The Best Museums In London
Last Updated: 20th December 2019 | Image: British Museum/Viktor Forgacs
London has a museum for pretty much everything.
So consider this your own personally curated collection of all the best museums in London – covering the realms of flora, fauna, design, science, history and culture. Amongst its treasures, London has the most visited modern art gallery in the world; the original manuscripts of Charles Dickens, Virginia Wolf and Jack Kerouac; mummies; 2300 artworks tracing the complete development of Western European painting; a museum dedicated solely to the tube system of London; flight simulators; earthquake simulators; and homages to the world’s finest thinkers in restored Georgian townhouses.
So behold, our picks of the best museums in London –
London’s landmark animal and natural phenomena museum displays a rotating collection of approximately 22 million insect and plant specimens, the UK’s most prodigious dinosaur display, an escalator ascending into the core of Earth itself, and most importantly, a life-sized model of a foetus in a womb. Which means you can also observe unsuspecting parents having ‘the talk’. READ MORE
NHM Lates: the last Friday of every month, including themed cocktails, pop up science stations, film screenings, silent discos and more.
Details: Cromwell Road, SW7 5BD | Free entry
Museum of the Moon | Until 5th January | Free
An illuminated, fully accurate replica of the moon, suspended in one of the museum’s beautiful gothic galleries.
Natural History Museum Ice Rink | Until 12th January | From £12.65
One of London’s most iconic skating spots, with mulled wine and hot chocolate in the rink-side bar.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year | Until 31st May | £13.95
Just to be clear, this showcases photographers OF wildlife, not photographers that ARE wildlife. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most exciting annual exhibitions in London, and it’s back this month.
Not just one of the best museums in London but also the world’s largest collection of decorative arts and design, the V&A is comprised of more than 150 separate galleries over seven floors of furniture, ceramics, sculpture, paintings, posters, jewellery, metalwork, glass, textiles, dress, architecture and photography spanning several centuries. Plus it’s home to the beautiful William Morris tearoom and a water-filled courtyard; both excellent spots for a scone break. READ MORE
V&A Lates: The V&A was originally open late to tempt the public towards culture instead of the gin palace. Nowadays, they open their doors on the last Friday of every month (except May & Dec), with DJs, performance artists, talks, workshops and screenings… and gin.
Details: Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL | Free entry, exhibitions from £12
Mary Quant | Until 16th February | £12
A collection of 200+ items of clothing, make up and sketches by the iconic 60s designer Mary Quant.
Tim Walker: Wonderful Things | Until 8th March | £15
Vibrant, surreal and deeply creative images from the renowned fashion photographer, alongside new commissions inspired by the V&A’s permanent collection.
One of the world’s oldest museums of history and culture, grown from the collection of one man who was interested in everything. Exhibitions include abstractions like life and death and showcases of Ancient Iran, the prehistory of Europe, the Middle East, the Rosetta Stone, Lindow Man, the Lewis Chessmen and the Sutton Hoo ship burial. And mummies. They have mummies. READ MORE
British Museum Lates: every Friday night, the museum stays open till 8.30pm, with short gallery tours, talks, bars and street food trucks in the courtyard.
Details: Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG | Free entry, visiting exhibitions from £14
Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art | Until 26th January | £14
A collaborative exhibition made with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, exploring the interchange of artistic techniques and ideals from east to west from the 15th century to today.
Troy: myth and reality | Until 8th March | From £20
Paintings, sculptures and artwork inspired by the 3,000 year old legend of Troy, alongside archeological evidence that suggests the fabled city may really have existed.
170 million items and 330 miles of shelf space make this not only one of the best museums in London, but also one of the biggest. It also hosts regular, curated exhibitions based around its rare collections; including displays of the original manuscripts of Charles Dickens, Virginia Wolf, Jack Kerouac, Lewis Carroll and varying instalments of maps, sacred texts, newspaper and sound archives.
Details: 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB | Free entry, exhibitions from £14
Buddhism | Until 23rd February | £14
Pore over rare Buddhist manuscripts and silk scrolls from around the world – some of which are 2,000 years old – as well as an in-depth look at the Buddha’s life and teachings.
Love this. That’s an order. Because it’s filled with everything you know about, but probably don’t really know about. Like exhibitions on space exploration with the Apollo 10 command module; a flight simulator; a three-metre-high, 600kg Spacelab 2 X-ray telescope; an immersive VR descent from space with astronaut Tim Peake; and displays on developments in contemporary psychological science, medicine, climate and 3D printing. And an IMAX theatre. Thank God for Science.
Science Museum Lates: the last Wednesday of every month, showcasing lectures from leading academics, comedy shows, silent discos, workshops and cocktails.
Details: Exhibition Road, SW7 2DD | Free entry
Science Photographer of the Year | Until 5th January | Free but ticketed
The Science Museum’s answer to Wildlife Photographer of the Year, showcasing stunning images of everything from soap bubbles to space.
The Art of Innovation: From Enlightenment to Dark Matter | Until 26th January | Free but ticketed
A free display charting how science and artwork have influenced and responded to social change, and the way we see the world and our place in it.
Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security | Until 23rd February | Free but ticketed
A century of secret communications, from recently declassified top secret files to Cold War spy gadgets.
Driverless: Who Is In Control? | Until October | Free
A free exhibition showcasing some of the early prototypes of driverless cars, drones and submarines…
A temple to the work of British artists over the past 500 years, with a vast collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, two rooms of Henry Moore sculptures, a free picture library filled with rare and fragile sketches from major artists, and a restaurant with a mural by Rex Whistler.
Late at Tate Britain: On the first Friday of every month, Tate Collective Producers curate an evening exploring a different abstract theme, with a little help from DJs, activists, artists and more.
Details: Millbank, SW1P 4RG | Free entry
Mark Leckey: O’ Magic Power of Bleakness | Until 5th January | £13
Nostalgic video artwork set under a life-size reconstruction of a motorway bridge somewhere on the M23 in Merseyside.
William Blake | Until 2nd February | £18
A dramatic collection of the 19th century artist’s engravings, paintings and sketches depicting cataclysmic scenes like “Satan Smiting Job With Sore Boils”.
1824: The première of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9; the Egyptians capture Crete; ‘New Holland’ becomes ‘Australia’; some government guys in Britain bought 38 paintings. Now: Beethoven’s no longer in the charts, Australia still has an identity crisis, and The National Gallery has over 2,300 works tracing the complete development of Western European painting from virtually every European school of art. And a café. READ MORE
Details: Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN | Free entry
Leonardo: Experience A Masterpiece | Until 26th January | £18-20
An immersive dive into the history of one of da Vinci’s most iconic paintings, including a projection studio revealing the hidden layers of The Virgin On The Rocks.
Gauguin Portraits | Until 26th January | £20-24
Figurative paintings from the French impressionist, brought together from private collections around the world for the first time.
Young Bomberg and the Old Masters | Until 1st March | Free
A free display showing, for the first time, the early work of the modernist artist David Bomberg alongside some of the works that inspired him, from Botticelli to Michelangelo.
Adjoined to the National Gallery, the NPG specialises in faces through the ages. Also housing paintings by era, you can start with the flamboyant ruffs and frills of the Jacobeans and work through to the gritty, photorealistic images of contemporary artists, celebrating ordinary people.
NPG Lates: Every Friday until 9pm, with music, drinks, film screenings, talks, and drop-in life drawing in the galleries.
Details: St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE | Free entry
Elizabeth Peyton: Aire and Angels | Until 5th January | Free
An eclectic display of portraits of various historic and contemporary figures, some painted from life, others from memory and imagination.
Pre-Raphaelite Sisters | Until 26th January | £18-20
A pioneering exhibition focussing on the underrated contributions of 12 female artists to the Pre-Raphaelite movement of the late 19th century.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 | Until 16th February | £6
A thought-provoking collection of around 60 shortlisted contemporary photographic portraits.
The most-visited modern art gallery in the world, partly because it holds the national collection of British art from 1900 to the present day, as well as international modern and contemporary art, but mainly because the 6th floor members’ cafe has one of London’s best views. Which is like art in itself, man. READ MORE
Tate Lates: Regular after-hours events, featuring free music, art, performance, fashion shows, workshops and film screenings.
Details: Bankside, SE1 9TG | Free entry
Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life | Until 5th January | £18
Indoor rainbows, coloured fog and mirrored tunnels.
Nam June Paik | Until 9th February | £13
A retrospective of the ‘father of video art’, from a garden where TVs grow to his award-winning Sistine Chapel installation of 1993.
Dora Maar | Until 15th March | £13
A stunning collection of photographs taken in the 1930s, from candid shots to surrealist photomontages.
Dóra Maurer | Until 5th July | Free
A year-long retrospective of the Hungarian teacher and multidisciplinary artist.
One of the best museums in London about London, LTM traces the history of London’s Tube, Bus and Cab systems, and equally as importantly – considers its future. READ MORE
LTM Lates: A series of late-night themed openings during which you can explore the exhibitions, take part in workshops, and listen to experts and speakers while sipping cocktails.
Details: Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB | Annual tickets £17.50 (small discount online)
Hidden London | Opens January 2021 | Admission included in entry fee
A treasure trove of objects, old posters, photographs and salvaged architecture from secret spaces hidden below the streets as part of the Underground.
45,000 odd objects. 30,000 architectural drawings. 80 visitors at a time. 3 floors. 1 Georgian townhouse. READ MORE
Soane Candlelight Nights: A monthly programme of stonkingly atmospheric candlelit late openings, events, tours and more.
Details: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP | Free entry, but book ahead
Like exhibitions? Check out what’s currently on at every art gallery in London