Looking for the best museums in London? You’ve come to the right place!
There are many interesting museums in London, and no matter where you are in town, you will find one that tickles your interest and where you can spend an hour (or even a day!) browsing at the collection.
Visiting museums is one of the best free things to do in London – indeed, most of them don’t actually charge an admission fee.
With more than 170 museums in town, selecting the top museums in London is no easy task. I have lived there for almost 8 years and obviously have my favorite, and my selection is inevitably based on my preferences. Yet, I hope you will enjoy this selection of London museums.
Continue reading for a selection of the best museums in London, with the top exhibits as well as the plain weird ones and the coolest hidden gems, and lots of free museums too.
Many of the museums mentioned in this post are free to visit, and for many you can book tickets online or use a London City Pass, which you can get here.
The Best Museums In London
Located in the heart of town, a short distance from Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, and in the beautiful Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is easily one of the best museums in town – and definitely my favorite one.
When it first opened, in 1824, the National Gallery was actually located at a house at Pall Mall, and only had just 38 pictures on exhibit while the actual museum was being built. The museum as we know it today opened in 1838.
Now, the gallery has an impressive permanent exhibit of more than 2,300 paintings that go from medieval art to impressionism. You’ll get to see pieces by Van Gogh, Cezanne and more.
You need to factor in at least a couple of hours to explore all of it – definitely more if you want to have a more in-depth visit. It’s massive! Make sure to grab a map of the museum at the entrance, so that you can get your bearings and know where to find the exhibits you are interested in.
Make sure to visit the website of the National Gallery for information about special exhibits. These usually require the payment of a fee but in my experience they are always worth it.
The National Gallery is open every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It closes at 9:00 pm on Fridays. It’s closed on 1 January and from 24 to 26 December. Admission is free. The nearest metro stations are Leicester Square and Charing Cross.
Easily one of the best free museums in London, the British Museum has one of the widest collections of antiquities you can wish to see – all in one place. My favorite piece there is Rosetta’s Stone. It literally is the first thing I go check out any time I visit.
The museum was first opened in 1759, and it was immediately clear that it welcomed any visitor who was curious to discover more about the world.
The first collection ever on show here was that of Sir Hans Sloane: the exhibit included coins, medals, books and more. Since then, the collection has expanded significantly to include the above mentioned Rosetta Stone, and even sculptures from Athens’ Parthenon.
The collection at the British Museum is massive, and there is no way you can see it all in one go. I have been there countless times and I don’t think I have seen it all. The best thing to do is to pick a wing to visit, and focus on that for a few hours, and then come back some other time to see more.
Galleries are organized by location and time in history so you’ll find Ancient Iran, Greece, China, Roman Britain etc.
You can definitely explore independently, and perhaps get one of the audioguides that are available in a variety of languages through an app you can download on your phone for a small fee.
Alternatively, you can go on a guided tour.Guided tours are offered through the museum – you can see what’s available here.
Finally, you have the option of picking a guided tour that you can book via one of the many tour companies. I recommend the following ones.
In depth tour of the British Museum – Lasting 5.5 hours, this is the most in depth tour of the museum available online. Unfortunately it doesn’t run every day, but if you happen to have a chance, make sure to opt for this one.
British Museum guided tour – This tour lasts 2.5 hours and departs daily at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. A minimum of two participants is required for the reservation.
Private tour of the British Museum – An excellent option if you’d rather be in a small tour, it lasts 2.5 hours.
The British Museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. On Fridays it closes at 8:30 pm. The museum remains closed from 24 to 26 December. Admission is free, but you are advised to book a time slot for your visit – you can do that directly on the official site here. The nearest metro stations are Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square, Goodge Street.
Churchill War Rooms
This is one of the best museums in London for World War II history geeks. It is entirely dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill. The museum is located around the corner from 10 Downing Street. Upon visiting, you can see the Cabinet War Rooms, which is the bunker where Churchill hid during the London Blitz and and directed WWII efforts.
You will be able to spot the Map Room too, which still looks as it did when the members of the War Cabinet left at the end of the war.
Another room you’ll want to see is the Transatlantic Telephone Room, which is where Churchill would spend time in secret conversations with U.S. officials, to discuss the war efforts.
Churchill War Rooms is open daily from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. This is not one of the free museums in London, but it’s worth visiting. For further information and tickets, check the official website here. The nearest metro stations are St. James’s Park and Westminster.
You can easily visit the museum independently, but if you’d rather go on a guided tour you can opt for this WWII Westminster Walking Tour and Churchill War Rooms.
Imperial War Museum
This is one of the most moving museums in London. The 400+ piece exhibit focuses on all wars that have occurred since World War I. The exhibit consists of documents, letters, clothes and more – which can all be linked to a conflict. There is a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust which is a must-see.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is free but tickets must be booked in advance here. The nearest metro stations are Lambeth North and Elephant & Castle.
Known to be one of the best museums in the city and welcoming more than 5 million visitors every year, the Take Modern is filled to the brim with interesting art – You’ll find the works of artists from 50 countries, with works of Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Matisse and the like. The exhibit is organized in themes rather than artistic eras.
The building itself is an absolute wonder of industrial era, with the massive Turbine Hall definitely capturing visitors’ attention.
The museum first opened in 2000, when it was set on the old Bankside Power Station, which dates back to immediately after WWII, when it was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The conversion into an exhibit place was the work of Herzog & de Meuron, who also worked on the extension of the museum in 2012 and 2016.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm – for up to date information check the official website of the museum here. Admission to the general exhibit is free. The nearest metro stations are Southwark, Blackfriars and St Paul’s.
Between 1897, when it first opened, and until 1932, Tate Britain was known as the National Gallery of British Art. Its name changed to Tate Gallery between 1932 and 2000.
Part of the Tate network of galleries in England, what has not changed here is the impressive collection. This is a great museum to visit to solely concentrates on British artists. The permanent collection includes the works of Whistler, Turner, and Francis Bacon.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Make sure to book a time-slot for your visit on the museum’s website. Admission to the general exhibit is free. The nearest metro stations are Pimlico, Vauxhall and Westminster.
Victoria and Albert Museum
This is one of the largest museums in London, and definitely one of its best (and in fact, one of the best in the world of its kind).
The building – with its red bricks, tilings, frescoes and more – is like a magic place inside of which you will find a series of incredible exhibits on fashion, architecture, theater and more. You can’t see the entire museum in just one visit – it’s too big. So pick an exhibit and just focus on that.
The museum is open every day from 10:00 am to 5:45 pm – it closes at 10:00 pm on Fridays. Admission if free. For information on special exhibits, check on the official website here.
Natural History Museum
Dinosaurs fans stop right here – the Natural History Museum has a massive collection of 80 million pieces among plants, stuffed animals, fossils, minerals, rocks and more. Kids will agree this is one of the best museums in the British capital.
First opened in 1881 in the aptly built so-called cathedral of nature designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the exhibit space was enlarged in 2009 with the Darwin Center extension.
To many, the highlight of the visit is Dippy the Diplodocus, located in Hintze Hall. It’s a 26-meter plaster-cast replica of the skeleton of a Diplodocus that’s been in the same spot since 1905, and was only moved in 2017 when it went on a national tour.
Kids will love the Blue Zone where they can see animatronics T rex, among others. The Green Zone is home of a cross section of a Giant Sequoia. The Red Zone features an escalator ride to the center of the Earth where you can experience the earthquake simulator. And the list of interesting exhibits goes on.
The Natural History Museum is open every day from 10:00 am to 5:50 pm. It is closed between 24 and 26 December. Visits must be book in advance on the official website. Admission is free. The nearest metro stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road. Make sure to check the official website for new special exhibits too.
Should you be keen on joining a guided tour of the museum, you may want to consider this option.
National Maritime Museum
This museum – part of the Royal Museums Greenwich which also includes the Queen’s House, Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory) – is all about naval memorabilia. You will see maps, artifacts and uniforms, including the one that belonged to Admiral Nelson.
The most impressive gallery is Nelson, Navy, Nation, where you will be taken through the history of the Glorious Revolution all the way to the defeat of Napoleon. The exhibit will show documents and photos of the building of the ships, the battles, and even the uniform Admiral Nelson wore during the Battle of Trafalgar, during which he was killed.
Other interesting exhibits include one on the history of the East India Company, one on the North-West Passage expedition of James Cook. There are also plenty of activities for children so this is a great museum for families too.
The National Maritime Museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is free but advanced bookings are recommended. You can book your visit here. The nearest station is the DLR Greenwich.
Easily one of the top London museums, the Science Museum counts with an incredible array of galleries and interactive exhibits spread across its 7 (yes, SEVEN!) floors. It’s a perfect place to visit for families with children.
One of the most interesting galleries here is the Wellcome Wing, entirely dedicated to progress in science and medicine, whereas the Medical History Gallery features and exhibit of medical history memorabilia. There’s also a number of galleries called Exploring Space, and one – the Clockmakers’ Museum, that has a 1250-pieces display of watches dating from 1600 to 1850.
The museum is open every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is free but you are required to book a time-slot here. The nearest metro station is South Kensington.
Easily one of the coolest museums in London, the name is surely reflected in the building – incredibly minimalistic, with predominant oak and marble materials, and then very colorful exhibits.
There is a permanent collection – Designer, Maker, User – which includes more than 1000 objects that give a good introduction on the progress in design and architecture in the last two centuries. Yet, most people visit for the temporary exhibits.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It is closed from 24 to 26 December. There is no admission fee. The nearest metro stations are Kensington High Street, Earl’s Court and Holland Park.
London Transport Museum
This fun museum is a cool place to get acquainted with London transportation system, with an exhibit that goes from the vintage red Routemaster buses that became a symbol of London, to tube trains, signs, uniforms, posters and even photographs that show how London used to look a couple of centuries ago.
The most interesting piece of the collection if the horse-drawn omnibus that dates back from 1805, but you can also see an exhibit that takes you back to the construction of the first passenger railway. Other bits you won’t want to miss are the first underground engine, which was steam-powered, and an actual wooden coach of the metro.
The museum also has a strong focus on Frank Pick, the man who literally branded the London Underground. You can learn when and how the logo was created, and why the underground is called “tube” too.
You will also be able to see documents and photographs of the transport systems of New York, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo and New Delhi.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. There is a fee to visit. You can read more information to plan your visit on the museum’s official page here. You can get a ticket here. The nearest metro station is Covent Garden.
Charles Dickens Museum
If you love the writings of Charles Dickens, this will definitely be a must-see for you! The museum is set in the Georgian townhouse where the writer spent a few years, and showcases various pieces that will help you piece together his life – there are letters, manuscripts, portraits and even original furnishings and tapestry.
The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a fee to visit. The nearest metro stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane, Holborn and Kings Cross St Pancras.
There even is a Charles Dickens walking tour of London. You can view it here – keep in mind it doesn’t include the museum’s entrance fee.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Unknown to most tourists, bust becoming increasingly popular, this is definitely one of the nicest museums in London. In one place you will find a fantastic collection of artworks that belonged to Sir John Soane, and everything is placed exactly where he liked it to be – which at times won’t make sense to you!
The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is free. For more information, click here. The nearest metro station is Holborn.
The Serpentine Galleries have no permanent exhibit – but regular temporary ones that usually focus on contemporary artists. It’s located in Kensington Gardens, so it can be a nice addition to a walk in the park – especially on a rainy day.
The Serpentine Galleries are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is free and if you prefer you can book a time slot for your visit here. The nearest metro stations are Lancaster Gate and Knightsbridge.
Madame Tussauds is one of the oldest museums in town, with the first showroom opened in 1835. It’s a fun place to visit for both adults and kids, to look at life-size reproductions of all the most famous people in the world. The exhibit changes on a regular basis to make room to the more contemporary figures, but some remain untouched throughout the years.
Madame Tussauds opening hours vary throughout the year – the museum opens at either 9:00, 9:30 or 10:00 am depending on the month and day of the week, and closes at either 3:00, 4:00 or 5:00 pm. The museum is closed on 25 December.
Admission prices vary too depending on whether you get a regular or a fast track ticket. You can get Madame Tussauds tickets on the official website here. The nearest metro station is Baker Street.
Make sure to also read my post How To Get Madame Tussauds London Tickets.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Close to Regent’s Park, this museum which opened in 1990 is one of the best museums in London for lovers of all things quirky. The idea behind the museum is to recreate what was meant to be Sherlock Holmes’ home, the way it’s been described in the books. There even is the bookshelves and the 17 steps to go to the living room.
The museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. There is a fee to visit. The nearest metro station is Baker Street. Getting tickets in advance is definitely better, but walk-ins are also welcome.
Alternatively, you may consider a Sherlock Holmes guided tour. I recommend:
Sherlock Holmes 4-hour private walking tour – a 3 hours private guided tour which includes a visit to the museum.
Sherlock Holmes 2-hour walking tour – this tour is more of an addition to the museum visit, as it actually doesn’t go to the museum itself – but it takes you also to the movie sets inside BBC.
Old Operating Theatre Museum
The Old Operating Theater Museum definitely is one of the most unique museums in London. It is also one of the oldest operating theaters in the world – active at the time when anesthesia was not even available.
It’s a great place to visit get an idea of how surgeries used to be carried out when things such as antibiotics and antiseptics were unheard of. There is a small exhibit of herbs that were once used in medicine.
The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. There is a small fee to visit. Make sure to book your tickets and pick a time-slot in advance directly on the museum website here. The nearest metro station is London Bridge.
This fantastic museum is located in the mansion of the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess of Hertford, and counts with the works of Titian, Rembrandts and Velazquez, as well as with beautiful furnishings and china.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission to the permanent collection is free. For information on special exhibits, check the museum’s website here. The nearest metro station is Bond Street.
Horniman Museum and Gardens
If you fancy getting a bit out of the center of London, this museum – located in a stunning art nouveau building – has an exhibit about natural history and anthropology, as well as an aquarium and it is surrounded by a beautiful garden. It’s a great place to visit for families with children, who will find plenty to be entertained with.
The most prominent piece in the Natural History Gallery is a stuffed walrus. There also are lots of cabinets where you can see pickled animals, stuffed birds and insect. A permanent collection is dedicated to art from Africa, the Afro-Caribbean region, and from Brazil.
Make sure not to miss the aquarium, where seven distinct aquatic ecosystems are perfectly reproduced.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is free but there is a fee for the Aquarium. For more information, check the museum’s website here. The nearest station is Forest Hill (Overground).
When Austria was taken over by the Nazis in 1938, he and his family had to flee. They settled in London, at Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead. This is where Freud also died, soon after the beginning of WWII, and it’s where his daughter Anna settled.
The museum is obviously set in the house where they lived, and has an interesting collection of objects that belonged to the psychoanalyst, such as his couch.
The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. There is a fee to visit and tickets can be booked online and they are also included in the London City Pass. For more information, check the museum’s website here. The nearest metro station is Finchley Road.
Florence Nightingale Museum
Definitely one of the lesser known museums in the city, as the name suggests this small museum is entirely dedicated to the life and work of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing in Victorian times.
You’ll get to learn interesting facts about her – for example, that she came from an affluent family and her parents didn’t want her to become a nurse; or that she owned more than 60 cats in her life, and she even had a pet owl.
The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a fee to visit and tickets can be booked online and they are also included in the London City Pass. For more information, check the museum’s website here. The nearest metro stations are Waterloo and Westminster.
If you are planning a trip to London, make sure to check out my posts:
- 24 Stunning London Hidden Gems
- How To Make The Most Of London In A Day
- 15 Amazing Day Trips From Paris
- The Best 5 Days London Itinerary
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days London
- A Perfect Itinerary To See London In 3 Days
- How To See London In 2 Days
- 10 Cool Things To Do In Covent Garden
- 15 Great Day Trips From London
- How To Get Tower Of London Tickets
- 5 Easy Ways Of Getting London Dungeon Tickets
- 7 Easy Ways Of Getting London Eye Tickets
- Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels
- Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of London
- How To Get From Heathrow To London