Answers from Our Experts (3)
Any list of London's best free museums would have to include the British Museum, the V&A, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum and Tate Modern, but as you almost certainly have those on your list already, I'm going to flag up a few lesser known places instead.
Museum of London
This fantastic collection of London artworks and artefacts is just a few minute's walk from St. Paul's Cathedral, but it's so tucked away that you won't find it unless you're looking for it. It tells the story of London through the ages, starting in 450,000 BC and finishing up in the present day. The Galleries of Modern London are particularly special and a great resource for anyone hoping to get an insight into the London of today. Look out for the fascinating collection of Suffragette memorabilia.
Another institution you're not likely to just stumble across, the Hunterian Museum holds the collection of the 18th-century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. Among the 3,500 pathological preparations, drawings and medical implements, you'll find such extraordinary artefacts as a foetal walrus, a pregnant hedgehog and the skeleton of a 7' 7'' giant. Informal talks by volunteer museum experts take place every day.
If you're interested in Old Masters, there are few more atmospheric places in London to see them than at Hertford House in Marylebone, home to the Wallace Collection. Sir Richard and Lady Wallace moved into the townhouse in the late 19th-century, bringing with them the outstanding art collection that Sir Richard had inherited from his father, the 4th Marquess of Hertford. It was made into a public museum after Sir Richard's death in 1900 and has undergone significant renovations since then, but this grand domestic interior still offers a hugely evocative way of experiencing masterpieces by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and many more, plus a fine collection of sculpture, ceramics and furniture.
All of London's best known museums are free to enter, from the British Museum to the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert to the Natural History Museum. But here are three independent museums which also don't have an entrance fee (though voluntary donations are always gratefully received).
Sir John Soane's Museum
I cannot bang the drum for this lesser-visited London museum enough (proof). Perhaps the greatest house museum on earth, this beautifully-designed building is home to a wealth of architectural artefacts, a sizeable selection of priceless paintings, and even the odd Egyptian sarcophagus.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Freemasons’ Hall, the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England, was built in the 1920s... and is home to one of London's most fascinating museums. The exhibition includes a library laden with symbolic décor, a wide variety of Masonic artefacts (including ceremonial swords, regal thrones, painting and photographs) and a moving WWI memorial.
Housed within a series of 18th century almhouses, this wonderful museum offers a visual history of the English domestic interior. You'll find original furnishings and fittings which chart the history of English living rooms from 1600 right up to the present day. It's also home to some period garden rooms, a small herb garden and a very decent restaurant.
One thing London is known for is the quality of its museums - as well as the fact that many of the larger ones are completely free. Here is my pick of the best:
The British Museum has a very real claim to being the best museum in the world. The collection of artefacts housed here is truly immense, running the gamut from Egyptian mummies to Aztec sculpture, Chinese ceramics to Greek jewellery. You could spend days here, literally.
One for all the family, the Science Museum has hands on exhibits covering every aspect of science from deep sea to deepest space. Find out what makes you who you are, discover the development of aviation and discover how we made the modern world. Adults should visit on the last Wednesday of the month for Lates, when it's over 18s only and there are bars set up around the museum.
National Portrait Gallery
History comes to life when you see the faces of the people who made it, and the Portrait Gallery has paintings of pretty much every great British "name" you can think of. Take the escalator up to the top and work your way down through history, checking out everyone from Newton to Churchill, and get up to date on the ground floor with JK Rowling and Kate Middleton.