Best Museums in London and Beyond

by Heather Robinette / Sep 19, 2015 /
Heather Robinette's picture

London has many museums, but not all of them cost to visit. I visited some free museums and some that charged to visit. Most museums were only a few pounds, but a few, such as Buckingham Palace, cost quite a bit more, but were worth the money to see. I’ve put together some information about the museums I visited, including a short description, where they are located, and if there is a cost for the museum ($=cost a fee, Free=no charge).

I really enjoyed everything I saw because I always learned something new at each museum. Coming from the United States, it was interesting to see artifacts that were more than a couple hundred years old. You have the opportunity to see and learn interesting things while on a budget, especially if you're studying abroad.

 Best Museums in London and Beyond

Places to Visit in London, England

Arsenal Museum (London, England) $

For American soccer fans, this is a great museum to check out. The museum is located right next to the stadium and for a little extra you can tour the stadium as well. When you go through the museum, you can feel the pride and excitement the team and fans have for the sport and the club. Coming from the United States where soccer is not the largest sport, it was interesting to see the history and understand how big the sport is in Europe.  

Arsenal Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Arsenal Stadium. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

British Museum (London, England) Free

The British Museum is focused on human history, art, and culture. It contains a lot of history on human culture and can easily take several hours to go through. The museum is over 250 years old and contains a vast amount of history and information. This is a great museum for people who are interested in history and love to learn new things about the history of people. The British Museum would have been a great class field trip in elementary school.  

British Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

British Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Buckingham Palace (London, England) $

Although this is one of the more expensive places to visit, it is definitely worth the money to get to see inside the palace. During a short time period each year, the State Rooms are open for viewing. I was in London during this time and was able to see it on my tour. There was also an exhibit displaying items and pictures from the royal wedding that occurred just a few months before I studied abroad in London. Kate’s dress was beautiful! The tour ends in the garden where you can purchase food and enjoy tea. A typical visit lasts about 2 hours.

Buckingham Palace Garden.

Food at Cafe, Buckingham Palace. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Buckingham Palace gate. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Churchill War Rooms (London, England) $

The museum is broken into two parts, the Cabinet War Rooms, an underground bunker where the British government command center was located throughout the Second World War, and the Churchill Museum, a museum exploring the life of Winston Churchill. Both parts of the museum are very interesting to go through. The area that has the cabinet war rooms is very realistic looking and gives you a good sense of what it was like to live down there during the war. The other part of the museum that focuses on Churchill has some interactive exhibits that brings history to life and makes it enjoyable to learn. I learned quite a bit from the exhibit and spent several hours going through everything. They recommend giving yourself 90 minutes, but you can easily spend half a day or more in the museum. In school, we learned about the war mostly from the perspective of the United States, but this museum gives you a chance to experience the war from a different side. 

Churchill War Rooms. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Churchill War Rooms.From Best Museums in London and Beyond

 

Harrods (London, England) Free

Although Harrods is not a museum, I really enjoyed walking through it and seeing all of the decorations. I was in complete awe of everything I saw and wandered around for quite a while. It is a department store with over 330 stores that offer a range of products including clothing, jewelry, pet accessories, health and beauty, home appliances, electronics, and more. I found an 85 inch 3D TV for 50,000 pounds (so almost $82,000) while I was there. 

Harrods. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Display at Harrods. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Inside Harrods.

Trikke for sale at Harrods. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Household Cavalry Museum (London, England) $

The Household Cavalry Museum is a museum attached to the Hyde Park Barracks. The museum presents the history of the Household Cavalry and everything relating to their ceremonial and operational duties. It gives you a unique behind-the-scenes look at soldiers working with horses in the original working stables and firsthand accounts of the rigorous and demanding training. I really enjoyed going through the museum and learned a lot of great information about the Life Guards. 

Household Cavalry Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Household Cavalry Museum - Hyde Park barracks. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Imperial War Museum (London, England) Free

Imperial War Museum is a museum that tells the stories of people’s experiences of modern war and conflict. The museum tries to help everyone understand the history and experiences of modern war. When you first enter the museum, you see airplanes and tanks, which are interesting to check out. The museum has several floors of different exhibits. This is another museum that you can easily spend several hours in learning about history. 

The Imperial War Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Inside the Imperial War Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising (London, England) $ 

As part of one of my classes, we visited the Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising as a field trip. I was taking a marketing class and visited the museum to learn more about brands throughout history, as well as the consumer culture. It was a very interesting museum that displays many worldwide brands that you’ll be familiar with and how packaging and advertising has changed throughout history. It is a unique museum that I would recommend checking out. 

Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Museum of London (London, England) Free

The Museum of London documents the history of London from prehistoric to modern times. It is primarily concerned with the social history of London throughout time. From the way people dressed to the fire of London, everything involving London’s history can be found here. I found the museum to be very informative and would recommend this museum as one of your first places to visit to learn about London and the people. I spent several hours going through the museum.  

Museum of London. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Dr. Martens' boot, Museum of London. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Clothing display at the Museum of London. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Science Museum (London, England) Free

The Science Museum is a very large museum, but easy to navigate. You can spend a half day or full day in the museum. The museum displays a vast amount of items ranging from health to space to calculators throughout seven floors. I really enjoyed the Science Museum because of everything it had to offer. I learned a lot about things I take for granted today and how they came to be a part of life. Seeing the exhibit on computers and calculators was very interesting and shows how far technology has come. This is a great museum full of information and a must see during your time. 

Exhibit on computers and calculators at the Science Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Science Museum.From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (London, England) $

I’m sure like many others, you are familiar with Shakespeare and have either read or know of his many famous plays. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see The Globe Theatre in person while I was there. You are able to go through the museum, take a tour of the theatre, and watch a play. This Globe Theatre is actually the 3rd one that was built. The first one burned down, the second one closed when war broke out, then in the 1990s the current one was built. It is their best guess as to what it actually looked like and I think they did a pretty good job of being accurate. Of course they had a few modifications, such as the fire sprinklers and more than one exit. This is the only building in London with a thatch roof because of the fire hazard. During my time there, I saw Doctor Faustus. I purchased a groundling ticket, which was only 5 pounds. You have to stand the whole time, but it is worth it because you are right in front of the actors. It was a great experience because you feel like you are a part of the play. The play lasted about 2 hours and 45 minutes and I spent about half the day at The Globe. 

Seeing a play at the Globe Theatre. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Museum.From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Sherlock Holmes Museum (London, England) $

The Sherlock Holmes Museum opened in 1990 and although it is on Baker Street, it was given permission to have the address of 221B, even though it lies between 237 and 241. The museum brings the character of Sherlock Holmes to life. The museum goes through the townhouse and has various setups of different rooms such as the study, the sitting, and Dr. Watson’s room. If you’ve read the Sherlock series or are interested in Sherlock Holmes, then you’ll enjoy the museum. 

Sherlock Holmes Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Inside the Sherlock Holmes Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Sherlock's study, at the Sherlock Holmes Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

The Cartoon Museum (London, England) $ 

The Cartoon Museum was a unique museum I came across during my time in London. The museum shows British comics and cartoons, so it was interesting to see the culture of how they drew and what they drew. It was also interesting to see their interpretation of different American events and people such as Bush, Obama, and Tony Blair.

The Cartoon Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

The Guards Museum (London, England) $

The Guards Museum is a great museum to check out to learn more about the history of the Guards. It is not far from Buckingham Palace. The museum is located right next to the Wellington Barracks. You can find great information and artifacts from the long history of the five regiments of the Foot Guards. The most surprising thing I learned was that Queen Elizabeth served during World War II and remains the only female member of the royal family to have joined the armed forces. 

Wellington Barracks at the Guards Museum.From Best Museums in London and Beyond

The Guards Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Tower of London (London, England) $

The Tower of London was the first place our group visited after arriving in London and I wish we could have had more time. We had a couple hours, but you can easily spend a whole day at the Tower of London. It is fascinating how it was built and what took place there. White Tower was the tower built within the castle where the King lived. The entrance was built at the first floor level with wooden steps so if intruders did get into the castle, they would burn the steps and no one could get inside. There were several wards created to add extra layers to the castle’s defense. A moat was also added. Most of the castle still remains intact today. White Tower was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror. It was originally used as the royal residence and a prison from 1100-1952. During the 18th century, the Tower of London held a collection of over 280 animals and was open to the public for viewing. You’ll notice sculptures of lions at the tower that represents their time at the tower. During your visit you will see the letters “E-R” with a crown above them everywhere - it stands for Elizabetha Regina (Regina is Latin for queen). The Tower of London stores the crown jewels and you can view them during your visit (be prepared to wait in line). 

Elizabeth Regina gates at the Tower of London. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

White Tower, Tower of London.From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Tower of London Lions. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Tower of London. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum (London, England) $

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is the largest tennis museum in the world. This museum has exhibits and artifacts dating back hundreds of years as well as interactive areas. Memorabilia from many famous players from the past to present day. Guided tours are also available, which gives you the chance to see Center Court. I’m not a big tennis fan, but I really enjoyed getting to see everything and learn more about the history of lawn tennis. A must-see for tennis fans! 

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum - Center court! From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Wimbledon Tennis Museum.From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Places to Visit in England

Brontë Parsonage Museum (West Yorkshire, England) $ 

Being familiar with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, visiting the former home of the Brontë sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne – was a great experience. The Brontës spent most of their lives living there and it is where they wrote their famous novels. Many people visit to try to find inspiration, just as they did. The history of the Brontë family is very interesting and the museum helps bring it to life. 

Brontë Parsonage Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

National Maritime Museum (Greenwich, England) $

The National Maritime Museum is the leading maritime museum of the United Kingdom. The museum has 500 years of Britain's encounter with the world at sea. They have a vast collection of artifacts, such as the uniform Nelson was wearing when he was fatally shot at the Battle of Trafalgar. The museum was very interesting and I spent a great deal of time of time going through it. They had one educational area where I learned quite a bit about the basics on boats, sailing, the crew, and standard operations. 

National Maritime Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Crew at the National Maritime Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Inside the National Maritime Museum. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Roman Baths (Bath, England) $

The Roman Baths is a well-preserved site that was previously used for public bathing by the Romans. It is a great glimpse into the time when the Romans where in Britain. The buildings are breathtaking, especially considering that parts have been there for almost 2,000 years. During the visit, you can taste the water from the spa fountain. It has 43 minerals. It didn’t taste too bad, but it is warm water so it was an interesting experience. An important note: the Baths are the most visited paid museum outside London and attracts huge crowds during the summer months. If you are in Bath overnight during the months in July and August, I would recommend visiting after 6 pm. There are special lighting effects and the Baths are much quieter so you can enjoy them at your pace. The last entry during these months is 9 pm. There is a lot to see during the visit, so they recommend allowing at least two hours to get the most from the visit. 

Tasting the water at the Roman Baths. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Roman Baths. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

 

Royal Observatory Greenwich (Greenwich, England) Free- Astronomy Centre, $- Flamsteed House and Meridian Courtyard

During our Greenwich visit, we visited the Astronomy Centre, but not the Flamsteed House and Meridian Courtyard. It is a bit of a hike up the hill to get to the observatory, but there is a great view of the London skyline from the top. We went through the Astronomy Centre, which was interesting, and saw where the Meridian Courtyard line formed, but we didn’t go into it due to the line because we were short on time. If you go inside, you are able to see the prime meridian and take a picture straddling both east and west. 

Royal Observatory Greenwich. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Royal Observatory Greenwich.From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England) $

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument and probably one of the most famous sites in the world. Stonehenge is a ring of standing stones. There are many theories behind when and how they ended up there. But, when you arrive at Stonehenge there is a roped off around circling around the stones and everyone makes a circle around and is able to take pictures. The visit doesn’t last too long, but it is very interesting to see in person and they have audio guides and other information they provide so you can learn more about it. 

Stonehenge. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Places to Visit in Wales

Big Pit: National Coal Museum (Blaenavon, Wales) Free

A large part of our Big Pit visit was the underground tour. It was a working coal mine from 1860-1980. The coal mine was preserved as an operational attraction to educate everyone on how the coal mines work and the conditions of working in a coal mine. During its time, the coal mine provided coal to the Titanic. As a visitor, you are outfitted with a plastic hard hat, safety lamp, and a battery waist belt with a rebreather in case of an emergency. Prior to descending down 300 feet, everyone must surrender “contraband,” which is anything containing a dry cell battery, from watches to cell phones to cameras. The tour lasts about 50 minutes. The dangers of the mines are real and the tour guides do a great job of making sure you understand. It is a neat experience and you walk away with a better understanding of what it is like to work in the mines. 

Big Pit: National Coal Museum (Blaenavon, Wales). From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Inside the Big Pit: National Coal Museum (Blaenavon, Wales). From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Caerphilly Castle (Caerphilly, Wales) $

One of my favorite parts of studying abroad in the United Kingdom was seeing the castles from several centuries ago. In the United States, our history dates back a couple hundred years, but in the United Kingdom, the history dates back hundreds of centuries. This was a great learning experience and really brought history to live for me. This castle was constructed in the 13th century, and was known for the extensive water defenses around the castle. After visiting one castle, you’ll be looking for more to visit!

Caerphilly Castle. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Inside Caerphilly Castle. From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Roman Amphitheatre (Caerleon, Wales) Free

The Roman Amphitheatre was built to serve the Roman legionary fortress of Isca around AD 90. It once could seat a whole legion - up to six thousand spectators. Nowadays it is sometimes used for open air events and re-enactments. I really enjoyed seeing the amphitheatre and tried to picture what it was like to be there thousands of years ago. Seeing that kind of history just blew me away coming from the United States, where history only goes back a couple hundred years.  

Roman Amphitheatre (Caerleon, Wales). From Best Museums in London and Beyond

 Roman Amphitheatre (Caerleon, Wales). From Best Museums in London and Beyond

St. Fagan’s Open Air Museum (Cardiff, Wales) Free

St. Fagan’s Open Air Museum is a museum unlike most other museums I visited. The museum shows the historical lifestyle, architecture, and culture of Welsh people. It was very interesting to walk through and learn how people used to live there. You see everything from crafts to mills to churches as you explore the area. If you like history, you will enjoy this museum. Your best bet is to plan a full day for the museum, because there are a large number of buildings spread out across the grounds. The staff is very knowledgeable and enjoys talking about the buildings. 

St. Fagan’s Open Air Museum (Cardiff, Wales). From Best Museums in London and Beyond

Inside the church at St. Fagan’s Open Air Museum (Cardiff, Wales). From Best Museums in London and Beyond.

 

Hopefully this information can help you in experiencing more of London and other parts of the United Kingdom. These are only the museums I visited during my time abroad, but there are many more! Don’t be afraid to explore - you never know what you’ll learn!

 

 

 

Heather Robinette is the London Study Abroad Editor for Wandering Educators. She notes, "During the summer of 2011, I studied abroad for six weeks in London at the University of Westminster with Academics Programs International. I graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS in December 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. I currently work as a marketing analyst for a small company in central Texas. I am also pursuing my MBA. While I was abroad in London, I was able to create many unforgettable memories that I will never forget! My study abroad experience helped me gain various skills, but above all else, it helped me to learn more about myself and the world around me." You can find her online at http://www.heatherrobinette.com/

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Heather Robinette, except Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising image: http://mbeemanmarketing.blogspot.com/2012/10/museum-of-brands.html 

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