Winston Churchill once said that “history is written by the victors.” But there are many failures of yesterday that have shaped the successes of today. Whether or not you like studying the subject, you can’t really skip it, as we’re surrounded by anecdotes from the past. Yesteryears’ realities make today’s stories, and that’s why museums are such a hit among the crowds. They show what our past looked like, where we came from, and where we are headed. If we’ve piqued your interest, here’s our rundown of the best history museums in London:
1. British Museum
This world-famous place takes you through two million years of the history of humans, art and culture. Home to eight million artefacts from across the globe, the British Museum is truly spellbinding. It houses over 120 mummies and many Egyptian relics, including the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles of Parthenon from Ancient Greece, the Oxus Treasure, some mosaics from Roman Britain, the samurai armour, and the sculpted lion hunts from archaic Assyria.
Founded in 1753, the British Museum is one of the best history museums in London and probably the best in the entire country. It was the world’s first national museum when it opened its doors back in the 18th century, and it’s most definitely grand – the glass and steel-globed hall and the promise of unravelling some of the earliest mysteries known to mankind are certainly palpable here.
Its various wings are divided as per the location and period in history. Each of the sixty galleries is dedicated to the history of the world, for example, Ancient Greece, Egypt, Africa, Iran, Roman Britain, and China since 5000 BC.
You’ll find the British Museum at Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG. Nearest stations are Russell Square, Goodge Street, Holborn and Tottenham Court Road.
2. Natural History Museum
Do you think two million years is a long, long time? How about 150 million years? The Natural History Museum displays more than 80 million flora, fauna, fossils, and rock specimens. It’s an unmatched paradise for those who get goosebumps learning about the creatures walking the earth millions of years ago, and it promotes and supports excellent discoveries in both taxonomy and biodiversity. Some of its exhibits like the wildlife garden, life and Earth galleries can’t help but
You enter while gawking at the twenty-five-metre-long skeleton of the blue whale hanging from the ceiling before getting engrossed in the world of Mother Nature’s early years on the planet. A 147-million-year-old Archaeopteryx, pigeons owned by Charles Darwin, animatronic dinosaurs, a huge sequoia tree and the extinct dodo keep you hooked.
Then you are welcomed by the residues of the Vesuvius eruption, a life-sized model of the human foetus, the earthquake simulator, and the biggest gold piece found on the planet. The Natural History Museum opened to the public in 1881. It is home to everything naturally archaic, including Dippy the Diplodocus, London’s beloved dinosaur.
You will find the Natural History Museum at Cromwell Road, SW7 5BD. Ring 020 7942 5000 for enquiries. Nearest station is South Kensington.
3. Museum of London
Let’s move from the history of nature to the Vikings, the Great Fire, the Blitz and everything you may or may not know about London. The Museum of London offers stories from every corner of the city, and it holds the title of being one of the largest museums for urban history on the planet.
In the display of seven million objects and artefacts, you’ll find all stories about the city and its past, including the transformation under the reign of Romans and Saxons, the medieval period, and the tumultuous years of the plague, civil wars and the Great Fire of London too. If that doesn’t excite you enough, then the fossils of hippos walking through Central London 125,000 years ago surely will.
Highlights include the cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick for the London Olympics, the hunger strike medal of Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and Oliver Cromwell’s death mask. It’s also free to enter too – winner, winner!
You’ll find the Museum of London at 150 London Wall, Barbican, London, EC2Y 5HN. Nearest station is Barbican.
4. Victoria and Albert Museum
Every creation forms part of history. Even the décor, innovations and designs. And that’s what the Victoria and Albert Museum celebrates. It’s one of the world’s most incredible art museums, housing around three million objects depicting the evolution of human creativity over the past 5,000 years. Also known as the V&A, the museum was named after Queen Victoria and her Prince Albert.
What began as a museum of manufacturers in 1852 became a gatekeeper for all art forms, including the world’s oldest Ardabil carpet, a 3D printed coin of Extinction Rebellion, the Rock Crystal Ewer, and the Chinese crafts of porcelain, lacquer, ceramic and glass. Believe it or not, the V&A also has Mary Quant’s short skirts from the Swinging Sixties!
You’ll find the Victoria and Albert Museum at Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL. Nearest station is South Kensington.
5. Imperial War Museum
History is incomplete without the mention of wars. And a roundup of history museums in London is unfinished without mentioning an institution dedicated to the stories of the World War. Founded during the First World War, the Imperial War Museum displays all the narratives and horrors of the battle.
It comprises a group of five museums built to recreate the memories of WWI and the Blitz, and convey the accounts of people who have seen and experienced it all. The world-renowned atrium, a burnt car from Baghdad, a display of the Holocaust, and a glittering Spitfire decorate the grandeur of this institution of urban history.
But that’s not all. There are also exhibits on more recent acts of war including 9/11, the Falklands and North and South Korea too. However, the Churchill War Rooms beneath Westminster might be the real highlight. Here you can see the former Prime Minister and his comrades plotting during WWII on a fifteen-metre-long table.
You’ll find the locations of all their museums on the website.
6. London Transport Museum
Enthusiasts of the motor vehicles, behold! For it is here that you find the origin and the evolution of almost everything that runs on wheels in London. The London Transport Museum shows the transport system’s journey in the city over the past two centuries. An inspiring collection of over 80 vehicles and 500,000 objects like the locomotives that powered the world’s first underground steam trains, the two-storeyed horse-drawn trams, the 20th-century posters, a scarlet Routemaster bus, and the décor of the tube over the years. You can also explore the padded cell – a train carriage from the 1890s.
Another excellent point of this journey through the moto-history is the London by Design gallery. It showcases the artwork, original advertisement posters, and Harry Beck’s revolutionary London Underground map. And then, you can watch the roundel transport logo evolve too.
You’ll find the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB. Nearest station is Covent Garden.
7. Sir John Soane’s Museum
A museum is a place where history is rightfully and carefully preserved. Now that could be someone’s original home, too, right? Sir John Soane designed some famous architectural marvels like the original Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery. Then, fulfilling his last wish, his Georgian home was converted into a museum and named after him post his demise. Sir John Soane’s Museum displays his collection, including the famous artwork of JMW Turner, an Egyptian tomb, and a sarcophagus of alabaster that was sculpted for Seti, the pharaoh between 1291-78 BC.
The place is filled with historical anecdotes (though some might call it cluttered), and it was brilliantly designed by Soane to utilise every corner. For example, the walls open to reveal closets harbouring famous paintings of Hogarth, Canaletto and Turner, among many others.
You will find Sir John Soane’s Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP. Nearest station is Holborn.
So there you have it – if you’re looking to delve into our capital’s intriguing history, then this roundup of history museums in London is sure to keep you busy. Happy exploring!