London’s Best Museums
London is overflowing with things to see and do, from historic sites and world-class galleries to street art and quirky boutiques. The city also has over 200 museums – perfect for a visit when the great British weather is doing its worst. But where to start?
Here are six of the city’s best museums, covering science, nature, design, art and more. And even better, entry to all of them is free.
The vast British Museum is one of the world’s oldest museums, located in London’s historic Bloomsbury. It tells the story of human life, art and culture from all periods of history. With a staggering eight million artefacts, only a fraction are on display at one time, but you could still spend days there and not see it all. So start with the highlights, which include Egyptian cat mummies, the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles and an Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo ship burial helmet. The building is part of the attraction too, with its spectacular glass-roofed Great Court.
A stretch of Exhibition Road in South Kensington is home to three of London’s biggest and best-loved museums, including the Science Museum. It covers seven floors and takes you through the history of science and industry – from early steam engines through the Space Age all the way to recent digital technology. Among the exhibits are Stevenson’s Rocket, a WWII Spitfire and the Apollo 10 command module. There’s also the ‘Launchpad’ hands-on interactive gallery, an IMAX 3D cinema and a 4D flight similator to get you right into the action.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Better known as the V&A, the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington has one of the world’s best collections of decorative arts. It was founded in 1852 and has over 4.5 million items in its collection. They include sculptures, ceramics, jewellery, furniture, clothes, prints and photographs from around the world. Across town the V&A also has a lesser-known sister museum in Bethnal Green – the Museum of Childhood. You can relive your childhood with exhibits of toys through the ages, and there are free daily activities for kids.
Natural History Museum
Set in a palatial terracotta Romanesque building, the Natural History Museum is the third of Kensington’s museums. Its biggest attraction is its dinosaurs, with original fossils, an animatronic T-Rex and ‘Dippy’ – a 32-metre-long diplodocus skeleton. There are also insects, birds and mammals on display, as well as rocks and minerals in the Earth Galleries which take you through the history of the planet and beyond. You can also watch scientists at work in the Darwin Centre and take part in special events like the ‘Dino Snores’ sleepovers with the dinosaurs.
Located on the south bank of the Thames, the Tate Modern is one of the world’s largest modern art museums. The building was originally the Bankside Power station and the 152-metre-long old turbine hall is used to display specially commisioned artworks, from a giant slide to an indoor sun and rain machine. There are also a mix of paintings, sculptures and multimedia works featuring artists including Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Dalí and Warhol. And don’t miss the sixth-floor café for great views across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Architect Sir John Soane left his mark on London by designing buildings like the Bank of England. But when he died in 1837, he donated his house in Holborn to be used as a museum of architecture and for the amazing artefacts he’d collected. One condition was that it was left just as it was when he died, so it’s a real step back in time. The collection includes art, sculpture and antiques, with everything from an Egyptian sarcophagus to a portrait of his wife’s dog. It’s all extra atmospheric on the first Tuesday of each month too, when you can take a tour by candlelight.