Must-see museums and galleries in Central London
Discover art and culture at the very heart of the UK capital, from the spectacular St Paul's Cathedral to one of the world's most visited attractions, the British Museum, plus so much more.
The centre of London is home to some of the world’s most famous museums. Thousands of years of creativity and innovation are packed into this small but significant area.
Some of these museums house vast collections, including treasures on show nowhere else in the world; others focus on one aspect of culture or history.
Discover an arts centre with an enormous conservatory, a gallery the size of six football pitches and the place where JMW Turner is buried. This helpful guide focuses on 10 of the most unmissable, especially when using a National Art Pass.
Explore our full listings for more museums, galleries and exhibitions across London.
This historic institution draws on a collection of 2,300 paintings, including masterpieces in each major tradition in Western European painting, for free displays that span 66 different rooms. Organised chronologically, the galleries include world-famous works by the most prominent names from each era – artists including Rembrandt, Turner, Degas, Cézanne and Van Gogh. Visit for acclaimed special exhibitions, refreshments ranging from the humble espresso to contemporary European menus, and to see if you can spot famous faces in the mosaics at the Portico entrance.
Much of the British Museum is mammoth in scale, from the 13-metre-high columns at the entrance, to the resident collection of eight million items. There are 80,000 historic objects from around the world on display here at any one time, as well as once-in-a-lifetime exhibitions, events, and several eateries. The museum’s map, object trails and daily tours each highlight rare and precious artefacts such as the Lewis Chessmen, Rosetta Stone and Sutton Hoo ship burial; alternatively, arrive early to explore freely while it’s quietest.
An arts centre in a Grade II listed Brutalist building, the Barbican is home to a dazzling programme of dance, film, theatre, music and visual arts. Discover major exhibitions in the two galleries, Barbican Art Gallery and The Curve, including UK firsts and mind-bending installations; and explore London’s second largest conservatory, filled with 1,500 plant and tree species. The Barbican’s shop is stocked with design-led gifts, its food outlets offering varied menus across several floors.
Walk in the footsteps of royalty and epoch-making political leaders: St Paul’s Cathedral has witnessed everything from royal weddings to a speech by Martin Luther King. The existing structure was designed by Christopher Wren, stands on a site that dates back 1,400 years and is now home to both permanent and temporary installations by international artists. Explore the crypt where John Donne, Nelson and JMW Turner are buried, scale the iconic dome for views across London and marvel at this astonishing, Grade I listed building.
The permanent galleries at the Museum of London take visitors on a journey, from the city’s prehistoric origins, when hippos lived where Trafalgar Square is now, through to the modern era. Home to the largest archaeological archive in Europe, the museum brings the stories of the city and its people to life through displays that draw on a collection of more than seven million items, as well as interactive exhibitions and a varied programme of events.
Shortlisted for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018, the Postal Museum’s approach to five centuries of communications history is a far cry from dusty cabinets and stamp collections. The significance of a service that shaped Henry VIII’s court, two World Wars and is now fundamental to the digital age is brought to life through temporary exhibitions and immersive displays. Send secret messages in pneumatic canisters, defend the mail coach against highwaymen and ride the Mail Rail below the Mount Pleasant sorting office: this London Tourism Award-winning museum is proof of the postal service’s dramatic past.
Professor of architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts and the mind behind buildings including the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery, John Soane amassed a collection of models and antiquities for the benefit of his students. Housed across three neighbouring buildings, it includes models of the ancient ruins that inspired his designs, a 3,000 year-old sarcophagus and 118 paintings ingeniously hung in a room that would otherwise be three times the size. Discover the highlight tours, late openings and special exhibitions at this national museum, preserved as it was on the day of Soane’s death.
titution that cared for over 25,000 children during its history, and was made possible through the support of artist William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel. Built on the grounds where the hospital stood, the Foundling Museum highlights the stories of the children who lived there through temporary exhibitions, showcases commissions by contemporary artists including Tracey Emin and Yinka Shonibare, and welcomes visitors to a varied programme of events.
The UK’s first public gallery dedicated to photography, The Photographers’ Gallery has introduced some landmark names to a wider audience – Juergen Teller, Shirley Baker, Martin Parr. Complete with three floors of exhibition space, a specialist, independent bookshop, print sales gallery and a new space in Ramillies Place for free, open-air exhibitions showcasing the very best in contemporary photography, the gallery is now a major centre for the presentation and exploration of the medium.
Founded and led by artists and architects, the Royal Academy of Arts holds a Designated collection of international significance – added to over the years by academicians donating works when elected. Free displays spotlight the highlights, while special exhibitions include the annual Summer Exhibition, which includes over 1,000 works chosen from an open submission process. Discover epoch-making artist movements and major retrospectives, and dine next to murals by Royal Academy members.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.