London area museums
January 19, 2020 9:42 AM   Subscribe

If there's one thing I like, it's a museum. So I am going to London in April! Please tell me what you think of what I plan to see, and please tell me about other museums or points of interest you like. I am interested in history and beautiful things generally, and have a special interest in the Napoleonic war era and Roman Britain.

  • British Museum
  • Museum of London
  • Tower of London
  • National Maritime Museum
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Apsley House
  • HMS Victory (In Portsmouth)
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Travel & Transportation around London, England (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Sir John Soane's
posted by phunniemee at 9:43 AM on January 19, 2020 [14 favorites]

Hoooray! I am also going to London in March (and a couple days in April) to spend time in museums. I’d ad the Victoria & Albert and the Imperial War Museum (there are some paintings there I want to see)
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:45 AM on January 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Another vote for the Imperial War Museum, which is way more interesting than it sounds, especially if you’re interested in the human cost of war.
posted by FencingGal at 9:49 AM on January 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

The Science Museum
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:58 AM on January 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Seconding Soane's and V&A. I also really enjoyed a stop at the Wellcome, the Horniman and the Hunterian which is, alas, closed until 2021.
posted by jessamyn at 10:38 AM on January 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

The British Library has beautiful historical works of the (mostly) book variety.

I also enjoy Welcome
posted by PistachioRoux at 11:07 AM on January 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Another vote for the V&A! It is FULL of beautiful things, from art to artifact to fashion to technology. I spent hours there, could have spent hours more.

The British Library was surprisingly awesome. Do a guided tour, if you can.

And yes, do not miss The British Museum. It's an amazing experience, and as a bonus, many of the exhibits and tours now include discussion examining the tough questions around how most artifacts make their way into museums, and the sometimes problematic ways they're displayed.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:21 AM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Tate Modern always has something interesting going on and is well worth a trip.
posted by mogget at 11:24 AM on January 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

Grant Museum of Zoology, if you have any interest in Natural History, zoology, and collections of dead-things-in-jars. Small, fascinating and free, and not too far from British Library and Wellcome collection if you are in that part of town.
posted by sarahdal at 11:34 AM on January 19, 2020

Also here to vote for Soanes and V&A, and then also the Natural History Museum. If I have any time at all when in London, I visit those three. Right now I'm also curious about the Design Museum, but I haven't been there for ages.
posted by mumimor at 12:12 PM on January 19, 2020

Don’t forget Tate Britain and the National Gallery!! 2 of my faves when I spent several months working in London.
+1 for Sir John Soane’s, V&A, and British Library.

And check out Dennis Severs’ House - if you read the website and think it sounds cool, you’ll prob like it! I’m always interested in novel presentations for the public so found it really interesting.
posted by estlin at 12:13 PM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

HMS Victory is brilliant if you have an interest in the period (it’s a must-see if you’re a Patrick O’Brian fan), but if you make the trip to Portsmouth I would also go to the Mary Rose museum, which is great.

And the V&A.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 12:18 PM on January 19, 2020

Yeah, the British Museum was a two-day thing for me. Accidentally got tipsy in the Tower of London coffee shop because I was totally not expecting alcohol to be served in a museum lunchery and thought "orange jigger" was just some fancy orange soda.

If you have time, there's a cute, kind of kitschy Sherlock Holmes museum in Baker Street. The guest book was a hoot to read.

Not strictly a museum, but Postman's Park is absolutely worth a look. It's a former urban cemetery turned into a lovely park; they incorporated any unclaimed headstones into the landscaping. There's a turn-of-the-century monument to many different people who died saving others that is both lovely and moving.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:07 PM on January 19, 2020

The Wellcome Collection is absolutely amazing.
posted by cardamom at 3:06 PM on January 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

For roman history in the city:

The Guildhall Art Gallery is located on the site of a roman amphitheatre, you can visit parts of it in the lower ground floor.

St. Bride's Church (its spire inspired the tradition of the tiered wedding cake) has the remains of a Roman house in its crypt, accessible whenever the church is open.

The excavated temple of mithras is free to visit at Bloomberg space on Walbrook.

There are lots of sections still standing from the roman walls of Londinium, all open to view.

If you have time and fancy a jaunt out you could take a train from London Bridge station to Lullingstone Roman Villa. There's a great little museum attached to it.

For general museums most have been covered but I'd also recommend the tiny but awesome Petrie Museum of Egyptian archaeology - not least for being a time capsule all of it's own.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:25 PM on January 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also - for beautiful things the Wallace Collection is an often-overlooked gem in a jaw-dropping mansion house in Marylebone, totally free to visit.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:38 PM on January 19, 2020

Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett.

Covers medieval medicinal herbs (just missing your Roman requirement) and an 18th Century surgical theatre, so overlapping with the Napoleonic era, just.

I found it absolutely fascinating, but my family were grossed out, YMMV.
posted by freethefeet at 5:25 PM on January 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

^^^ We loved this place too. If that's the sort of thing you'd like, it's a winner.
posted by jessamyn at 7:36 PM on January 19, 2020

make a day trip to bath
posted by brujita at 10:51 PM on January 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you are into things Roman, then a 90-minute train ride out to Bath Spa is definitely worth it. The Roman Baths are incredible even by European Roman ruins standards and the rest of the town is fascinating as well.

Near St. Pancras is a small but fascinating cemetery. Useful if you are trying to kill time waiting for a train.

Most tourists miss the Inns of Court. I'm not sure why as its the most Dickensian part of London. It just feels like traveling back in time.

Same with Apsley House which I see is already on your list. I mean not only does it have Wellington's boots but the Art collection includes Diego Velazquez finest painting outside of Spain and possibly one of his finest of all. We used to pop in once in a while to just have these paintings all to ourselves, worthy of the best art galleries.

London is also where Sigmund Freud lived his last years. His house is now a small museum and his famous couch is there.
posted by vacapinta at 1:41 AM on January 20, 2020

If you fancy a very different day trip you could go to the abandoned Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum or Silchester. You would need a 25 min train ride to Reading then a 30 min or so taxi ride, there's not a lot there in terms of museums, but the walls are huge and atmospheric and make a fantastic walk. Reading Museum has a lot of the finds from the site. For the second half of your day you could visit Stratfield Saye, stately home of the Duke of Wellington gifted to him by a grateful nation following his defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
posted by el_presidente at 3:29 AM on January 20, 2020

Several years back, I asked a question about historical fragments visible in modern-day London and got lots of wonderful answers. I'd recommend the whole thread, but of particular interest to you might be MOLA's Londinium: A New Map And Guide To Roman London.
posted by yankeefog at 4:11 AM on January 20, 2020

Sir John Soane's x1000
The Wellcome
The Hunterian (both medical museums and easy walkimg distance from Soane's)

Soane's, after the British Museum, was the absolute highlight of our museum-going. It is surreal and delightful and like being a time traveler. Do not miss it.
posted by mwhybark at 3:36 PM on January 20, 2020

Well, darn, scratch the Hunterian then. We spent two days at the British Museum and in addition to the citations above we hit the V&A, which was bewildering in its profusion, the Natural History museum nearby, the Transport Museum in Covent Garden, the National Gallery, The Tower, the Tate, the British Library, and probably one or two that escape me.

I wish we had spent more time at the V&A, and while I rejected the War Museum sight unseen, after we were home I looked into their collection and deeply regret not taking the time - for me, a long time early-aviation buff, missing the opportunity to see many, many world-war one aircraft whose individual service histories I am already familiar with is a regret I have to live with.
posted by mwhybark at 3:53 PM on January 20, 2020

Oh! I also enjoyed John Wesley's house, which is fitted out with period furnishings and stuff the Wesley family actually used, like a primitive electroshock device that he used to give free treatments to depressed poor people. It's next door to Wesley's Chapel in the East End, where you can also see the family's graves and the organ Charles Wesley composed all those hymns on. William Blake is buried across the street in the Dissenters' Cemetery. After Sunday service, a church historian will take you on a walking tour of Wesley's London. I think it would have been interesting even if I hadn't been raised in the Methodist Church.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:39 AM on January 21, 2020

You already mentioned the National Maritime Museum, so if going to Greenwich, don't forget about the Old Royal Naval College and the Royal Observatory, where the Greenwich meridian line sits. If you have an interest in Napolean/Nelson/Trafalagar, you could easily indulge a few days around Greenwich.
posted by amusebuche at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

As well as Apsley House, you might enjoy a quick visit to Wellington Arch, the victory arch for Wellington's defeat of Napoleon. One of the exhibitions inside is about the Battle of Waterloo.

The Museum of London has a second outpost, Museum of London Docklands, out at Canary Wharf. It's got a different focus and feel from the original, and you might find it interesting too, especially if you're already out in that direction for the Greenwich museums. Speaking of which, don't miss the Queen's House - the art is splendid, but it's also a very beautiful building, fun to explore.

It's probably in that other thread about Roman London, but just in case, Billingsgate Roman House and Baths is another bit of ancient Londinium still available for the visiting, and it's well worth doing so. When I went in the summer, I got chatting to the guide, and she gave me a leaflet with a map of Roman London, which you can print out for yourself here. I got pretty lost in the Barbican at the end of the route, but that aside, it made for a really enjoyable afternoon's exploring. Recommended. I particularly liked the museum in the crypt of All Hallows by the Tower, including a model of Londinium with the bridge made from a splinter of the actual original Roman bridge!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:05 AM on January 28, 2020

The museum cafes of London are awesome. I was just remembering eating a delicious cheese and pickle sandwich next to a 1,000-year-old monk's tomb, looking out a window over the spot where Cromwell's corpse was drawn and quartered.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:26 PM on January 31, 2020

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