The top 10 museums in London
Although museums are mainly focused on showcasing the things of the past, their future is looking decidedly rosy. With many of our London museums boasting multi-million pound makeovers, world-beating exhibitions and special after-hours “lates” events; visitor numbers are soaring.So with museums enjoying a surge in popularity - here, in no particular order, are our top 10 museums in London:
Best for: capital culture
"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…. for there is in London all that life can afford."Dr Samuel Johnson, 1777: creator of the first English dictionary
This museum encapsulates all that is great and good about our vibrant capital. Crammed with ancient jewels and treasures, it is probably fitting that this tremendous trove is on display at the home of the capital’s financial muscle; the still beating heart of the City of London. Exhibits takes you on a dizzying chronological journey from 450,000BC to the present day with a visual timeline which shows London evolving through the years using simple, but effective, graphics. The sheer scale and power of the city and the relative speed of its growth over the last 1,000 years is a feat to be appreciated.With a focus on the visual and with a host of fun, interactive exhibits, the museum really delivers for people of all ages. Even if you love London, after a trip to the Museum of London, you’ll be sure to love it a little bit more.
FREE! Special fees apply for certain exhibitions - see websiteGetting there: 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HNNearest Tube: Barbican, St Pauls
Best for: fossil fun
Winner of the "Best of the Best" in the Museums & Heritage Awards and home to the most important natural history collection in the world; the Natural History museum doesn't need a big build up. It is simply a benchmark for brilliance and wonder. Housed within a beautiful building (which is a work of art on its own), the treasures within are so vast that the museum is divided into different coloured zones to help you navigate your way around. Despite the 3D and interactive modern multi-media displays, the simple power and scale of "Dippy" the Diplodocus skeleton and the model blue whale, still have that wow factor.However, at the Natural History Museum it’s not just the dinosaurs and big mammals, but the sheer breadth of nature on the planet that is celebrated.From the quirky Victorian-esque stuffed taxidermy of specimens to looking at animals which once roamed the earth but are now long-extinct; the museum inspires you to look differently at the world around you.
“No reason to suppose that man's stay on Earth should be any longer than that of the dinosaurs.”― David Attenborough, Life on Earth
Last but not least, the final Friday of each month is Lates with Mastercard at the museum. This is the unique chance for adults to potter about the exhibits after hours to the tune of open-mic artists, pop-up restaurants and of course take a sneak peak at the Dinosaur gallery while nursing a glass of wine.
- 61 million animals, including 32 million insects
- It is home to 5,000 meteorites, including ones from Mars.
- 9 million fossils, including one of only ten specimens of Archaeopteryx - the earliest known flying bird
FREE! Special fees apply for certain exhibitions - see websiteGetting there: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BDNearest Tube: South Kensington
Best for: talking about my generation
Small, but perfectly formed, the Museum of Brands showcases the development of brands and packaging, using social history to give it context. If it sounds a little niche, don't worry, it isn't. From the moment you step into "the time tunnel" and begin with Victorians attitude to advertising, you will be amazed not just at how much has changed, but at how little. Some packaging, like that of Bovril and Rolos, seems eerily familiar – despite it being designed well over a hundred years ago. You will discover that celebrity branding, which many view as a modern malaise, has been around since before England cricket captain, W.G.Grace, endorsed the delights of Colman’s Mustard before going out to bat!Anyone interested in social history will love the Museum of Brands. This showcase of retro design will unleash the fondest of memories for products gone by, making it the perfect place to take the parents and grandparents.
£6.50 (inlc gift aid) / £4 /7-16 £2.25Closed Mondays, except bank holidaysGetting there: 111-117 Lancaster Rd, London W11 1QTNearest Tube: Ladbroke Grove.
Best for interesting innovations
If you are looking for a museum that pushes the boundaries of visitor experience, this is the place for you. Situated under one, very large, roof is the biggest collection of technological objects on the planet. You really get a feel here for the incredible progression made by the human race in the 150 or so years the Museum of Science first opened its doors. From Stephenson's Rocket, the train that heralded the start of the steam age, to the Apollo 10 command module; there are plenty of iconic exhibits to enjoy.Although The Science Museum is clearly a geek's paradise, the cool and quirky interactive experiences will have even those for whom science was a school subject to be endured rather than enjoyed, wishing they could go back and study it again. This is the perfect place to keep the kids entertained - all day.Collider - closes 6 May 2014 - Step into the heart of one of the greatest scientific experiments of our times: the Large Hadron Collider
FREE! Special fees apply for certain exhibitions - see websiteGetting there: Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2DDNearest Tube: South Kensington020 7942 4000
Best for: dedicated followers of furniture fashion
Tucked in the middle of Hoxton hipster central is this delightful oasis of urban middle-class respectability. The Geffrye Museum shows us how the living room in our homes has transformed from 1600 to the present day. This chronological journey of taste in soft furnishings feels like you are walking through a series of TV costume dramas; from the classical Jane Austen-style of the 18th century to the 1960’s Mad Men Formica explosion to the oddly sterile 1990s. Fashion moves at such a pace even rooms from 15 years ago look dated and "of their time".This year marks the centenary of the opening of the museum, whose theme pays tribute to Shoreditch and Hoxton's former life as the hub of furniture-making activity. This museum is perfect for anyone with an interest in interior design and if you are thinking of redecorating; you can't help but be inspired by taste-makers from the past.
FREE! Special fees may apply for certain exhibitions - see website. Not open Mondays, except Bank Holidays.Getting there: Kingsland Road, London, E2 8EANearest Tube: London Overground to Hoxton or Liverpool Street020 7739 9893
Best for: kids (and big kids)...
Cavernous, noisy, full of laughter and vitality; true this doesn’t sound like the usual description of a museum, but that there is the beauty of this place. It’s a museum about children for children. Those who love nostalgia will embrace The Museum of Childhood. It is one big walk down memory lane. The joyous rush of recognition that accompanies the sighting of a favourite toy from childhood (I couldn't believe I had forgotten Weebles... or how sinister they actually are up close!), is one of the highlights.
“Grown up, and that is a terribly hard thing to do. It is much easier to skip it and go from one childhood to another.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
This truly is a family museum: from parents sitting down to play with the available traditional games, to them poignantly pointing out the toys they played with in childhood; to the look on their child’s face, clearly thinking either: “you were young?” or the pitying: “you had to play with that….”The Museum of Childhood also has a cracking cafe where you can soak up the atmosphere. This is not just a museum but a fun place for parents to come and share the magic of toys.
FREE!Getting there: Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PANearest Tube: Bethnal Green020 8983 5200
Best for:curious collectors
Riding high on the crest of a visitor wave, the architecturally-amazing British Museum is celebrating its 255 birthday in some style. From the classic 19th century exterior to the £100m glass-roofed Queen Elizabeth II Great Court; this museum has been transformed beyond all recognition. Famous treasures include The Rosetta Stone, the Mildenhall treasure, the Mold gold cape & of course all the Mummies.
"I am delighted that so many people have visited the world collection at the British Museum in the last year. Displays onsite, loans and touring exhibitions nationally and internationally, big screen viewings and online access mean this is truly a dynamic collection that belongs to and is used by a global citizenship". -Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum
The British Museum enjoyed more than 6.7m visits in 2013, smashing its previous record of 5.9m in 2008, and its ever changing and beautifully presented exhibitions has been a major part of this. Despite being one of the world's oldest museums, it refuses to rest on its laurels and deserves its place in showcasing and curating global history. This is a must-see museum.
FREE! Special fees apply for certain exhibitions - see websiteGetting there: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DGNearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn,Russell Square or Goodge Street020 7323 8299
Best for: naval gazing
"I cannot command winds and weather." - Horatio Nelson
As befitting a major seafaring nation, London is home to the world's largest maritime museum. You’ll find the National Maritime Museum (NMM) along with the Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark and the Queen's House, nestled right at the heart of the Greenwich World Heritage Site. Every place on earth is measured from the Greenwich Prime Meridian, and when it comes to setting historic standards, the NMM certainly raises the bar.Not content with glass-cased sea-faring artefacts,0 multi-media technology is at the heart of some of the National Maritime Museum’s newest displays.The stunning Voyagers: Britons and the Sea exhibition is an incredible audio-visual installation, projecting more than 300 images and films from archives in a thematic visual journey.However, the NMM wouldn't be a maritime museum without featuring our most famous national sailing icon. Nelson, Navy, Nation is the new permanent gallery paying tribute to the derring-do and devil-may-care attitude of this legendary war hero. It even is home to Nelson's jacket - and yes - you can see that famous bullet hole.
FREE! Special fees apply for certain exhibitions - see websiteGetting there: Park Row, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NNearest Tube: Cutty Sark - Docklands Light Railway020 8312 6608
Best for: pure aesthetic pleasure
The V&A claims to be the world’s greatest museum of art and design; a bold assertion certainly, but with over 2 million exquisite exhibits one claim they can easily back up.Named after royalty and boasting a history of more than 160 years, the collections are a crucial blend of contemporary and historic art and design. Housing incredible works of art, ceramics, textiles and jewellery; this museum celebrates the best of human creativity.[list type="check"]
- There are currently 2,241,718 items in the Museum’s collections
- Of that number a whopping 1,182,876 are museum objects and works of art
- The V&A has more than 1m books and periodicals in their library
- Only a small percentage of these are on show at any one tie - just 226,747 pieces in the collections
[/list]The new Europe 1600-1800 Galleries has works created for some of the period’s most important trend-setters, including Louis XiV, Marie Antoinette and Catherine the Great; a spectacular explosion of fashion, furniture and ceramics.And if you still need a little convincing - check out the V&A's fabulous videos (below) showcasing their 20 best reasons for visiting. I'm just surprised they managed to narrow it down to just 20.
FREE! Special fees apply for certain exhibitions - see websiteGetting there: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RLNearest Tube: South Kensington020 7942 2000
10. The Fan Museum
Best for: something completely different
Unpretentious, quirky and quaint, this is the only museum in the UK dedicated to the humble fan. Does it make it niche? Yes it does.Does it make it any of the less interesting? No it doesn't, in fact that is part of the charm.You won’t find fancy gadgets or iPads, and it may be a little traditional, but with new additions to the fan collection by the likes of Salvador Dali, this museum is going places. From the fan’s practical use (keeping us cool) to its incredible rich social history (C18th fan etiquette), the cases are full of surprising nuggets of information about these delicate and intricate items. I loved the fact that fan measurements are still made in "pieds & pounces".The Fan Museum has a wonderful little shop and fan-making classes on the first Saturday of every month should you be interested in participating in your very own fan-club. During the warmer months of the year, make for the Fan Museum’s charming Orangery, where you can take afternoon tea on Tuesdays and Sundays. Without getting too Little Britain about it, The Fan Museum may be a little more biased towards the ladies, but I would challenge anyone not to be a little taken with this corner of Greenwich.
£4/£3 - Closed Mondays.Getting there: 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8ERNearest Tube: Cutty Sark - Docklands Light Railway (DLR)020 8305 1441
Plan your visits:
Check out the map below to help locate our top 10 London museums, but you could start by visiting the "museum quarter" in South Kensington. There you will find the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum all within five minutes walk of each other. Similarly the National Maritime Musuem and Fan Museum are within close proximity to each other and the Thames in historic Greenwich.
What do you think?
What is your favourite museum in London? Is there a gem of a museum you know about which just has to be included? Let us know by either leaving a comment below.