In central London is a cluster of free museums all within a short walk of each other that offer an eclectic day out, and leaves you wondering how you never visited them before. A museum and galleries trail running from Euston to the Thames that’ll deliver you everything from medical history, Egyptians, architecture and secret societies — it can make for a fascinating day out.
Most of the museums put on changing exhibitions throughout the year, so once you’ve walked the trail, there’s likely to be a few you’ll end up wanting to return to every few months to check out what’s changed.
Starting at Euston, there’s 15 venues to visit as you head south towards the Thames, where this particular trail ends, next to Temple tube station.
Point to note, due to a few venues opening hours, if doing this trail on a Saturday follow the route in the order of venues below, but if doing it on a weekday, you might find it better to walk south to north, as Grant and Petrie museums don’t open until 1pm (or skip them for another day).
Most of the venues are closed on Mondays and some are closed on Sundays or Tuesdays — so best to do this later in the week, or a day out on a Saturday.
Every one of the venues in the culture trail is free to visit – so starting just across the road from Euston station is…
Large venue with usually a couple of large temporary exhibitions all themed in some way or other about the human body and mind.
The exhibitions are usually very good, with one on the ground floor and a couple upstairs, along with a permanent gallery.
It’s open Tues-Sun (closed Mon) from 10am to 6pm – and late to 8pm on Thursday.
A quirky museum of animals that is famous for its slightly offbeat sense of humour and innovative ideas about how to display the collection.
How many other museums would have a whole glowing chamber full of tiny bugs (do look up), or a case full of plastic dinosaurs as an exhibit about how knowledge changes over time?
Look for the glass jar of moles.
It’s open Tues-Fri 1pm-5pm and Sat 11am-5pm
Not a museum, but as you’re in the area, a pity to miss is the preserved, and stuffed body of Jeremy Bentham, which is, in accordance with his will, on public display inside UCL.
The easiest way to find him is to go into the main UCL courtyard and head to the far right corner, and he’s inside the building at that end.
Usually unlocked most days when UCL is open to students.
Named after the founding father of modern Egyptology, this museum is housed within the university and is a classic old-fashioned collection. Expect lots of glass cases with lots of stones, pots and artefacts, each carefully labelled.
It’s a tad difficult to find, being down the end of a seemingly private road, but that’s part of the appeal, discovering something that most people walk past without noticing.
It’s open Tues-Fri 1pm-5pm and Sat 11am-5pm
This is a venue that’s part showroom for the construction industry and public exhibition space. There are usually a couple of free exhibitions on through the year, changing typically twice a year, and usually a mix of architecture or the built environment.
A wander around the back showroom space can be interesting as well, and do look out for the windows that turn foggy as you walk past them.
It’s open Mon-Fri 9am to 6pm and Sat 10am to 4pm
Part of the University of London SOAS school this is a large exhibition space that usually has two or three temporary exhibitions ranging from exploring art to politics and culture. Sometimes the exhibitions are a bit ok, but often they are eye-opening insights into places we often don’t think about that often.
There’s also the (occasionally open) Japanese Garden on the roof which is worth trying to visit if in the gallery to see if the doors are unlocked.
It’s open Tues-Sat 10:30am to 5pm, and late on Thurs to 8pm.
This is the library halfway up the impressive white stone tower that dominates the local area, and has occasional exhibitions that are open to the public. Not that often, but when they do, they tend to be quite good.
It’s also an opportunity to go inside the main building and see the impressive marble-lined entry hall. Check their website before visiting to see if there’s anything on.
Slightly hidden in a seemingly private house, this is actually a public research library that also puts on public exhibitions in its ground floor space.
Often fairly small as they have to fit into a small room, but always thought provoking.
You usually need to ring the bell to be let in.
It’s open Mon-Fri 10am to 5pm
Almost needs no introduction – the granddaddy of museums that can soak up days of visits on its own.
Most of the galleries are free to visit, but there are paid exhibitions as well.
A tip to visitors, the main entrance usually has a long queue to get in, but if you use the smaller northern entrance, which coincidentally is where you would be if following this trail, then the queue to get in is usually much shorter.
It’s open every day from 10am to 5pm, and late to 8:30pm on Fridays.
The grand impressive home to an organisation that is usually thought to be secretive until you see how big and obvious their headquarters is. It’s also open to the public, and apart from their permanent museum display, there’s usually a temporary exhibition in their library which typically focuses on a famous freemason.
Ask at the desk, and there are usually free tours of the rest of the very impressive building during the day.
It’s open Mon-Sat 10am to 5pm
A private home owned by Sir John Soane and absolutely packed full of his private collection of antiquties. It’s unlike any museum you’ll visit as it’s not a place to reverently admire objects and more a maze of stairs and rooms that are packed to the rafters.
A visit is more of an experience.
It’s open Wed-Sun 10am to 5pm – closed Mon & Tues except for Bank Holiday Mondays.
I include this one for completeness, although it’s closed until 2023 due to building works. When it reopens in the revamped Royal College of Surgeons, it’ll be a collection of human medical history stretching back a couple of centuries and based on the original collection by the 18th-century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter.
Opening hours to be confirmed.
Next to the entrance to the LSE Library is a small space that’s given over to temporary exhibitions. Usually just a few display cases, and most of the exhibitions are about human and civil rights.
Modest, but usually very informative.
It’s open Mon-Fri 9am to 7pm and Sat-Sun 11am to 6pm
A large cultural venue that has a mix of art exhibitions some of which are free to visit, others you will have to pay for. However, even if you don’t visit the exhibitions, the grand courtyard is always worth popping into just to admire the space.
They also do regular free tours of the building and the undercroft — check their website for details.
The main building is open daily, with each exhibition having its own opening times.
A magnificent building that’s worth visiting in its own right, but also puts on occasional exhibitions.
Note that the building is only open to the public when there’s an exhibition on, so check before making a visit.
A selection of nearby paid-entry museums
This article was published on ianVisits
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