London Transport Museum
Last Updated: 30th September 2019 | Main image: Wei-Te Wong
Ladies and gentlemen.
This is your driver speaking.
The next station is Covent Garden, and we’re strongly urging anyone with a penchant for knowledge to disembark.
Because here you’ll find the London Transport Museum, set in a huge, light-flooded conservatory-style building on the Covent Garden piazza that bears more than a passing resemblance to one of London’s big rail stations. One of the more unusual museums in London, it’s dedicated entirely to the history of transport in the city over the past two centuries, and the stories of the people who work on it.
And as a sort of meta museum, we’ve collected, polished up, and listed everything you need to know about visiting the London Transport Museum right here. Enjoy.
JUMP TO: The Museum | What’s On | Hidden London Tours | The Depot
This venerable collection of vehicles, signage and transport-related ephemera began back in the 1920s, when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve some (then merely ‘retro’) Victorian horse buses for posterity.* Over the past century it’s grown to a stonking collection of 450,000+ curios, around a quarter of which you can see here.
There’s ancient restored buses, trams and tube carriages for your uninhibited perusal (complete with unnerving, period-costumed mannequins); fancy high tech displays about the future of London transport; galleries of iconic designs, posters and photographs; and some serious nitty gritty about the huge feats of engineering that have allowed the city’s network to keep expanding (which has some quite literally riveting details).
And of course, as anyone knows, the best part is always the museum shop – and here you can get hold of pretty much anything you can imagine, only transport-themed. Expect coffee table books, quirky souvenirs, roundel lightboxes, vintage posters, and – for the real enthusiast – a full-size sofa covered in London Underground moquette (the official term for that fuzzy seat material; decades of other people’s grime not included).
WHAT’S ON – October 2019
Aside from the permanent collection, there’s also rotating exhibitions, late night openings and one-off events taking place throughout the year. Here’s what’s coming up:
Untangling The Tracks | An exhibition dedicated to the – frankly – logistical nightmare that came with creating Thameslink, with models of stations, posters and the low-down on how engineers rerouted the tracks.
Hidden London | Opens 11th October | A fascinating look below ground at the hidden parts of London’s subterranean network. From salvaged wartime posters to strange stories from the depths, this exhibition will give you a glimpse into the secret tunnels you can now explore with the Hidden London tours…
There are at least 40 stations on the Underground that are no longer used for travel. Some ran out of money before they could open (like ‘West End’), some were cut off because of competition with nearby stations (‘Tower of London’), and some are haunted by the ghosts of Ancient Egyptian mummies (‘British Museum‘). It’s previously been very difficult to get access to abandoned stations, but the London Transport Museum are finally running regular – but extremely small and in-demand – tours of some of the most enigmatic. You can walk underneath Trafalgar Square and see the disused Jubilee platforms at Charing Cross (now used in films like Skyfall and Paddington); explore the labyrinth of old tunnels at Euston; tour London’s “offensive” first skyscraper, the London Underground former HQ; and enter the relatively unknown Down Street station, where Winston Churchill sheltered during air raids. Dates and ticket prices vary, but you can find out more HERE.
While the London Transport Museum is very conveniently planted in Central London, its location (and size) means that it’s fairly difficult to use it to display and store things like, say, trains. Which is why they also have the Depot; a sprawling 6,000 sq m space in Acton that stores the 320,000 artefacts, vehicles and memorabilia that don’t fit in the Covent Garden spot.
It’s usually closed to the public, save for three open weekends a year (usually in April, July and September – 2019 dates TBC), when you can nose around the entire collection, listen to talks and take part in themed design workshops. But there’s also regular guided tours, which cover everything from the iconic London transport typeface, to opportunities to get into the driving seat of old tube trains. You can find out more and book ahead HERE.
Mind the gap.
NOTE: The London Transport Museum is open daily from 10am-6pm (last entry 5.15pm). Kids go free, while adult entry costs £17.50 and will net you unlimited visits for the whole year. You can get a small discount, and find out more, on their website HERE.
London Transport Museum | Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB
Feeling peckish after all that learning? Check out the best restaurants in Covent Garden