Culture doesn’t have to cost in the UK. Since 2001, entry to state museums is free and nowhere has a better concentration of them than London, the capital, and they cover everything from art to science.
Dominating the Bloomsbury area, with over 900,000 square feet of culture, this is Britain’s biggest and most potent museum. The Elgin Marbles, bought by the British government in 1816 remain controversial – and a big draw – but the Museum has eight million objects to curate, including the 196BC Rosetta Stone, vital in deciphering Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and significant Egyptian and Chinese collections.
The Greek government may want the Elgin Marbles back but they’re a significant draw for the British Museum. Photo credit: Graham Barclay/Bloomberg News
Less visited but worth seeking out are the museum’s collection of drawings, including Raphael and Gainsborough. The space given to temporary exhibitions can seem small, but the scope of the main collection makes this easy to forgive.
Pole position in London, the National Gallery is at the very centre of the Trafalgar Square. Started in 1824 and regularly refreshed through the centuries by strategic purchases and donations from the collections of impoverished aristocrats, the cut-off date for art works is 1900 (after which you need to visit Tate Modern or Tate Britain). Still, there’s plenty left to enjoy including a cluster of Leonardo Da Vincis, Botticelli and a superb capsule collection of Post-Impressionists, including Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres.
South Kensington is London’s Museum Mile, and this is at its heart. A Victorian temple to learning, it was built by Alfred Waterhouse and now displays skeletons and fossils alongside expert talks at the Darwin Centre. In the central hall from this summer, Dippy, the much-loved model of a Diplodocus carnegii which was donated by Andrew Carnegie, will be replaced by a 25-meter skeleton of a blue whale found near Wexford in Ireland. A classic museum for rainy days; often packed with school trips; come close to closing time to a quieter experience. Late night programmes bring the museum alive for adults with silent discos mixed with light learning.
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