of major contemporary artists. It is one of Britain’s largest purpose-built galleries outside London.
The UK’s leading open-air gallery, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park you can admire works by world-leading artists at the same time as strolling around a stunning historic estate, soaking up Yorkshire’s natural beauty. More than 100 pieces are on display at any one time and exhibiting artists currently include Roger Hiorns, Sol LeWitt, Dennis Oppenheim, Anthony Caro and Magdalena Abakanowicz.
The Whitworth (Manchester) was founded in 1889 as the first English gallery in a park and recently re-opened following a £15million development. The newly transformed gallery won the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year 2015 and VisitEngland’s gold prize for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year 2016. There are 55,000 artworks in the Whitworth collection, a changing roster of exhibitions and regular events at the gallery.
The Manchester Art Gallery opened in 1882 and houses many of the city’s most important fine and decorative art works, but is especially renowned for its collection of 19th century British paintings. Highlights include a collection of major Pre-Raphaelite works and the impressionist paintings of Adolphe Valette. The gallery is an easy walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station.
Manchester seems a fitting location for the National Football Museum, boasting not one, but two outstanding Premier League clubs whose fans are based all around the world. This slick museum houses memorabilia and more, offering a sensory experience that extends to smelling a player’s post-match socks! The museum is free but you can pay extra for interactive experiences like having a go at your own commentary or taking part in a penalty shoot-out.
The popular Great North Museum (Newcastle - Gateshead) – which welcomed one million visitors in its first six months of reopening in 2009 – showcases the region’s fascinating Roman heritage, with sections of Hadrian’s Wall, mummies and even a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Close to Newcastle city Centre, the museum is just a five-minute taxi journey from Newcastle Central station.
A major international Centre for contemporary art housed in a landmark industrial building by the River Tyne in Gateshead, which hosted the Turner Prize awards ceremony 2012. BALTIC has no permanent collection and runs an ever-changing calendar of exhibitions and events to give a unique and compelling insight into contemporary artistic practice.
National Museums of Liverpool comprises several museums and galleries, including the Museum of Liverpool, located in a stunning purpose-built landmark building on Liverpool’s famous waterfront. It features a Beatles show and also explores the city’s links with Shanghai in its East Meets West exhibition. The Walker Gallery displays works by Rembrandt, Hockney and Monet and, across the River Mersey, is fine art gallery the Lady Lever.
Tate Liverpool: Situated on Liverpool’s Albert Dock, this is a brilliant outpost of the Tate collection of galleries and is home to Picasso’s Weeping Woman. It also hosts many international artists’ exhibitions.
St Ives, Cornwall: Tate St Ives features the work of artists who lived and worked in St Ives, Cornwall on the south-west coast of England, as well as that of international artists. Visitors can see Barbara Hepworth’s bronze, stone and wood sculptures in the nearby museum named after one of the 20th century’s most important artists. St Ives is five hours 30 minutes’ drive from London.
Located on the Kent coast, just under two hours by train from London, is the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate. The brilliant painter ‘loved Margate for the sea, the skies, and his landlady Mrs. Booth’ and more than 100 of Turner’s works, including some of his most famous seascapes, were inspired by the east Kent coast.
NEW in 2016
-- Rievaulx Abbey Museum, North Yorkshire, north England. Rievaulx Abbey is one of the best preserved and most impressive monastic sites in England. Now a new museum is telling the abbey’s 900-year story and displaying objects from its long past, including elaborate medieval stone carvings, chess pieces and gold coins. Web: english-heritage.org.uk
-- New National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket, east England. The National Horseracing Museum moved to Palace House in Newmarket (around 90 minutes’ drive from London) this year, also showcasing horseracing and sporting art. As well as live thoroughbred horses in the Rothschild Yard and a four-acre paddock, the center includes a new museum that celebrates the sport and science of horseracing. The move to Palace House means the museum will occupy the last remaining element of King Charles II’s racing palace in Newmarket, a town synonymous with the ‘sport of kings’ and which is also home to two racecourses, the Rowley Mile and July Course.
NEW in 2017
-- The British Music Experience has moved from London to Liverpool and is due to open in February 2017 at the historic Cunard Building at Liverpool’s Pier Head. The attraction will feature more than 600 artefacts and more than 90 hours of digital content highlighting how music has influenced British culture over the last 70 years. Web: britishmusicexperience.com
-- Liverpool World Museum has been inspiring children of all ages since 1853. Its popular ancient world gallery is currently being revamped and is set to open in February 2017. Alongside 4,000 objects - many of them previously unseen by the public - there are plans for a brand-new mummy room and interactive displays. Web: liverpoolmuseums.org.uk
-- Farewell to the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplodocus, London. The central display in the museum’s Hintze Hall is set to change next summer, as the long-serving resident Diplodocus is replaced after 35 years with a blue whale skeleton, marking the beginning of a decade of transformation for the museum. Web: nhm.ac.uk
-- The interiors of the V&A Museum, London, have been undergoing a series of redesigns, upgrades and expansions. Next year will see the opening of a new main V&A Shop at the heart of the museum and completion of the £49.5 million Exhibition Road Project, which includes a grand new museum entrance from Exhibition Road, a magnificent open courtyard and a purpose-built gallery to house temporary exhibitions.
COMING in 2020
Jurassica Dinosaur Museum, Portland, Dorset, south-west England: A new £80 million attraction and museum is set to be built in a Dorset limestone quarry 40 meters (132-foot) deep. According to plans, the sire will span around 100 meters and house robot plesiosaurs, fossils and interactive displays. Web: visit-dorset.com
Adapted from VisitBritain 2016