London's Best Museums

From science and history to tennis and modern art, here are 12 must-see museums in and around London.
By: Visit Britain
London Museum

London Museum

The main hall of the Natural History Museum in London features impressive architecture.

Photo by: Jason Friend, Getty Images

Jason Friend, Getty Images

London is rich in art, history and culture. Immerse yourself in all 3, and visit the vibrant, diverse museums located in the UK’s capital city. For history buffs, visit the Imperial War Museum. For the art aficionado, check out the art at Tate Modern. And for the sports fan, explore the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. There’s something for everyone at one of London’s 12 must-see museums.

1. The British Museum
Founded in 1753, the British Museum’s remarkable collection spans over 2 million years of human history, with more than13 million pieces in its collection. Visitors can enjoy a unique comparison of the treasures of world cultures under one roof, centered on the magnificent Great Court. World-famous objects such as the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies are visited by up to 5.8 million visitors per year. There is also a program of special exhibitions and daily gallery tours, talks and guided tours.

2. Tate Modern
Britain's national museum of modern and contemporary art from around the world is housed in the former Bankside Power Station on the banks of the Thames. The awe-inspiring Turbine Hall runs the length of the entire building, and you can see amazing work for free by artists such as Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, Rothko, Dalí, Pollock, Warhol and Bourgeois.

3. The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum contains hundreds of exciting, interactive exhibits in one of London’s most beautiful landmark buildings. Highlights include the popular Dinosaurs gallery, the Mammals gallery, with its unforgettable model blue whale, and the spectacular Central Hall, home to the museum’s iconic diplodocus skeleton. The state-of-the-art Cocoon building is where, on a self-guided tour, you can see hundreds of fascinating specimens, as well as look into laboratories and view scientists at work. The museum offers a wide-ranging program of temporary exhibitions and events, including chances to join experts in topical discussions about science and nature.

4. The National Gallery
The National Gallery displays Western European painting from approximately 1250 to 1900. Visitors can view amazing works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Turner, Renoir, Cezanne and van Gogh. There are special exhibitions, lectures, video and audio-visual programs, guided tours and holiday events for children and adults.  

5. The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum is arguably the world's greatest museum of art and design, representing over 3,000 years of human creativity, with collections unrivaled in their scope and diversity. Situated in South Kensington, the V&A has recently undergone a dramatic program of renewal and restoration. Highlights include the Medieval Renaissance Galleries, containing some of the greatest surviving treasures from the period, the breathtaking William and Judith Bollinger Jewelry Gallery and the stunning British Galleries, illustrating the history of Britain through the nation’s art and design. In addition to the free permanent collection, the V&A offers an internationally acclaimed program of temporary exhibitions and an extensive events program.

6. The London Science Museum
The London Science Museum displays life-changing objects from Stephenson's Rocket to the Apollo 10 command module. Visitors can catch an immersive 3D movie, fly with the RAF Red Arrows in a special-effects simulator, and even encounter the past, present and future of technology in 7 floors of galleries.

7. The Charles Dickens Museum
The year, 2012, marks the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth. The Charles Dickens Museum is located in the building he lived in from 1837 to 1839, with an outstanding collection that includes letters, pictures, first editions, furniture, memorabilia and lovingly restored rooms. There are also temporary exhibitions celebrating the bicentenary throughout 2012.

8. Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum provides a remarkable, multidimensional tour of the traditions, triumphs, sights and sounds that have made Wimbledon the most coveted title in tennis. Visitors can explore the game’s evolution from a garden party pastime to the multi-million dollar professional sport played worldwide today. The museum uses interactive touchscreens and audio guides to bring the history of tennis to life.  

9. Royal Museums Greenwich
In 2012, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House, the Royal Observatory and the Peter Harrison Planetarium joined together under a new name: the Royal Museums Greenwich. Located in the beautiful World Heritage Site of Greenwich, these 4 top attractions welcome thousands of people each year. Visitors can stand in 2 hemispheres astride the Prime Meridian, touch a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite, view Harrison's timekeepers and Nelson's uniform, before traveling to the stars in London's only planetarium. In 2012 the National Maritime Museum is celebrating both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and its own 75th anniversary with a major exhibition about royalty and London’s River Thames.

10. The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is home to the world’s largest collection of personalities and faces, from the late Middle Ages to the present day. Artists featured range from Holbein to Hockney, and visitors are able to come face to face with British history’s most influential people in the form of paintings, sculptures, photography and video. The National Portrait Gallery has a diverse range of exhibitions, free events and a rooftop restaurant with breathtaking views across the London skyline.

11. Museum of London
The Museum of London offers an unforgettable journey through the capital’s turbulent past. Visitors can discover prehistoric London, how the city changed under the Romans and Saxons, wonder at medieval London and examine the years when London was ravaged by civil wars, plague and fire. The Galleries of Modern London allow visitors to walk the streets of Victorian London, take a stroll in recreated pleasure gardens and marvel at the magnificent Lord Mayor’s Coach.

12. Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum tells the stories of people’s experiences of war from World War I to the present day. The galleries depict what life was like during both world wars, at home and abroad, from a frontline trench to a blitzed street in 1940. The Large Exhibits Gallery shows the impact of modern warfare on people and places. The Holocaust Exhibition traces the Nazi persecution and murder of Jews, and the extraordinary stories of bravery behind Victoria Cross and George Cross in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

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