The following is a guest post by Meredith Franco Meyers.
Whoever said, “It’s not a free show,” wasn’t touring London!
But during the time we’ve spent hunting down London’s budget hotels, we’ve also picked out a few out-of-the-ordinary museums that aren’t always on backpackers’ radars. So, read on and then plan to browse with the best of ’em while holding on to those extra pounds.
1. Museum of London
- Address: London Wall, EC2Y 5HN
- Tel: 020 7001 9844
Ever wonder what London looked like during Roman times?
In nine permanent—and entirely free—galleries at the Museum of London, visitors get the skinny on life pre- and post-Kate-and-Wills and much more. From prehistory to Elton John and a recent special exhibit on Dickensian London, this place is a must-see. Talk about great expectations!
Bonus: When you’ve finished touring the place, take a look in the gift shop. Or, visit one of the on-site restaurants. The London Wall Bar & Kitchen has a great outdoor terrace that’s a solid pick during warmer months.
2. Wellcome Collection
- Address: 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE
- Tel: 020 7611 2222
- Hours: Closed every Monday (open on Bank and public holidays), open Tuesday through Sunday (hours varied)
What do Napoleon’s toothbrush, George III’s hair and the Virgin Mary all have in common? (No, this is not the beginning of a joke.)
They are all items in the unique Wellcome Collection in central London. Sir Henry S. Wellcome, an American-born aristocrat who made his way to London and later became a British knight, was an aficionado of the arts and sciences. As such, he amassed plenty of interesting objects and curiosities, now on display to the public.
There’s lots to write home about here and many free daily guided tours. Current exhibits include, “Medicine Man.” It’s a giant room filled with Wellcome’s artifacts related to pharmacy, medicine and scientific advancement (and where you’ll see George III’s hair and Napoleon’s toothbrush).
3. Sir John Soane’s Museum
- Address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP
- Tel: 020 7405 2107
- Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sir John Soane (b. 1753-1857) was a professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and the man responsible for designing the Bank of England.
Housed in his former residence, a noble brick townhouse in central London, Soane’s fascinating collection of artifacts and personal effects were gathered from the 1780s to the 1830s and are now on display for free! The permanent collection ranges from architectural plans for the Bank of England and the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
A recent exhibit also showcases miniature plaster versions of iconic buildings. Did somebody say “little pantheon”?
4. Ragged School Museum
- Address: 46-50 Copperfield Road, E3 4RR
- Tel: 020 8980 6405
- Hours: Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., first Sunday of the month 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Visit Dr. Barnardo’s former Ragged School in Mile End and discover how he managed to educate and feed multitudes of poor East End children.
Through a series of canal-side rooms, visitors get a glimpse of Victorian living. Top-floor rooms witness everyday scenes of life under Queen Victoria’s reign while ground level spaces give a detailed and absorbing history of the East End in general.
Best of all are the interactive sessions in the first-floor classroom, where “pupils” of all ages sit at old-fashioned wooden desks—complete with chalk and slate—while a stern teacher, dressed in period garb, puts them through the paces.
5. Museum of Childhood
- Address: Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA
- Tel: 020 8983 5200
- Hours: Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. To 5:45 p.m.
Encompassing a variety of small exhibits (no pun intended) on the histories of children from various civilizations, the Victoria and Albert’s younger sibling museum is situated in a series of houses in London’s Bethnal Green neighborhood.
The name of the institution speaks for itself and throughout a series of free exhibits you can learn about childcare, toys, child labor through the ages and lots more.
Want to know the history of the Rubik’s Cube? Ready to check out a baby potty seat from 1820? Then, you’re in the right place.
About the Author: Meredith Franco Meyers writes and edits for EuroCheapo.com, a leading budget travel site. She has written for American Baby, SELF, Ladies’ Home Journal and more. She is on the faculty at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City.