Many will tell you that London is a very pricey destination to visit, but this certainly doesn’t have to be the case if you choose what to do there wisely. The city actually boasts a wealth of free museums, galleries and attractions, all of which will offer further insight into this fascinating capital at no extra cost. Here are five of our top picks on how you can have a varied and exciting trip to London without having to break the bank.
Natural History Museum
To truly keep the kids captivated and interested, take them here. The Natural History Museum features over 80 million items from botany, mineralogy, zoology, paleontology and entomology. Whether it is specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself, dinosaur skeletons, or simply looking at the building’s own fine architectural styles, there is something here to suit all tastes.
The major attraction here is the 105-foot long skeleton of Diplodocus carnegii, known as Dippy, in the central hall; a gift from an American industrialist to King Edward VII. Another major draw is the blue whale model in the hall of the same name, standing at 25 metres long and 10 tons. When it was built in 1938, it was the largest model of its kind in the world.
The galleries are split into coloured zones: the red zone looks at the earth, rocks and minerals, the green zone features birds, insects and ecology, the blue zone boasts dinosaurs, fish, mammals and reptiles, and there is a wildlife garden and Darwin centre in the orange zone.
To get to the Natural History Museum from The Montcalm, it is a half-hour walk through Hyde Park or you can take the 414 bus from Marble Arch to South Kensington tube stop.
Old Royal Naval College
As part of World Heritage Site Maritime Greenwich, the Old Royal Naval College really is the centrepiece. Originally the site of Greenwich Palace, where both Mary I and Elizabeth I were born, it has a rich history. Over the English Civil War, the palace quickly fell into disrepair and then was demolished in 1694. It was soon replaced by the Royal Hospital for Seamen, with the chapel and painted hall still being able to be seen today.
After closing in 1869, the site was converted into a training centre for the Royal Navy and it remained for this purpose until 1998 when the Greenwich Foundation finally took control of the grounds. Walking around here, you are sure to be astounded by the sheer magnificence of its corridors, and even better, its completely free to enter.
To get here, grab the 23 bus from Marble Arch to Bank Station and then get the Docklands Light Railway to Cutty Sark – the college should be right in front of you.
Queen’s House Greenwich
This former royal residence was built in 1919 by Inigo Jones for the queen of King James I, Anne of Denmark. While it is surely stunning to look at, it is also one of the most important buildings in Britain, merely because it was the first classical building to have been built in the country, unlike others that had just borrowed from the style.
Innovative and revolutionary, the Queen’s House shocked many at the time, and it is hardly a surprise that it is both a Grade I listed building and a scheduled ancient monument. In recent years, the house has been used as a VIP Centre for the 2012 Olympics and part of the National Maritime Museum. You can walk around here free but note that you may have to pay for some temporary exhibitions.
You can get to the Queen’s House by getting on the 23 bus to London Cannon Street and then jumping on the southeastern to Dartford and getting off at Maze Hill. Walk along Greenwich Park on Park Vista and the house will be on your left.
Royal Air Force Museum
Known as just the RAF Museum, this site is situated on the former Hendon Aerodrome and was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972. Spanning five major buildings and hangars, the museum is home to 36 aircraft openings and is the result of an increasingly-expanding collection from various smaller RAF museums across the country. In total, there are over 100 aircraft, including one of the only two surviving Vickers Wellingtons in the world, the Avro Lancaster S-Sugar, the only Boulton Paul Defiant on the planet, and a Consolidated B-24 Liberator from Cosford.
The five main exhibition halls are focused on Milestones of Flight, The Bomber Hall, Historic Hangars, The Battle of Britain and the Grahame-White factory. There is also an interesting National Cold War display that houses all three of the V Bombers.
Note that if you still haven’t got your aviation fix filled after this, there is a second collection of exhibits housed at RAF Cosford, just five miles north-west of Wolverhampton.
You can get here by getting on the 23 bus to London Charing Cross then jumping on the Northern Line to Colindale.
The Science Museum is one of the capital’s finest attractions. Housing exhibits on everything from space and engineering to medicine and natural history, it really does have something for everyone.
What’s more, it’s very well set up for families. Interactive exhibits can be found throughout its galleries, which are perfect for curious kids, while there are also dedicated interactive areas where children can try hands-on experiments. This museum provides a great balance of learning and fun; you’ll want to come back again!
To get here, it is a half-hour walk from The Montcalm through Hyde Park.