Nowadays when people go to museums they want to be entertained. It used to be that you could hang some old paintings, put up a couple of sculptures and charge a ridiculous fee to rich people. They were quiet, sometimes dark, and full of pretentious people. Oh, how times have changed.
Now it is free interactive galleries that make it interesting and fun for the whole family, and that is a great thing. From the Museum of London and the Grant Museum to the Royal Academy of Arts and a Postal Museum, London may just be the greatest city to learn a great deal about history. There are still some stiff upper lip ones in London, but who wants to visit them?
So, stow your large bags at one of our London luggage lockers, and let's look at a list of London museums that you don't want to miss out on!
Natural History Museum
Hiding within the confines of what looks like a cathedral, is one of the most impressive London museums devoted to nature and science. Located in the South Kensington district, the museum is home to over eighty million species of flora, fauna, rock, fossil, and minerals. With animatronic dinosaurs, an earthquake simulator, and other cool exhibits to enjoy, you can easily get lost for hours here.
Most museums might be considered “fun” but there is no doubt that Natural History Museum is. Kids will especially love it, they can explore the glow-in-the-dark crystals and walk through the center of the Earth! If you want to avoid the kids, go on the last Friday of the month when it is open late.
Hours: Monday - Saturday 10 am - 5:50 pm
London Transport Museum
If you have kids (or are an engineering enthusiast) this is a perfect museum to hit. When you enter this area, which used to be part of the Covent Garden market, you are stepping into the storied past of London public transport. Whereas most museums have a “do not touch” policy this one encourages you to play with the “toys”.
With train cars, buses, and many other displays that you can board you will get a sense of what it was like getting around in the early days. It only takes an hour to explore, unless you can’t get the kids off the trains. And buying a ticket gets you an entry for the entire year, what a great deal! Maybe, in the end, you will be a trainspotter yourself.
Hours: Daily 10 am - 6 pm
Victoria and Albert Museum
One of the world’s largest museums for art and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum is located in the South Kensington free district of London. The gorgeous building itself is worth the visit, a red-brick palace with grandiose tiling, frescos, and beautiful sculpturing. With over five thousand years of art and design contained within, it might take a few visits to see it all.
The museum boasts some extravagant jewelry, period clothing, furniture, and more, spanning the centuries. It also has constantly changing feature exhibits. All the exhibits are divided into sections, like fashion and architecture, which makes it easy to traverse.
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 10 am - 5:45 pm
Imperial War Museum
Going to this museum is an experience everyone, especially world leaders, should visit. It is not a happy-go-lucky place that glorifies war as in the movies. It hits home hard as to the sacrifices and many toils people endure in wartime.
Concentrating mainly on what London and all of Britain went through during the First World War and World War II, it spans decades of wars and other heart-wrenching events of the world. On display, you will find clothing and letters of not just soldiers, but of the civilians caught up in the conflicts. This is a powerful and moving museum that explores the humanity of war, terrorist attacks, and the holocaust.
Located on the corner of Lambeth Rd. and Kennington Rd. in South London, this is a must-see museum, but bring some tissue.
Open: Daily 10 am - 6 pm
With over eight million objects and artifacts in the museum’s location, this is the largest museum in Britain. In the academic district of Bloomsbury in London, this is a museum lovers delight. The displays are divided into locations of the world, Africa, Ancient Egypt, Asia, Greece and Rome, and the Middle East.
Some of the highlights include the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, and the Sutton Hoo Mask. The Museum also contains over one hundred and forty mummies from Egypt, but only a few are ever on display at one time.
This London museum is extremely popular, so come early to avoid the big crowds. With so much to see it is best to explore one gallery at a time or take a guided highlight tour. There are amazing temporary displays and daily free “taster-talks” that last thirty minutes.
You could spend a lifetime exploring just the permanent collection, not to mention all the temporary exhibitions. It's a good thing it is free!
Hours: Daily 10 am - 5 pm, Fridays open until 8:30 pm
Sir John Soane's Museum
How often do you get to visit someone’s home to see their art collection? That is exactly what you will be doing when you visit this London museum. You might imagine this will not be a normal-style museum. Sir John Soane was an architect of renown and built the house specifically to house his treasure trove of fine works, so there is no rhyme or reason to the layout.
The museum is filled with impressive works by artists like Turner and Hogarth; the collection is pretty much whatever took his fancy. And although there is no order to it, his use of light and positioning will take your breath away.
You will find Sir John’s museum next to Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn. Filled with hundreds of fascinating works of art and artifacts which include an alabaster sarcophagus carved for the Pharoah Seti I, there is nothing quite like this museum anywhere else.
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 10 am - 5 pm
This is a museum that focuses on contemporary design rather than ancient history. When you walk into the massive hall on Kensington High St. you are greeted with a minimalist design with exhibits that seem to jump out at you.
The permanent exhibit “Designer, Maker, User” shows how the design disciplines of architecture, engineering, the digital world, fashion, and graphics have influenced our world. What the museum is best known for more than its permanent displays are its temporary shows that bring an insightful and entertaining view of design.
Open: Daily 10 am - 6 pm
National Maritime Museum
For those that have a little sailor in them, this museum is a must. Located in Greenwich you can see and play with some really cool stuff, like instruments used by Sir Francis Drake and Christopher Columbus. They even have Admiral Nelson’s jacket that he wore at the Battle of Trafalgar.
This museum is a fantastic place for family visits with great activities for the kids throughout the week. Your kids will love playing pirate as they explore the museum while singing and dancing or be a pirate and go on a treasure hunt. With over two and a half million items to discover there is something for everyone!
Open: Daily 10 am - 6 pm
Museum of London
As the name would suggest the Museum of London is a museum dedicated to the capital's history. All of its history, from its start as a Roman settlement to the present day can be found here. The Museum of London is located in one of the most unusual of places, in the middle of a roundabout beside the Barbican and St. Paul’s.
The museum contains thousands of historic artifacts collected from around the city of London as well as exhibits of building interiors and streets scenes. If you are looking to learn about something other than the history of London you will need to try somewhere else.
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 10 am - 5 pm
Looking for a museum that does away with all of the distractions of artifacts, sciency things, and just concentrates on fine art? Then you want to hit the National Gallery. Its permanent collection is almost two and a half thousand paintings covering the thirteenth to the nineteenth century.
This is one of the greatest collections of paintings in the world, with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Leonardo’s Virgin on the Rocks, and Monet’s The Water - Lily Pond just to name a few. There are audio tours you can download to cover the highlights to help you get around or you can pick and choose only what you want to see before you go.
Located in the busiest spot in London, Trafalgar Square, the gallery gets extremely busy, especially on the weekends. Make it an early start and plan a fantastic London brunch once you've seen all you'd like to see.
Hours: Daily 10 am - 6 pm, Fridays until 9 pm
Picture seven floors of galleries that are completely bonkers with interactive displays, mind-blowing information, and all the really cool things science has discovered through the years. The museum is located in South Kensington and houses over three hundred thousand objects. Of the most noteworthy are the Apollo 10 capsule and a 1712 Newcomen’s steam engine.
To say this is the most popular museum for the kids would probably be an understatement. With Simulators, 3D Imax theater, a multi-sensory area, and a space garden are just a few of the interactive displays and activities they will absolutely love. There is something special for adults too, an adults-only after-hours night at the Science Museum that includes a great silent disco. This museum and more will keep the kids happy in London.
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 10 am - 6 pm
Here is a museum that piques your curiosity even before you enter the doors. The building is a former oil-fired power station located in the middle of South Bank and has a combination of old industry and new-age architecture that blends perfectly. And once you are inside you are struck by the sheer scope of the collection and activities.
Within the Tate Modern, you will find sculptures and paintings by some of the most famous artists to ever live, Picasso, Warhol, and Dali. And for a museum that might seem pretentious, it is alive with fun activities that will get your creative juices flowing. There are plenty of activities for little ones too, photo, painting, and performance challenges.
You can also check out the Tate Britain across town in Westminster.
Hours: Daily 10 am - 6 pm
What are the best free museums in London?
One of the best things about most London museums is that they are "free", which means that although there is no actual entry fee it is requested that you make a donation of some sort. The recommended amount is five British pounds, about $6.75USD. Which, when you think about it, is really not much for what you get. The incredible British Museum was the first in the world to be "free" to the public. And now almost all of the free museums are sponsored by the British including the Wallace Collection and Horniman Museum.
Which are the best museums in Downtown London?
What one would consider the best museum really comes down to what you are looking for. Is it works of the master artists, the natural world, or maybe contemporary fashion? But when it comes to the best museums in Downtown London you have to go with the Natural History Museum, British Museum, and the Science Museum (it's just too much fun there).
Are there any cheap museums in London?
While a good majority of London museums are "free" there are few with small fees that are worth hitting.
- The Fan Museum in Greenwich is only up to £5 ($6.75USD) A quaint and interesting museum dedicated to hand fans.
- Fashion and Textile Museum fee up to £9.90 (13.35USD) It only has temporary exhibits so check the website before you go.
- Garden Museum fee up to £10 (13.50USD) Gardening tools, artifacts, and a look at the British love for gardens.
Permanent Galleries and Temporary Shows
It is worth mentioning that most of the London museums are doing a timed ticket entry, even the free ones. You can still walk up but you will most likely be standing in a line up. Just go online and book your ticket ahead of time. It will ensure you get in quickly and start your exploration of some truly amazing museums.