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Design Museum London

The top 10 museums in London

London’s so flipping cultural – we’ve got world-class museums coming out of our ears. These are ten of the best

Written by
Chris Waywell
&
Danielle Goldstein
Contributor
Alex Floyd-Douglass
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London is the best. Obviously, we're biased, but come on: it has something to offer everyone. Want to explore the history of cartoons? We've got a museum for that. Rather learn about fans (the cooling type, not the screaming ones)? We've got a museum for that too. History? Check. Science? Check. Wax models, grotesque artifacts, and advertising? Check, check, check! There are more than 170 museums in the capital and many of them are free.

Whether you’re teaming up with like-minded friends or going it alone, London’s museums are great places to spend a bit of time.

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Best museums in London

The V&A
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • South Kensington

What is it? Based in South Ken, The V&A is a vibrant hub of decorative art, design, fashion and textiles. The permanent collection contains 2.3 million (yes, 2.3 million!) objects, and because it's so big, you could easily spend a day walking around. Many of the exhibits are free to visit too, so you don't even have to spend any cash if you don't want to.
Why go? To check out some amazing art and eat cake in the sunny Italianate courtyard. Bliss.
Temporary shows ‘Place to Place by Adi Toch’ (until March 7 2023).

Natural History Museum
  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • South Kensington

What is it? Full of more nature-based information than David Attenborough, this is the magnificent South Kensington home of around 80 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens. 
Why go? To come face-to-face with animatronic dinosaurs, a man-sized model of a foetus, a dodo, a giant sequoia tree, an earthquake simulator, glow-in-the-dark crystals and much more. Plus, it’s also a world-class research institution.

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Trafalgar Square

What is it? A first-class and entirely free-to-enter artistic institution in the heart of Trafalgar Square. Founded in 1824, The National Gallery is home to more than 2,000 works from artists such as da Vinci, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Turner, Picasso, Matisse and Cézanne.
Why go? To learn more about the world’s acclaimed artworks and even try your hand at sketching in the galleries.

Tate Modern
  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Bankside

What is it? A riverside icon dedicated to all things modern and contemporary art. Based on what was the Bankside Power Station, it houses works by the likes of Warhol, Dalí and Hockney, as well as unusual, attention-grabbing installations, which are all part of the free permanent collection.

Why go? To be totally inspired and properly challenged. Plus, if you can get in, the members’ bar has an incredible view of the London skyline.

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Science Museum
  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • South Kensington

What is it? You don’t have to be a physics or chemistry nerd to have an incredible time at the Science Museum. Founded in 1857, all seven floors of the building house have hands-on exhibits, mad-looking inventions from throughout history and shiny machines. Highlights include a sixteenth-century artificial arm and a cross-section of a real-life Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet.
Why go? To discover the incredible ‘Information Age’ exhibition – which is where the Queen sent her first tweet, signed ‘Elizabeth R’.

London Transport Museum
  • Museums
  • Transport
  • Covent Garden

What is it? Step one foot inside Covent Garden's hub of transport history and you'll leave a bonafide trainspotter. Alright, maybe you won't be lingering trackside, notepad in hand, in a hurry, but you'll be amazed by the wonders that are the vintage red Routemasters, early tube trains, maps, transport signs and uniforms. Plus there's a beautiful array of posters, artwork and photographs capturing London from 1860 to the present day.
Why go? Besides the top-class exhibits, one ticket grants you entry on multiple visits for an entire year. What's not to like?

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Museum of London
  • Museums
  • History
  • Barbican

What is it? The history of London, from prehistoric times to the present is told in the Museum of London through reconstructed interiors and street scenes, alongside displays of original artefacts found during the museum's archaeological digs across the city.
Why go? It's a strange throwback to when museum-going in the capital was a less spangly activity. You can sense the principles on which the collection had been put together and the underlying desire to represent the capital’s history in every walk of life. Plus, it’s next to the Barbican, which is always a fun place to roam around. The Museum of London Docklands offshoot is also fascinating, with an insightful permanent gallery about London and the slave trade.

National Maritime Museum
  • Museums
  • Military and maritime
  • Greenwich

What is it? Hello, sailor! An ode to all things nautical and a treasure trove of watery artefacts, maps, art and memorabilia. The museum is part of the Royal Museums, Greenwich, which also features the Queen’s House gallery, the Cutty Sark clipper ship and the Royal Observatory.
Why go? To be wowed by almost 2.5 million historical items, such as Admiral Nelson’s uniform from the battle of Trafalgar. 

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  • Museums
  • History
  • Holborn

What is it? The London home of architect Sir John Soane, who designed the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and numerous other significant buildings. Soane (1753-1837) obsessively collected art, furniture and architectural ornamentation. In the nineteenth century, he turned his house into a museum, to which he said ‘amateurs and students should have access. The result is this perfectly amazing place.
Why go? See above. There’s nowhere like it in London. In the world, probably. Quite apart from the collection, the decoration of Soane’s home is extraordinary. Mirrors and light wells channel and direct daylight, and walls open out like cabinets to display paintings (Canaletto, Turner, Hogarth). The Monument Court contains an alabaster sarcophagus so fine it’s almost translucent, carved for the pharaoh Seti I (1291-78 BC).

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Kensington

What is it? A fascinating museum that completely devotes itself to contemporary design in every form. From temporary exhibitions, pop-ups and bookable displays, they've got it all.
Why go? The museum has a newish home in Kensington, right next to Holland Park Kyoto Garden where you can take a short walk for some rest and recuperation, and then over to Pappa Roma for some inexpensive authentic Italian food.

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