Things to do in London

London Museums

Run to the Tube, grab a seat, and prepare for your stop. You have a limited amount of time and all these London museums to visit.

Visit each one because they’re all essential. Beyond these museums, explore London's many attractions for an unforgettable trip. Experience art at the British Museum, scientific wonders at the Natural History Museum, and maritime history at the National Maritime Museum. Make the most of your London adventure.

1. Sir John Soane’s Museum

Most museums in London are situated in sprawling buildings that look like they could be backup palaces for the royal family. But Sir John Soane’s Museum is a house museum. It’s literally built into the former home of neoclassical architect John Soane. He was a visionary who created some incredible structures, such as the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

He also collected oodles of designs, drawings, sculptures, and other important artifacts. Those goodies were put into a museum while Soane was still alive, via an actual Act of Parliament.

Yes, the museum is narrow — so narrow only 90 people can wander the halls at any given time. But everywhere you look, there’s something waiting to bore into your brain. It reminds you not only of the London of yore but also of how the city grew and morphed over time.

In addition to perusing Soane’s amalgamation of artifacts, you can also take tours of the upper apartments that were used by Soane and his wife once upon a time. Keep an eye on the museum’s calendar and exhibits. Events such as special on-site drawing courses and candlelit music performances fill up quickly.

2. Natural History Museum

At the heart of London's exploration of natural history, the Natural History Museum captivates visitors with its extensive and diverse exhibits. It owes its reputation to Sir Richard Owen, who established a collection that now includes 80 million items across various domains like botany, zoology, geology, and paleontology. Fun fact: He’s also responsible for coining the term “dinosaur.” Visitors can marvel at a T. Rex, admire a towering giant sequoia, or witness the glow of UV-reactive crystals during special lighting events—all under the same museum roof.

For architectural enthusiasts, the museum itself is a masterpiece, exemplifying the exquisite architecture prevalent in London. The exterior features intricately carved lions, pterodactyls, and saber-toothed tigers positioned on column tops and window ledges, overseeing the throngs of visitors with vigilant gazes.

Within, Hintze Hall is somewhat cathedralesque with its playful monkeys hidden among the tiles. Gazing upward reveals a rich tapestry of plants and animals, immortalized in carvings and paintings that adorn the walls and ceiling.

Photographer: Toa Heftiba

3. Design Museum

The Design Museum showcases meticulously crafted outfits, like bedazzling rhinestone-encrusted jackets and over-the-top, opulent feather headdresses, celebrating the art of design. Initially housed in a converted banana depot, the museum transitioned to Kensington in 2011 and offers a panorama of design disciplines, from apparel to architecture.

Exhibits vary, spotlighting themes like sustainable living and skateboard aesthetics, including a 2023 Converse-backed showcase. The permanent “Designer Maker User” display educates visitors on the design continuum, from concept to consumer.

The museum's workshops, like “The Drawing Gym,” teaches visual communication skills, while other classes explore novel fashion design techniques and craft-making, such as pewter Christmas ornaments and silicone coaster crafting. For those looking to flex their photography skills, it even offers advanced photography classes, teaching its pupils techniques like mastering light and composition in skate imagery.

4. British Museum

Despite its name, British Museum, extends far beyond British history, encompassing over 8 million items that trace 2 million years of human history. This makes it a pivotal institution in London and a significant one globally, offering a broad sweep from prehistoric relics to contemporary collections.

This is where therenowned Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies reside. Every artifact is carefully preserved and showcased, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of civilizations whose legacies might otherwise be lost.

Admission to the main museum level and many special exhibitions is free throughout the year. These include specialized displays like the Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies. The museum also frequently hosts insightful lectures from experts across various topics, with accompanying exhibits, such as Ed Ruscha’s studies on the confluence of roads and insects.

Consider joining a guided tour; one popular option explores themes of desire, love, and identity through the LGBTQ lens, while another offers a whirlwind global journey in just 90 minutes, providing a rich experience of this London gem when time is limited.

Photographer: Nicola Lysandrou

5. Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum has it all: the imaginative and industrial-cool aesthetic of steampunk, an orchestral sound, and the lsuh aesthetics of a botanical garden.. The establishment celebrates an eclectic collection of displays, including a profound exhibit on the history and cultural impact of tea. It even features a poignant tribute to the Clean Air Bill, highlighted by a cornet from Ella Roberta, herself a victim of air pollution.

Curious visitors can explore a vast array of exhibits, covering anthropology and natural history, to natural history, living creatures and musical instruments. For anyone not as enchanted taxidermied Victorian-era walrus, the museum offers plenty of other features. Visit the nature trail, aquarium, and the Handling Collection that breaks traditional museum boundaries by allowing hands-on interaction with its more than 3,700 artifacts.

The outdoor spaces span 16.5 acres, featuring untouched natural areas as well as meticulously crafted gardens with stone formations and precisely trimmed shrubs. These gardens are ideal for strolling under the sun or London's characteristic fog. They also serve as a scenic venue for numerous weddings, celebrations, and festivals.

Photographer: Paolo Grandi

6. London Transport Museum

The London Transport Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into how transportation in London has evolved. The city is full of energy, and the ways people get around have changed dramatically over the years. At the museum, you can see a variety of exhibits including a vintage red Routemaster bus, early train cars, and old uniforms. It also features maps that were essential for travel before the ease of GPS.

Another highlight is Hidden London, an exhibit that reveals a network of abandoned Tube stations and secret tunnels. It provides an inside look at how some busy stations operate. While the city buzzes above, visitors underground can hear stories about the engineering behind these spaces, surrounded by old tiles and historic posters.

Exploring these hidden parts the city adds to the excitement of uncovering other secret spots in London , where past and present mix beneath the busy streets.

7. Queer Britain Museum

Queer Britain in King's Cross, established in 2018, is London's pioneering museum, an establishment dedicated to sharing the legacy of the LGBTQ community in Britain. This contemporary institution was the brainchild of the visionary minds of Joseph Galliano-Doig, a former Gay Times editor, and Ian Mehrtens, a notable London business figure.

Its principal exhibit, “We Are Queer Britain,” marks the half-century milestone of the inaugural Pride March in the UK, reflecting the dynamic LGBTQ presence and experiences across England. It takes visitors through a vibrant showcase of artifacts, photographs, and testimonials, capturing the essence of LGBTQ life in London—a life the museum embraces with pride.

Additionally, the museum offers an engaging roster of events, including a poster-making workshop that encourages active participation in social advocacy. This allows individuals and allies to contribute actively to the pursuit of societal acceptance and equality.

Photographer: Isi Parente

8. Imperial War Museum London

At the Imperial War Museum, the emphasis on learning from history to prevent future wars aligns with the wisdom of George Santayana, who once stated, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This thinking implies that world leaders could avoid conflicts like World War III by adopting the lessons of the past, lessons taught within the museum walls.

The Imperial War Museum, established during World War I in London, is renowned for its focus on the multifaceted nature of conflict. It offers a platform for voices from the past, ensuring visitors grasp the deep impacts of international warfare.

Upon entering the Imperial War Museum, visitors encounter an impressive atrium, large enough to display suspended fighter aircraft, symbolizing moments frozen in battle. The museum extends over six floors, each narrating the personal and collective stories of individuals impacted by warfare abroad and in the UK.

With a collection that encompasses over 800,000 artifacts—including photographs, audio recordings, and personal documents—the Imperial War Museum vividly portrays the raw realities of war. Special exhibits like Spies, Lies, and Deception explore espionage activities from World War I onward, and Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles examines the prolonged strife stemming from religious and political tensions.

The Imperial War Museum experience is not relegated to the main site, either; it includes visits to HMS Belfast and the Royal Air Force Museum, enriching the narrative of military history through detailed and immersive tours.

9. National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery, the backbone of London's art scene, revealed its new look back in 2023 after undergoing a massive transformation.

This makeover was owed to the “Inspiring People” project. This project changed how the Gallery showcases its portraits from as far back as the Tudor times to the present day. It also made new public spaces, spruced up the entrance, and built a cool learning center.

The Gallery is famous for showing pictures of famous British people all under one roof. This includes folks like William Shakespeare, the Brontë siblings, Queen Victoria, and Prince Albert.

It also puts on rotating exhibits featuring household names like David Hockney or groups from places like Caribbean influencers from Croydon. It's also a hub of activity with cool things like lunchtime chats, digital drawing workshops, and classes for young artists.

One standout past exhibit was all about Paul McCartney’s photography, showing off his works during the height of Beatlemania.

For those who love all kinds of art, places like Tate Britain and Tate Modern are worth a visit.

Photographer: Hulki Okan Tabak

10. Victoria and Albert Museum

Nestled in South Kensington, the Victoria and Albert Museum—more commonly known as “the V&A”—is known across the world for its artistic influence. The museum boasts an impressive collection of more than 2.27 million items. It’s an unparalleled journey and exploration of human creativity across various mediums including fashion, furniture, sculpture, photography, and jewelry.

Located on Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL, the V&A invites visitors to wander through and take in its expansive galleries. Every exhibit, from delicate ancient artifacts to bold contemporary designs, tells a story of aesthetic evolution and cultural significance.

Explore Art, History, Science, & Culture at London’s Museums

London is a rich, intricately woven tapestry that ties culture, art, science, and lifestyle together to create a fabric that’s become impossible to unravel. The city’s respect for history and progress is well-balanced and incredibly evident, creating these pockets where tourists and locals immerse themselves in artifacts and exhibits that teach, amaze, implore, and influence, all in equal measure.

While you’re in town, extend your desire for something dreamy to the theater. Round out your visit with a ticket to a Cirque du Soleil show in London. Our productions are as known for their acrobatics as they are praised for their poetic and awe-inspiring storylines — all that’s missing is you.

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