Five free days out

  • 8 January 2014

Feeling the post-Christmas pinch? We bring you five days out you can enjoy without spending a thing.

1. Bath

The Fashion Museum in Bath (Free with National Art Pass) provides the perfect excuse to stare at shoes all day, without maxing out your credit card. Over 30,000 items span textile history from the 16th century to the present, including menswear and womenswear, day and evening dress and examples of alternative and contemporary fashion. Highlights include a group of embroidered waistcoats from 1742 and a collection of work by notable British designers, including Norman Hartnell. From the end of January, you can also enjoy two new exhibitions exploring polite dress in Georgian society and the career of David Sassoon.

Then head to the Grade I listed villa and former hotel, The Holburne Museum, where the permanent collection is admission free. Presented with the help of exhibition designers Metaphor, the approach to storytelling sees 18th-century culture and the rise of consumerism explained through porcelain, paintings and sculpture.

2. Birmingham

Get lost in one of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's 40 permanent displays, which cover an expansive range of fine art, costume and jewellery, social history, archaeology and ethnography. Highlights include its unrivalled collection of more than 2,000 Pre-Raphaelite works and the ArtFunded Staffordshire Hoard of 7th century treasure. Don't miss the UK's only showing of Photorealism; a comprehensive retrospective charting the development of the movement over three generations, also shown at five other venues across Europe. (Entry to the Gallery is free to all; Photorealism is free with National Art Pass).

Later, join the celebrations at Ikon Gallery (free to all) which marks its 50th anniversary during 2014-15 with a series of specially themed exhibitions and a programme of free events, such as spotlight tours and storytelling performances.

3. London

Visit John Keats' former home and see the settings that inspired him to pen some of his most famous lines, such as 'The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves', from Ode to a Nightingale. Lodging with his friend Charles Brown from 1818 to 1820, it was here the poet fell in love with 'the girl next door' Fanny Brawne, and the place from which he travelled to Rome, where he died of tuberculosis aged just 25. Throughout January, a series of free events take place at Keats House, including live poetry readings and a special display of the writer's rarely seen Dear Sir Letter. (Keats House, free with National Art Pass).

Round off the day with a trip to the unique modernist home designed by Ernö Goldfinger in 1932, 2 Willow Road (free with National Art Pass) or the 17th-century Kenwood House (free to all), which brims with Old Master paintings and antique furnishing – both are just a short journey away via a lovely walk across Hampstead Heath.

4. Manchester

The new year marks the centenary of the First World War, which broke out in 1914. Spend a morning at IWM North (free to all), browsing its important collection of artefacts from the period, including possessions belonging to nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed for helping soldiers to safety, and the revolver owned by author JRR Tolkien while serving as a signal officer at the Battle of the Somme. Also worth seeing during your visit is Catalyst: Contemporary Art and War, which explores the reasons why artists create pieces about conflict, and features an ArtFunded work, Queen and Country, by Steve McQueen.

The Lowry (free to all), which is just opposite, houses an incredible collection of works by the popular 20th-century artist as well as temporary contemporary exhibitions. Currently on display is Performer as Curator: Alison Goldfrapp, for which the pop star has chosen a selection of works that have inspired her music.

5. Cardiff 

You could easily spend a whole day in National Museum Cardiff (free to all), where classical paintings by Poussin and Snyders sit alongside works by modern greats such as Cézanne, Van Gogh and Rodin, as well as artefacts of archaeology and natural history. The current Peter Blake exhibition reveals the artist's love of the play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas and has been timed to coincide with the centenary of the Welsh writer's birth.

For further great days out for free, there are National Museum Wales locations across the country, from an old coal mine that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Big Pit, to the National Roman Legion Museum that stands on the site of a fortress, first built in AD 75. (See the full list).