A clutch of great museums, plus a farm and dinosaurs in a park – there’s plenty to do that’s free in east and south London
Period front room at the Geffrye Museum
Geffrye Museum, Hoxton
What would your living room have looked like 100 years ago? 200 years ago? This Hoxton museum explores how tastes in English home furnishing have changed over the centuries, from 1600 to the present day. A series of mock interiors are chronologically arranged along the length of a row of early 18th-century almshouses. An outdoor herb garden completes the picture, while a modern wing offers temporary exhibitions.
• 136 Kingsland Road, E2, 020-7739 9893 , geffrye-museum.org.uk, open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun and holidays noon-5pm
Museum of London Docklands, Canary Wharf
The MoL’s eastern outpost covers the history of London’s docks. It’s one hell of a story. Somehow, the museum manages to pack in the rise and fall of the British Empire, the formation of the Royal Navy, the horror of the slave trade, the fire storms of the second world war, the death of the docks in the 1960s, and the massive redevelopment of Canary Wharf and the wider riverside since.
• West India Quay, E14, 020-7001 9844 ,museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands, open daily 10am-6pm
Spitalfields City Farm
Photograph: AlamyLondon has more than a dozen city farms dotted around the inner boroughs. All of them offer a family-friendly taste of rus in urbe
and a chance to meet domesticated animals. The Spitalfields farm is one of the more central options. It also distinguishes itself with the annual Oxford-Cambridge Goat Race, which takes place annually on the same day as the more famous boat race.
• Buxton St, E1, 020-7247 8762 , spitalfieldscityfarm.org, open 10am-4.30pm
Valence House, Dagenham
London is replete with small, local museums. One of the best area-specific examples can be found in the borough of Barking and Dagenham. These parts of London are often overlooked by visitors, but are steeped in social and cultural history. Valence House tells their story with aplomb, inside a largely medieval building that retains part of its moat.
• Becontree Avenue, RM8, 020-8227 5293 , lbbd.gov.uk, open Mon-Sat 10am-4pm
Crystal Palace Park
Photograph: Stephen EmmsThis much-loved space takes its name from the giant Crystal Palace, which stood to the west of the park until it burned down in 1936. It was originally constructed in Hyde Park, to house the 1851 Great Exhibition, but was shifted to Sydenham the following year. The building’s footprint can still be seen. Nearby, a landscaped lake is noted for its population of sculptures depicting dinosaurs and extinct mammals. These date back to 1852 and are the oldest such models in the world. The rest of the park offers a pleasant mix of open space, an athletics stadium, woodland and family facilities.
• Sydenham, SE20, 020-8778 7148 , visitlondon.com
Royal Museums, Greenwich
The National Maritime Museum buildings and Observatory on the hill in Greenwich. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the GuardianWith its hilltop views, riverside setting and world heritage status, Greenwich makes a great free day out in itself. But this corner of south-east London is also packed to the gunwales with cultural attractions. The Royal Museums comprises the National Maritime Museum (free), the Royal Observatory (partly free), the Queen’s House gallery (free) and the restored Cutty Sark (quite pricey to go in, but you can gaze from outside). All are worth a visit.
• 020-8858 4422 , rmg.co.uk, open daily 10am-5pm
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Photograph: Martin Argles for the GuardianThe elegant college complex has been a landmark of the Greenwich riverfront since it was initiated by Sir Christopher Wren in the early 18th century. Originally built as a hospital for injured sailors, it later served as a naval training academy. Today, most of the buildings are used for educational purposes, but two blocks are open to the public. The Painted Hall is lavishly decorated with paintings by Sir James Thornhill, while the nearby Chapel is resplendent in gold. The college is built on the site of the Palace of Placentia, birthplace of both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.
• 020-8269 4799 , ornc.org, open daily 10am-5pm
Horniman Museum, Forest Hill
Photograph: Sean Smith for the GuardianForest Hill is about as far off the standard tourist trail as you get. But nestled on the verdant hillside in a set of newly spruced gardens you’ll find one of London’s best museums. The Horniman has a bit of everything. A natural history collection – including the famous badly stuffed walrus – forms the core of the museum. You’ll also find a small aquarium, rooms full of unusual instruments and textiles, a display of anthropology and a damn fine cafe. Outside, the unusual architecture and views towards central London match the indoor wonders.
• 100 London Road, SE23, 020-8699 1872 horniman.ac.uk, open daily 10.30am-5.30pm
Imperial War Museum, Lambeth
Learn about camouflage at the Imperial War MuseumAt times deeply moving, even harrowing, at others inspiring, the IWM never fails to impress. The grand premises originally served as the Bedlam asylum, but now house dozens of military vehicles, historic documents and often overlooked but spectacular art galleries on the top floor. Be sure to wander the grounds, too, where you’ll find a section of the Berlin Wall, a pair of giant naval guns and a Tibetan Peace Garden.
• Lambeth Road, SE1, 020-7416 5000 , iwm.org.uk, open daily 10am-6pm