Top Ten London Museums – from the sublime to the ridiculous

London is packed full of cultural experiences and is home to some of the world’s most visited and admired museums.

Within stunning buildings, it beautifully presents vast curated collections of items from every era and culture.  Many smaller venue display quirky and specialist artefacts too. This brings the total number of museums in London to well over 170!

They range from the traditional and historic, to snapshots of social history, and to windows into contemporary arts. Some are free and let’s be honest, some are just plain weird!

However, even on the rainiest and coldest days, London has an incredible undercover world for you to explore, within its globally significant museums.

British Museum

No list of ten best museums would be complete without this incredible institution up at the top.

A vast collection of ancient treasures and items with immeasurable cultural significance puts the British Museum high on the “to do” list for millions of London visitors each year.

It’s collections are from across the world and all of time; specimens and antiquities that are unique and unmissable. It’s magnificent glass-roofed Great Court connects you to a series of galleries divided in to historical periods and geographic locations such as Ancient Egypt and The Roman Empire.

One of the key features of the enthralling experience of visiting the British Museum is that it is – and always has been – free of charge.

 V & A

Formally more often referred to as the Victoria & Albert Museum, this Knightsbridge institution is famous across the globe. It houses what is widely believed to be the world’s largest collection of decorative art, design, fashion and textiles.

Well informed and patient staff can help guide you through its 150 grand galleries, spread decoratively across seven floors.  You could find both the historical significance and contemporary context for interior design, clothing and the world of art.

The V&A offers 2.3 million items to look at, so it may take all day! Fortunately, you can break up your browsing with superb refreshment facilities and a particularly tempting shop.

Natural History Museum

Another of London’s most talked about and visited museums, this is one of the most family friendly and interactive visitor attractions in the capital.

Free to enter, the Natural History Museum offers 36 galleries containing a mind blowing 80 million individual items.  This is animal, plant, fossil, rock and mineral specimens from every part of the globe.

It includes everything from the world’s largest collection of coloured diamonds, to highly impressive dinosaur skeletons that will enrapture most children.  There is also ‘Archie’ one of rarest creatures on earth the giant squid and don’t miss the earthquake simulator!

Tate Modern

Even approaching this iconic riverside structure can be uplifting and inspirational. Step inside the architecturally fascinating building and you can soak up the wonders of contemporary art collections from the great and the magnificent.

The Turbine Hall has hosted some of the world’s most memorable and acclaimed works of contemporary art. And the way artists have interpreted this vast industrial space has revolutionised public perceptions of contemporary art in the twenty-first century.”

The free permanent collection housed at Tate Modern includes pieces by the likes of Warhol, Dalí and Hockney, to name but a few.  A visit puts you up close to 800 works of art by artists from more than 50 different countries.

It will be no surprise that five million London visitors pass through the doors of Tate Modern London each year.

National Gallery

If you prefer your art to be a touch more traditional than modern, then the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square offers you 2,300 curated works from world renowned artists such Michelangelo, da Vinci, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Turner, Matisse, Picasso, and Cézanne.

Once more, you may be surprised to find that this world class art museum is free to enter.

The National Gallery also provides a year-round programme of events and concerts, special exhibitions and workshops for those who like to dabble in art creation themselves.

Museum of Brands

There are people who would argue that just as significant in art terms is the creative and innovative imagery and wording used in packaging and advertising through the ages.

Which is why just a few minutes’ walk away from the world-famous Portobello Road Market, you can find this incredible treasure trove of brand, packaging and advertising memories.

It is particularly perfect if you are a fan of retro designs or you love soaking up some nostalgia about your childhood influences.  The Museum of Brands includes product promotional materials from Rimmel cosmetics in the 1890s, First World War food products, 1930s chocolate bars to the must-have toys of the 1970s.

It’s also great fun on a visit to marvel at how politically incorrect advertising used to be too!

Magic Circle Museum

This is one lesser known London museum that can truly be described as offering a magical experience.  Any budding magicians or even those with a slight interest in magic will love the Magic Circle Museum.

While still protecting its secrets and ancient arts, The Magic Circle has curated a fascinating collection of equipment, gadgets, gizmos and historical reference material. It also includes profiles of some of greatest magicians through the years, bringing their entertainment credentials to life. For example, you can see handcuffs used by the world-renowned Harry Houdini but also listen to his voice, recorded for posterity.

Bookings for the “house of 1,000 secrets” museum are by appointment only.

Grants Zoological Museum

Have you ever wondered what 50 Moles look like preserved in a jar?  Or perhaps why scientists used to store specimens in this fashion.  The answers and a treasure trove of other brilliant – slightly macabre – spectacles await for example: The Negus Collection of Bisected Heads, African python skeletons, The Brain Collection and so much more.

The Micrarium is somewhere to come and explore some of the 20,000 microscope slides at the Grant Museum.  Ironically most ‘life’ is smaller than your thumb, Grants Museum felt that the tiny wasn’t being properly represented in modern museums so they converted an old office/storeroom into a lovely back-lit cave displaying 2,323 of the tiniest specimens in the collection.

Flying lizards, giant starfish, duck-billed platypuses, thorny devils and spiny anteaters, the Grant Museum is home to some Weird and Wonderful Wildlife.

There is a myriad of fun and structured activities for families or adults in groups including ‘Creature Creations‘ when families can flex their creativity muscles by designing and building creatures using paper, markers, scissors and glue.

A great experience for kids and the eternally curious alike.

Freud Museum

Perhaps your historical interest extends more to mental health than surgical prowess.  This is also a great stop off if you are just curious about how people lived in the past.  A visit to the former Hampstead home of the father of psychoanalysis is fascinating.  Although the visit would require a day trip from London, for those interested in Freudian psychology this is a must!

The museum boast a brilliant collection of photo take by and of Freud and his family as well as his library and examples of his collection of antiquities.

The Freud Museum is packed with family memorabilia and antiques. This includes Freud’s writing desk and of course his iconic Berggasse psychoanalytic couch.

Ragged School Museum

For another window in to the past and social history, this lesser known museum is another interesting option. Children will find it particularly great to contrast education now with the past.

This canal side structure used to be the largest “free” school in London. Also known as “ragged schools”, these establishments were the brainchild of Thomas Barnardo, the medical philanthropist who founded the UK children’s charity Barnardos.

A visit to this former warehouse then school shows you not just the history of that movement, but also the general harsh reality of life in London’s East End during the Victorian era.

You can even join in a Victorian school lesson, to get a true historical perspective. But fortunately, no whips or canes are allowed.

If you would like to know more about any of the capital’s 170 plus museums in preparation for staying in our quality serviced accommodation in London, contact Merino Hospitality. We are always happy to provide information to make your stay here an unforgettable part of your personal history.

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