The metropolitan area of London is home to dozens of great museums for you to visit and many have some of the greatest works of art ever created on display.
It’s sometimes difficult to decide which museums to visit when there’s such an abundance of choices, isn’t it?
To make it a bit easier, I have compiled a list of some of the greatest museums in London where you can admire fine art, several of which are free to enter.
Ready to add some of the best art museums in London to your bucket list? Then read on to discover some of my personal favorites.
1. National Gallery (Free to enter)
The National Gallery is not only one of the greatest free art museums in London, but it also houses an incredible collection of paintings. Located on the popular Trafalgar Square in the city of Westminster, it’s housed in a magnificent Neoclassical building that dominates this public space.
The museum was established in 1824 with a collection of just 38 paintings but has grown to a collection size of over 2,300 paintings today. While this might seem smaller than most national galleries, it houses notable masterpieces from every art movement in the history of Western art.
Official website: National Gallery
2. Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum or V&A as it’s commonly referred to is one of the largest art museums in London. It houses a collection of over 2.27 million objects and features the largest collection of art related to applied arts, decorative arts, and design.
The museum was established in 1852 and was named after Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert. It’s housed in one of the most striking buildings in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea just west of London’s historical heart. The collection of the V&A also features magnificent paintings and sculptures.
Official website: V&A
3. Tate Britain (Free to enter)
Tate Britain is the current name of a museum in London that has gone by a couple of different names since its establishment in 1897. It was known as the National Gallery of British Art between 1897 and 1932 and as the Tate Gallery between 1932 and 2000.
The collection of Tate Britain features some of the most famous British artworks in history. It houses a substantial collection of paintings by J.M.W. Turner who bequeathed his works to the nation after he died in 1851. If you want to enjoy British art, then this is definitely the best museum to visit in London.
Official website: Tate Britain
4. Courtauld Gallery
The Courtauld Gallery is housed in an opulent building known as Somerset House which is located in the Strand in central London. This art gallery is part of the Courtauld Institute of Art which is a self-governing college of the University of London.
The collection of paintings at the Courtauld Gallery is fairly small with only about 530 works. The museum does hold over 26,000 drawings as well. In return, you get to admire some of the greatest masterpieces ever painted from the Middle Ages to modern times. This definitely makes it well worth a visit.
Official website: Courtauld Gallery
5. Wallace Collection (Free to enter)
The Wallace Collection is the name of a museum that is housed at Hertford House on Manchester Square in the West End of London. This house was once the townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford. The museum is named after Sir Richard Wallace, 1st Baronet (1818-1890), the man who grew the initial collection.
The collection of the museum features over 5,500 objects which are arranged in 25 galleries. Especially the painting collection is impressive, but the museum also has furniture, arms and armor, and porcelain on display. The collection of 18th-century French art and the fact that it’s free to enter makes this a must-visit museum in London.
Official website: Wallace Collection
6. Dulwich Picture Gallery
The Dulwich Picture Gallery is located in Dulwich, an area in South London on the border of the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth. It’s the oldest museum solely dedicated to art on this list because it first opened its doors in 1817, something that also makes it the oldest public art gallery in England.
The museum became an independent charity in 1994 but was part of the College of God’s Gift, a charity originally established in the early 17th century. The building was designed with revolutionary illumination in the 19th century. This perfectly highlights the incredible collection of paintings by the Old Masters on display at the museum.
Official website: Dulwich Picture Gallery
7. Tate Modern (Free to enter)
Tate Modern is the second of 4 art museums in Great Britain that are part of the Tate institution. The others are Tate Britain in London, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St Ives in Cornwall. Tate Modern focuses on modern and contemporary art and opened its doors in 2000, making it the newest addition.
The museum is housed in the most fascinating location of any museum in London. The Bankside Power Station, a former electricity generating station in central London, was completely repurposed to serve as a museum. It’s one of the largest art galleries of modern and contemporary art in the world and is also free to visit.
Official website: Tate Modern
8. Guildhall Art Gallery
The Guildhall Art Gallery is an art museum that holds the art collection owned by the City of London. It’s housed in a building that resembles the former Guildhall of London which is located right next to it. This section of London is known as Moorgate and was once part of the northern defensive walls of the city.
This is not the only historical significance of the building. It was constructed on top of the ruins of the former Roman Amphitheater of Londinium, the name of Roman London. The museum houses paintings that were collected by the City of London Corporation ever since 1670, including “The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782,” John Singleton Copley’s masterpiece.
Official website: Guildhall Art Gallery
9. National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery or “NPG” is a museum in London that is dedicated to portraits. It was established in 1856 and is probably the first public museum of this kind in the world. The museum is located at St Martin’s Place, right next to the National Gallery, and has been located here since 1896.
The museum houses the most significant collection of portraits of British people in the world. This obviously includes members of the royal families over the centuries but also other famous people such as the portrait of William Shakespeare. This particular work was the first portrait that entered the museum’s collection.
Official website: National Portrait Gallery
10. British Museum (Free to enter)
The British Museum isn’t a museum that is specifically dedicated to art but also encompasses a wide range of other things as well, especially related to human history and culture. This immense museum is located in the Bloomsbury area in the West End of London.
It has a history that goes back to 1753 and the collection of scientist Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). It opened to the public in 1759 and has since grown to a permanent collection of over 8 million objects. The museum houses some incredible ancient artworks and also features an impressive collection of prints and drawings.
Official website: British Museum