London is one of the most vibrant cultural hubs in the world. With a rich history that spans several centuries, there’s no shortage of material to fill its incredible museums and galleries.
Needless to say, there’s so much to do in London! And a trip to the English capital simply isn’t complete without perusing the artifacts of at least one or two of its museums. And, with free entry to a lot of them, there’s no reason not to! If you’re ready to fill up your itinerary with culture, history, and art, here, in no particular order, are 14 of London’s best museums to get you started.
1. The Victoria and Albert Museum
Perhaps one of the most famous museums in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum (or V & A for short) is utterly magnificent. Entry is free so you can pop in even for just an hour. The permanent collections date back 5000 years and feature ceramics, costumes, paintings, sculptures, and jewelry from a range of countries and cultures. The museum also hosts several temporary exhibitions from fashion designers, architects, activists and more.
2. The British Museum
Despite being the subject of some controversy over the years, the British Museum is still among the best museums in London. Its immense collection of artifacts includes mummies from Ancient Egypt, vases from Ancient Greece, and timepieces from early European periods. Each room in this museum allows you to travel back in time and across continents in order to understand how earlier civilizations operated. You will be taken all over the world and will have more than four million objects to marvel at including the controversial Elgin Marbles and the pivotal Rosetta Stone. You probably won’t be able to take in everything in one day, but the museum is free to visit so you can come back as many times as you like.
3. The National Gallery
The National Gallery sits pride of place in Trafalgar Square in Central London. From its imposing pillars outside to the artistic masterpieces inside, the entire experience is a visual delight. The National Gallery holds over 2,300 works, including Van Gogh’s iconic Sunflowers and Hans Holbein the Younger’ mysterious portrait of The Ambassadors. The dozens of rooms display pieces ranging from the thirteenth century to the modern day. In addition to the permanent collection of Western European art, regular workshops and exhibitions take place here.
4. The National Portrait Gallery
If you’re a fan of portraits then you’re going to love the National Portrait Gallery, which contains more portraits than any other establishment in the world. Literally, hundreds of thousands of portraits adorn the museum’s walls depicting notable British people starting from the Tudor era all the way to today. The portraits come in all shapes and sizes, and all different media, including drawings, paintings, photographs, and sculptures. You might even have an ancestor up on the wall somewhere! Depending on when you visit, you might be able to catch one of the outstanding photography exhibitions.
5. The Natural History Museum
A winner with adults and children alike, the Natural History Museum is undoubtedly one of the best museums in the country, if not the world. Tracking the history of the natural world from the very beginning to the present day, the museum is brimming with fascinating models and information. The stand-out feature of the Natural History Museum is its dinosaur collection. Life-size models of dinosaurs fill a vast room, with a robotic T-Rex roaring at visitors in its own special alcove. Here, you will learn everything archaeologists have uncovered about dinosaurs, from what they looked like to what they liked to eat and more.
6. The Tower of London
The Tower of London was a multi-purpose structure, which acted as a fortress, palace, and prison. An entry ticket includes access to the white tower, the crown jewels, the prison rooms and more. As you explore you will learn all about the fascinating and dark history of this somber complex. Whilst there, be sure to check out the ravens, also known as the guardians of the tower. And, if your stomach can handle it, pay a visit to the Bloody Tower and the torture chambers.
7. The Imperial War Museum
War! What is it good for? Filling up museums, apparently. The Imperial War Museum looks beyond the mere mechanics of war and depicts the effects of conflict on ordinary people. In addition to tanks, cannons, and guns, the museum offers a more personal element to war by showing it through the eyes of the soldiers it consumed. An inspiring, yet harrowing experience, the Imperial War Museum includes exhibitions about World War One, World War Two, the Holocaust, and more.
8. Churchill War Rooms
A branch of the aforementioned Imperial War Museums, The Churchill War Rooms are situated in an underground bunker beneath Westminster. From here, Churchill and his cabinet directed and planned the Second World War, which resulted in the eventual defeat of Hitler and the Nazis. Walk through the corridors and check out the secret telephone he used to communicate with the President of the United States. In the museum, you will find dozens of artifacts depicting the life of Churchill, Britain’s finest military leader. Personal items and a timeline of his life bring this legendary figure to life.
9. The Tate Modern
The Tate Modern sits alongside Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the Southbank and overlooks the River Thames. With a never-ending stream of exhibitions and displays, the Tate Modern is ever-changing, so you can go again and again and have a different experience each time. As well as the vast collections of art, the Tate Modern Gallery also boasts an incredible viewing tower. Climb to the top and enjoy views of the London skyline – it’s a breath-taking vista that doesn’t cost a thing!
10. The Design Museum
Located on the dazzling Kensington High Street, the Design Museum looks exactly how you would expect a design museum should look. Its quirky architectures perfectly complement the exhibitions inside, which showcase the finest in architecture and product design. The Design Museum focuses on innovation and technology and looks at ways in which humanity can progress through the use of residential and industrial design. The current housing crisis in London has prompted the museum to analyze the constraints that hold the city back from further development.
11. The Sir John Soane’s Museum
If you don’t already know who John Soane is, he is the mastermind architect behind the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Hailed as one of the most inventive architects of his time, his former home cum museum is filled with architectural sculptures and drawings, furniture, and antiques spanning millennia. The unassuming museum stans alongside Lincoln’s Inn Fields and has remained virtually untouched since Soane passed away in 1837. He spent his life collecting antiquities that fascinated him and now we have the privilege of getting an insight into what inspired him.
12. The Charles Dickens Museum
One of history’s greatest storytellers, Charles Dickens is a household name whether you have read any of his work or not. The museum is contained within what used to be Dickens’ family home in Central London in the Victorian era. It was here that he wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers. The museum contains a number of artifacts, including Dickens’ writing desk, complete with handwritten scribbles of story ideas, and his bedchamber. Here, you can delve into the private life of one of the most celebrated writers on the planet.
13. The Saatchi Gallery
The Saatchi Gallery, located in the fashionable Chelsea area, isn’t interested in global art superstars. The gallery picks up work from unseen talent or international artists that have yet to be exhibited in the UK. It provides a platform for promising young artists to display their work to a huge and diverse audience. With a mixture of immersive installations to exhibitions laced with social satire, there is no end to the wonders found at the Saatchi Gallery. In fact, even the building itself is a marvel. And if you have the kids in tow, drop into Gallery Mess restaurant for the Origami afternoon tea.
14. The Science Museum
Last but certainly not least comes the Science Museum, which is trumped only by the Natural History Museum when it comes to fun for the whole family. The Science Museum is filled with gadgets and gizmos and has plenty of hands-on experiences, which are guaranteed to make your visit even more exciting. Each floor is home to a range of exhibits, including sections devoted to technology, mathematics, clocks, the earth’s atmosphere, and the power of flight. The top floor houses the Wonderlab, which houses a myriad of experiments for visitors to try out. If you can’t get enough of science, drop by the nearby Ampersand Hotel for a science-themed tea inspired by the museum.