Go down any street in London and you will inevitably find something historic. There are scratches on marble doorways from German bombs that fell during the blitz of the Second World War, churchyards holding graves of victims of the Black Death, and more palaces, cathedrals and former workhouses than your eyes can take in. But it is London’s world famous museums that truly give the city a link to the past – and best of all most of them are free (although they do like the odd donation). Here are five that aren’t to be missed.
1. Imperial War Museum (IWM)
The IWM London is housed in an ornate building in South London that used to be an asylum. The insanity of war is displayed over four levels and the museum has one of the largest collections of military vehicles, weapons, uniforms and other paraphernalia that I’ve ever seen. It’s very interactive, with simulations of a World War One trench and London streets during the blitz that will make you feel like you’re actually there. If military history is your thing there is a reading room where the staff will help you dig through the extensive archives.
2. The British Museum
This is the most popular of London’s museums and it constantly puts on blockbuster exhibitions to pull in the crowds. The highlights of the British Museum’s regular collection are the Eglin Marbles which were taken from the Acropolis in Athens and the mummies – scores of ancient Egyptian sarcophagi and bandage wrapped bodies in glass cases.
3. The National Portrait Gallery
Art as history has never been more interesting than in this gallery at Trafalgar Square. There are floors and floors of classic, quirky and spookily realistic portraits of Britain and the world’s most iconic people. The royal gallery is a must see, if only to trace the family traits passed down the years from generation to generation. Kate Middleton’s portrait is on display now too. The best part is the restaurant on the top floor that serves a high tea in the afternoon where you can munch on scones and cucumber sandwiches while toasting a magnificent view of London with a glass of champagne. Be sure to book early to avoid disappointment.
4. The Natural History Museum
Right next door to the Victoria & Albert in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum does what it says on the tin. Inside its gloriously decorated sandstone wings you’ll find dinosaur bones, stuffed mammals and one of the world’s largest collections of insects housed in a purpose built multi-storey pod. The Natural History Museum is a very inspiring place that tells the story of the British pushing the boundaries of botany – giving special emphasis to the efforts of Charles Darwin. The collections are impressive but the building itself is stunning and rivals the displays.
5. The Science Museum
This museum is definitely the most fun . In the summer the Science Museum keeps its doors open late on the last Wednesday of the month and fills its galleries with DJs and bars so you can have a tipple and learn something at the same time. In normal hours it’s teeming with people shocking themselves on static electricity generators and watching demonstrations of how helium works. Just about everything is interactive and you will come away feeling like a kid again.
David writes the travel blog Double-Barrelled Travel with his wife Carmen. Dave and Carmen hail from Perth but have been living in London for the past four years, travelling around Europe during this time. David is a journalist in his day job but it’s travelling that truly lights his [camp]fire. You can Tweet him @2barrelltravel or find him on Facebook.