Culture, Shopping & Recreation
UK Museums, Art Galleries, and Festivals
Free UK Museums and Art Funding
The UK has a strong tradition of funding the arts. Commercial art galleries in London and other cities are able to make a profit from selling art, but most cultural organizations largely depend on public funding. Each of the four UK countries has its own council responsible for funding:
The British Council is another important funding source for art in the UK. The council is responsible for educational opportunities and international cultural relations. It is active in 110 countries and territories. The objective of the British Council is not so much to promote UK arts, but more to use it as a way to connect. It supports collaborations between international and British artists and funds exhibitions and events.
One outcome of strong funding for the arts has been to make entry to most national UK museums free. In the museum world, this is quite revolutionary. Since 2001, you can visit the permanent collections of national museums in England, Scotland and Wales (with the exception of temporary exhibitions) free of charge. The Labour government introduced this policy, and it continues to be popular today. There are three national museums in Ireland, and one of them, Belfast’s Ulster Museum, has free entry. In the entire country, there are over 50 national UK museums with free entry.
This policy has had an enormous influence on the popularity of UK museums and, perhaps even more importantly, it has attracted more diverse audiences to UK museums. Visitor numbers to UK museums that charged an entry fee in London prior to 2001 have increased by 150% since entry has been free!
The British Museum
London was once the capital of a vast empire, and it has the museums to prove it. The British Museum, arguably the most famous of all UK museums and one of the most visited museums in the world.
The museum exhibits many artifacts, about seven million, which were made to be used in rituals and everyday life, such as teapots and masks. However, you won’t see anyone in the museum trying on a mask, or using a teapot. The standards for preserving those objects at the British Museum are second to none. The staff does an exceptional job caring for and preserving artifacts, meaning the museum's possessions have a long afterlife as artifacts after their days as objects in use are over.
Founded in 1753 and opened to the public in 1759, the British Museum claims to have been the first national public museum. Its collection exhaustively illustrates the history of human culture. Nearly six million visitors each year walk through its galleries and admire gems like the Rosetta Stone.
UK Museums and Art Galleries in London
Culture is abundant across the UK, but the sheer number of museums and art galleries in London alone makes it no secret which city is the protagonist of the UK’s cultural scene. London is the UK’s main cultural artery – no wonder it is so popular as an expat destination. This list of UK museums in the capital is by no means exhaustive; instead, it gives you a taste of just how much art and culture you can find in London.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum
- The Tate Modern and Tate Britain
- White Cube Gallery
- Serpentine Gallery
- National Gallery
- National Portrait Gallery
- Saatchi Gallery
- Natural History Museum
- Whitechapel Art Gallery
- National Maritime Museum
- Science Museum
- Hayward Gallery
- The British Library
Museums and Art Galleries in the UK
Once again, this list is by no means exhaustive, but it highlights some of the most visited and noteworthy UK museums. As a culture lover, you should definitely have them on your radar. Some – like the Railway Museum in York – also are a popular destination for field trips organized by schools all over the UK.
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
- National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh
- Tate Liverpool, Liverpool
- Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
- National Railway Museum, York
- Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol
- Riverside Museum: Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, Glasgow
- St. Fagans National History Museum, Cardiff
- Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool
- Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham
- Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester
- Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
- The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Art and Culture Festivals
But UK museums aren’t the only hit for local “culture vultures”! From literature to film and from street performance to music, the UK has a full schedule when it comes to festivals. Music festivals are particularly popular in the UK. Below is a list of some important cultural festivals.
- Edinburgh Festival
- London Film Festival
- Bestival, Isle of Wright
- Manchester International Festival
- Brighton Festival
- Parklife Weekender, Manchester
- Edinburgh Festival Fringe