London has a reputation for being one of the world’s great cultural cities - and for good reason! The English capital boasts an incredible array of museums, from world-beating art galleries showcasing everything from Renaissance masters to contemporary controversialists to historic palaces, interactive science and nature collections and much, much more. There really is something for everyone here; to help you get started planning where you need to go when in the city, this week on our blog we’re counting down 10 of the best museums in London.
The British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, britishmuseum.org
You could easily lose yourself for a week in the extraordinary collections of the British Museum, whose cultural artefacts and artistic masterpieces from across the world span the entire course of human history. At the heart of the splendid neoclassical edifice is Norman Foster’s Great Court, a jaw-dropping courtyard covered by a spectacular glass roof that leads off into the maze of galleries in every direction. Glittering highlights of the collection include the Parthenon marbles, perhaps the finest Greek artworks in existence, Egyptian mummies, Aztec amulets, the Rosetta Stone, the Benin Bronzes and the Lewis Chessmen. And that’s just for starters! If you visit only one museum in London, then this should be it.
To get the best experience out of the maze-like collections of the British Museum, consider taking a private tour. Through Eternity offer tours of the British museum led by our experts - check them out here.
The Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD, nhm.ac.uk
Dinosaur lovers of all ages need to make a beeline for London’s Natural History Museum, where fossils, specimens, skeletons, rocks and more from more than 4.5 billion years of history recount the story of life on earth in thrilling detail. The exciting and interactive dinosaurs gallery, complete with rampaging Tyrannosaurus Rex, might be the showstopper, but the massive suspended skeleton of Hope the Blue Whale, plus the bones of some of the world’s most exotic extinct megafauna are scarcely less impressive. The truly spectacular Alfred Waterhouse-designed building is a masterpiece in its own right, a secular temple to the spirit of the Victorian age. A regular calendar of child-friendly events and activities make the Natural History Museum an ideal family destination.
Bankside, London SE1 9TG, tate.org.uk
The former Bankside Power station on London’s South Bank is now home to one of the world’s most exciting modern art galleries. Enter through the awe-inspiring Turbine Hall, whose soaring space is usually home to temporary site-specific installations by internationally renowned contemporary artists, before exploring the five levels of themed galleries covering everything from cubist masterpieces by Picasso to Pollock’s abstract impressionism, Italian arte povera, Andy Warhol’s industrial art, large-scale temporary installations, video art and much more besides. After you’ve had your fill of this seemingly endless display of human creativity, head to the bar and viewing terrace on the top floor to drink in breathtaking views over the Thames and across London.
The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN, nationalgallery.org.uk
Take a deep-dive into the world of Renaissance art in London’s renowned National Gallery, where you’ll rub shoulders with everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian and countless others. The story continues with some of the finest masterpieces of Caravaggio, Velazquez and Rembrandt before we’re thrust headlong into the startling world of modernity with the revolutionary canvasses of the Impressionists. The curation of the National Gallery is second to none, and the audioguide makes for an excellent companion; so whether you’re an art novice or a seasoned aesthete, you’ll find plenty to enthral you in one of the world’s finest museums.
The National Gallery is a must visit on any trip to London, and forms one of the key stops on our Best of London tour. Check out the full itinerary here!
The Sir John Soane Museum
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn, London WC2A 3BP, soane.org
Sir John Soane can lay claim to being one of Britain’s greatest architects, and his immaculate Georgian townhouse in the heart of Bloomsbury offers a fascinating snapshot into his life and work. Soane purchased and demolished 3 townhouses on Lincoln’s Inn Fields in order to fashion this unique house-studio-museum, specifically designing the interior to showcase his vast collection of antiquities, artworks and oddities. The architect stipulated that his home would become a museum during his lifetime on condition that it would remain unchanged in appearance, and indeed it looks almost exactly the same now as it did on Soane’s death in 1833. The interior exemplifies Soane’s revolutionary approach to architectural space, whilst the dense accumulation of artefacts includes an Egyptian sarcophagus, funerary urns from Pompeii, ancient sculptures and more.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL, vam.ac.uk
Another cultural gem in South Kensington, the sprawling Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the world’s largest collections of art. Dedicated to arts, crafts and design in all its forms, the V&A is home to everything from magnificent Korean ceramics to Middle-Eastern textiles, Chinese painted screens to European furniture, as well as a peerless collection documenting the history of fashion. An unexpected highlight is the set of Raphael’s extraordinary Cartoons, huge preparatory drawings for a set of tapestries destined for the Sistine Chapel that reached the museum in 1865. The museum’s incredible Casts Court, meanwhile, showcases life-sized plaster replicas of many of the world’s most famous artworks, and provided an invaluable resource for the nation’s artists in a world before photography.
When you find yourself in need of refreshment, make sure to stop by the beautifully V&A Refreshment Rooms, largely unchanged since their inception in the 1860s. The Museum is open until 10 PM on Fridays.
The Tower of London
London EC3N 4AB, hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london
The historic Tower of London is a treasure trove of English history. Looming over the city from its position on the Thames’ northern bank, the iconic White Tower was built by William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion of Britain as a vivid symbol of the new social order. Over the centuries the complex expanded to encompass a fabulous royal palace as well as fearsome dungeons, an armoury, the royal mint and - perhaps most famously - the impregnable repository for the Crown Jewels. Today the sprawling grounds have been transformed into one of London’s most-visited museums. It’s a must for anyone interested in English history; make sure to take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders, the Royal Bodyguard since 1509, and look out for the six black ravens who guard the White Tower.
Get the fascinating full story of the Tower of London on a walking tour of the imposing landmark, including a visit to nearby foodie-haven Borough Market.
Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG, tate.org.uk
If you have any interest in the story of British art, then this imposing Westminster institution (built on the site of an old penitentiary) is for you. Home to masterpieces by British artists from Turner, Constable and Gainsborough to modern masters like Bacon, Freud and Hepworth, Tate Britain offers a primer in 500 years of British art like no other. The truly spectacular proto-impressionist canvases of JMW Turner in the Clore Gallery are the gallery’s most unmissable highlights, but look out too for ever-popular Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Holman Hunt, Millais, Burne-Jones and others. If you’re visiting between October and January then you’ll get a chance to see the shortlisted works for the Turner Prize, contemporary art’s most famous - and controversial - competition.
The Science Museum
Exhibition Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD, www.sciencemuseum.org.uk
Making the complexities of scientific investigation and the mysteries of the cosmos accessible and fun for all, London’s Science Museum offers a thrilling day out for the incurably curious. Trace the development of three centuries of locomotion through trains, cars and planes in the Making the Modern World Gallery before heading to the outer reaches of the cosmos in the Exploring Space exhibit; a full scale replica of the Eagle lander that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon is a particular highlight. Elsewhere, get to grips with everything from telegraphs to morse code, hot air balloons to early aeroplanes, the world’s first MRI scanner and much more, all showcased in interactive exhibits perfect for all the family. If you’ve got little ones in tow then make sure to head down to the basement level Garden, a multi-sensorial play area that allows children to experiment with water, sound and light (and make one hell of a mess!). The Garden is free, but make sure to book your slot in advance.
Imperial War Museum
Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ, iwm.org.uk
Uncover the fascinating lives and times of the millions of people who have lived through conflict from the First World War to the present day in this sobering and poignant museum dedicated to investigating war and its brutal consequences. Learn about the extraordinary heroism of ordinary people caught up in the 20th century’s two global wars and be chastened by the horrifying conditions ensured by soldiers in the trenches and on the battlefields of early-modern Europe. Artefacts on displays include Spitfire fighter planes and V-2 rockets, as well as everyday objects left behind by Jewish victims of Nazi genocide in the harrowing Holocaust exhibiton.
Through Eternity Tours offer expert-led private tours and custom itineraries in London. To find out more, or to get started planning your perfect London trip, check out our website here.