As you’d expect of the capital city of a country that’s renowned for its history and heritage, London can hold it’s own when it comes to museums. The best museums in London are like cathedrals to British culture, and millions of annual visitors lay testament to the many museums’ popularity.
But with London’s wealth of famous museums, each revealing something different about the city, British life, or about the world as a whole, it’s difficult deciding where to start.
To make life easier, here’s our guide to London’s best museums. All of those listed are free to visitors.
FREE Museums in London
The British Museum is one of the oldest in the world. It’s also extremely large, yet only a fraction of its vast collection of millions of objects can be on public display at any time. From these collections, the standout artefacts are the Ancient Egyptian mummies and Rosetta Stone, Lindow Man – the preserved remains of a man discovered in a peat bog in Cheshire thought to date back as far as the Iron Age, and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial. It also has pieces from Imperial China, the Incas and examples of Aztec art.
With seven floors of educational, but entertaining exhibits, the Science Museum takes visitors on a journey of discovery right around the world and to space and back. There’s an Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator, a Medical History Gallery exploring the fascinating history of medical treatment. Meanwhile the Wellcome Wing showcases developments in contemporary science, medicine and technology.
The Science Museum prides itself in interactivity, so be ready to see, touch and experience the world’s great scientific advances of the last 300 years.
Natural History Museum
This museum is perhaps best known for the plaster cast skeleton of a Diplodocus that takes pride of place in its Central Hall. The fact that it is surrounded by some of the finest architecture of any public building in London makes it all the more spectacular.
Beyond this though, this top London museum has some 70 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens. This makes it a fantastic museum for nature-loving children.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, or V&A, hails itself as the world’s greatest museum of art and design and it doesn’t miss a beat. The museum’s grand buildings, on the appropriately named Exhibition Road (the Natural History and Science Museums are also on the same street), house one of the finest collections of decorative arts. Artefacts include fashion, prints, furniture, ceramics, metalwork, miniatures, sculpture and photography.
The British Galleries trace the history of British design from the reign of King Henry VIII to that of Queen Victoria. There are also plenty of hands-on exhibits. Fancy dress fans can try on historical dress, or even armour. Alternatively you can make a brass rubbing or design your own coat of arms.
Museum of London
If you want to truly discover London you won’t find a better location than the Museum of London. It is perhaps the best of the top London museums for anyone interested in the history and culture of the city and tells the story of London from pre-history to the modern day.
You can follow the path of the earliest Londoners – through Bronze Age artefacts through to the Roman Empire’s Londinium. Some of the most fascinating sections highlight the Great Fire of London of 1666, Victorian London, the war years and the 20th century. It is also home to the magnificent Lord Mayor’s coach and a beautiful 1920s bronze lift, once housed in Selfridges department store. This main museum is in the heart of the City of London in London Wall (the remains of the Roman wall around the early city). Meanwhile out at West India Quay, the Museum of London Docklands tells of London’s connections across the globe.
Royal Museums Greenwich
Make sure everything’s shipshape and Bristol fashion, and even learn what the phrase means, at this museum in Greenwich Park. The site is home to the National Maritime Museum whose permanent exhibition, the Maritime London Gallery, reveals the importance of London’s maritime heritage and its impact on world trade. The museum’s exhibits include the original model for Nelson’s Column and the wreckage of a Zeppelin shot down over the River Thames in 1916.
The Royal Museums Greenwich also has the Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory, founded in 1675 by King Charles II. Plus you can step aboard the Cutty Sark – the world’s last surviving tea clipper and the fastest and greatest of her time. The ship has been recently restored to its former glory and re-opened following a fire in 2007.
Imperial War Museums
Life in London during the Second World War is brought to life in this museum. It offers a chance to discover the story of those who lived, fought and died in conflicts from the First World War to the present day.
The Trench Experience portrays life for the forces during the First World War, while The Secret War highlights the clandestine world of espionage, covert operations and the work of Britain’s Special Forces, from the development of MI5 and MI6 to Cold War and the threat of cyber-terrorism.
The Imperial War Museums also include Churchill’s War Rooms, or the Cabinet War Rooms, the secret underground headquarters of the British government throughout the Second World War.
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