London is home to the UK’s most celebrated collections and admission to most of them is free (a great British tradition). This also applies to commercial art galleries. However, charges are still made for ‘special’ exhibitions, usually of a temporary nature.
London institutions which charge, have fees of around £4 to £7.50 (average around £6 for adults) and £1 to £3 for children (usually under the age of 16); students usually receive a reduction on production of a student identity card. Such museums and art galleries sometimes offer free admission one day a week or offer annual family season tickets. Leading museums and galleries are open seven days a week (including most public holidays) from around 10am to 5 or 6pm, Mondays to Saturdays, and 2 or 2.30pm to 6pm on Sundays. Opening times vary, so check in advance, particularly when planning to visit the smaller London and provincial museums and galleries, some of which open on only a few days a week. Many museums and galleries provide reductions for disabled people and some have wheelchair access.
In addition to the great national collections, there are also many excellent smaller museums, galleries and displays in stately homes and National Trust properties, throughout the UK, many of which are well worth a visit. Most councils publish free directories of local arts organisations, and provide information about activities. Art lovers may be interested in Insight Museums and Galleries of London by Clare Peel (Insight Guides).
Gardens, Stately Homes & Parks
Lists of gardens, stately homes, castles, theme parks, zoos, botanical gardens and national parks are available from tourist offices or are to be found in any good guide book, and touring by car is the best way to see them. Most are open throughout the year, although many have reduced opening hours from October to March.
The National Trust (NT) is a privately-funded charitable organisation that looks after over 300 historic buildings and 612,000 acres of countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Many gardens, landscaped parks, and prehistoric and Roman sites, are also in its care. You can become a member for £32.50 a year or £58.50 a year for a family (including all children aged under 18). Membership provides free access to all NT buildings and sites. The NT issues a free handbook to every new member and you can hear about new developments and events for families and children by signing up for a free email newsletter. There are also over 200 local associations and centres throughout the UK organising a range of activities, details of which can be found in a searchable directory on their website (www.nationaltrust.org.uk); for further information write to the National Trust (Membership Department, PO Box 39, Warrington WA5 7WD, 0870-458 4000). You can also join at any National Trust property and have your entrance fee refunded. The National Trust for Scotland is a separate organisation (Wemyss House, 28 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4ET, 0131-243 9300, www.nts.org.uk).
English Heritage has broadly similar aims and membership costs £34 a year for adults. This enables you to visit 400 English Heritage properties without further charge. You also receive a property guidebook, maps, an events diary, a quarterly magazine and free entry to special events. For information contact English Heritage, Customer Service Department, PO Box 569, Swindon SN2 2YP (0870-333 1181, www.english-heritage.org.uk). If you’re a keen horticulturist, you may be interested in joining the Royal Horticultural Society (80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE, 020-7834 4333, www.rhs.org.uk). Membership starts at £44 and entitles you to free entry to many beautiful gardens and a range of other benefits.
The UK has a number of internationally acclaimed zoos, including London and Whipsnade (50km/30mi north of London), but there are also others throughout the UK (e.g. Bristol, Chester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester) plus a number of safari parks (e.g. Longleat) where animals roam free. (Remember to keep your car windows closed). Zoos are open most days of the year (some close only on Christmas Day) and admission is from around £5 (children from around £3).
The country also has almost 100 theme parks which are very popular (around 100 million visitors annually) and are an excellent place for a special (i.e. expensive) day out for the children. The most popular include Alton Towers (Staffordshire), Pleasureland (Southport), Thorpe Park (Surrey), Chessington World of Adventures (Surrey), Pleasure Island (Lincolnshire) and Legoland (Windsor, Berkshire).
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.