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Free and Quirky Museums of London

Free and Quirky Museums of London

London is expensive no matter which way you look at it. Check out the cost of living index for London, and you'll soon see that travelling there may seem to require some deep pockets. Some London attractions now charge over $162 (£100) admission for a family of four, making travel there prohibitively expensive. But it doesn't have to be, not if you plan on visiting some of London's best, and free, museums. As an added bonus, some of these offer a look at the quirkier side of British life.

No visit to London is complete without at least a couple of hours in the British Museum. This granddaddy of all museums offers a multitude of galleries filled with artefacts from just about every major civilization on the planet. You'll probably head straight for the Elgin Marbles — statues removed from the Parthenon in Athens, or perhaps you'll prefer the Egyptian displays. But there's much more. The Enlightenment rooms in the east wing are particularly fascinating and often free of crowds. And don't forget the spectacular glass roof.

After the British Museum, the next best is the Museum of London. You'll find plenty to interest you here. Its galleries tell the story of the city from its prehistory through to the modern day. See the Mayor's golden coach, visit a Georgian pleasure garden, and walk through the Victorian shopping arcade. It's displays on Roman London are especially intriguing. Plus you get to see a portion of the original wall that once surrounded the city.

You'll learn all about British currency by a visit to the Bank Of England Museum. Vintage bank notes, art work, and antique furniture from the bank make for a small but dense collection. Exhibitions change, but have included ones on gold and one on claims for the replacement of Bank of England notes from the relatives or legal representatives of victims of the Titanic.

The architect of the Bank of England, Sir John Sloane, had an eye for the unusual. His former home displays his collection, which includes period furniture, paintings by the likes of Hogarth and even the sarcophagus of Seti I. You may want to tour the museum on one of its candlelit evenings, held on the first Tuesday of each month.

Just across the square from Sir John Soane's Museum stands another free cultural center, the Hunterian Museum. Named after John Hunter, one of the first people to apply scientific method to surgery, its collection includes skeletal remains, diseased organs and other anatomical curiosities that are definitely not for the squeamish.

At the top of the list of London's quirky museums is the Grant Museum of Zoology. It serves as a teaching museum for zoology students at University College London, but is also open to the public. Crammed with zoological curiosities, it includes such unique items as a giant penis bone from a walrus and a jar full of pickled moles. You can even view free forgotten films featuring animals or monsters, usually followed by a complimentary glass of wine and tour of the museum.

Want to view scientists at work? Then a visit to the Royal Institution is in order. Members of this institution been awarded 14 Nobel Prizes and have discovered 10 chemical elements. It has served as a leading center of science for over two centuries. In its small basement museum, you can view various instruments and contraptions from its past, including the world's first thermos flask, as well as view scientists working in the nanotech lab.

If you're more literary minded, then you'll want to visit the British Library. This gigantic complex houses plenty of exhibits. Leading them is the Treasures exhibition, which displays literature as diverse as Magna Carta and original Beatles lyrics. Two small galleries off the main foyer also present ever-changing temporary exhibitions on literary themes.

Another great way to see a lot in London without spending a fortune is to purchase a London Pass. It combines free entry to over 60 of the city's leading attractions with skip-the-line features, unlimited transport on London buses and the Tube, and special discounts at many restaurants and shops. It even includes some attractions outside the city, such as Windsor Castle.