Art collides with the dinosaurs - and it's all for free!

Story by Simon Pinion

Over the last 10 days I was pleased to find out (on indielondon's behalf) that at least two of London's National Heritage sites are free entry. The first discovery of this was by accident, as when I arrived at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to meet a couple of friends, I was surprised to find that there was no entry fee.

I was even more surprised when putting my coat in , that this required no money to exchange hands.

Admittedly I am not a man of the arts. Most of the places that I have put my coat in have been nightclubs, and the fee is usually at least a pound. This is why I was so surprised. Something for free? Apparently so.

Luckily for me, one of the friends I was meeting there was a history of art A-level teacher. The National Gallery is a big place, and as myself or my other friend had no idea about the place, or even art in general, she proved a valuable asset. However, if you , like me, have very little art knowledge, I wouldn't let this put you off.

Our visit was a short one, and we were taken to four of my friend's favourite pieces, with a brief explanation of each. We stayed in the
Sainsbury Wing, which looked quite new. The layout was very much as you would imagine a gallery to be. However, I was surprised that you could go right up to the paintings, there were no barriers or shields.

From my brief, informed visit, I am keen to go again. The experience of being in the presence of priceless art, even without any knowledge, was well worth the effort to go there. Apparently there is also an excellent computer centre, where you can browse what's available to see. This is also free.

My second cultural effort was to the National History Museum. I had half a day to kill, and as my four-year-old boy is keen on dinosaurs, it seemed like a logical choice.

I had been to this facility before, but not for many years. This too, is now free entry. After spending a few hours there, it would seem an absolute bargain at even £5 entry, let alone for free.

We bought a guide book for £3, and started to wander. You are first met with the sight of a diplodocus, one of the only things I remembered from my previous visit here. We next made our way to the "Creepy Crawlie" area, which contained bugs and the like. As I was with my four year old, we didn't stop and read much. We mainly looked at the pictures ,twidled with handles, and pushed buttons.

Although we only spent three hours there, it would take a whole day to look round if you were reading a lot of the information on offer.

We next went up to the planet area, which included an excellent earthquake simulator. Other items shown are rock types, and information on our planet and others.

Next up was the dinosaur display, which was our favourite. The T Rex display is superb, reminding me of the quality of Universal Studios in the States. We had to go and see this twice. Next to the dinosaur display , is a large area, displaying every type of animal you could think of. (All stuffed style). The lifesize blue whale is bigger than a bus.

The bird and fish areas weren't as much interest to my son, so we tackled these on the run. The layout and style of displays throughout the museum is very professional, and has obviously been well thought out.

My conclusion is , my brief experimentation with culture proved to be a positive one. What's on offer would have been worth paying for - but as it's free, there's really no excuse. Go!

To find out more about the museum, visit its website by clicking here.