Culture

8 attractions in the UK that are free to visit

The United Kingdom is one of the most visited countries in the world, but with a well-earned reputation as one of the most expensive as well, a visit to the country could very well put a small dent in your pocket if you do not plan ahead.

Ali Jenning
Ali Jenning

Ali Jennings is a freelance writer, house sitter, and teacher currently residing in the UK.

8 attractions in the UK that are free to visit
Photo:Pajor Pawel/Shutterstock

The United Kingdom has a reputation for being one of the most expensive places to travel to – and if you look at their train ticket and accommodation prices, you can see why – but when it comes to fun things to do, there is actually plenty which will not cost you a penny. The vast majority of museums in the UK are free to visit, plus there are a huge number of other attractions that do not charge, helping to make the country that little bit more cost-friendly. So if you are planning a trip to the United Kingdom soon, here are 8 of the best attractions in the UK that are free to visit, to help you save money on your trip.

1. Natural History Museum, London

London's Natural History Museum

Photo: Stormy Night/Shutterstock

When it comes to free London museums, it is incredibly difficult to pick just one – so many of them are outstanding. However, one of the most popular is the Natural History Museum, which you can easily spend a whole day exploring. Touted as being one of the largest natural history collections in the world, with over 70 million specimens, the Natural History Museum has exhibits covering all kinds of topics and subjects.

Some of its highlights include: the first T-Rex fossil ever discovered; the largest gold nugget in the world; Pompeii casts of a man and dog; a cursed amethyst whose every owner has died either in mysterious circumstances or by committing suicide; an 8.62-meter giant squid; and the first edition of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

2. Big Pit National Coal Museum

Big Pit National Museum

Photo: Intreegue Photography/Shutterstock

Located just a few minutes’ drive away from Pontypool, the Big Pit National Coal Museum has long been a favorite of UK holidaymakers to Wales due to the excellent insight it gives into this part of Welsh culture. Coal mining was once an important part of the industrial landscape in Wales, and you can learn all about its processes and how it influenced the surrounding area here.

The Big Pit used to be a real coal mine and you can see all kinds of mining equipment, artifacts, and memorabilia connected to the industry in the museum. But the most fun part is the underground tour, where you will descend 300 feet underground and experience what life was like for the many miners who worked here. Out of all the best attractions in the UK that are free, this is certainly one of the most
fascinating.

3. International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

Photo: International Slavery Museum/Liverpool Museums

Opened in 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool explores the deep and permanent impact the transatlantic slave trade has had around the world. The exhibits are split into four main sections – Transatlantic Slavery, Racist Memorabilia, Diaspora Collection, and Modern Slavery – which display several historic objects and artifacts detailing the history of the trade and the stories of the courageous individuals who fought against it. The museum is located in the UNESCO-listed Albert Docks, where slave trading ships were repaired and fitted out. You may not have heard of the International Slavery Museum.

4. Parliament Buildings, Belfast

Stormont Parliament Buildings

Photo: Stormont Parliament Buildings/Visit Belfast

Also known as the Stormont, Belfast’s Parliament Buildings were built in the Greek Classical style and are certainly one of the most striking pieces of architecture in Northern Ireland. The architect Sir Arnold Thornley designed the main building with perfect symmetry and symbolism in mind; the building is 365 feet wide to represent the number of days in a year, with six floors and six pillars at the entrance, each one representing a different county in the country.

Parliament Buildings is open every day Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm, with guided tours taking place at 11 am and 2 pm – even the tours are free to join! Taking between 45 minutes and an hour, you will get to see highlights such as the Great Hall, the historic Senate Chamber, and the Assembly Chamber.

5. Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

 Photo: The Virgin Mother/Damien Hirst

If you believe everything you hear about the UK, you would be forgiven for thinking that we do not exactly get the weather to enjoy outdoor activities and attractions. But occasionally we do, and on those rare occasions, you should consider heading to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield. One of the lesser-known UK attractions, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is set within a country park on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

Here you can see gorgeous works of art that look magnificent against their natural backdrop. Permanent works here include pieces by Henry Moore and Anthony Gormley, but there are also a number of temporary exhibitions held on a frequent basis; currently, four major sculptures by Damien Hirst are being showcased at the Sculpture Park until April 2022.

6. Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Photo: Royal Botanic Garden/rbge

Edinburgh is a fantastic city to visit for many reasons, but one of the main attractions of the Scottish capital is the Royal Botanic Garden. Opened in 1670, the garden is home to numerous rare plants, including the largest collection of Chinese plants outside of their home country. Another of its highlights is the Windows of the World glasshouse, a tropical area comprising of ten different climate zones, housing everything from rubber and banana plants to beautiful flowering Asian and African species.

When it comes to the rest of the garden, it does not matter which season you decide to visit, there will always be plenty for you to see. As the Royal Botanic Garden enters its Sesquarcentennial year, you can expect to see a lot of temporary exhibitions popping up across the garden to celebrate it, making the historic ground one of the top attractions in the UK that are free to visit at the moment.

7. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Photo: The Mallett Gallery/Ashmolean

A city steeped in history; it should come as no surprise that a museum in Oxford has made this list. The Ashmolean Museum was the first university museum, opened in the 17th century to house the cabinet of curiosities donated to the university by Elias Ashmole, and continues to be at the forefront of historical and archaeological research.

There are lots of intriguing specimens to see here, such as the lantern that Guy Fawkes, co-conspirator of the Gunpowder Plot, carried in 1605, drawings by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael, and the death mask of Oliver Cromwell. The museum is also known for containing one of the best collections of pre-Raphaelite paintings, majolica pottery, and English silver. The Ashmolean Museum is definitely one of the best attractions in the UK that are free.

8. M Shed, Bristol

M Shed

Photo: M Shed/Facebook

Bristol is one of the most vibrant cities in the UK, and what better way to discover it and learn about its people than to visit a museum all about that? M Shed, located on Bristol’s historic wharf, details the city’s history from prehistoric times to the 21st century, challenging preconceptions on what it has meant – and what it currently means – to live in this great city.

Inside there is a huge collection of artifacts, art, and archives that help to bring these stories to life. But the museum does not just exist inside the building. On the harbor side, you will find steamboats, trains, and cranes, all of which have their own stories to tell.

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