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Design Museum London
Design Museum London

The top ten museums in London

Looking for a culture fix in the capital? Here are the ten best museums London has to offer in 2020

By Ellie Walker-Arnott
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JULY 2020: Like everything else, London’s world-class museums closed in March, but one by one, most of them have announced their reopening (see below). Visiting will be very different to the museum experience you’re used to, though: you’ll have to pre-book a timed entry slot, you may have to follow a one-way route and face masks will be encouraged. But being able to go inside the capital’s cathedrals of culture again makes up for all that.

You’re never far from a museum in London. We’ve got national museums, free museums, weird museums, museums specialising in cartoons, advertising, medicine, toys and Freud. There are more than 170 of them, in fact, including some of the finest in the world. It’s no easy feat to narrow them down to a top ten, but we’ve given it a darn good go. Here you’ll find the museums and galleries with ace exhibitions, brilliant events and vast permanent collections that you absolutely cannot miss when in the capital. Most of them are free entry too, so what are you waiting for? 

Plus, catch our video below of London museums you absolutely must visit…

RECOMMENDED: 101 amazing things to do in London

The best museums in London

1. V&A

Museums Art and design South Kensington

Reopening on August 6 with reduced hours. Booking required.

What is it? One of the greatest collections of decorative art, design, fashion and textiles in the world. The permanent exhibits in this South Ken cathedral to creativity are free to visit and include a mini pet cemetery. (Hello, Stephen King fans).
Why go? To drool over amazing design and gobble up cake in the sunny courtyard. Bliss.

The British Museum
Photograph: Marc Haegeman

2. British Museum

Museums History Bloomsbury

Reopening TBC.

What is it? Since it opened in 1759 – the first ever national museum for the public – the British Museum has been displaying artefacts of world heritage, including the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon sculptures.
Why go? The museum has over 8 million objects in its collection, 50,000 of which are on display. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, considering entrance to the main areas is free. Bank, balanced.

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3. Tate Modern

Art Galleries Bankside

Reopening on July 27. Booking required.

What is it? A riverside icon dedicated to all things modern and contemporary art. Based in 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. 

4. National Maritime Museum

Museums Military and maritime Greenwich

Reopening this summer.

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 and the Royal Observatory.
Why go? To be wowed by almost 2.5 million historical items such as Admiral Nelson’s uniform. 

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5. Natural History Museum

Museums Natural history South Kensington

Reopening on August 5 with reduced hours. Booking required.

What is it? Full of more nature-based information than David Attenborough, 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.

The National Gallery
The National Gallery Photographic Department.

6. National Gallery

Art Galleries Trafalgar Square

Now open. Booking required.

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.

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Design Museum
Hufton + Crow

7. Design Museum

Museums Art and design Kensington

Reopening on July 31. Booking required.

What is it? A fascinating museum that explores contemporary design and architecture. The Design Museum is bursting with free temporary exhibitions, pop-ups and bookable displays.
Why go? The museum’s new home in Kensington is an absolute design feat, and when you’ve finished your walkabout, take a detour to the nearby Holland Park Kyoto Garden for some well-deserved rest and recuperation.

8. Science Museum

Museums Science and technology South Kensington

Reopening on August 19. Booking required.

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 old building house hands-on exhibits, mad-looking inventions from throughout history and shiny machines. Highlights include a 16th-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’.

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9. London Transport Museum

Museums Transport Covent Garden

Reopening TBC.

What is it? The Covent Garden residence of all things London Transport. It’s home to vintage red Routemaster buses, early examples of tube trains, maps, transport signs and uniforms, as well as ace posters, artworks and photographs capturing London from 1860 to today.

Why go? Who’d have thought that the history of London’s world-famous transport network is totally fascinating? Well, turns out it is and once you’ve bought entry you can visit anytime for an entire year. 

Imperial War Museum
Michelle Grant / Time Out

10. Imperial War Museum

Museums Military and maritime Lambeth

Reopening on August 1. Booking required.

What is it? A powerful museum shining a light on people’s experiences of conflict from the First World War to today. A few minutes’ walk from Waterloo, IWM is made up of permanent galleries, such as the ace Curiosities of War exhibit, and temporary displays, exploring recent conflicts and terrorist attacks.
Why go? For impressive and extensive collections, including the moving and eye-opening permanent Holocaust exhibition (not recommended for under 14s).

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