Of course, there are donation baskets and you can buy postcards and nicknacks to support the museum, but there's no pressure to donate if you are on a budget. The museums here are primarily run by huge grants and donations of unmatched scale - although every little bit helps of course. However, some museums do charge to get in, but I've always avoided those when there are so many free museums to go see!
So with all the museums around London, here's my Top 5 you shouldn't miss:
1. British Museum
This is easily my favourite museum in London, and is filled to the brim with archeological finds. Everything is presented in a modern way and tells a story. Of course, some of the artefacts have more dubious backgrounds - in the past, the British ran around and took a lot of things that weren't theirs for the taking! The museum is divided into different sections and I recommend you just choose your favourite and try to see that one "small" section. There is enough in this museum to keep you busy for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week for a long time. My favourite collections include:
The Egyptian Mummy Collection
Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon Treasure
Ancient Assyrian Rooms
The museum also has travelling exhibits you can pay to go see which look pretty amazing as well.
While this is the only pay-to-enter museum on my Top 5 list, it is really worth paying the whopping £17 entry fee. The Tower of London has a long bloody history which the museum un-successfully tries not to highlight. The Tower contains beautifully restored buildings, chapels gory stories, an armour museum, prison cells with original graffiti from "traitors", and of course the crown jewels.
The real highlight when I went was going on the guided tour. Far and away, it was the best guided tour I have ever been on - keeping us laughing until our sides hurt while telling informative stories and learning. What more could you ask for?
Even if you are not really into science, this museum is worth going to just for the building. It was purpose built in the 1800s to house the science collections while the Natural History Museum was still a part of the British Museum (they have since split). The building is absolutely beautiful with detailed carvings of animals lacing the high vaulted ceilings and Corinthien columns.
The exhibits here are geared more towards kids, but still work for adults too. Be sure to take a look at the dinosaur skeleton collection!
4. Tate Modern
The Tate Modern is a world-class modern and postmodern art museum with everything from Jackson Pollack to Ai Wei Wei on display. Its sister museum is the Tate Britain which houses older pre-modern art, if that is more your cup of tea. The Tate Modern is located in the heart of downtown London right on the Thames in an old repurposed industrial factory. The museum has a fantastic gift shop with thousands of books on modern art, along with posters and (expensive!) limited edition prints. The Tate Modern also has late nights at the museum which are worth going to. Again, it is free to go unless you see one of the travelling exhibitions.
|Ai Wei Wei's installation in the Turbine Hall|
This is a small, unassuming museum near Trafalgar Square in the very centre of London. However, its size makes it very accessible and un-intimidating- most of the museum can be seen in an hour or two.
It's free to enter, and even the travelling exhibits tend to be very cheap at only a few pounds. In particular, the Gallery holds a few portrait contests which are really worth seeing each year!
This museum is fascinating because it doesn't focus on artists so much as the sitters for the portrait. Each painting is accompanied by a description of who the person in the painting is, and perhaps a sentence about the artist. It is absolutely fascinating to stroll through the museum and see how the depiction of people and the human aesthetic has changed over the last 600 years.
Of course, there are piles of other museums in London which are worth a visit depending on what interests you:
- Victoria and Albert Art and Design Museum (free entry)
- Science Museum (Free entry)
- London Transport Museum (paid entry)
- Churchill War Rooms (paid entry)
- Imperial War Museum (free entry)
- National Maritime Museum (free entry)
- Buckingham Palace (paid entry, seasonal openings)