Discover the best museums in London with this handy guide. Looking for a bit of culture? These spots have it all.
London has more museums than you could manage in a day. Over two hundred in fact, so probably more than you could manage in a year.
But with all that choice, it’s hard to know exactly what’s worth a visit and what’s not.
Do you want history? The natural kind or the anthropological? Do you want to learn about the history of money, or London? If so, what era? The mind boggles.
Lucky for you, we’re here to spill all about the best museums in London. Big and small, we’ve covered a wide range of our favourites. You’re welcome.
Best Museums in London
The British Museum
Easily one of the best museums in London, and probably the world, the British Museum is an institution of all things history. Their collections range from the best of Ancient Egypt and Sumeria to the armour and weapons of Samurai, with artefacts from every millennia in between.
The museum is not lacking in famous objects either. In one trip you could tick off the legendary Rosetta Stone, Sutton Hoo Mask, The Parthenon Marbles (though maybe not for long) and the Crouching Venus.
Throw in the roughly 80,000 items on rotating display from their 8 million-strong collection and you’re in for a very informative day out. It’s totally subjective what you think is the best museum in London, but this might just be it.
Though the British Museum does have an excellent collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, it’s the Petrie Museum that we love best when it comes to Egyptology.
This museum specialises in the subject, so you won’t find stuff from other civilisations here, but what you do get is pretty astonishing.
The collection follows the history of Egyptian civilisations from the Stone Age to the Islamic Period. Among its cabinets and walls, you’ll find things as niche as a pair of ancient tweezers, and as grand as walls of hieroglyphs.
Of course, there’s all the sarcophagi and mummified stuff too if you’re brave enough to take a peek.
Speaking of being brave, you’d better have quite a stomach to handle the Hunterian Museum. It’s a whole building dedicated to the history of surgery. The museum has been closed for some time but is reopening in spring 2023.
That means scalpels and surgical masks, but it also means medical specimens floating in jars of preservatives.
In case you need that spelt out to you: Expect to see plenty of heads in jars, severed body parts, internal organs, and small animals suspended in strange yellow liquid. Shivers.
It’s no surprise that the Hunterian Museum doesn’t have a cafe. These exhibits will put you off your food.
Originally started as a project to “educate designers, manufacturers and the public in art and design.”, The V&A set about filling its room with the finest examples of high culture the Victorians could think of.
What you’ll find when you visit the museum are copies of some of the most influential bits of sculpture and architecture from across Europe, and collections of art and design from civilisations across the ages and the world.
They even have a very funny corner of modern Japanese culture, replete with Hello Kitty outfits and early examples of the mobile phone.
London Transport Museum
You’d think it might take a serious dad to be interested in the history of London’s transport, but actually, the London Transport Museum has plenty for everyone to love. It charts the history of transport in the city that gave the world the underground railway.
It’s not massive, but a stroll through the exhibitions featuring some of the iconic modes of transport that have ruled the roads (and the tunnels beneath them) over the centuries makes for a highly interesting afternoon.
Tickets: From £18.50
We love the Horniman Museum for leading the drive to return artefacts looted during the British Empire to their home countries. We also love it for the collections of anthropological items, including a selection of fascinating musical instruments.
History not your thing? You can wander off to their aquarium and butterfly house. Or perhaps take a stroll around the equally wonderful Horniman Gardens.
Tickets: Free (aquarium and butterfly house are paid)
Lovers of art and design that have had their fill of the V&A’s mission statement should head over to the Design Museum. The building it’s set into is as sleek as the things you’ll find inside.
That consists of regularly changing exhibitions that showcase elements of design from things like how to make the world a greener place, to how Surrealism has left its stamp on objects of everyday life.
The turn over of things they put on is as varied and wonderful as the world of design itself. If you fancy a change from the artefacts, this is the museum for you.
Tickets: Free (some exhibitions are paid)
Sir John Soane’s Museum
London is known, among other things, for its eccentrics. One such name that sticks out is Sir John Soane. He was an architect of quite some talent and a collector of antiques and artefacts from around the world.
Today, at Sir John Soane’s Museum, you can go and see the things he got his hands on.
There are 30,000 of them and they don’t lack cultural significance: Vases and marbles from ancient Greece, the odd Canaletto painting… it’s all there, among some bizarre but wonderful trinkets and models.
Museum of Brands
This may not sound like the most exciting museum in the world, but it’s low-key one of our faves. This quirky little place in Notting Hill exhibits household brands through the ages.
The stuff on show ranges from Victorian household names to toy brands you’ll probably recognise from your childhood.
We guess it’s that twang of nostalgia that gets us about the Museum of Brands. It’s also pretty interesting to see how advertising has changed over the years, and how it’s influenced the lives of the people it targets.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of the most visited museums in London, and it’s not surprising. The collections of animal bones and specimens of the natural world are nothing if not fascinating – they’re even famous (we’re talking about you Dippy).
The museum is especially loved for its collections of dino bones and a giant animatronic T-Rex that used to scare the life out of one of our writers when he was a child. You’ll also get a kick out of the blue whale skeleton that hangs from the ceiling of one of their spaces. It’s enormous.
In fact, it’s the scale of some of the pieces on show we love about this museum. There’s nothing like standing next to the bones of a prehistoric monster to remind you of your mortality.
Bank of England Museum
Money makes the world go round, they say. It’s only right then that we understand where it comes from and how it’s made.
At the Bank of England Museum you can learn all about the history of money in England.
It’s all told in relation to the bank’s history, from its founding in 1694 to the present day, with items that describe a story. Though budding economists will get the most out of this museum, the museum has a fair bit of history that will pique the interest of a layman.
There’s also the chance to hold a large chunk of gold bullion. It’s tied down, so don’t get any funny ideas.
The Clink Prison Museum
What to do with society’s reprobates and criminals has long been the subject of debate. A trip to the Clink Prison Museum will shed a bit of light on the less-than-savoury ways prisoners have been dealt with over the years.
The Clink Prison actually dates back to 1144, so there’s no shortage of history. That also means there are plenty of horror stories to take in, and plenty of sinners to hear about.
It’s not one for the faint-hearted, but if you take interest in the grittier sides of history, make sure you check this place out.
Anaesthesia Heritage Centre
A totally niche and little-known museum in London that should definitely be on more people’s radars is the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre. The museum plots the curious history of anaesthesia by looking at the people and objects that have been involved in keeping surgery patients knocked out and pain-free.
Ok, we know that may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, and we’ll admit we didn’t think it would be ours when we first visited, but if you’ve got a curious mind you’ll find plenty to fascinate you about this museum.
And no, it’s not going to gross you out like the Hunterian.
Imperial War Museum
While we’re on the subject of the grittier sides of history, those interested would also get a kick out of the Imperial War Museum. It’s worth noting though that this iconic London museum doesn’t treat its subject matter as lightly as Clink does.
But why would you when your exhibitions follow the history of modern warfare, with some particularly harrowing sections on the trench warfare of World War 1?
Whether you’re a pacifist or a military history buff, the way the Imperial War Museum approaches its subject matter is both delicate and informative, and that makes it well worth a visit.
Grant Museum of Zoology
Part of University College London, this museum is literally the definition of an educational institution. Founded in 1828 by England’s first Chair of Zoology, the museum is one of the nation’s oldest natural history collections.
What are you gonna find? Bones. And many of them. From all sorts of beasts still around today and many from times long past. Some of the stuff at the Grant Museum of Zoology is truly mental.
We guarantee you’ll get a kick out of the bizarre things we bet you won’t believe actually walked this earth.
Museum of the Home
We’re sure you’ll agree that the 18th-century Grade I-listed former almshouses on Kingsland Road is an appropriate location for a museum about how we live. The Museum of the Home documents domestic life through the ages.
The exhibitions range from things such as toys to cooking utensils and everyday items of furniture. That might not sound as interesting as dinosaur bones or ancient weapons, but we promise it has its charms.
After all, what’s nicer than domestic bliss?
Perhaps one of the stranger museums in the city, the London Mithraeum is also one of our favourites. Tucked under an office building in the City of London, it descends the archaeological levels into the London of the Roman era.
Once you’re down there you’ll find the foundations of a city long lost, literally. The museum was founded when excavations in the 50s turfed up the remains of a Roman temple to the god Mithras.
The funny folks at the Mithraeum even like to recreate the cult worship ceremonies that the Romans would have performed. You can catch it every hour. The dark halls of underground lost cities make for very atmospheric watching.
Jack the Ripper Museum
Did you know that one of London’s most infamous residents has got a museum dedicated to his truly gruesome crimes? The Jack the Ripper Museum offers a macabre look into life in Victorian London, plotting the Ripper’s murders and information about the victims.
Set inside a Victorian house, the museum really looks the part. It’s small but it’s fascinating for those with an interest in true crime and history.
We’ve covered these grisly murders on London x London before, too – have a read before you pootle on down.
Practical Tips for Exploring the Best Museums in London
- Occasionally London museums will run late sessions where they stay open after hours one or two nights a week. These can be a great way to explore the exhibitions as an evening plan rather than a day one.
- Many London museums also offer events and talks with experts. These are a great way to learn more about the exhibitions and can be super fun. Keep your eyes on the museum websites for info.
- London is home to plenty of free museums (many of which we’ve featured in this article) – you can read our guide to the best here.