In 2014, London received over 17 million overseas tourists, topping the list of world’s most visited cities. Which is unsurprising. The city is a great travel destination with just about something for everyone. There is so much to do, see and taste that it would take a real effort to get bored here. That is what keeps me coming back to this city.
While there are plenty of exciting things to do in London, a real perk to visiting London is its world-class museum scene.
London edges out many cities as a rich destination for culture vultures and museum junkies, with an astonishing array of museums in London that are not only the very best in their respective categories, but they are also mostly free to visit. It doesn’t get much better than that!
So how does one decide which museums to visit in London?
Find Out What is Available in London
The first step is to simply learn what is available. Research is key and this is best done by flipping through a good London travel book (I am partial to DK Eyewitness travel books) as well as utilising online resources like TripAdvisor’s London ‘Things To Do’ pages.
As a visual person, I also like to browse through images to see if my interests are stoked by what different museums have to offer.
Note that the number of days of stay in London will impact how many museums one can realistically visit. So be ready to pick and choose and make sure to leave time for other sightseeing endeavours.
Select and reject: Narrow your options
1-Start with the Major Museums in London
I usually recommend trying to visit one or two of London’s major museums. These include The British Museum, The National Gallery, The Victoria & Albert Museum, and The Natural History museum (great for kids), which all hold enormous collections of historically important artifacts, the breadth and depth of which will guarantee excellent viewing for both newbies and experienced museum-goers alike.
2-Check out the more Specialised Museums in London
These are the other heavyweight museums of London, which cater to those with more specialised interests yet remain accessible places to visit for everyone.
These include TATE Modern and TATE Britain for the art-inclined, the Imperial War Museum for war history buffs, and the Science Museum, which is another hit with kids!
Most of these major and specialised major museums have one to three-hour highlight tours for those with limited time.
Alternatively, one can allot half a day or even more visiting these large museums for a more leisurely and comprehensive visit. Check the museums’ websites online to learn more.
3-Don’t forget The Smaller Gems
This is where things can get exciting for museum aficionados, as London’s many smaller and specialised museums still pack a punch.
A couple that I really enjoy include the Sir John Sloan’s Museum, a time capsule into the world of the early 19th century antiquity hunter and collector, and the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library where one can view the Magna Carta, Shakespeare’s plays, The Beatles’ lyrics and other original articles of the English language.
Additional favourites of mine include The Wallace Collection for 18th century French art, furniture and ceramics in gorgeous period rooms, and the Courtauld Gallery (£7 per adult) for French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artworks (and also where I pay homage to my favourite Cezanne, ‘Man With Pipe’).
4-Look into the Highly Specialised Museums in London
It doesn’t get more specific than this! The list is long but probably the most popular would be the Sherlock Holmes Museum (£15 per adult, £10 per child), which is cleverly situated at 21 Baker Street.
Other specialty museums focus on cartoons, toys, company brands, fans, water & steam as well as tea, which can work well if you fancy a stop at the original Twining’s Tea Shop and Museum.
Still don’t know which museum to visit?
Travellers to London are spoilt for choice when it comes to museums. First-time visitors might want to concentrate more on the majors, with the British Museum probably the best bet for the undecided.
In the end, research is key! The best choice of museums and overall travel itinerary will always be the one informed travellers make for themselves.
Brad Reynolds lived and worked in London between 2001 and 2004. He has made regular visits since. All trips were at his own expense.