As well as a day tour from London to see the must-see sites outside the capital, most guest will also hope to visit some of the fabulous museums London has to offer. Here is our guide to some of the museum’s of London.
The Natural History Museum
A staggering 80 million items make up the collection of the Natural History Museum on Cromwell Road in South Kensington, where the exhibition focus on earth and life science specimens covering five main fields of story: zoology, botany, palaeontology, mineralogy, and entomology.
Many visitors come to see the museum’s impressive dinosaur collection, including the diplodocus cast on display in the vaulted main hallway. The impressive Victorian-era architecture of the building, coupled with its contents sometimes sees the complex referred to as a “cathedral of nature”.
Today, the museum is a world renowned centre for taxonomy, conversation, and identification while its collection is as of much historical interest as it is scientific – the museum is now the home of Charles Darwin’s specimens’ collection. The Darwin Centre is a modern addition to the museum, focused on the scientific pursuits of its research teams, and there’s a small live farm beside the museum.
Originally founded in 1881 from collections within the British Museum, the Natural History Museum was part of that institution until 1963 and only dropped the title British Museum (Natural History) title in 1992.
Location: Cromwell Road, South Kensington
Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum
Located across the road from the Science Museum and Natural History Museum on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the Victoria & Albert Museum is the largest museum in the world dedicated to decorative arts and design, with more than 4.5 million items included in its collection.
Founded in 1852 and named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the V&A Museum’s art spans some 5,000 years from the Stone Age to modern times – with frequent exhibitions on the ground floor of contemporary art and design.
Amongst the collection visitors can see costumes, silver, glass, textiles, ceramics, ironwork, furniture, medieval religious works, prints, drawings, sculpture, jewellery, and photographs – these collections are among the most extensive in the world, while the museum is also home to the largest collection of post-classical sculpture on the planet, including the largest holding of Italian Renaissance items outside of Italy itself.
The Islamic collection is one of the extensive in the Western world, while the East Asian collections are amongst Europe’s most impressive, featuring objects from China, Korea, Japan, and South Asia.
Location: Cromwell Gardens, South Kensington
The Science Museum
Located next to the Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, the Science Museum’s roots can be traced back to 1857 but the institution which exists today came into being in 1909, while the current building was only fully opened in 1928.
Amongst the collection of more than 300,000 items are Stephenson’s Rocket, the oldest surviving steam locomotive (the Puffing Billy), the world’s first jet engine, some of very first steam engines, and more. Reconstructions include a working examples of the Difference engine as envisioned by Charles Babbage, and a prototype of James Watson and Francis Crick’s model of DNA, as well as 10,000 year Clock of the Long Now’s first prototype, and documentation related to the very first typewriter.
The museum also looks at more recent inventions, including digital technology in the Wellcome Wing and there are plenty of interactive exhibits. Visitors can also watch science or nature documentaries in the museum’s in-house IMAX 3D Cinema, with most screenings taking place in 3D.
Location: Exhibition Road, South Kensington
The British Museum
The British Museum is one of the world’s oldest, being founded in 1753 and opening to the public in 1759 on the site of the current museum building. Back then, the collection was mostly that of scientist and physician Sir Hans Sloane, but British colonial expansion in the 19th century saw the number of exhibits expand rapidly, to more than eight million today.
Amongst the collection is the Rosetta Stone, which was presented to the museum in 1802 by King George III after Napoleon’s defeat during the Battle of the Nile. The Rosetta Stone was instrumental in unlocking the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphics, which had been a mystery before its discovery and translation. Another notable addition to the collection, the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon have been a controversial inclusion, as many believe they should be returned to their home in Athens – not least the Greek government.
The Natural History Museum and National Library were once part of the British Museum, but today the institution is solely focused on human history and archaeology. At the heart of the museum a major rebuilding work has covered in the former courtyard to create a bright and airy gathering point for tours, or simply a place to relax over a bite to eat at the cafes and browse the museum’s shops.
Location: Great Russell Street
Imperial War Museum
There are five branches of the IWM (Imperial War Museums), three of which are in London. Of these the largest is the original museum, which opened in 1917 and eventually moved into its current home in 1936 – the building in question is in fact the old Bethlem Royal Hospital, an asylum from which the word ‘bedlam’ derives.
The museum’s original goal was to highlight Britain’s war efforts against Germany during the First World War, but since then the IWM’s scope has expanded to cover all conflicts involving British forces since 1914 and today the IWM is home to a collection of some 10 million items.
The Royal Navy cruiser HMS Belfast was instituted as a branch of the museum in 1978 and sits on the banks of the Thames across from the Tower of London today. Six years later, the Cabinet War Rooms were opened to the public. This underground wartime command complex dating from the Second World War is the third element of the IWM in London, and visitors can discover how Churchill and his generals organised Britain’s war time efforts here.
Location: IWM London: Lambeth Road – HMS Belfast: The Queen’s Walk, London – Churchill War Rooms: Clive Steps, King Charles Street
The National Maritime Museum
This museum is situated in Greenwich, and can be easily accessed via the Docklands Light Railway or on a Thames River Bus. Likely the largest museum of its kind in the world, the National Maritime Museum is part of Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and apart from the main building itself, the museum also includes the 17th century Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory.
After the National Portrait Gallery, this museum has the largest collection of portraits in Britain, as well as an unrivalled stock of items relating to the country’s naval heroes including Vice-Admiral Nelson and Captain Cook. There’s an extensive collection of both British and Dutch maritime art from the 17th century onwards, as well as ship plans and models (some of them taken from Germany after the Second World War), and cartography. A range of time-keeping and astronomy exhibits are also on display at the observatory as well.
Location: Maritime Greenwich
The Museum of London
This museum opened in 1964 and charts the history of London from the prehistoric age right up to today. Overlooking part of the Roman city wall on the edge of London’s oldest district, the Museum of London has an impressive display on Roman development of Londinium, those who lived in the area before the establishment of the city, and how London evolved during the medieval period.
One of the most significant parts of the museum is the reconstruction of a 19th century street, complete with the shops, pubs, and houses you’d expect to have found at the time. There’s also an extensive look at the social development of the city, and how the many cultures which make up the city have come together today.
A visit to the museum can be easily coupled with a trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which lies just 300 metres away.
Location: London Wall, Barbican
London Transport Museum
The London Transport Museum (LTM) is located in Covent Garden, in a building constructed in 1871 and originally used as a flower market. The museum’s goal is to converse the city’s transport heritage and explain that legacy to visitors.
The Covent Garden site houses many examples of buses, trolleybuses, trams, and rail vehicles from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as artefacts and exhibits which provide insight into how these developing transport networks were operated, and how they were marketed to a general public sometimes sceptical of new-fangled trains. Amongst the collection here is the first underground electric train, which went into service in 1890.
Another LTM site is located in Acton, which houses many of the items on display at Covent Garden, including trains from the first sub-surface and deep-level lines of the London Underground. Unfortunately, the Acton depot is only open on select dates throughout the year.
Location: Covent Garden
Admission: £15 (annual pass, kids go free)
Sherlock Holmes Museum
The Sherlock Holmes Museum opened in 1990 and is located on Baker Street. While it’s addressed as number 221B (the premises of the great fictional detective), it’s actually located between numbers 237 and 241 near Regent’s Park.
Aside from memorabilia and a shop dedicated to Holmes, the building housing the museum was built during the Georgian-era and served as a boarding house between 1860 and 1936. The artefacts on display cover the period from 1881 to 1904 when Holmes and his companion Doctor Watson are said to have lived at the address as Mrs Hudson’s tenants. Staff at the museum wear period clothing, and visitors can have their photos taken with a 19th century English bobby next to the 221B sign.
Location: Baker Street
Admission: £10 for adults, £8 for kids
The Design Museum is the world’s leading museum dedicated to contemporary design from furniture to graphics, and from architecture to industrial design.
Every aspect of contemporary design is put on display here, and there are exhibitions on fashion, furniture, graphic, product, transport, architecture, and digital design. Aside from its host of exhibitions, there are also regular talks from leading designers in their fields and a range of family events.
The museum is located just down from City Hall, which is situated across the Thames from the Tower of London.
Location: Shad Thames
Admission: £10.35 (children under 12 free)