10 Best Museums to Visit in London You Probably Didn’t Have On Your Radar

10 Best Museums to Visit in London You Probably Didn’t Have On Your Radar

by George Mouratidis
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London is bursting with museums — 170 in total, to be exact. Some, like the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of London, are famous all over the world for a very good reason: not only they’re free, but they feature some of humanity’s most astonishing discoveries and artworks.

With so many museums all around the city, it can be tricky to select a few of the most “unusual” ones to visit. To make things easier, we’ve collected ten cool museums in London that should be included in your itinerary after you’re done with the A-listers. 

British Museum

You probably had this already on your list, and that’s why we mention it first. The British Museum’s eight-million-piece collection is arranged in geographical galleries, including Africa, Ancient Egypt, Asia, Greece, the Middle East, and Rome. Admission is free, except for some temporary exhibits.

Why Visit the British Museum

It’s historically significant. Established by an Act of Parliament in 1753, the British Museum was the world’s first public museum. Plus, you can gaze upon the Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone, two culturally priceless artifacts at the heart of two highly publicized and contentious lawsuits.

Before You Go

The collection is too large to see in a day, so pick one gallery to explore. To determine which one, listen to the museum’s podcast beforehand to familiarize yourself with the collection. Lifelong learners should also check out the Taster Talks. It’s a free lecture series where academics and artists give 30-minute talks and answer questions.

While There

Since the British Museum is a highly-trafficked London locale, crowd averse people should plan to go early on a weekday morning.

Guests can choose to wander the museum alone or with a tour. Self-guided options are also available. Also, bear in mind that the luggage policy of the British Museum is quite strict, so make sure you don’t have any heavy or bulky items with you.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Established in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and her prince consort, Albert, the Victoria and Albert Museum houses a prestigious art and design collection. Its 2-million-piece collection is displayed in topical galleries, like fashion, furniture, and architecture. The V&A, as Londoners call it, also maintains the largest assemblage of post-classical sculptures and an extensive Islamic art collection.

Why Visit the Victoria and Albert Museum

The building is jaw-droppingly spectacular, as is the 3.5-story-high, blown-glass, Dale Chihuly chandelier in the entrance-way.

Before You Go

Avoid lines by securing advanced online tickets. It will save you hours.

While There

Look up and marvel at the building’s intricate craftsmanship. Also, slot at least three hours for the V&A since it’s a genuinely fascinating collection and not a boring, obligatory one. Afterward, stroll around the Brampton district. Locals call it “Albertopolis” because nearly everything in the area bears the man’s name.

Tate Modern

A converted factory in Bankside, Tate Modern is the 6th most-visited art museum on the planet. The public can enjoy its impressive permanent collection of 20th- and 21st-century art for free. But if you want to check out temporary exhibits or traveling installations, expect to pay.

Why Visit Tate Modern

Go for the Picassos, Dalis, Warhols, and Rothkos. However, don’t get frustrated by the museum’s confusing organizational convention. The works are separated by abstract themes that require a Ph.D. in art history to understand.

Before You Go

The Tate Modern doesn’t allow large bags in the galleries, and they search through even the tiniest of totes. Luggage is strictly forbidden. So before going, stash your stuff in a high-tech storage locker.

While There

After the art, head to the 10th-floor viewing deck. The views are incredible, and you’ll capture great snapshots of London and the Thames.

Science Museum

An interactive London museum, the Science Museum in South Kensington is filled with incredible inventions, like Puffing Billy, the oldest surviving steam locomotive, and the first jet engine. A model of Watson and Crick’s DNA helix is also on display.

Why Visit the Science Museum

It’s fun, and the STEM-educated docents in the Wonderlab will excite your inner mad scientist.

Before You Go

Check the museum’s IMAX 3D schedule. You may want to plan your trip around a specific viewing.

While There

Watch a working example of Charles Babbage’s difference engine, the first mechanical calculator that could handle polynomial equations.

Wallace Collection

Photo by M.chohan

The once-private collection of Sir Richard Wallace, the museum is an eclectic menagerie of high- and low-brow art. He left his London mansion, art, and furniture to the nation, so long as executors never sold or leased any piece. Situated on Manchester Square, admission is free.

Why Visit the Wallace Collection

Go for the Old Master paintings, including some Rembrandts and Velazquezes; stay for the delightfully tacky wax sculptures.

While There

Don’t eat before going. Instead, grab a bite at the museum’s yummy cafe.

Tower of London

On the north bank of the River Thames, and built on William the Conqueror’s command around 1066, the Tower of London is one of the most famous historical buildings in the United Kingdom, if not the world. Officially named “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London,” the structure began life as a royal residence. Since then, it’s done time as a prison, zoo, office building, and armory. Today, it houses the Crown Jewels.

Why You Should Visit the Tower of London

It’s one of the most famous buildings in western history and guarded by Beefeaters in old-fashion uniforms. Take as many pictures as you please, but don’t be the clown who eggs them to break rank. It’s lame, not funny.

Before You Go

Buy tickets online and plan your visit for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday when crowds are significantly smaller. Schedule permitting, put aside an entire day for the tower and surrounding area; it’s teeming with things to see and do.

While There

The admission fee includes a 45-minute guided Yeoman Warder’s tour. Take it to acclimate yourself and learn fascinating tidbits about the complex.

Charles Dickens Museum

Photo by Dickens Museum

Few things are more iconically British than Charles Dickens, so why not visit his museum located at 48 Doughty Street in the Holborn section of London. Established in a townhouse that Dickens occupied between 1837 and 1839, the museum boasts over 100,000 Dickensian objects, including manuscripts and letters.

Why Visit the Charles Dickens Museum

Curators staged the museum like a home, so visitors get a feel for how Charles Dickens lived.

Before You Go

It’s a townhouse with tight spaces. Do yourself and others a favor by leaving your bags at the hotel, or stash them at a secure locker.

While There

In 1870, painter R.W. Buss was working on a portrait of Mr. Dickens. Unfortunately, the author passed away before Buss concluded. The unfinished work is on display at the museum.

Design Museum

Photo by Aurelien Guichard

A minimalist oak and marble interior serve as a backdrop to vibrant works of art at the Design Museum. A relatively young institution established in 1989, the 1,000-piece permanent collection, called “Designer, Maker, User,” is free. However, the museum actively encourages donations, and traveling exhibits typically carry a fee.

Why Visit the Design Museum

The award-winning collection is, plainly stated, very cool. It’s a walk through the history of product design, graphic design, and fashion.

Before You Go

Sometimes the museum stays open for late-night viewings, which is a neat experience. Check to see if there’s an upcoming event that coincides with your trip.

While There

Check out the operational 3D printer in action, and design your dream car with Jaguar Land Rover’s interactive digital exhibit.

London Transport Museum

Photo by Magnus D

All aboard! Yes, tickets run about £20 per pop, but it’s worth it. After all, don’t you want to see a double-decker, horse-drawn tram? Better yet, don’t you want to climb aboard a double-decker, horse-drawn tram? It’s possible at the London Transport Museum. A celebration of the city’s public transportation history, guests can climb in and out of the museum’s collection of buses, cars, and trains dating back to the dawn of transportation.

Why Visit the London Transport Museum

It only takes an hour to see everything, but it will be one of the better hours of your trip.

While There

It’s housed in an impressive iron and glass building; take a moment to admire the architecture.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Photo by Bengt Oberger

In the world of art display, spartan aesthetics are standard. Most galleries and museums give art gobs of breathing space in the form of wall acreage. But Sir John Soane’s Museum is atypical and marches to a different, more daedal, drummer. Instead of a minimalist aesthetic, ornate pictures in baroque frames compete for wall space, from ceiling to floor. The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture called it “one of the most complex, intricate, and ingenious series of interiors ever conceived.”

Why Visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum

It’s an A+ example of opulent hoarding!

Before You Go

The museum offers several different tours and programs. Read through the website before visiting to determine which works best for you, if any.

While There

Seek out the secret rooms. They’re full of …well, secrets!

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