Monday, 8 February 2010

London's free museums - a nation's pride

One of the joys of London is that a majority of its museums have free entry unlike many on mainland Europe. Donations are encouraged but there is no arm-twisting. This applies not only to the heavy hitters in the South Kensington area but also to many specialist museums spread across the capital.
This will come as a relief to any visitors who fork out for one of the city’s popular but pricey paid attractions such as the Madame Tussauds waxworks, The London Dungeon, and the giant London Eye wheel by the River Thames.
A day could be spent just visiting the South Kensington museums – the Natural History, Science, and Victoria & Albert (antiquities to fashion). Although each is a serious centre of learning, there is plenty to entertain adults and children alike.
By the way, the South Kensington tube (subway) station, which links all three by a pedestrian tunnel is not to be confused with the similar sounding High Street Kensington station.
The three museums are imposing 19th century buildings and owe their creation to Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. The nearby Royal Albert Hall concert venue and the Albert Memorial are both ornate Victorian structures worth a visit.
Much more compact but just as engaging is The Wallace Collection of Old Master paintings and a world-class armoury – just yards from the Oxford Street shopping thoroughfare.
The eyes of Frans Hals’s 'The Laughing Cavalier' do seem to follow you around the main gallery. The museum provides a perfect place to have afternoon tea in its attractive covered courtyard.
There are 13 mostly free entry establishments that comprise what has come to be called London’s museum mile. The big fish is the British Museum. Unlike the lyrics of 'A Foggy Day in London Town' (of which we don’t have any more) the British Museum has never lost its charm, as five million visitors a year can testify.
Less busy is The British Library, which houses the 13th century Magna Carta – the document which first limited the power of kings. In the Covent Garden area there is free access to the Royal Opera House, the Museum of Freemasonry, and the quirky Sir John Soane’s museum. The Wellcome Collection dedicated to all aspects of medicine is a fairly recent addition to the best of what is free to the public in the capital.

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