London! Tea Time. Pints. Parliament. Football Hooligans. Crumpets. Curry. Cockney Accents. Theater on the West End. Big Ben. Buckingham Palace. London Bridge.
And museums. Many museums. Many, many museums. Many, many, many.
Museums aren’t necessarily what you think of first when you think of London. After all, it’s not Paris with The Louvre and the Mona Lisa or the world-famous Guggenheim in New York City.
But in fact, plenty of noteworthy museums deserve your time. So many you need a compendium. Even at a record pace of two a day, it would take you over a month to explore them all. The art museums alone would take two weeks.
That’s where this article comes in handy! It is a compendium of fascinating museums in London, split helpfully into categories. There are over forty in this article alone, and it surely doesn’t catch them all. Choose your adventures wisely.
You won’t want to waste any time getting to them, so best to first take a look into how to Get around London!
In The London Loop
The best way to do the swingin’ London loop-de-loop is on the world-famous London Underground, better known as ‘the tube.’ That’s the fancy-schmancy way of saying ‘the metro.’ Extra points if you can say it in a snooty British accent.
London Transport Museum
The London tube and other British forms of transportation are celebrated at the first museum on the list, the London Transport Museum. The museum tracks – no pun intended – the history of transportation breakthroughs that led to the growth of London as a world hub. The British Transport Museum is located in Covent Gardens, a popular tourist and shopping district near the West End. A ticket to ride costs 21 pounds and can be used all year.
Back to the Underground! The Underground runs from five am until roughly midnight. Select lines offer ‘night tube’ service. There are a number of ticket options depending on the length of your stay. Look for the ‘Oyster’ card.
In service since eighteen sixty-three, the London Underground can be traced back to the world’s first underground railway. But learn more at the museum! Let’s ‘move on’, pun intended.
Other forms of transport around London include the always pleasant and reliable two feet option, walking. London is quite walkable, actually.
There are buses – yes, some double-deckers – and trams. Taxis and Uber are also an option. Cycling, too. You can rent a Santander Cycle for a little over three pounds an hour.
Buses are nice because you get to see more of the city as you traverse than you would shooting through the underground tube.
Should I Get A London Pass?
One question always on the London traveler’s mind is ‘should I get a London Pass?’ It depends on how many attractions you want to visit and if the ones you want to visit are included in the pass. One undeniable benefit is it includes an Oyster Card with unlimited rides for the duration of your pass.
London: A Living Museum
London itself is a living museum, constantly evolving, a collision of past, present and future bursting at the seams.
Fun Fact! London was founded by the Romans wayyy back in the first century AD. The London we have all come to know started in the fifth century and has seen many changes. After all, London is nearly two millennia old.
London has a population of nine million and is one of the world’s leading financial centers. Over five-star hotels call London home than anywhere else in the world.
Lond Over three hundred languages are spoken in London.on is one of the world’s greenest cities, with over forty percent of open space. All-in-all, London encompasses an area of six hundred and seven square kilometers.
That’s a lot of ground to cover! Time to get started!
The first category, not just alphabetically, also has the most significant amount of entries. It probably needs to be further broken down into subcategories of its own. Never a bad idea to kick it off with the classics!
The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square, a tourist hotspot that has held the pulse of London since the twelfth century. The National Gallery houses over two thousand paintings spanning over six centuries. It is a true compendium of European Art.
National Gallery is free for the regular collections; Exhibitions usually carry a ticket price. It is open from 10 am to 6 pm everyday except Friday, when it is open until 9pm.
The Royal Academy is a good alternative if the Gallery gets too crowded, which it often does. The Academy’s summer exhibition has been held consecutively without fail since 1769! It is located in another historic hotspot you might have heard of, Piccadilly.
Admission is similar to the Gallery. Free collections, ticketed exhibitions. It is open every day of the week except Monday.
Prefer something more modern? Try the Tate. Tate has two locations: Tate Modern and Tate Britain. Collections at Tate Modern include British and international modern art from the likes of Jackson Pollock and Henri Matisse. Their rotating exhibitions have featured Andy Warhol and Picasso. Two peas in a pod!
Tate Britain focuses more on homegrown British artists like Francis Bacon. Extra fun is had the last Friday of every month, when the museum hosts a ‘late’, which is an after hours party with DJs and drinks, usually centered around a particular theme such as LGBTQ art.
Both museums are free for collections, admission fee for exhibitions. Both museums are open from 10am-6pm every day.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a portrait nearly so. See for yourself!
Dulich Picture Gallery
Dulich Picture Gallery is not technically a museum; It’s an art gallery. But they have on display centuries worth of Baroque masterpieces.
The story goes that renowned 17th century architect John Soane – whom you will learn more about later – was handpicked by art collector Sir Francis Bourgeois to design the gallery and Soane subsequently designed the model on which most of today’s art galleries are based. It’s worth a look for the breathtaking light scheme.
National Portrait Gallery
At the National Portrait Gallery, portraits of historical figures from medieval times to icons of today like Ed Sheeran – really! – hang on the wall. On the gallery’s two floors you can view portraits of luminaries who shaped history like Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare and Laurence Olivier as well as an amusing statue of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
With so much history and wealth concentrated in one place, it’s bound to happen. Private collections are also aplenty in the cultural ground zero that is London.
Apsley House is the collection of a duke. A real, live duke! The Duke of Wellington, who resides on the premises occasionally. The collection includes works by Rubens and Goya. The duke himself narrates the audio guide! Tickets are 14.20 pounds. Apsley House is in Hyde Park Corner at 49 Piccadilly.
You’ll find Courtald Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It’s a perfect day trip double header to combine with the National Gallery. Courtald Gallery is the private collection of an art institute and is all about the impressionists, showcasing paintings like Manet’s ‘A Bar at The Folies-Bergere’ and Britain’s largest collection of works by Cezanne. Worth a visit alone for Van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait With a Bandaged Ear’.
So many beloved movies have been filmed in London. Really, too many to list here. Suffice to say, the British film industry has always been a thriving wellspring of creativity. Two museums in London pay homage to the art and industry of cinema.
The Cinema Museum is located in an historic part of Kensington. It’s an award-winning museum that is housed in a building which used to be a workhouse Charlie Chaplin went to as a child. The museum regularly hosts screenings of rare and vintage movies.
Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will be pleased to hear that the London Film Museum has magically transformed into the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition, in association with Warner Bros Pictures. There you’ll see behind the scenes moments captured and you can drink the beer of choice for every discerning hogwart, Butterbeer. Tickets are 14 pounds for children, 20 adults.
The Globe Theatre is not technically a museum. It’s an institution and is inextricably intertwined with The Bard, William Shakespeare. The Globe is where ‘Henry V’ first premiered, over four hundred years ago. In fact, it was the first play ever performed there.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays were specifically written to be performed at The Globe Theatre. Can you imagine? Being at the premiere of an original Shakespeare play?
The guided tour of The Globe Theatre will help give you a window into what that must have felt like. A guided tour is really just a walking museum, after all. Tickets are less than twenty pounds per adult and tours are conducted like plays: the show must go on, rain or shine!
History is present in the sights, sounds and certainly the smells of London. Of course, a number of historical museums call thee to visit their hallowed halls. Heed the call.
The British Museum is the first ever national museum to be open to the public, since 1759. So you know their collection is legit. The British Museum is Britain’s largest museum and one of the largest collections of artifacts in the world resides there.
The collection includes the Rosetta Stone and artifacts from Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Early on weekdays are best to avoid crowds. Admission is free.
Natural History Museum
It’s only natural to include the Natural History Museum in this category. Not just for the eighty million specimens on display but also for the Victorian architecture. The museum is open every day from 10am to 6pm and tickets are – yay! – free!
Museum of London
The history of London itself is told at the Museum of London. It covers eras as far back as prehistoric times and takes you through all the major developments of the city. It’s a fun journey through reconstructed street scenes and interiors. The museum is open every day until five pm and no tickets are required.
Mithraeum Roman Ruins
If you want to really time travel into the past of London, check out the Mithraeum Roman Ruins, a relic of the founding of the city. The Mithraeum is an underground temple that has been excavated and moved to where it can be accessed by the public – for free! The temple was discovered in 1954 and is one of Britain’s most treasured archaeological artifacts.
Tower of London
A little later – more like a lot later, depending on how you see it – the Tower of London was built. It’s not as tall as you would expect! The attraction is actually more like a fortress than a tower. Inside the fortress walls sits a thousand year old castle.
The grounds, declared by Unesco as a heritage site, have over the centuries served as a prison, a treasury, an observatory, a mint and much more. Rumor is there might still be some haunting spirits roaming around.
The Chartwell House is the former home of World War Two icon and intrepid statesman Winston Churchill, master of bon mots. Story goes that he almost lost the house twice because he was so broke. His friends bought the house and after he died, it opened to the public as a museum.
Another statesman had a home in London for a while. A more unexpected one. Famous inventor and Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Franklin. It’s the only surviving home in which he lived in the whole world!
It’s grand. Simply grand and a must-see. The house is three levels and supposedly Franklin found fresh air healing and would stand in front of the windows of his second floor office naked. He lived in the house for almost fifteen years. You can book a guided tour for less than ten pounds, conducted by guides in period costume. What a wardrobe to have for a job!
If fashion and design is your interest, you came to the right town.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Remember Sir John Soanes, who designed the art gallery? Soane was an avid collector himself, of art and furniture. He himself decided to designate his home a museum for students and amateurs to study.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Another beloved, renowned museum is the V+A, or Victoria and Albert Museum, which displays quite ostentatiously its 2.3 million objects, subjects ranging from jewelry to furniture to ceramics to photography and design. The museum’s blazing hot exhibitions, which sometimes feature work from fashion icons like Cristian Dior, always sell out.
The Design Museum is also worth a visit. The minimalist museum celebrates contemporary design and is a vibrant hub for everything from pop-ups to industrial design and architecture. A recent exhibit focused on singer Amy Winehouse.
Some of the history’s literary giants were British or lived in London. Thus, it could be argued that logically there should be a treasure trove of artifacts from literary icons hiding somewhere in London. There is.
It is the British Library. It is the biggest library in the world. Located near the British Museum, it can be fit into a convenient day trip to both. Not only will you find early manuscripts of the bible, you’ll find handwritten lyrics from rock gods The Beatles!
Charles Dickens is perhaps the best known narrator of London tales; Naturally, he was inspired by the city in which he lived and wrote. You can visit a home he lived in for two years. Showcased are personal letters as well as all five floors of the restored Georgian townhouse.
You might have heard of a fairly notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Now you can follow in his footsteps on the Jack The Ripper tour, another walking museum, spread over six floors..
Lucky for Mr. Ripper, his time was a little past the era of Clink Prison, where he surely would have been placed had he been caught anytime between the twelfth and seventeenth century when it was in operation. If you would like to learn more about this medieval prison, the gory torture and a scandalous past, visit the Clink Prison Museum.
Pop Culture Museums
Museum of Brands
London is home to the Museum of Brands, a unique and funky collection of pop culture. It’s curated by a ‘consumer historian’. You can view the cereal boxes your grandma and grandpa used to pick up at the store and more, from famous brands like Frosted Flakes and Tide. The most interesting aspect of this museum is learning about how cultural and social changes influenced consumer society.
Museum of Comedy
One thing Brits are known for is their sense of humor, even if it’s not your cup of tea. Who can deny Monty Python? The Museum of Comedy celebrates the great British tradition of silly. The museum is also a performance venue where you can catch all kinds of comedy shows. Most everything funny ever recorded in the UK is archived there on DVD, VHS and LP.
If you’re a budding scientist or just a curious human, you will find plenty to examine in London.
Start with the Science Museum. Over three million people visit the Science museum annually. Not a big surprise considering it has seven floors. The Science Museum is the place to be for gadget heads. It’s also got an Imax!
The Royal Observatory
The Royal Observatory has been the place to observe the heavens since 1675. Almost three hundred and fifty years! The planetarium offers a variety of entertaining and informative shows. The Royal Observatory is in Greenwich and admission costs sixteen pounds for adults and eight for children. The Observatory is open everyday from ten am until five pm.
Grant Museum of Zoology
Finally, there’s the Grant Museum Of Zoology. This museum was established in 1828 as a teaching collection. The collection includes elephant skulls and the skeleton of an extinct species of Zebra. Macabre indeed. Entrance is free, but the museum keeps very limited hours.
A Measure Of Medicine
Just a spoonful of science helps the medicine go down, right? A number of museums paying tribute to major developments and breakthroughs in modern medicine, as well as key personalities in medical history, dot the London learning landscape.
Old Operating Theatre
Some of them are downright strange. For example, The Old Operating Theatre is a relic from the days of nineteenth century medicine, when horrifying tools were put to use in the service of healing. Originally built to serve poor patients, it is one of the oldest operating theatres left in the world. Operating hours are limited – only Thursday through Sunday from 10:30 until 5pm.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has been a public museum since the thirties. It is small but informative and takes you through centuries of the development of pharmaceuticals and medicine, including some very peculiar remedies for everything from baldness to sore throats. The museum is open Monday through Friday from nine am to five pm.
Freud, of course, is one of the most iconic names in medical history. Thus, a museum dedicated to more than just Freudian slips. Not so fun fact! Freud moved to London in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. This museum was Freud’s home during that period and showcases probably the most revolutionary couch in all of history, preserved just as it was in his lifetime!
Florence Nightingale Museum
Another luminous light in the history of healing is Florence Nightingale, who actually had her nursing school on The Old Operating Theatre grounds. She is a patron saint of medicine. A collection of her personal possessions are housed at the museum as well as informative displays about her contribution to the introduction of hygiene. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.
Finally, where would we be without the vagina? We surely would be extinct by now without it. Without further adieu, The Vagina Museum! Social Justice and public health are the two missions of this one of a kind museum.
War! What Is It Good For?
For better or worse, Britain has played a pivotal role in most wars of the last century. Here are some museums in which you can explore the history of warfare across the 20th century.
Churchill War Rooms
You’ve seen his home, now see Churchill’s HQ. The Churchill War Rooms are the secret underground complex where Churchill worked and lived during World War Two. The rooms were opened to the public by Margaret Thatcher herself in 1984.
The Churchill War Rooms are a part of a bigger network of museums called the Imperial War Museums. The Imperial War Museums have been in operation since World War One. Admission is free. Imperial War Museums offer a British perspective on many of the world’s greatest conflicts.
Lastly, there’s the Royal Air Force Museum, which traces the history of British aviation.
Weird, Wacky and Wild
The final category is just for fun: weird, wacky and wild.
Dennis Sever’s House
First up, Dennis Sever’s house. It’s hard to decide if this one is historical or theatre, so it’s just going on the weird list. Or maybe it’s the name? Basically, the owner, Mr. Sever, created a fictional trip through the history of a silk-weaving family set in his house. Curious, indeed.
The Magic Circle is more magical than Harry Potter. It’s a house of magic. You have to book an appointment in advance but it’s worth it to examine Houdini’s legendary handcuffs, among other treasures and tricks.
The Postal Museum may be the last place on your list. Give it a second thought. Did you know the Brits invented the postal system? Over five hundred years ago! Find out more about the history of mail delivery, if you ever wanted to, at the Postal Museum.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
What’s the final stop on the round London Museum Marathon? The answer is elementary, my dear Watson: the Sherlock Holmes museum. Probably one of the only museums in the world dedicated to a fictional character. Naturally, it’s on Baker Street.
That about wraps it up! Just the tip of the iceberg, really. Whatever museums you decide are worth your valuable time, enjoy them! Hope this article has been helpful. Cheery-O, mates!!