Best Museums in London to Learn About British History
London is the perfect destination for history buffs. There are 250 museums in the city - that’s a lot of learning. But if it’s the history of Britain you’re intrigued by, of course the English capital has it’s fair share of info. London’s museums are bursting with fascinating, moving and often surprising stories from its culture-rich past. Whether it’s tales of the Royal Family’s most powerful relatives to huge, disastrous events like the Black Plague and the Great Fire, you’ll never get bored of hearing about what went on before London was the metropolis it is today. Get chills in the Bloody Tower where countless traitors were beheaded, see where Winston Churchill and other world leaders put together their WWII plan and discover the scary secrets of London Bridge. For a tour of British history in London, these are the museums you simply have to visit…
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Museum of London
Entry fee: Free
Where better to start your historic tour of London than at the Museum of London itself? Based in the oldest part of the city, right by St Paul’s Cathedral, this museum is incredible for history lovers and the best part is that it’s free. Take a walk through time from prehistoric London all the way up to the city’s modern advancements, learning about the changes in social and cultural history through original artefacts and interactive displays.
The Museum of London is the world’s biggest collection of urban history containing a massive 6 million objects at least. See the final remains of the Roman City Wall which lie right outside the museum, learn about medieval London, the fascinating 1666 Great Fire of London, the Black Plague, Victorian London, and discover what London’s nightlife was like back in the 18th and 19th centuries (spoiler: it was crazy). And that’s just a sneak peek of what you can expect to find inside. You could spend hours in this museum getting sucked into the unbelievable stories of the city’s past.
Tower of London
Entry fee: £24.70
Delve into British Royal history by exploring London’s Royal historic buildings. The Tower of London sits on the bank of the Thames, right by Tower Bridge and it’s an absolute must for history lovers in London. Look around the original structure where some of the most famous (and infamous) moments in British history took place. In the 1070s, William the Conqueror built the fortress to protect the Royal Family and the Crown Jewels while making a place to hold enemies and rivals captive with the ultimate security. During the Tudor era, the Tower of London was the largest and most famous state prison in England. It’s where Thomas Cromwell, Guy Fawkes and Lady Jane Grey (just to name a few) were sent to be held and executed. It’s also where two of Henry VIII’s six wives were beheaded.
The place is absolutely steeped in history, and you can see where it all took place, from the Bloody Tower to the Crown Jewels. Take a tour with a Yeoman Warder, also known as a Beefeater, to hear more jaw-dropping stories of imprisonment, torture, ghostly goings on and power-hungry monarchs.
Imperial War Museum
Entry fee: Free
For those fascinated by wartime history, the Imperial War Museum and it’s other attached museums should be on your bucket list. Here, you can discover the moving stories of those given a voice after their lives were torn apart by conflict, ranging from the First World War to the most recent conflicts involving Britain including 9/11, Korea, Falklands and much more. The Imperial War Museum is made up of six floors, full of countless objects from the wars such as photographs, weapons, vehicles, uniforms and artwork, all with a story to go alongside it. Be sure to check their website to see whether you can sit in on a free talk that the museum hosts fairly regularly, often bringing in people who had first hand experience with war to tell their story.
If you’ve already visited the Imperial War Museum, don’t miss the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast - the London-based museums that make up 2 out of the 5 Imperial War Museums in the UK. From the Churchill War Rooms beneath Westminster’s busy streets, you’ll see where the former Prime Minister and his inner circle plotted their way to victory in the Second World War. Head on board HMS Belfast, one of the most important royal navy warships from the Second World War which is moored by London Bridge City Pier. Here you can get a feel for what life was like being a crew member on board out at sea, hearing their stories and exploring the 9 deck ship.
London Transport Museum
Entry fee: £16.50 if you book via website
Tucked away behind Covent Garden’s busy marketplace is a treasure trove for olden-day transport lovers. The most iconic images of London always include a bright red double decker bus or a classic black cab, but have you seen how they looked way back in the day? Since the year 2000, every aspect of London’s transport is now a feature in the museum, collected from the start of the 20th century when buses began being preserved after they had to be taken off the roads. From old railway trains to double decker horse-drawn trams and original tube station decorations, this museum is a great way of imagining how London looked back in the 19th century.
Hampton Court Palace
Entry fee: £21.30
If you’re a fan of royal British history, you’ll know a thing or two about the notorious King Henry VIII. Hampton Court Palace was an incredibly important part of the power hungry (and just plain hungry) king’s life. He spent a lot of his time there with his wives and children, hosting grand events in the Great Hall, playing tennis on the palace court and praying in the Royal Chapel. On a visit to Hampton Court Palace, you can tour all of this and much more, marvelling at how detailed and impressive it still is today and imagining how King Henry VIII would parade up and down the halls.
Take a tour and hear tales from the experts on whose ghosts haunt the Haunted Gallery and who used to reside in the magnificent State Apartments. This is a trip every history lover in London has to spend a day on, especially if the life of King Henry VIII is as fascinating to you as it is to most.
Black Cultural Archives
Entry fee: Free
Based in south London’s Brixton, the Black Cultural Archives is the only place in Britain that is dedicated to the history of the country’s black communities. The museum has a great collection of modern and historical artefacts and photographs that all tell their own stories on the topic of black British culture. When the museum was first coming together 30 years ago, it was a time when the African and Caribbean community in London was severely underappreciated, so the co-founder Len Garrison began collecting what is now one of the most comprehensive collections documenting the cultural heritage of Black Britain.
Entry to the Black Cultural Archives is free, however the exhibitions cost £3 entry, at the moment it’s celebrating those from the Windrush generation, demonstrating ongoing issues with race in the British government.
The London Bridge Experience
Entry fee: From £19.95
The London Bridge Experience is more than just a museum. London Bridge has a surprisingly dark and fascinating history, and here you’ll learn all about it by actors who bring a whole immersive, theatrical experience. London Bridge is the most haunted bridge in the world - for over 300 years traitors would have their heads put on spikes along London Bridge, and now many are said to haunt it today.
Be immersed in London’s dark history of the bridge before you head further underground to the London Tombs. Prepare to jump and potentially scream as you come across those who suffered from torture and other terrible deaths in the Scare Maze - definitely not for the faint hearted.
Article by Darcy King
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