Free Access to the Arts in Britain


free access and admission to arts venues in Britain 2017 

A Guide to Free Access to the Arts in Britain 2017 edition!

With the long summer school holidays fast approaching I thought I would write this week about some of the more interesting things you can do over the summer break in the UK. With Easter weekend this week, most of the places listed will be open for business so there's plenty to keep you entertained if you are in Britain this week!

If you plan on visiting or you live here and are planning to visit some of the best that Britain has to offer then you'll definitely want to read on. 

School holidays are not just about beaches and theme parks, you can tie in your passion for the arts too and still keep the kids entertained in between the beach and the roller coasters. 

Many of the places I am writing about have either been visited by me or have been visited by friends and are now on my to do list. The best bit is that many of the places listed offer free admission although a few charge a small fee for special events and exhibitions. So here we go with free access to the arts in Britain the 2017 edition!


free museums and art galleries in London 2017 

Everyone I know who lives outside of the UK always say that they want to visit London when they talk about England. I can see the appeal, I spend a few days in the capital most weeks, and over the years I have figured out that there are some wonderful places which sit off the traditional tourist path.



The museum has on display some wonderful relics of the Bank of England’s remarkable history from throughout its more than 300-years of being in existence. If you visit before summer 2017 you will also be able to see its latest exhibition: Capturing the City: Photography at the Bank of England.

You will need at most a couple of hours to go around the museum, but there are some great coffee shops in the immediate vicinity and it’s not always crowded.



Located in the Bloomsbury area of London, the British Museum holds a fascinating and captivating collection of more than eight million objects.

The museum has ten curatorial and research departments and is led by a board of twenty-five trustees. If you visit before the 18th June 2017, you will also be able to see the American Dream exhibition: Pop to the Present.

Whilst access to the general museum is free, unless you are a member there is often a charge associated in getting into the special exhibitions. Becoming a member is the cheapest option if you plan to visit a couple of the special exhibitions over the course of the year, and becoming a member is reasonably priced.



IWM London tells the stories of people’s experiences of modern war from WWI to conflicts of the current day.

The coverage of these events and especially of those events covering the Commonwealth and Britain is outstanding. IWM is actually a family of five museums, with other IWMs in Manchester, Duxford near Cambridge, London Whitehall (The Imperial War Rooms) and the historic ship HMS Belfast which floats on the River Thames.

They are in part government funded but they also rely on donations and sponsorship. If you plan on taking the family you'll find plenty to see and do.  There are free activities for younger children, and the museums often have special events.

In particular the permanent Holocaust exhibition can easily move you to tears, but it is a critical part of history and it is definitely worth a visit.



Located as close as you can get to Trafalgar Square in London, The National Portrait Gallery is always a joy to visit. Entrance to the gallery is free although there are some special exhibitions which are ticketed and will attract an entrance fee unless you become a member.

The Primary Collection of paintings, sculpture, miniatures, drawings, prints and photographs contains some 11,100 portraits of the most famous people in British history.  Of these more than 4,150 are paintings, sculptures and miniatures, approaching 60% of which are regularly displayed at the National Portrait Gallery or elsewhere.  

In addition, there are some 6,800 works on paper, shown on a rotating basis of about 300 items a year.  Normally items not on display can readily be made available for viewing via the Collections Manager.

The NPG is well worth a visit and you will need to take some time to go around it, and then you will need to come back! It really is a great place and remarkable that the hustle and bustle of England’s capital city is just right outside the door. It is great for children too with plenty of activities often available.


free admission to arts and museums in north east England 2017 


The Laing Art Gallery is home to an internationally important collection of art, focussing on British oil paintings, watercolours, ceramics, silver and glassware.

It’s an impressive collection and one which I will visit again next time I am in the area. The Laing regularly holds changing exhibitions of historic, modern, and contemporary art, and events which include artist and curator talks and family activities.

Upstairs is the 18th and 19th century display, including internationally important paintings by John Martin, Paul Gauguin and Burne-Jones. This is also where you will see on display William Holman-Hunt’s pre-Raphaelite masterpiece Isabella and the Pot of Basil.


Located in Gateshead and open between Tuesday and Saturday, the Shipley Art Gallery is a museum dedicated to contemporary craft and design.

The Shipley is also home to The Henry Rothschild collection of studio ceramics. This includes work by all major makers and studios working in ceramics during the 20th century in the UK.

There are five gallery spaces, showing a range of temporary exhibitions throughout the year. There are also regular events including artist and curator talks, family activities, concerts and vintage and craft fairs.


free access to the arts in Scotland 2017 

The north-east of England stretches up to the Scottish border so whilst you are in the region a visit to Scotland is doable. Once you are at the Scottish border you need to remember that Scotland is a huge vast and often rugged space, much of it filled with open moors, mountains, and very long stretches of road.


It can be a bit of a drive from the border towns of Scotland up to Edinburgh but it is always a drive of discovering the natural beauty and often rugged landscapes in between the lowlands and Edinburgh before transitioning north to the Scottish highlands.

The City Art Centre in Edinburgh has one of the best collections of Scottish art that you will find anywhere and there is always a busy program of events taking place.

Thankfully an escalator and lift help you move around six floors, and you can be refreshed by sampling the menus in the café, or buy art books, cards, handbags and jewellery from the ground floor shop.

The gallery space is clean and fresh and it makes a great day out. You will need more than a few hours to see everything on offer, and it is a must do when the weather takes a turn for the worse as it can sometimes do in Scotland.

I vacationed in one of the border towns a few years ago staying over in an old watermill, and despite doing this in the spring, I still encountered severe snow on route to Edinburgh.

Occasionally the weather is great too, just one day after the snow I managed to walk around without having to wear a coat!


The Aberdeen Art Gallery is currently undergoing a major redevelopment but the Aberdeen Maritime Museum remains open during this time.

The museum tells the story of the city’s long relationship with the North Sea. Located on the historic Shiprow and incorporates Provost Ross's House, which was built in 1593.

The museum has a busy schedule of events and special exhibitions throughout the year and is especially interesting for the younger ones too.


free admission to the arts east of England 2017 

The East of England is an area different from other regions of England. Expect some long country drives between stops, and some very flat land, but it is also an area with one of the most famous cities, Cambridge.

Cambridge is not the most eastern part of England, there are plenty of miles between Cambridge and the coastal towns of the east of England. There is so much more to see and some quaint seaside hotspots too, as long as the weather is good!


The Fitzwilliam Museum is a treasure. The Fitzwilliam Museum was described by the Standing Commission on Museums & Galleries in 1968 as "one of the greatest art collections of the nation and a monument of the first importance". It owes its foundation to Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion who, in 1816, bequeathed to the University of Cambridge his works of art and library, together with funds to house them, to further "the Increase of Learning and other great Objects of that Noble Foundation".

It is an easy museum to walk around and has an intriguing range of displays and exhibitions. Few museums anywhere in the world offer such variety and depth.

Writing in his Foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition for Treasures from the Fitzwilliam which toured the United States in 1989-90, the then Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, wrote that "like the British Museum, the Fitzwilliam addresses the history of culture in terms of the visual forms it has assumed, but it does so from the highly selective point of view of the collector connoisseur.

Worthy of a visit above all else Cambridge has to offer? Yes. Just the architecture alone is worthy of a visit, and if you manage to visit before the 4th June 2017, you will also get to see the exhibition, Madonna’s and Miracles where you can peer through the keyhole of the Italian Renaissance and discover a world of religious devotion.

Visit before May 21st and you will also see Making Waves: Discovering Seascapes through Drawings and Watercolours.

There’s more to the East of England than Cambridge, but let’s stay in Cambridge for now and another great experience.


This is the oldest of the University of Cambridge Museums having been established in 1728 as the Woodwardian Museum.

The collection has grown from about 10,000 fossils, minerals and rocks, to at least 2 million and a walk through the museum takes you on a journey through 4.5 billion years.

The museum collections are a national treasure and worthy of spending quite a bit of time to explore.

Let’s now go completely westerly and head across the border in to one of my favourite places.

I have previously written about the joys of Wales in my blog An Artists Guide to the UK which you can read here.


free access to the arts in Wales 2017 


Big Pit is a real coal mine and one of Britain’s leading mining museums. It is an informative and entertaining day out and admission is free of charge. You can take a stroll around the Mining Galleries, Pithead Baths, and the historic Colliery buildings.

You can also go on the underground tour with a real miner and see what life was like when the pit was in its heyday.

However, it’s not one for younger children or for those with mobility problems but it is a great day out if you can manage it.


Open from Easter to the end of October and situated in Llanberis in the shadows of Snowdonia National Park. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and one of the few places in the UK which I constantly return to time after time.

Dinorwig Quarry closed in 1969. Today, rather than fashioning wagons and forging rails, the workshops tell a very special story: the story of the Welsh slate industry.

The Workshops and Buildings are designed as though quarrymen and engineers have just put down their tools and left the courtyard for home and it is a fascinating day out in the shadow of Elidir Mountain.


free access to the arts in south west England 2017 


Explore the collections of art, nature, and history, at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.  On the ground floor you will find mummies, exhibits of the South West’s wildlife, the exhibition gallery and much more before you go up to the first floor.

This is an interesting floor because it is also home to the Bristol dinosaur, a Gypsy Caravan, and you will get an outstanding view of the Bristol Boxkite from the balcony. The Bristol Boxkite was the first aircraft ever produced by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company and was one of the first aircraft to be built in quantity.

Art lovers will need to head straight for the second floor and this is where you will also see one of the finest collections of Chinese glass outside of Asia. It is also here that you will see works from Pissarro, Cranach, Bellini, and Jacob Van Ruisdael amongst many others.

As I live very close to the site on which the Staffordshire Hoard of Saxon Gold was found, if you head to the museum before the 23rd April 2017, you will be able to see the display, Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard.


Devon is a popular destination for vacationers and has some of the most amazing scenery in the UK. In Bovey Tracey on an historic pottery making site you will see the site of a company who produce quality vintage and traditional toys and games.

As the name suggests, marbles are a huge part of this attraction and you will find a wonderful array of marble runs, animated animals, and a giant floating marble.

You can also visit Teign Valley Glass which is a company set up in 1981 to make specialist handmade marbles for the House of Marbles.  

Aside from marbles there is a unique range of glassware available and they make work for both department stores and galleries.

It’s one of those relaxing days out, not too taxing, but certainly enjoyable particularly if you were a child anytime in the decade between the 60’s and 70’s. There is a great outdoor café, and if you want to taste a real Devon Cream Tea this is where you will find it.


Poole is an area I have spent a lot of time in either through work or on vacation. Poole Museum is set in a Victorian quayside warehouse and back in 2007 it received an atrium extension.

The museums galleries tell the story of the historic maritime town of Poole and its harbour from pre-history to the 21st Century. The actual museum is made up from four closely connected buildings, Oakley’s Mill a Victorian grain warehouse and flour mill with some stunning wooden architecture, The Medieval Ship Inn used to occupy the site.

The third building is the Town Cellars which were originally built circa 1300 and has some of the most impressive stone walls. There is also an herb and physic garden which is open throughout the summer and Scalpens Court.

Poole itself is steeped in maritime history and is an ideal base for discovering the Jurassic Coast, Bournemouth, The New Forest, and the Dorset countryside. If you fancy escaping the shores, you can easily hop on a ferry boat and head across to Jersey and Guernsey or even France. Jersey is doable in a single day, I have done it twice!


free access to the arts in the West Midlands 2017 Cannock Chase 

Almost at the centre of the UK and England’s second largest city after London, Birmingham is racked in history from its industrial past.


One of my frequently visited museums is Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) first opened in 1885. It is housed in a Grade II* listed city centre landmark building. There are over 40 galleries to explore that display art, applied art, social history, archaeology and ethnography.

The art gallery is famous for its Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which are part of the largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world. 

You can also see art and objects spanning seven centuries of European and World history and culture. This includes Greeks & Romans and Ancient Egypt.

On Saturday’s it can get quite busy but if you are visiting the area during the week and in school term time, the experience becomes much more enjoyable. It is located in the centre of Birmingham City centre, so once you have visited the museum there is also ample opportunity to go shopping or visit one of the many world-class restaurants in the area.


Around twenty-minutes from my home you will find Weston Park which is also the site of the annual V-Festival which attracts many of the world’s biggest music names.

Originally built in 1767, the art gallery was unused for many years until the Heritage Lottery fund stepped in and made a contribution to its reopening.

There are monthly art exhibitions from acclaimed UK artists and from artists beyond the UK too, along with items of loan to the gallery from private collections.

Weston Park is a stately home set amongst 1000 acres of Capability Brown landscaped parkland and has a rich history. What makes this stately home more intriguing though is that nothing is behind ropes as it operates as an exclusive use venue. With 28-bedrooms, the home is often used for private house parties, weddings, and corporate events.

You will need to be a guest at the home to visit, but beyond the house there is lots to see and do and particularly when major events are held on the site. However they also hold many Upstairs Downstairs events which can be booked online.


My birthplace of Walsall is well known for its vibrant leather industry and now houses a fascinating leather museum housed in a restored leather factory.

For 200-years, saddles and leather products have been made in Walsall and now you are able to visit the craft workshops to watch skilled leather workers in the process of creating leather goods.

The displays around the museum depict the stories of the leather trade in Walsall over the years, and there are splendid examples local craftsmanship from throughout its history to the present, including the making of saddles for the Royal Family.

There is a picnic area and the Saddle Room Café which has recently reopened provides quality food at affordable prices.


free access to the arts in The East Midlands 2017 

Over in the East Midlands you will find a heritage of art and culture, and you will also be able to visit the National Space Centre.

The National Space Centre is a visit that will attract a cost but it is a great day out and especially for the younger ones.


Derby Museum and Art Gallery is home to a fascinating range of nationally important collections with longstanding and temporary exhibits and paintings of local and international significance.

Collections are regularly updated and you can enjoy coffee in the Coffee House surrounded by a collection of historical porcelain.

Derby Museums is home to the world’s largest collection of works by Joseph Wright of Derby. Born in Derby in 1734, Wright is an internationally renowned artist, whose paintings and works on paper adorn the walls of major galleries the world over.

Other museums under the ownership of Derby Museums are the Silk Mill, and Pickford’s House.  

Hidden amongst the gorgeous old buildings and cobbled pavement of Friar Gate sits Pickford’s House; the professional showcase and family home of Georgian architect Joseph Pickford.


Visit from May 2017 and visitors will be greeted with a new staircase and lift which will take you to the upper floor of the museum.

New Walk Museum originated in 1849 when the Literary and Philosophical Society formally presented to the town its various collections, which have grown and developed over the last 160 years into one of the premier museums in the region.

The Victorian Art Gallery includes major 16th – 19th century British and European artists, including Joseph Mallord William Turner, Lord Leighton, Edgar Degas and Michael Sweerts.

You will also be able to see Picasso Ceramics: The Attenborough Collection. In 1954 Richard and Sheila Attenborough paid their first visit to the Madoura pottery in Vallauris, where Picasso had been working for several years with Georges and Suzanne Ramié. The Attenborough’s started with modest purchases, leading to a collection numbering some 150 pieces.


free access to the arts in Yorkshire 2017 

HULL MARITIME MUSEUM,631051&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL 

Hull has a fascinating maritime heritage and its Maritime Museum is located in the Victorian Dock Offices in Queen Victoria Square.

Displaying Hull’s maritime history from the late 18th Century to the present day, you will be able to see a full sized whale skeleton, alongside superb ship models and stunning artefacts from Hull’s whaling, fishing, and merchant trade.

The displays are remarkably comprehensive, showing the skeletons of various species of whale as well as the whole range of harpoons and tools used in the trade.


In Bradford you will find this little gem of film and media. Situated right in the heart of Bradford, UNESCO City of Film, we exist to promote an appreciation and understanding of media through eight floors of free galleries, an extensive collection and research facility, and three cinemas including the UK's first IMAX theatre.

Essentially what you will discover is all things related to television, film, photography, and the internet and you can even play original arcade video games. Home to over 3.5 million items of historical and cultural significance including three pivotal firsts.

The world’s earliest known surviving negative, the earliest television footage, and the camera that made the earliest moving images in Britain.

You will also be able to see the National Photography Collection, The National Cinematography Collection, The National Television Collection, The National New Media Collection, and you can explore collections online here too.


free access to the arts in north west England 2017 


Preston, Lancashire is the birthplace to one of England’s greatest (although he wouldn’t admit it), cricket legends, Andrew Freddie Flintoff. According to Freddie, everywhere else in the world only comes second to Preston, and actually I have to say every time I have visited Preston, I have been impressed. World class? Well it’s certainly up there for some things, although it rains a lot in the North West. But your days will be brighter for a visit with its friendly population who all seem to have a sense of humour.

The Harris Museum is certainly a world class museum though, since 1893, The Harris has enriched the lives of visitors and the local community by creating links between people, collections and exhibitions, and by celebrating creativity and stimulating learning.

Stunning architecture, and featuring a wondrous Fine Art Collection which was founded in 1883 with Richard Newsham’s bequest to Preston of his remarkable Victorian art collection. Numerous works, of both national and international significance, have been subsequently added to this founding collection, either by bequests, gift or purchase.


The fascinating history of one of Cheshire’s most attractive and historic towns is brought to life by Nantwich Museum, founded in January 1980. Located in Pillory Street, at the heart of the town, the museum has different galleries telling the story of Nantwich through the ages.

Roman salt making, Tudor Nantwich’s Great Fire, the Civil War Battle of Nantwich (1644) and the more recent shoe and clothing industries. There are also continually changing temporary exhibitions, as well as historic town walks, talks and other events.

It is a small or should I say compact museum, but you will find some extraordinary artwork from a painting of historian James Hall which greets visitors, and the Museum is celebrating a special acquisition after successfully bidding for an oil painting depicting a horse on Nantwich Racecourse, dating from 1781.

The painting, Mr Walsh’s Perdita, with jockey up, on Nantwich Racecourse is by artist Benjamin Killingbeck who specialised in painting horses and dogs.


One of the four Tate museums but this one is located in Liverpool which is the city the Beatles came from. The area itself is steeped in a colourful history, from maritime to music and everything in between.

Located at the historic Albert Dock which itself is a great day out, Tate Liverpool holds unique collections and often shows temporary exhibits too.

It’s Tate, so you kind of know what to expect if you have ever visited any of their other museums and galleries, Tate is an executive non-departmental public body and an exempt charity. Its mission is to increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding of British art from the 16th century to the present day and of international modern and contemporary art.

If you have never visited a Tate previously, I actually prefer Tate Liverpool to those elsewhere. It can get busy but there is always plenty to see and do.


free access to the arts in south west England 2017 


Located in Oxford the Ashmolean offers a sensational collection which spans Eastern and Western civilizations and charts the aspirations of humanity from the Neolithic era to the present day.

The Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, founded in 1683. Their world famous collections range from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art, telling human stories across cultures and across time, they also display the foremost collection of modern Chinese painting in the Western world.

I can thoroughly recommend the Rooftop Restaurant with its menu of European cuisine, and if you want something a little lighter there is also the Ashmolean Café.


Milton Keynes Gallery is expanding and the main building is currently closed for renovation. Located in the centre of Milton Keynes, the gallery often holds special events even during this current period of refurbishment.

If you are passing through Milton Keynes it is certainly worth a visit.  Also remember that Bletchley Park home of World War II codebreakers is not too far away either, although you will need to plan some extra time at Bletchley Park.


The museum is an important centre for both research and teaching, and is organised into Life Collections.


The Zoological Collections comprise more than 250,000 specimens, including some 1,000 type specimens. Many extinct and endangered species are represented, including the most complete remains of a dodo in the world. Notable collections include those of Thomas Bell, William Burchell, and Charles Darwin.

It is around a fifteen minute walk from Oxford city centre and around 20-minutes from Oxford rail station. Bear in mind that there is no public parking at the museum so you will either need to use a Park and Ride Service or walk.


There is so much to see around the Great Britain that it would be impossible to list every great place to visit this summer. There are many museums outside of the major cities and these are the ones we should definitely be supporting as many of them are really struggling for funding and support.

The joy of visiting the more local museums is that there are often fewer crowds, and you will find something that really will amaze you.

Many of the museums I have mentioned this week have good access for those with disabilities too and many of them run special events for children with learning disabilities. Britain is not just about the traditional landmarks which appear in every tourist guide, there is much more to see and do and if you don’t have to pay admission it becomes a really affordable day out with the children rather than spending hundreds of pounds on admission to one of the big theme parks.

The UK generally is served by good road networks although many of the local roads come with the added feature of potholes but that’s another story, travel across the UK is relatively easy. Great Britain includes England, Wales, and Scotland, whereas the United Kingdom also includes Northern Ireland and I plan on covering the whole of Ireland in an upcoming post. 

I am also planning on identifying local museums and galleries in the USA and Canada too at some point in the future, so if you have any suggestions please get in touch or leave a comment. I've done a few in Florida so these will definitely feature but if you have visited others in the other states, please leave a comment and I will check them out!


Mark A. Taylor is a British artist who sells his work here. and in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada.

He supports local and independent artists through this website and through his Facebook groups, The Artist Hangout, The Artists Exchange, and The Artists Directory.

You can also follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @beechhouseart


Popular Posts