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London's Best Design Attractions You Can Do/See for Free
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London's Best Design Attractions You Can Do/See for Free

Picture of Ella Braidwood
Updated: 19 January 2018
London is an expensive city with endless opportunities to for splashing your cash – from craft beers on a Friday night to smashed avocado on toast and flat whites at Sunday brunch. To help your personal finance, we’ve chosen the best design attractions to do for free in the capital.
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Design Museum

The Design Museum moved into its snazzy new home in the former Commonwealth Institute last year, which was given a makeover by architects John Pawson and OMA, and is worth a visit for the architecture alone (look at uneven, pointed roof). The museum has a free permanent display, called Designer Maker User, which covers a range of design disciplines from fashion to engineering and showcases nearly 1,000 20th- and 21st-century objects. You can also pay to visit the museum’s temporary exhibits.

Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, Kensington, London, UK, +44 20 3862 5900

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Design Museum | Courtesy of Design Museum © Gravity Road

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V&A

Spend an afternoon in South Kensington’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), home to more than 2.3 million objects celebrating over 5,000 years of human creativity. Self-billed as the ‘world’s leading museum of art and design’, this free gallery is crammed with interesting objects, sculptures and paintings. Check out the museum‘s famous William Morris collection, as well the Wedgwood display of pottery. Also worth looking at are the V&A’s colossal plaster casts, including a replica of Trajan’s Column in Rome. Stop for a cup of tea and cake in the elaborately decorated ‘world’s first museum café‘, which has been open since the 1860s and was designed by James Gamble, William Morris and Edward Poynter. You may even be serenaded by the in-house pianist. The museum also recently opened a new gallery in its Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by the award-winning AL_A.

Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, London, UK, +44 20 7942 2000

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Somerset House

This large Neoclassical building with its splendid courtyard always has a few free exhibits, which are worth a visit. Currently on show are a display by artist and stage designer Chloe Lamford, as well as artist Eloise Hawser’s exhibit inspired by Somerset House’s close relationship with the nearby River Thames and Victoria Embankment . There’s also free history tours on Thursdays and Saturdays, and a tour outlining the site’s previous history as a palace on Tuesdays. In September, Somerset House will be taken over by the London Design Biennale 2018 with work on display by designers from more than 40 countries, including the UK, France, Germany, USA and India.

Somerset House, Strand, London, UK, +44 20 7845 4600

The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court © Marcus Ginns

Somerset House | Courtesy of Somerset House © Marcus Ginns

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New London Architecture

Check out New London Architecture’s year-round programme, including some good free events and talks. Go along to New London Architecture’s talk on new architecture in the capital every Friday lunchtime, using its 12.5 metres-long interactive model of the city.

New London Architecture, The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, Fitzrovia, London, UK, +44 20 7636 4044

Open House London

Every year, Open House London opens the doors to hundreds of architecturally brilliant buildings for the general public to go see for free. There’s also talks and tours.

The programme for 2018 will be released in mid-August. Open House London, various locations across London, +4420 3006 7008.

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Southbank Centre

Combine a walk around the iconic Southbank Centre with one of its free events run throughout the year. The historic venue overlooking the Thames includes the Grade-I listed, Modernist Royal Festival Hall and the Brutalist Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall. The centre puts on free live music every Friday lunch and evening.

Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Lambeth, London, UK, +44 20 7960 4200

Royal Festival Hall 4. Copyright Morley von Sternberg

Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre | Courtesy of the Southbank Centre © Morley von Sternberg

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Sir John Soane Museum

This tiny museum is the former home of Neoclassical architect John Soane, and contains his vast collections of paintings, drawings and antiquities. The museum is an attraction in itself, with its nifty compact design of winding narrow corridors through the exhibits and Soane’s use of convex mirrors to reflect light and give the illusion of more space. Highlights include paintings by Hogarth, Turner and Canaletto, and a 3,000-year-old sarcophagus of an Egyptian king.

Sir John Soane Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, UK, +44 20 7405 2107

The Crypt in candlelight - Photo Gareth Gardner

The crypt in candlelight | By permission of the trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum © Gareth Gardner

London Festival of Architecture

The London Festival of Architecture, which saw 400,000 visitors last year, runs from 1-30 June 2018. Most of the festival’s events are free and it’s a good opportunity to listen to or go to workshops and talks with leading architects and designers.

London Festival of Architecture, various locations across London.

IF_DO’s Dulwich Pavilion at the London Festival of Architecture
IF_DO’s Dulwich Pavilion at the London Festival of Architecture | Courtesy of the London Festival of Architecture © Agnese Sanvito
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Barbican Centre

The Barbican Centre, a Grade-II listed Brutalist landmark, offers a number of free events and displays. Currently on is Less Than Thirteen, a series of animated dots that interpret the movements of conductor Simon Rattle during a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. There’s also artist Gayle Chong Kwan’s visual art project inspired by Epping Forest. Make sure you visit the centre’s magnificent glass conservatory, too, which is filled with exotic plants.

Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, UK, +44 20 7638 4141

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London Design Festival

This annual festival in September has a plethora of free events on design held in some exciting venues across the city, such as the recently redeveloped Granary Square in King’s Cross. It celebrates and promotes London as ‘the design capital of the world’.

15-23 September 2018. London Design Festival, 33 John Street, London, UK, +44 20 7242 6022