April 09, 2024

The 7 best museums in London

London, a city brimming with history, culture, and creativity. Such an eclectic array of museums and galleries that cater to every taste and interest. From ancient artefacts to contemporary art, these institutions offer visitors a chance to delve deep into the city's rich and diverse heritage. So let’s take a stroll through some of London's most renowned ones.

But before we start I do want to make clear that this is not a ranking and obviously not all of them. In the end London has more than 170 museums and around 1000 art galleries… So for now we will concentrate on seven:

  • The British Museum
  • The Natural History Museum
  • The Tate Modern
  • The National Maritime Museum
  • The Viktor Wynd Museum 
  • The Imperial War Museum
  • The Design Museum

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London museums: A journey through time and art

 

British Museum

The British Museum stands as a global treasure trove, housing an unparalleled collection of art, artefacts, and cultural relics from civilizations across the world. 

Founded in 1753, the museum finally got its own magnificent building in 1848. The reading room, opened in 1857 and remodelled in 1997 according to plans by Norman Foster, stands out architecturally. With an area of 7,100 square metres, this inner courtyard is the largest covered square in all of Europe!

However, the museum is best known for the approximately 8 million artefacts it houses, which document the entire cultural history of mankind up to the present day. 

Its galleries showcase remarkable sculptures, archaeological finds, and historical artefacts, making it a beacon of knowledge and cultural exchange.

If you've always wanted to know how the hieroglyphs were deciphered, don't miss the Rosetta Stone. Definitely one of the most visited artefacts and a cornerstone of Linguistics. 

Other famous artefacts include the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, the collection of Egyptian mummies and of course the Benin Bronzes. 

As the museum is so huge, it is definitely worth two or three visits. The good thing here is that admission is free and it’s open every day. 

British Museum London interior

 

The Natural History Museum

Opened in 1881, the Natural History Museum London is now one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Even the building that houses it today, the Waterhouse Building, is a stunning Romanesque-Byzantine style structure that was completed in 1860. 

It houses around 70 million different artefacts. One of the most important collections is that of the botanist Joseph Banks. He created it during his voyage with Captain James Cook on the HMS Endeavour in 1768-1771. 

There are also many impressive examples of taxidermy, the skeleton of a blue whale, the largest collection of meteorites in the world, breathtaking dinosaur skeletons and an astonishingly real-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex. But don't worry, this is just one of the museum's biggest attractions: a robot, identical in size and appearance, which behaves lifelike and also snaps and roars at visitors.

If you (understandably) need some relaxation afterwards, head to the Wildlife Garden. Here, as well as some peace and quiet, you'll find thousands of plant and animal species typical of the UK. 

With the exception of a few temporary exhibitions, admission is free. 

Natural History Museum London

 

Tate Modern

Part of the Tate Gallery until 2000, Tate Modern's main exhibition finally got its own home in a former power station, Bankside Power Station, in May of the same year. It houses the national collection of modern art from 1900 to the present day.

Works by the most important artists of classical modernism and the present day are presented here: Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joseph Beuys and Jackson Pollock. There is something for everyone, interested in art or not. From Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism and Expressionism through Dada and Surrealism to Pop Art, Minimal Art and Conceptual Art.

With the exception of a few special exhibitions, admission is free. This also applies to the tower, from where you can enjoy a wonderful view over the London skyline. 

Tate Modern museum London

 

National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum is the largest museum of maritime history in the world! And where else should it be if not in the capital of British seafaring: London.

Founded in 1934 and opened in 1937, it houses an extensive archive of maritime artefacts and documents covering maritime art, cartography, manuscripts including public records, ship models and plans, scientific and navigational instruments, and instruments of chronometry and astronomy.

The place where it is located, Greenwich, has been associated with shipping since earliest times. The Romans are said to have landed here, Henry VIII lived here, the marina has its roots here, and Charles II founded the Royal Observatory in 1675 to determine the longitude of places.

Home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian since 1884, Greenwich has long been a centre for astronomical study and sailors around the world set their watches by this time. 

Until summer 2025, the "Astronomy Photographer of the Year" exhibition will also be on show here, where you can view breathtaking space images by 100 photographers from all over the world. 

And the best thing about it: all exhibitions are free of charge. 

National Maritime Museum London

 

Viktor Wynd Museum 

Viktor Wynd is an artist, musician and director of his own museum of curiosities. 

Opened in 2015 under the name The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Arts and Natural History, the museum exhibits all kinds of strange things:

A two-headed lamb, so-called Fiji mermaids but also the country's largest art collection by English-Mexican artist Leonora Carrington. If you've always wanted to see the bones of the extinct dodo or a collection of human body parts, including so-called shrunken heads, this is the place for you. 

If you want to refresh yourself after your visit and learn something about absinthe, there are also workshops and tastings on offer at the oldest absinthe distillery in the UK. 

absinthe

The museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 3pm to 11pm and admission costs 6GBP.

 

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917 and opened in 1920 as one of the most important war museums in the world. It has been at its current location since 1936: the former Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark. 

The museum's collections include archives of personal and official documents, photographs, film and video footage (the museum's film and video archive is the oldest film archive in the world) as well as oral histories, an extensive library, a large art collection, military vehicles and aircraft, equipment and other artefacts.

It is primarily concerned with both World Wars from a British perspective. In addition, the Holocaust plays a very important role in the exhibition on the Second World War, with its own exhibition rooms. 

A special artefact is the uniform of Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and grandson of Queen Victoria. His cousin Tsar Nicholas II commissioned it as a custom-made item, whereby the shortened left sleeve is striking. Kaiser Wilhelm II had a stunted and weak left arm throughout his life due to a particularly complicated breech birth. 

Admission is free.

Imperial War Museum London

 

Design Museum

The museum was founded in 1989, but it was not until 2016 that it moved to its current location: the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington. It is now the most important design museum in the world. 

From architecture and interior design to graphics, fashion and industrial design, all areas of design are covered here. 

The collection, publications, events, exhibitions, learning and digital programmes invite everyone to experience and reflect on the impact of design.

A very special exhibition will open in July 2024 to mark the brand's 65th anniversary: Barbie. 

A major exhibition exploring the evolution of the design of one of the world's most famous dolls. Until February 2025, you can immerse yourself in the Barbie universe and discover over 250 remarkable objects with rare, unique and innovative dolls from 1959 to the present day. The entrance fee is a hefty €17, but the permanent exhibition is free of charge.

 

London's cultural legacy

There is no doubt that London's museums are amazing centres of education, inspiration, and reflection. Each visit offers a chance to journey through time, delve into the wonders of nature, appreciate the genius of art, and contemplate the complexities of human history and culture. Whether you're drawn to the ancient or the modern, the factual or the fantastical, visiting London museums will be a great experience allowing you to gain deeper insights about the city itself but also enrich your understanding of the world at large. 

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