With collections numbering millions of intriguing exhibits and carefully thought-out displays, London's museums are among the biggest and most popular in the world. They're a huge draw whether you're just visiting the city or live here – especially as the permanent collections in the major museums are free of charge. In this guide, we've highlighted some of the best museums in London, from celebrated fixtures to lesser-known gems.
The best museums in London
In this guide
The best London museums
- Natural History Museum – Nature's treasury
- British Museum – Human history from A to Z
- The V&A – Art through the ages
- Science Museum – Hands-on scientific discovery
- Design Museum – Contemporary creativity in everyday life
- Tower of London – See the dazzling Crown Jewels
- National Maritime Museum – Learn about Britain's naval history
- London Transport Museum – The intricacies of transportation in London
- Imperial War Museum – A history of violence
- Cutty Sark – Hop aboard the iconic ship
- Horniman Museum and Gardens – Diverse collection of curiosities
- Sir John Soane's Museum – Vast private collection made public
- The Old Operating Theatre – Thank goodness for modern medicine
- The Postal Museum – The story of the first social network in the world
- Young V&A – The rebirth of the Museum of Childhood
- HMS Belfast – WW2 warship on the Thames
- Churchill War Rooms – Underground headquarters during WW2
- Dennis Severs' House – Still-life drama of a fictional family
- Museum of Brands – 200 years of consumerism
- The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History – Cabinet of fantastical curiosities
- Fashion and Textile Museum – Secrets of the cloth
- Vagina Museum – From A to V
- Museum of Comedy – A light-hearted affair
- The Fan Museum – For fans of fans
- Garden Museum – Celebrating Britain's love affair with gardens
- 2 Willow Road – Modernist architect's lair
- Queer Britain – The UK's first national LGBTQ+ museum
- World Rugby Museum – A must-visit for rugby fans
- Royal Air Force Museum London – An exploration of the RAF
- Foundling Museum – Doing good for nearly 300 years
- The Hunterian Museum – Huge anatomical collection
- Wellcome Collection – A place for curious visitors
- Leighton House – A noble artist's home
- Sambourne House – Illustrating Victorian times
- Museum of London Docklands – A stroll on the docks
- Royal Observatory – Observe the observers
- Novelty Automation – Satirical homemade arcade machines
- Handel Hendrix House – Discover musical history
- Freud Museum – The home of psychoanalysis
- Ragged School Museum – Learn a lesson
The best London museums
The Natural History Museum is an unmissable part of London. Prepare to be stunned from the moment you enter, as the vast central hall is dominated by a giant blue whale skeleton that hangs from the ceiling, then wander through the halls, marvelling at extraordinary displays that include extinct species, dinosaur fossils, a moon rock and more.
Human history from A to Z
The British Museum spans the whole of human history and is the first national museum in the world to open to the general public. It boasts one of the largest permanent collections on the planet – around eight million artefacts in total. The exhibits include highlights such as the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies.
Art through the ages
The V&A is the largest museum in the world for arts, design and performance, with over 2.7 million works. Part of the Kensington "Albertopolis", along with the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, its collection spans 5000 years, including famed pieces such as Tippoo's Tiger, the Mazarin Chest and Auguste Rodin's Cybele, as well as ceramics, fashion items, contemporary designs and more. With such an emphasis on art, the gift shop is also worth a stop.
Hands-on scientific discovery
Fitting for a place that celebrates human ingenuity, the Science Museum features ingenious interactive exhibits that have visitors of all ages deeply engrossed in the finer details of various scientific achievements in no time. You can learn about the discoveries that helped change the course of human history in fun, cleverly prepared displays that explore everything from mathematics and space to vaccines and DNA.
Contemporary creativity in everyday life
Instead of spanning the whole of human history, the Design Museum focuses on contemporary works, showcasing marvellous examples of fashion, architecture, industrial and graphic art, and more. The temporary exhibitions that complement its sizeable permanent collection often feature in-depth looks at everyday objects, such as the history of sneakers or the design aspects of footie.
See the dazzling Crown Jewels
Within its fortified walls, the famous castle on the northern bank of the River Thames hides numerous exhibitions and displays telling the stories it has accumulated during the centuries – mostly of the bloody variety. The, erm, crown jewels in its collection are the precious Crown Jewels themselves.
Learn about Britain's naval history
The National Maritime Museum draws on Britain's historic role as a naval superpower for its material, featuring interactive displays, curious nautical gear and even a record-breaking speedboat in a well-designed building. It's part of Royal Museums Greenwich, so you can easily round out your day with a visit to the iconic Cutty Sark ship parked nearby or a hop up the hill to the famed Royal Observatory.
The intricacies of transportation in London
Considering the size of the city and the important role they play both in everyday life and as pop culture icons, a museum dedicated to the ins and outs of London's various transport systems seems a given. At the London Transport Museum, you can look at double-deckers to your heart's content, learn about the history of transportation in London and go on tours of abandoned tube stations. Still won't help you navigate around Bank, though …
A history of violence
The Imperial War Museum focuses on the devastating conflicts that defined the 20th century, utilizing recreations of, for example, World War I trenches and the Blitz bombing of London to tell the stories of war through the eyes of those who lived it. You could fill several arsenals with the weaponry and military equipment on display, including actual tanks, fighter planes and more, and there are also various talks and tours.
Hop aboard the iconic ship
The Cutty Sark is one of the fastest clipper ships ever, built for speedy transport of tea from China before steamships took over the seas. This fascinating piece of history is now docked near the National Maritime Museum and open to the public. Visitors can explore its decks, learn about the challenges of travelling by sea, and even climb the rigging of the iconic vessel with special passes.
Diverse collection of curiosities
A somewhat more manageable alternative to the city's more famous museums, the Horniman Museum and Gardens feature a quirky collection of all sorts of things, primarily in the fields of natural history and anthropology. The biggest draw for many is the large exhibition of taxidermized animals, but there's also an impressive musical instrument collection, a highly acclaimed aquarium, a butterfly house, the oldest nature trail in London and much more.
Vast private collection made public
Behind its façade, this house in Holborn is packed to the brim with drawings, architectural models, paintings, antiquities, sculptures and various other items, including pieces by J. M. W. Turner and Canaletto. All were acquired by the house's former occupant, renowned neo-classical architect Sir John Soane, during his lifetime. Entry is limited due to the many objects everywhere and the narrow passages of the house itself, so be prepared to queue.
Thank goodness for modern medicine
The tiny Old Operating Theatre in the attic of St Thomas' Church is packed with medicinal herbs, knives, saws, scalpels, drills and all sorts of garish instruments that will have you thanking your lucky stars you don't live in Victorian times. The main feature is one of the oldest surviving operating theatres in the world, where you'll be able to hear the grisly details of amputation without anaesthesia and even hop onto the surgical table to help with the demonstration.
The story of the first social network in the world
Just like it says on the package, the Postal Museum is dedicated to showcasing the inspiring stories and interesting facts from five hundred years of Britain's postal heritage, from technological breakthroughs to a world-renowned stamp collection. You can even hop on a Mail Rail ride for an immersive underground experience.
The rebirth of the Museum of Childhood
Reopening in 2023 after years of renovation, the Young V&A offers a hands-on experience aimed at teaching children and young people about creativity and design, building up their own creative confidence in doing so. Over 2,000 objects are displayed across the museum's three permanent galleries, along with sensory playscapes, an open design studio, and many other interactive installations.
WW2 warship on the Thames
A light naval cruiser anchored on the Thames near the Shard, HMS Belfast saw action in the Second World War, including in Operation Overlord supporting the Allied landings in Normandy. Today, it is an intriguing museum with exhibitions, displays and interactive experiences across its nine decks.
Underground headquarters during WW2
The Churchill War Rooms are located just a few minutes from the British Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. The secret underground bunker was Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s seat of operations during the Second World War. You can tour the corridors and rooms where the government at the time made crucial decisions that helped turn the tide of war.
Still-life drama of a fictional family
A sort of cross between theatre and exhibition, Dennis Severs' House is a "still-life drama" offering a "historical imagination" of life as a family of Huguenot silk weavers. Renovated and decorated by Severs, the rooms are evocative time capsules of the imaginary family that lived there from 1725 to 1919. The subdued ambiance is heightened by silent tours that take place by candlelight.
200 years of consumerism
The Museum of Brands turns two centuries of consumer culture into a learning experience and a strong hit of nostalgia. In the display cases showcasing the changes to everyday life since Victorian times, the shelves are stacked high with your and your ancestors' favourite treats, intriguing childhood objects and insightful glimpses into the development of some of the biggest brands today.
Cabinet of fantastical curiosities
It doesn't quite rank up there with the rest of London's museums when it comes to scientific accuracy, but the tiny Viktor Wynd Museum delights nonetheless with its somewhat macabre collection of curiosities from all over the world, such as two-headed kittens, mummified fairies, mermaid skeletons and more. After checking it out, you can relax with some absinthe in the adjoining cocktail bar and let your imagination run free.
Secrets of the cloth
The only museum in the UK dedicated to showcasing contemporary fashion and textile design, the Fashion and Textile Museum doesn't have a permanent collection – just like fashion itself, really. Instead, the museum relies on a diverse programme of temporary exhibitions and events to pull back the veil on the textile arts, including workshops to help inspire the fashionista inside you.
From A to V
The Vagina Museum describes itself as "the world's first bricks and mortar museum dedicated to the gynaecological anatomy." It strives to spread awareness about gynaecological anatomy and health, eradicate body-related stigma and promote feminist, intersectional and trans-inclusive values through various exhibitions and events.
A light-hearted affair
The Museum of Comedy is primarily a comedy club, located in the crypt of St George's Church. It features regular performances from up-and-coming comedians as well as their more established colleagues testing out new material. But it's not listed here just because it has the word "museum" in its title – it actually lives up to its name with an extensive collection of comedy memorabilia.
For fans of fans
Rather than various football club supporters or social media followers, this Greenwich museum showcases the art of fan-making and the fan-scinating history of these handheld cooling instruments. Displaying several thousand beautiful fans and fan leaves from all over the globe, some of them dating as far back as the 11th century, the museum also offers workshops on how to make your own fan.
Celebrating Britain's love affair with gardens
Originally founded to save an abandoned church in Lambeth, the Garden Museum looks at and preserves British gardening culture through its permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, various events and, of course, its garden. The carefully cultivated displays in the historic building have something for everyone, regardless of whether you’re an amateur gardener or a professional horticulturist of the highest grade.
Modernist architect's lair
Step inside the house of influential architect Ernő Goldfinger to experience his Modernist philosophy through the bespoke furniture, interior design, and collection of modern art. 2 Willow Road is one of two Modernist houses in the country accessible to the public, offering a unique opportunity to see this school of design integrated into a domestic living space. Guides are present to explain how the house translated a philosophical and artistic movement into a way of life.
The UK's first national LGBTQ+ museum
Opened to the public in 2022, Queer Britain stands proudly as the first national LGBTQ+ museum in the country. Located in Granary Square, this remarkable museum includes gallery spaces, a gift shop, and versatile event and workshop areas. Through a series of diverse exhibitions, Queer Britain delves into the history of queer rights and related subjects in the UK.
A must-visit for rugby fans
Since its inception as an informal collection in 1983, the World Rugby Museum has grown to housing the world's most extensive collection of rugby memorabilia. The museum has won numerous awards and comprises over 41,000 exhibits, which it rotates regularly through its galleries. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, offers learning programmes, and conducts tours of the stadium in which it is located.
An exploration of the RAF
Explore the past, present and future of the world's first independent Air Force at the Royal Air Force Museum in northwestern London. Six buildings and hangars are filled with aircraft used throughout history and in the Royal Air Force, with an emphasis on the role of the RAF fighter and bomber during World War II. Simply stroll around and take in the sights and information about each plane or participate in one of their family trails, designed to keep kids entertained throughout their exploration of the museum.
Doing good for nearly 300 years
The Foundling Museum, located in Bloomsbury, tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, the first UK home for children at risk of being abandoned, spanning over three centuries of London history. Today, the hospital continues to operate as the children's charity Coram. The museum displays a collection of objects and exhibitions showcasing the works of influential people such as William Hogarth and G. F. Handel, who contributed to improving children's lives.
Huge anatomical collection
Trace the history of surgery and see England's largest anatomical collection at the recently-refurbished Hunterian Museum. Located at the Royal College of Surgeons, you'll see thousands of anatomical samples and medical curiosities, as well as surgical instruments and equipment, models, paintings, and archive materials. This museum takes you all the way from ancient times to the most recently surgical advances.
A place for curious visitors
Located near Euston station, Wellcome Collection is a unique museum where science, art, and culture intersect. Permanent and temporary exhibitions are on display exploring a broad array of different subjects, plus there's a library on-site with thousands of books. Visitors can also take advantage of the light-filled bookshop and café here.
A noble artist's home
Leighton House, near the more famous Design Museum, is dedicated to famous Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, the only British artist to have been ennobled. His home-turned-museum in Kensington showcases his paintings, drawings, prints, engravings, and ceramics, displayed throughout the beautiful, stylish interior, with different guest exhibitions, workshops and events held here as well. Leighton House was shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year award, the world's biggest museum prize, in 2023.
Illustrating Victorian times
Sambourne House is the family home of Victorian artist Linley Sambourne, famous for his work as the First Cartoonist at the satirical magazine “Punch”. The stunning Kensington house is furnished in the Aesthetic style and decorated by Sambourne himself, with the beautiful interiors as much of a draw as the illustrator's displayed works. You can also get a discounted ticket to visit the nearby Leighton House.
A stroll on the docks
The Museum of London Docklands is a free museum that highlights the significant role the Thames River and the maritime trade have played in the development of London. You can visit the permanent galleries to see how the Docklands have changed through the ages, catch one of the themed temporary exhibitions, or go for a guided walk around the area.
Observe the observers
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park is where you can hop from one side of the world-famous Meridian Line to the other, learning about the evolution of timekeeping, Greenwich Mean Time, and our galaxy. The family-friendly destination displays the UK's largest telescope, different historical clocks, astronomical instruments and more, as well as the Peter Harrison Planetarium.
Satirical homemade arcade machines
Novelty Automation is a compact offbeat museum showcasing a collection of unusual arcade machines. Designed by an inventive creator with a funny bone, these homemade automata include an automated expert who will tell you whether an object you present to him is art or not, a Money Laundering claw machine that challenges you to get cash from the gutter past regulators, and a bicycle-powered Pong game. It's a museum unlike any other.
Discover musical history
Music fans can immerse themselves in history at Handel Hendrix House. This museum encompasses the former homes of composer Handel and music icon Jimi Hendrix. During a visit you can learn about these musical pioneers and the time they both spent in London. The museum also lays on weekly events including talks and live music.
The home of psychoanalysis
In North London you can visit the final home of Sigmund Freud, which is now the Freud Museum. The museum works to promote the legacy of Freud and his daughter. Wander through the carefully-maintained garden, view his untouched study including the psychoanalytical couch, and explore the temporary exhibitions here. There are regular tours and other events.
Learn a lesson
In the late 1800s, this was the biggest Victorian ragged school around, offering free education, shelter, and other essentials to the East End's neediest children. Now, the Ragged School Museum delves into the institution's past, showcasing Victorian-era life through its meticulously recreated classroom. It's an ideal spot for young visitors and educational tours, complete with engaging, hands-on lessons.