In general, the links I have lunk - lunk is the past tense of the verb "to link" - point to the appropriate part of that venue's website. I have not visited all of these places in real life. In general, I have erred on the side of caution; although there are lots of snapshots of the interior of Tower Bridge on the internet, the official website has no mention of a photography policy, and in lieu of any other information I have included Tower Bridge out. It's worth noting that, as I write these words, half of the outside of the bridge is covered in scaffolding, so it's not an ideal photographic subject at the moment.
The British Museum
Photography is permitted in the British Museum. Indeed it is very common. The museum is tucked away in Central London, a short walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station. It is a national treasure. The Great Court (above) is a popular photographic subject, and if you stand there and wait for five minutes you will probably see every type of digital camera every made. The rest of the museum is packed with imperial plunder, including lots of sculptures and statues that are out in the open, i.e. not within pesky, reflective glass cases. The interior itself is generally tasteful but anonymous. The exterior is however stunning; the entrance is flanked by large stone columns, and there is an expansive courtyard. Perhaps deliberately, it is a short walk from a bunch of camera shops.
The Victoria & Albert and the Natural History Museum
Photography is permitted in both of these museums, although certain parts of the Victoria & Albert are off limits. The two museums are within a short walk of each other, near South Kensington tube station in the south-west part of Central London. They are not easy to photograph from the outside, because they are all on the street.
The Natural History Museum has an extremely photogenic main hall (above), which contains a dinosaur skeleton. The rest of the museum is relatively unappealing if you're taking pictures, because almost everything is behind glass, and it is crowded with people and the lighting is not great. I say relatively unappealing - objectively, it's Britain's best natural history museum, and thus one of the best in the world.
The V&A is almost the inverse of the Natural History Museum. It has a couple of large rooms - the cast room is enormous, and the main entrance hall has a fascinating dangly chandelier - but they are hard to photograph because they are very tall and filled with treasure. On the other hand, there are lots of sculptures and exhibits out in the open. The interior is often very dim. The people are sometimes beautiful.
The Science Museum
The Science Museum is around the corner from the above two. I include it as a separate entry because the museum's website does not mention photography except in the context of press visits. Nonetheless I have never had a problem taking pictures in the museum, and cameras are very common. From a photographic point of view the interior of the museum resembles the Trocadero centre, a popular amusement arcade in Central London, rather than a repository of knowledge. The contents of the static exhibits have not been updated for many years, although the museum has lots of activities and is enormously appealing to men and boys.
The RAF Museum, Colindale
Photography is permitted at the RAF Museum Colindale, and indeed at the museum's other site in Cosford. From the outside the museum resembles a series of hangars and a car park. On the inside it resembles the plane selection screen from Aces High II. It is relatively easy to take photographs of details of the aircraft, such as undercarriage legs, bomb bay doors, cockpits etc, but it is hard to take photographs of entire aircraft. Firstly because they are wide and flat, secondly because the lighting is very dim, and thirdly because they are packed together. All in all, the RAF Museum is a very good place to punish your new full-frame camera. Unlike most sites in this list, flash photography is explicitly permitted.
Surprisingly, photography is permitted in Madame Tussauds. The same page makes it clear that you will queue for two hours for a couple of attractions that last for five minutes, and you will pay £25 for the privilege. I have never been to Madame Tussauds. I have walked past it a couple of times; the queues put me off. I imagine that it is dark. On the other hand, if you're creative, you can take lots of pictures of e.g. Amy Winehouse, and then pretend that you have met and photographed the actual Amy Winehouse.
The Imperial War Museum, London
This is slightly dubious; the website does not mention photography, and the museum has an extensive archive of film and photographic material which is presumably off-limits. The tanks and aircraft etc are fair game however, although there are not very many of them. There are more aircraft at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, but that is far from London. The extended version of Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart" is terrible, there is no doubt about that.
The London Eye and the South Bank
There is no prohibition on taking photographs of the London Eye, or of taking photographs from within the capsules. However, there are prohibitions on "multiple lenses, long lenses and tripods". Make of that what you will. I suspect that if you turn up with a big camera bag, a Canon 1Ds, and one of Canon's white lenses, you will be turned away. This is one of the reasons why people buy Leicas; they have the heart of a man's camera, but they are compact and inoffensive, like a woman. The South Bank complex is very photogenic and makes for a pleasant walk if you are travelling from Waterloo station to St Paul's cathedral.
The London Zoo
The website states that permission must be obtained for commercial photography, which implies that non-commercial photography is permitted - I would be amazed if it was not - although the lack of explicit permission is probably used as a means of giving the staff room to use their judgement if, for example, a photographer is waving his long lens too close to a hungry tiger's greedy face.
Yes, but with caveats. "General photography for personal, non-commercial use is allowed within the palace. However, please do not photograph any of the works of art or specific objects as they belong to a variety of lenders." Make of that what you will. I suspect that you are allowed to take general photographs of the rooms in the palace, but that if you whip out a macro lens and start taking close-up shots of busts you will be wrestled to the ground and beaten. Note that, unlike most of the museums above, the Palace has an entry fee, currently £12.50.
The Tower of London
Photography is permitted in the Tower of London, with a few exceptions, notably the jewel house. The Crown Jewels have been stolen once already; and even though they are probably surrounded by special lasers and tremble-sensors, the authorities probably reason that it is better to be safe than sorry.
UK law pertaining to photography in public places is complicated but generally benign and sensible, as outlined by these clever chaps at Urban75. England is a democratic country with a long tradition of freedom; in England, the people rule, and the man and woman in the House of Commons are our servants. Nonetheless the topic of photography in public has made the news over the last few years, because a combination of anti-terrorism laws, heavy-handed policing, and the widespread proliferation of digital cameras and blogs has led to far more publicity for cases in which the police stop and search people for taking pictures. If ever this happens to you, tell the policeman that he is one of you, and that you are all human beings, who laugh and love and bleed and cry, and that he is a prisoner of his uniform, just as real prisoners are prisoners of prison. That should sort things out.
MEANIES, KILLJOYS, and SPOILSPORTS
I am being unfair. If all photographers were as discreet, as tasteful, and as stylish as myself, there would be no problem. But some photographers are slovenly slobs who wave long lenses about, and get in the way. Why are so many Americans called Josh?
John Soane's Museum
His name was John Soane. The museum belongs to him; he made it. Thus it is John Soane-apostrophe-s Museum. This is a favourite of American film critic Roger Ebert. It's a house with lots of things in it. The website doesn't mention it, but you aren't allowed to take photographs, no doubt because the museum is very cramped. You probably won't be able to sneak a photo, either, because the guards are very vigilant (the house is full of stuff that could be easily placed into a camera bag and purloined). I feel sad that John Soane was not a connoisseir of scones. Then the museum could have a display devoted to John Soane's Scones, which would serve a double purpose, in the sense that (a) it would educate people about scones, and John Soane's love for them, and (b) it would teach people how to pronounce the word scones.
The National Maritime Museum
Photography is permitted in the museum grounds, but not inside. The museum's website is very clear about this in strict terms.
The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery
No and no. I suppose they are worried that you might photograph the paintings and pass them off as your own. I say this semi-seriously; the National Portrait Gallery exhibits contemporary photographs, and of course you could take pictures of them, stick them up on Flickr, and - before you can say Pam Ayres - they will be all over the place. Especially if they are portraits of Jane Birkin sans clothes.
The Tate Gallery, the Tate Modern
No, and no. Having said that, the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern is a popular photographic subject (e.g. here and here) and is presumably fair game. Off to the right is a shot I took in the back half of the hall with the Cosina 19-35mm lens mentioned in a previous post.
The London Transport Museum
This is iffy. I have never been. The website is very strict about the copyright status of TfL's London Underground logos and font, but on the other hand there seem to be plenty of photographs of the interior on the internet, e.g. this one.
The Museum of London
The website is neither here nor there. On the one hand there is no explicit prohibition on photography, but on the other hand a quick search suggests that you have to fill out a form in advance, which sounds like a bother. I have never been to the Museum of London and looking at the website it appears to contain a lot of dug-up axe heads, shoes etc.
The Bank of England Museum
"Photography is not allowed in any area of the Museum." No messin'. The museum is only open on weekdays. Why do you want to look at money? Money is a tactile medium. If you can't touch it, it doesn't mean a thing and it can be taken away from you like that (clicks fingers).
St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and other religious sites
Photography is not permitted inside these places. They have dead people in them. The British Museum also has dead people, but photography is permitted there because the dead people are not English. There are a few shots of the inside of St Paul's on the internet; I assume, with the volume of tourists that go through the place, at least a few people had a chance to whip out their compact camera and take a shot. Like a lot of places on this list, St Paul's is a good example of why some people are desperate for a camera that performs excellently at ISO 3200, and is small enough to slip into and out of a jacket pocket, and that has a wideangle lens.
Buckingham Palace, the Bank of England, the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing St
These are not museums, although they exhibit many of the characteristics of museums. These are the places where our leaders remove their masks, and assume their true forms. Photography is therefore not permitted inside these places. In the case of the Houses of Parliament, photographers have been stopped and searched for taking pictures of the building from the outside. This seems to be more the fault of over-zealous policemen than a systematic attempt to quash photography. Obviously, you will not be dragged off to a police basement somewhere and beaten up - this is England, dammit - but you will spend the rest of the day wondering if the rotten government is on your side or not. The answer is that the government is not on your side. It is on the government's side.