London is famous for its history and culture, so it’s no wonder that there are so many attractions to see. You could spend months visiting everything this spectacular city has to offer.
When it comes to visiting museums, you’re spoilt for choice. There are hundreds to visit right in the capital. Whether you’re interested in war, history, art or even famous personalities, you’ll be sure to find a museum just around the corner.
If you are visiting London on a budget, then you’ll be pleased to know that the majority of the more popular museums in London are free to visit, offering a wealth of exhibits that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a guide to 17 of the best museums in London you just have to visit on your trip to the capital.
It seems only right to start with the museum that documents the turbulent past of one of the world’s most famous and historical cities. Located on the London Wall, near the Barbican Centre in the City of London, the Museum of London overlooks the remains of the Roman wall in one of the oldest parts of the city.
With over six million artefacts, the Museum of London takes you on a journey in time through a range of interactive galleries from the prehistoric, ‘London before London’, to ‘Medieval London’, ‘War, Plague and Fire’, which covers the Civil War, the Plague and the Great Fire, to ‘Victorian London’ and World Wars I and II, up to the present day.
Nearest Tube Stations: Barbican, St Paul’s
The Museum of London has a sister museum based in an old warehouse in Docklands. It documents the history of London as a port from the 1600s through to the present day. Learn about early traders, London’s involvement in the sugar and slave trade, how the port served the Empire, and Docklands during World War II. Then take a walk in the shoes of a Victorian sailor and explore the dark alleyways of Sailortown, a fascinating recreation of a Docklands street in 19th century London.
Nearest Tube Station: Canary Wharf
The incredible collection at the British Museum spans over two million years of human history. It’s one of the only museums in the world to display such a vast amount of treasures from across the globe under one roof.
The museum is divided into galleries, each depicting a specific period in time or geographical location such as Roman Britain, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. Here you can see the world famous Rosetta Stone, Samurai Armour, the Parthenon Sculptures, the preserved Iron Age body of the Lindow Man, and Egyptian Mummies, to name but a few. The rooms are centred on the spectacular glass roof of the Great Court.
Nearest Tube Stations: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square
Just around the corner from the Natural History Museum, the splendid Victoria and Albert Museum is the largest museum of art and design in the world. It’s home to millions of artefacts, sculptures, drawings, paintings, photographs, jewellery and objects from around the world.
The exhibits are divided into categories from different areas around the world. As well as permanent exhibitions, the ever-changing museum holds a range of temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Highlights include the spectacular Jewellery Gallery, the British Gallery and the Medieval Renaissance Gallery.
Nearest Tube Station: South Kensington
A fascinating museum for all the family is the V&A Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green. This delightful museum displays the UK’s largest collection of objects to do with childhood from the 1600s through to the present day.
Not only does the museum display toys throughout history, but also objects relating to life for children in the home, at school, and in everyday life.
Nearest Tube Station: Bethnal Green
The third museum located in South Kensington is the Science Museum. With a variety of interactive displays, the museum is home to over 15,000 objects spread over seven floors that cover anything and everything to do with science, such as medicine, nuclear power, food, space and technology.
You don’t have to be a science geek to enjoy the museum. The interactive exhibits are fun, fascinating and truly hands-on for all the family. Explore the Apollo 10 command capsule, experience what it’s like to fly with the Red Arrows, or take on a mission in space with 3 and 4 D simulators.
Nearest Tube Station: South Kensington
Disturbing, emotional and life changing, the Imperial War Museum documents the real life and death stories of people who have experienced war, from the Great War, World War I through to the present day.
Permanent galleries include The Lord Ashcroft: Extraordinary Heroes and Secret War, A World War One trench, The Second World War, A Family in Wartime, and the Holocaust Exhibition.
There are often free talks from people who survived the war that give a first-hand account of life in London during the Second World War.
Some of the most fascinating yet disturbing items you’ll see include a pair of children’s shoes from a Nazi concentration camp, a damaged window frame from the World Trade Centre, destroyed on 9/11, and a terrorist bomber’s suicide vest.
Nearest Tube Station: Lambeth North
Situated in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum displays over 80 million artefacts from the natural world. As well as the iconic T. Rex fossil and Blue Whale in the magnificent central Hintze Hall, visitors get a chance to discover dinosaurs, reptiles, mammals, planets, volcanoes and earthquakes all divided by colour zones throughout the museum.
Highlights include the largest gold nugget in the world, a 4.6 million year old meteorite, the casts of a man and a dog from Pompeii, and an earthquake simulator where the room really shakes.
Nearest Tube Stations: South Kensington, Victoria
The Churchill War Rooms are part of the Imperial War Museum collection and are located in Westminster. The museum includes the original Cabinet War Rooms, the wartime bunker used by Winston Churchill and his staff during the Blitz of World War II. Visitors can explore the underground rooms where the Government met and see where Churchill slept. The Map Room has been left exactly how it was when the lights were eventually switched off in 1945.
The Churchill Museum gives a deeper insight into the life of Britain’s most famous prime minister, and explores his life and legacy through objects, photographs and artefacts.
Nearest Tube Stations: Westminster, St James’s Park
Located in Chelsea, the National Army Museum is spread over six floors and offers a range of exhibits, objects and artefacts relating to the role of the British army from the English Civil War up to the present day.
Permanent exhibitions include the British Army in World Wars I and II, the Falklands, the Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War, and displays on Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s a range of interactive displays and visitors can dress up as wartime medical assistants, build their own rocket or put together a parachute.
There’s a soft play area for younger children, while older bloodthirsty kids can enjoy gorier items such as the amputation saw used to chop off the Earl of Uxbridge’s leg during the Battle of Waterloo, or a blood-stained uniform worn by a soldier in World War I.
Nearest Tube Station: Sloane Square
For those interested in the fascinating history of the British Navy, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is a must see. The largest museum of its kind in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage Site offers over two million objects relating to life and death on the seas including exhibitions dedicated to famous sea-goers such as Captain James Cook, Captain Scott and Admiral Lord Nelson.
There are plenty of interactive exhibitions for children including a gallery where kids can fire their own canons and destroy a pirate ship, as well as fascinating displays about British maritime trade and slavery. A must see is the original blood-stained uniform worn by Admiral Lord Nelson when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Nearest Train Stations: Docklands Light Railway, Cutty Sark, Greenwich, Maze Hill
The floating museum is a Royal Navy ship permanently docked on the River Thames and is part of the Imperial War Museum Collection. The ship itself played an important role in the British naval blockade against Germany during the Second World War.
Today visitors get the chance to experience what life was like aboard a ship during times of war. There are nine decks to explore featuring the Captain’s deck, sickbay, mess decks, sleeping quarters, the galley and the gun platform.
Interactive exhibitions include the Operations Room where you can help recover a drowned plane or climb down to the lungs of the ship and explore the boiler and engine rooms, 15ft below sea level.
Nearest Tube Station: London Bridge
The London Transport Museum is a fascinating story of London and its transport system from 1800s through to the present day. The museum in Covent Garden has over 450,000 items relating to London transport and its influence on the capital’s history and culture.
Exhibits include one of the earliest wooden railway coaches, which you can climb aboard, a horse-drawn omnibus from the early 1800s, the very first underground steam-powered engine, and a sedan chair, the very first licensed public transport used in London.
Nearest Tube Station: Covent Garden
Spread over 14 floors, The British Library is the largest library in the world. It also holds a treasure trove of priceless documents such as the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s notebook, Leonardo da Vinci’s handwritten notes, Shakespeare’s first folio and lyrics to Beatles’ songs handwritten by John Lennon to name just a few.
Every year the library hosts a variety of free exhibitions. The latest is dedicated to the world of Harry Potter. As well as magical artefacts, the library also displays original material from J K Rowling’s archives such as lists and scribblings about possible plots and characters.
Nearest Tube Station: King’s Cross
The Charles Dickens Museum is situated in the original London home of the great writer and his wife Catherine at 48 Doughty Street. It’s the house where Dickens wrote some of his greatest masterpieces including Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby.
Fans of Dickens can explore his study, the bedchambers, and servant’s quarters. The museum also houses Dickens’ treasures such as his original desk, handwritten notes and drafts from his novels, Catherine’s engagement ring and original artefacts that belonged to the family.
Nearest Tube Station: Russell Square
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is aptly located at one of the most famous street addresses in the world: 221B Baker Street. Fans of the world’s most famous detective will be greeted by a real-life Mrs Hudson who will accompany them through the various Victorian rooms spread over four floors.
The rooms, which include Holmes’s parlour, study, bedroom and bathroom, are filled with fascinating Sherlock Holmes’ memorabilia relating to Arthur Conan Doyle’s books.
Here are some other spots in London which Sherlock Holmes fans should check out.
Nearest Tube Station: Baker Street
Those who are fascinated by the most gruesome and infamous serial killer of all time shouldn’t miss a visit to the Jack the Ripper Museum at 12 Cable Street near Tower Hill.
Situated in a Victorian terrace house in the heart of Whitechapel, the area where most of the grisly murders took place, the museum will take you back in time to the autumn of 1888 where you can discover the lives and deaths of the victims, the main suspects and daily life in Victorian East End London.
Spread over four floors, the museum faithfully recreates the Mitre Square murder scene of Catherine Eddowes, the Ripper’s sitting room, the police station, the victim’s bedroom and a mortuary in the basement.
Nearest Tube Station: Tower Hill
Depending on your interests, there really is something for everyone in London. After spending the day exploring London’s museums, you can relax and enjoy some delicious food in one of London’s best restaurants.