Museums in West Central London
It's not hyperbole to say that London is home to many of the world's best museums. Venues such as the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum and Design Museum can justly lay claim to being the best in their field (and most of them are free too). But with so many world-famous museums dominating the itineraries of tourists and being a first port of call for locals with visitors in tow, it can be easy to overlook London's cornucopia of lesser-known and smaller-scale museums.
The South Kensington museums are rightly regarded among the best in the world, yet are often too busy to appreciate properly. Delve a little deeper into west London, however, and you'll find a couple of dozen smaller museums, many of which get very little publicity. Explore the British Museum for a spot of art and culture, or the Natural History Museum, which has amazing artefacts, learn something new at the Science Museum, or discover art and design at the V&A, all for now.
London is a real treat for museum lovers and museums are a popular destination among London's many attractions. There are hundreds to choose from, including the British Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. Below is a list of London's major museums – the big venues with incredible collections that any visitor to the city would be sorry to miss. Many are free, so it won't cost you a penny to see all that they have to offer. Within London's high quality, varied museums, you can see an incredible range of amazing objects: one of the finest collections of Ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world; a 26-metre-long dinosaur; theatre costumes – both new and antique; old London buses; and even a human torpedo.
It would be churlish to leave the British Museum out of a list like this, even though its fame no doubt precedes it. Most visitors will make a beeline for the controversial Elgin Marbles – statues removed from the Parthenon in Athens – by way of the ever-popular Egyptian displays. But to say there's much more to the museum would be an understatement. The endless series of galleries contain artefacts from just about every major civilisation on earth. The Enlightenment rooms in the east wing are particularly fascinating, and usually crowd-free.
Grant Museum of Zoology
The Grant Museum must rank as first among equals in London's generous offering of quirky museums. It serves as a teaching museum for zoology students at University College London, but is also open to the public. The recently updated premises are crammed with zoological curiosities, including a bisected pregnant cat, a giant penis bone from a walrus and a jar full of pickled moles. The museum is also noted for its regular free screenings of cult or forgotten movies featuring animals or monsters, usually followed by a complimentary glass of wine and tour of the museum.
Just across the square from Sir John Soane's Museum lurks another free cultural centre. The Hunterian Museum is named after John Hunter, one of the first people to apply scientific method to surgery. Hunter's collection of skeletal remains, diseased organs and other anatomical curiosities is not for the squeamish, but those with a fascination for the human body will find much to get their teeth into, so to speak.
London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum explores the story of London and its transport system over the last 200 years, highlighting the powerful link between transport and the growth of modern London, culture and society since 1800. They care for over 450,000 items - preserving, researching and acquiring objects to use in galleries, exhibitions and other activities. As well as exploring the past, the Museum looks at present-day transport developments and concepts for urban transportation in the future, which includes a contemporary collecting policy for the benefit of future generations.
Sir John Soane's Museum
The architect of the Bank of England had a magpie's eye for unusual and exquisite bric-a-brac. His former home has long served as a museum space to show off the collection, which includes period furniture, paintings by the likes of Hogarth and, most memorably, the sarcophagus of Seti I. Although it's often cited as a secret small museum, it's actually quite well known, and queues can form for the popular candlelit evenings, held on the first Tuesday of each month, from 6pm-9pm. You'll never see a museum quite like this anywhere else, though.