museums in London

10 Fascinating museums in London not to be missed

There is no denying that London is a great city for museum lovers. You’ll find plenty of art and history to geek about here, but that’s not all.  London museums cater to many interests where you can immerse yourself in your passions. From science, fashion and design to transportation, medicine and the obscure. With over 170 museums in London, there is something for everyone to enjoy.  

One of my favourite things about museums in London is that many of them are free. You can walk in and spend an hour, or a day, checking out priceless art and treasures from around the world without having to pay a hefty admission fee. As a museum enthusiast, I think that this is an incredible treat. While not all museums are free, many of the largest and most well-known are. This goes a long way in a city like London, where things are on the pricey side.

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10 Museums in London not to be missed

While there are many great museums in London, I can’t possibly cover them all in this post. Instead, I’m going to list the ones that I think any culture, history and art lover would appreciate—especially those coming here for the first time.

As much as I love the museums here, I think it’s worth noting that many of them are located in absolutely stunning buildings. It’s a win-win for art and architecture. Always make sure to check the official museum site for admission info before planning your visit.

Love museums? You might enjoy reading Why visit museums!

The British Museum

? Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG

Before I even came to London, I knew that I wanted to visit the British Museum. Famous for its collections and the controversies surrounding many acquisitions, this is a great place to start your exploration of museums in London.

The museum opened in 1759 as the first free national museum to cover all fields of human knowledge. While the museum was open to all visitors, it had limited hours, and visitors had to apply for tickets ahead of time. This, unsurprisingly, meant that admission was restricted to the well-connected who got special treatment from the curators and trustees. It wasn’t until the changes in regulation in the 1830s that the museum became freely accessible and open to the public. Today, the British Museum welcomes over 6 million visitors annually.

Parthenon freezes
Museums in London – British Museum

While the museum houses over 8 million objects, only about 80,000 are displayed in the numerous halls and galleries. Here you’ll find the Rosetta Stone from 196 B.C. that played a crucial role in our ability to decipher Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Not to be missed are the controversial Parthenon sculptures, brought from Greece by Lord Elgin, ancient Lewis Chessmen chess pieces carved from walrus ivory, and significant Egyptian and Chinese collections.

Are you curious about the collections and controversies? You might enjoy reading A visit to the British Museum!

Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

? Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

I didn’t expect V&A to be such a vast place. As the world’s leading museum of art and design, there is plenty to explore. The museum’s permanent collection includes over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. You can see many of the objects displayed over seven floors in more than 150 galleries.

The museum opened in 1852, after the success of the Grand Exhibition of 1851, as the Museum of Manufactures. It was housed in several semi-permanent buildings with new ones being constantly added. In 1890, the museum’s board decided to launch a competition for a new façade that would bring cohesion to the overall architectural design. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone in 1899 to what became the museum we know today.

10 Fascinating museums in London not to be missed | kasiawrites
Museums in London – Victoria and Albert Museum

Here you’ll find one of the most significant collections of decorative arts, design, fashion and textiles. You can also admire furniture, jewellery, glass and ceramics, sculptures, metalwork and paintings. It’s like the museum is all about the beautiful and precious objects that span across various cultures and ages, collected for pure admiration.

Natural History Museum

? Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD

I’m not going to lie. I think I loved the Natural History Museum building even more than its exhibits. There are no artworks by renowned painters here or sculptures from antiquity. Yet, as far as museums in London go, this one might be my favourite. It’s also free, which made me happier than a kid in a candy store.

The outside of the museum is an ode to Victorian architecture. The inside is just as impressive. In fact, the Natural History Museum looks more like a cathedral or a fancy palace, build with great imagination and loads of money. The interior is an awe-inspiring blend of staircases, carved pillars, animal reliefs, windows arches, and fauna and flora sculptures.

10 Fascinating museums in London not to be missed | kasiawrites
Museums in London – Natural History Museum

The original collection of specimens was part of the British Museum’s natural department. As it grew out of its space, a competition was held in 1864 to design a new museum building. The work was completed in 1880 and the new museums opened to the public in 1881.

The building itself is magnificent, and just when you get past its stunning exterior and the entrance, you’re greeted by a skeleton of a 22.2-metre (over 72 feet) blue whale suspended from the ceiling. It is incredible. Inside, the museum holds about 80-million specimens of dinosaur bones and fossils, living and extinct species, as well as Charles Darwin’s first edition of On the Origin of Species and casts from Pompeii.

Churchill War Rooms

? Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AQ

The Churchill War Rooms are exactly what you think they are. The former underground military HQ is where Winston Churchill coordinated the Allied resistance against Nazi Germany during WWII. Much of the space is exactly as it was left after the war.

Today, it’s hard to imagine just how much activity took place just below the streets of London. Through the displays and objects from that time, you can learn about the men and women who worked and often slept here. The rooms and furnishing give you an idea of what this space looked like, while the recordings of the staff who worked here give you a more intimate insight into the daily operations. It’s quite surreal to hear them describe their routines and jobs and work with Winston Churchill while bombs were falling above ground.

10 Fascinating museums in London not to be missed | kasiawrites
Museums in London – Churchill War Rooms

There is also an extensive display dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill, where you can learn more about the man himself. Here you’ll find many personal objects, including letters to his wife, military uniforms, paintings and even alcohol expenses. If that wasn’t enough, you can listen to the extracts from his wartime speeches to get a full picture of who he was.

Tate Modern

? Bankside, London SE1 9TG

Housed in what was once the Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern museum houses a collection of British art from the 16th century to the present as well as international modern and contemporary art. The museum opened in 2000 and has since been attracting millions of visitors annually. Artworks are organized thematically and include works by Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol.

The original Tate museum opened in 1897 with a small collection of British artworks. It was largely funded by the industrialist Henry Tate, who donated his collection of British nineteenth-century art to the nation. Today, Tate’s collection includes 70,000 works in four different locations. The original is known as Tate Britain.

10 Fascinating museums in London not to be missed | kasiawrites
Museums in London – Tate Modern (source: Canva)

I didn’t spend as much time at the Tate Modern as I did at the other museums in London. It’s definitely one I plan on revisiting next time I’m there, especially for the views from the free viewing platform on top of the Blavatnik Building, an extension named after the billionaire oligarch Len Blavatnik who donated money to the museum.  

Museum of London

? 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN

The Museum of London is the perfect place for history lovers. Covering London’s various incarnations from Roman Londinium to the present-day metropolis, it takes visitors on a walk through time.

Here you learn about the city under the Roman and the Saxons and the history of the Thames. For an insight into London’s dark past, you can walk the streets of Victorian London and examine how civil wars, plagues and fires ravaged the city.  You can also learn about the suffragettes and relive the civil- and gay-rights movements.

This is probably one of London’s most fascinating museums that will provide insight into the city and how it’s changed over the centuries. There is a lot of darkness, but it’s not all doom and gloom. My favourite part was the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden, a staple in many historical romance novels.

It was a place where the glittering world of wealth, fashion and high culture showed off its seedy underside; where princes partied with prostitutes, and the middle classes went to be shocked and titillated by the excess on display. Simultaneously an art gallery, a restaurant, a brothel, a concert hall and a park, the pleasure garden was the place where Londoners confronted their very best, and very worst, selves. When Vauxhall finally closed in 1859, it was the end of an era, never to be repeated.

Danielle Thom, Curator

Sir John Soane’s Museum

? 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Holborn, London WC2A 3BP

Sir John Soane was an 18th-century architect and an avid collector. Over time, he purchased three adjoining properties and turned them into his own personal museum. Upon his death in 1832, his house and its entire collection were passed on to a board of trustees to preserve it in perpetuity for inspiration and education. The trustees continue to do so today.

Being an architect worked out well for Sir John, who was born as the fourth son of a bricklayer. Through his father’s connection and his own talent, he went on to have a very successful career as an architect. While taking the Grand Tour of Europe, he was inspired by the ancient ruin of Rome, Paestum and Pompeii which inspired his interest in classical art and architecture.

Here you’ll find many spectacular items, from the sarcophagus of the Egyptian pharaoh, Seti I, stained glass from the medieval Palace of Westminster, Greek vases and Roman bronzes to furniture, paintings and his own miniatures. Everything is arranged how Soane envisioned it, and he was known for rearranging his collections to incorporate new acquisitions.  

This is one of the museums in London with limited access so make sure to inquire ahead of time for available spots on the museum’s official website.

Tower of London

? St Katharine’s & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB,

The Tower of London is not like the other museums in London, yet it should definitely be on your list. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1066 and has stood watch over London ever since. The Tower is famous for its Beefeaters, the collection of Crown Jewels, and as a notorious execution site where many have lost their heads.

The Tower has played an important part in the history of London. It was a defence fort, military barracks, an armoury and the royal mint. It also housed a menagerie of wild animals, royal records and served as a royal residence for England’s kings and queens.

Tower of London from the water
Tower of London – Museums in London

I spent about three hours touring the tower grounds. It was an incredible experience made even more interesting because it was led by one of the Yeoman Wardens, known as the Beefeaters. The tour is included with your admission and makes the experience a lot more immersive. I totally recommend it!

Love reading about museums in London? You might enjoy the Tower of London Beefeater Tour experience!

Science Museum

? Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2DD

With seven floors of interactive displays and educational exhibits, this London museum is fun for everyone. From exhibits about early technology to space travel, you’re not likely to be bored. Here you can learn and explore everything about planes, trains, cars, locomotives, space ships and other inventions.

Collections at the Science Museum also include an extensive look at the contributions of women in science from the mid-1800s onwards. From Ada Lovelace’s work in computing during the 1840s through to Beatrice Shilling’s work in aviation during the Second World War and many others.

10 Fascinating museums in London not to be missed | kasiawrites
Museums in London – Science Museum (Source: Mimi Garcia)

There is also Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, with more than 3,000 medical artifacts, striking artworks, interactive games and immersive experiences. If that doesn’t grab your interest, there are several others that focus on everyday items from light bulbs, cooking appliances and roadworks to menstruation items over the centuries and vacuum cleaners. Who said museums were boring?

Design Museum

? 224-238 Kensington High Street, Kensington, London W8 6AG

When it comes to museums in London, this one is pretty straightforward. It is about celebrating all aspects of design across many media, including products, industrial graphics, fashion and architectural design.

The museum houses permanent and temporary exhibitions and offers learning facilities, event space and studios for designers in residence. There is also a large auditorium, a library and archives. The Design Museum won the European Museum of the Year Award in 2018.

Final thoughts about museums in London

I will always love the museums in London. With such a variety, there is something for everyone to enjoy. It also proves that museums can be fun, educational and visually appealing. It helps that many of them are free, which means you can frequently visit without rushing through and trying to see everything all at once.

As London has been home to many wealthy people, its museums are filled with priceless objects collected worldwide. While I love the fact that we can see these things today, sometimes you have to question how they got there. It’s another great talking point that makes museums so fascinating. Are you a London museum enthusiast?

Enjoy reading about museums in London? You might like Museums in Paris for art lovers!

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    Riana Ang-Canning
    17 Nov 2020

    Love the museums in London I have gotten to visit over the years – Tate Modern, V&A, Tower of London – and still so many more to discover! Such a good activity as they’re often free or discounted and a great way to escape bad weather!

      17 Nov 2020

      I’m a huge fan of museums too and I think they are a perfect activity for rainy days! I love free museums and London has a great selection of free ones! I also need to go back to visit more!

    Postcard Stories
    17 Nov 2020

    I can’t believe I have never visited London… his mus be fixed 😉

      17 Nov 2020

      London is one of my fave cities! I hope you get to visit soon!

    18 Nov 2020

    I miss London for many things including the museums 🙂 I think it would take at least a week to do justice to either the British Museum or the V&A.

      18 Nov 2020

      I do miss London too. The museums there are just increadible. The good thing is that since both are free you can see it in sections!

    Kelly | Poky Little Wanderer
    19 Nov 2020

    This is a great list! I love museums and definitely appreciate free ones since I like to spend time enjoying all the exhibits which drives my husband nuts lol I’ll be adding some of these to my list for London so I can check them out!

      20 Nov 2020

      Free museums are the best! That way you can enjoy different parts of the museum at different times and not worry about having to pay every time you want to visit. Hope you get to check these out in London!

    21 Nov 2020

    I’d love to visit the Churchill War Rooms.

      22 Nov 2020

      They are quite interesting! It was hard to imagine working there all the time while there was a war raging on outside!

    lannie travels
    22 Nov 2020

    this is a great list for london! Some i’ve been to, some i’m looking forward to the next time I visit!

      22 Nov 2020

      Yay! I always add museums to my list when I visit somewhere and I can’t wait to get back to London for more!

    Tiffany Pence
    22 Nov 2020

    Thisis an impressive collection of museums. The Natural History Museum would be my favorite, too because of the architecture and spcimens. The Tower of London is definitely a must see place whether its your first ime of fifth time visiting London.

      22 Nov 2020

      I absolutely loved visiting the Tower but since it’s on the pricey side I don’t see myself visiting every time I’m in London. The free museums I can visit all the time!

    Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    22 Nov 2020

    The Churchill War Rooms have been on my list for a while! Would love to visit. The British Museum is probably the best museum I’ve ever visited. So, so much to look at! Love the Natural History Museum and Science Museum too. There are a few on here I still need to visit!

      22 Nov 2020

      Hope you get to check them out soon! London has so many great museums!

    John Quinn
    22 Nov 2020

    Finally found a way around the comment problem. Don’t ask how. ? I’ve only visited about half the museums on the list, the British being my fave. You should check out the imperial war museum next time, fascinating.

      22 Nov 2020

      Yay! I have no idea what was the issue with comments before. I plan on visiting more museums in London on my next visit. Not sure I’m going to see the Imperial War one as I’m not huge on the theme. But, never say never!

    Wendy White
    22 Nov 2020

    One thing I miss the most about my hometown are the incredible museums. My favourites are probably the Tower of London and Natural History.

      22 Nov 2020

      I miss museums too. I would love to go back to the Natural History Museum and check out the Tower again.

    Becky Exploring
    28 Nov 2020

    This is a great article highlighting some of the impressive museums in London. Though I don’t visit a lot of museums on my travels, I see a few on this list that I’d like to see, such as the Natural History Museum and the Churchill War Rooms. I visited the Tower of London many years ago with my family and found it really interesting! The fact that some of the museums are free is awesome! That would make me more likely to go check one out since I wouldn’t feel obligated to spend all day to “get my money’s worth”.

      28 Nov 2020

      I think many people feel the same way about museums! If they are free you can leave any time. This in itself is a better experience. The Natural History Museum is gorgeous. The collections are fabulous too, but the building is why I could stay there for hours. I hope you get to check it out. The War Rooms you have to pay for, but it was worth it in my mind. 🙂

    Stefan (BerkeleySqB)
    20 Dec 2020

    I spotted another reference to the Grand Tour. Still need to visit Sir John Soane’s Museum. This post is also the third time this week that someone recommends Churchill’s War Rooms to me. Ellie & I live 15mins walk away from them, but have avoided them so far, because the ticket prices just seem a little bit steep, but might change our minds now.

      20 Dec 2020

      The War Rooms were pretty interesting, especially for history fans so that’s why I couldn’t resist. I can’t remember what the ticket cost, but it wasn’t more expensive than other places I’ve been to. Let me know if you decide to visit. I haven’t been able to score a visit to Sir John Soane’s Museum, but I will definitely try on my next trip!

    Chalk and cheese travels
    4 Feb 2021

    Have been to the Natural History and the Science Museum would certainly love to add the Tate and the Churchill war rooms sounds a great visit.
    Great list ?

      4 Feb 2021

      Thank you! I highly recommend the war rooms. It’s such a unique experience.