Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

London’s Museums and Historical Sites

London Museums

 Museums and Historical Sites in London

London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of the island of Great Britain, London has been a significant settlement for two millennia.

Founded by the Romans, who named it Londinium, London became the capital of the British Empire. As a result, London today has some of the most significant Museums, Heritage Sites, and Cultural Institutions in the world. Featured in “Joy of Museums” are the following Museums and Heritage Sites.

London’s Museums and Heritage Sites

London Museums Overview

London is home to many museums, galleries, and other institutions, many of which are free to visit. The first to be established as the British Museum in Bloomsbury, in 1753. Initially containing antiquities, natural history specimens, and the national library, the museum now has a collection of seven million artifacts from around the world. In 1824, the National Gallery was founded to house the British national collection of Western paintings and now occupies a prominent position in Trafalgar Square. Close by is the National Portrait Gallery which was founded in 1856 to house portraits in art and sculpture from British history. Today its collection is one of the world’s most extensive collection of portraits.

In the latter half of the 19th century, a large part of South Kensington was developed as a cultural and scientific quarter. Three major national museums are there: the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum. The national gallery of British art is at Tate Britain and The Tate Gallery, which became the primary center for modern art moved to Tate Modern, a new gallery housed in the former Bankside Power Station.

London also has four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the site comprising the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret’s Church; and the historical settlement in Greenwich where the Royal Observatory, Greenwich defines the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude, and Greenwich Mean Time. Other London landmarks that are world-famous include Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square.

  • The British Museum
    • The British Museum is one of the oldest public museums in the world. It was established in 1753, the English Parliament founded it and set the model for all other public museums that followed. Before the introduction of the British Museum as an open museum, museums were private collections of kings, wealthy people, the church or universities. The British Museum Act of Parliament in 1753 states that it was founded so that it may “be preserved and maintained, not only for the inspection and entertainment of the learned and the curious but the general use and benefit of the public.”
  • The National Gallery, London
    • The National Gallery, London is an art museum founded in 1824. Its collection includes over 2,300 paintings dating from the 13th century to the 20th century. It is one of the most visited art museums in the world, and its main building façade facing Trafalgar Square has not changed for two-hundred years.
  • Tate Britain
    • Tate Britain is part of the Tate network of galleries in England, with Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. It is the oldest gallery in the network, having opened in 1897. Tate Britain houses a significant and extensive collection of the art of British art from 1500 to the present day and has extensive holdings of the works of J. M. W. Turner, who bequeathed all his collection to the nation.
  • The Wallace Collection
    • The Wallace Collection is an art collection housed at Hertford House in Manchester Square, the former townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford. Its collection comprises a remarkable range of fine and decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th centuries with a significant collection of French 18th-century paintings, furniture, porcelain and Old Master paintings.
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum
    • The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is one of the world’s largest museums of decorative arts and design. Founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the V&A is located near the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Royal Albert Hall in London.
  • Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
    • The Queen’s Gallery is an art gallery at Buckingham Palace, home of the British monarch, in London. It exhibits works of art from the Royal Collection on a rotating basis with about 450 palaeontology are on display at any one time. When not on show at the Queen’s Gallery, the masterpieces of the Royal Collection maybe spread among many historical royal residences in the United Kingdom.
  • Courtauld Gallery
    • The Courtauld Gallery is an art museum that houses the art collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art, a college of the University of London specialising in the study of the history of art. The Courtauld collection includes paintings, drawings, sculptures and other works from medieval to modern times; it is mainly known for its French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.
  • Tate Modern, London
    • Tate Modern is Britain’s national gallery holds the national collection of British art from 1900 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art. Tate Modern is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world.
  • Science Museum, London
    • The Science Museum is a major museum in London, which was founded in 1857 and today is one of the city’s major tourist attractions. The Science Museum now holds a collection of over 300,000 items; it also has hundreds of interactive exhibits.
  • National Portrait Gallery, London
    • The National Portrait Gallery houses a collection of portraits of historical importance and more recent famous British people. It was the first portrait gallery in the world, established in 1856. Since then it has expanded include regional centres at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire and Montacute House in Somerset.
  • Natural History Museum, London
    • Natural History Museum, London exhibits a vast range of life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, palaeontology, and zoölogy. Many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture.
  • Charles Dickens Museum
    • The Charles Dickens Museum is the author’s house turned to into a museum about Charles Dickens. The museum is housed in a Georgian terraced house which was Charles Dickens’s home from 1837 to 1839. Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine Dickens lived here and the older two of Dickens’s daughters, Mary Dickens and Kate were born in this house.
  • Hampton Court Palace
    • Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace 11.7 miles (18.8 kilometres) south-west and upstream of central London on the River Thames. The palace building project began  Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1515, however, in 1529, as Wolsey fell from favour, the King seized the palace for himself and enlarged it to cater for his royal court.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum
    • The Sherlock Holmes Museum is dedicated to the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Situated in Baker Street, bearing the number 221B by permission of the City of Westminster, although it lies between numbers 237 and 241. The Georgian townhouse which the museum occupies was formerly used as a boarding house from 1881 to 1904 when the stories that describe Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson residing at that approximate location as tenants of Mrs Hudson.
  • British Library
    • The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the most extensive library in the world. As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a significant proportion of overseas titles distributed in the UK. The British Library holds over 170 million items from many countries. The Library’s collections include substantial holdings of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC. Before 1973, the Library was part of the British Museum. The Library is now located in a purpose-built building on Euston Road in St Pancras, London.
  • Imperial War Museum
    • Imperial War Museums (IWM) has branches at five locations in England, three of which are in London. Founded as the Imperial War Museum in 1917, and its focus is on recording civil and military war efforts and sacrifice of all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces have been involved since 1914. The museum’s collections include archives of personal and official documents, audiovisual material, and oral history, an extensive library, an art collection, and examples of military equipment and technology.
  • Churchill War Rooms
    • The Churchill War Rooms in London is one of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum. The museum features the Cabinet War Rooms, a historic underground complex that housed a British government command centre throughout the Second World War, and the Churchill Museum. The Churchill Museum a biographical museum exploring the life of British statesman Winston Churchill. Construction of the Cabinet War Rooms, located beneath the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of Westminster, began in 1938. They became fully operational a week before Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. The War Rooms remained in operation throughout the Second World War until 1945 after the surrender of Japan.
  • Florence Nightingale Museum
    • The Florence Nightingale Museum is located at St Thomas’ Hospital on the River Thames in South Bank, London. The museum traces the history and story of Florence Nightingale, “the lady with the lamp”. Staring with her Victorian childhood to her experiences in the Crimean War, through to her years as an ardent campaigner for health reform. The museum illustrates her legacy and recognises the critical role and profession of nursing. In 1860, four years after her famous involvement in the Crimean War, Nightingale founded the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas’ Hospital and the museum is located on this site. Nightingale is recognised as the founder of modern nursing in the United Kingdom.
  • Foundling Museum
    • The Foundling Museum in London tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first home for children at risk of abandonment. The museum houses the Foundling Hospital Collection as well as the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, an international collection of material on Handel and his contemporaries. The museum explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram. Artists such as William Hogarth and the composer George Frederic Handel are central to the Hospital story, and today the museum celebrates how creative people have helped improve children’s lives for nearly 300 years.
  • Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy
    • The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy is a natural history museum that is part of University College London in London, England. It was established in 1828 as a teaching collection of zoological specimens and material for dissection. It is one of the oldest natural history collections in the UK and contains around 68,000 zoological specimens, many of which are very rare and several of which have been recently rediscovered.
  • Cutty Sark, Royal Museums Greenwich
    • Cutty Sark is the last surviving tea clipper ship and the fastest of her time. She is now a museum ship and part of the Museums Greenwich. The ship which was built in 1869 has been raised over three metres allowing visitors the unique experience of exploring underneath and inside this 150-year-old sailing ship.
  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
    • The National Maritime Museum has essential holdings in the history of Britain at sea comprising more than two million items, including maritime art, cartography, manuscripts including official records, ship models and plans, scientific and navigational instruments, instruments for time-keeping and astronomy. Its holdings including paintings on Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson and Captain James Cook.
  • Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
    • The Old Royal Naval College is a historical site considered to be the finest architectural and historical site in Britain. The buildings were initially constructed to serve as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, now generally known as Greenwich Hospital, which was designed by Christopher Wren, and built between 1696 and 1712. The hospital closed in 1869. Between 1873 and 1998 it was the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
  • Queen’s House, Greenwich
    • The Queen’s House is a former royal residence built between 1616 and 1635 in Greenwich, a few miles down-river from the then City of London. Its architect was Inigo Jones, for whom it was an early commission, for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I. The Queen’s House was the first classical building to have been constructed in England. It was Jones’s first significant commission after returning from his 1613–1615 grand tour of Roman, Renaissance, and Palladian architecture in Italy. Today the house forms part of the National Maritime Museum and is used to display portions of their substantial collection of maritime paintings and portraits.
  • Royal Observatory, Greenwich
    • The Royal Observatory, Greenwich is situated on a hill in Greenwich Park, overlooking the River Thames. It has played a significant role in the history of astronomy and navigation and is best known for the prime meridian passes through it, and thereby gave its name to Greenwich Mean Time. The observatory was commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II, and Sir Christopher Wren chose the site.
  • Guildhall Art Gallery
    • The Guildhall Art Gallery houses the art collection of the City of London, England. The gallery was originally built in 1885 to house art collections from the City of London Corporation. Today it occupies a building that was completed in 1999 to replace an earlier structure which was destroyed in The Blitz in 1941. It is a stone building in a semi-gothic style intended to be sympathetic to the historic Guildhall, which is adjacent. The Guildhall Art Gallery collection consists of about 4,000 works, of which around 250 are on display at any one time. Many of the paintings are of London themes.
  • HMS Belfast
    • HMS Belfast was cruiser built for the Royal Navy that is now permanently moored as a museum ship on the River Thames in London. Belfast was the first ship in the Royal Navy to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland, and one of ten Town-class cruisers began construction in 1936. She was commissioned in 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1971 the government transferred the ship to a Trust, and she was brought to London, to be moored near Tower Bridge as a Ship Museum.
  • Jewel Tower
    • The Jewel Tower is from the 14th-century and was part of the Royal Palace of Westminster, in London. It was built starting in 1365 to house the personal treasure of Edward III. The tower is a three-storey stone building which occupied a secluded part of the palace and was protected by a moat linked to the River Thames. The tower continued to be used for the monarch’s treasure and personal possessions until 1512 when a fire in the Palace of Westminster caused Henry VIII to move his court to Whitehall. Today it is a rare museum of medieval architecture.
  • Jewish Museum London
    • The Jewish Museum London is a museum of British Jewish life, history and identity. The museum has a dedicated to exploring Jewish history, culture, and heritage. The museum was founded in 1932 and houses a collection of Jewish ceremonial art, and the museum’s Holocaust Gallery includes items and filmed survivor testimony. The museum also has exhibitions recounting the history of Jewish life in England, supported by a diverse collection of objects. There are also collections of paintings, prints and drawings, and an archive of photographs.
  • Bank of England Museum
    • The Bank of England Museum is located within the Bank of England in the City of London. The museum displays a wide-ranging collection detailing the history of the Bank from its foundation in 1694 to the modern day. The displays include a representation of a late 18th-century office, known as the Stock Office, where holders of Bank stock would come to collect their dividends. Exhibits cover the history of the bank in chronological order, including many images showing the history of the bank and its building.
  • London Transport Museum
    • The London Transport Museum based in Covent Garden, London, conserves and exhibits the transport heritage of Britain’s capital city. The museum’s exhibits cover all aspects of transportation in the city. The museum operates from two sites within London. The main location in Covent Garden. The other site, located in Acton, is known as the London Transport Museum Depot and is principally a storage site that is open on regular visitor days throughout the year.
  • Museum of London
    • The Museum of London exhibits the history of London from prehistoric to modern times. Located on the London Wall, close to the Barbican Centre, it is part of the Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 1970s. The museum has an extensive urban history collection with more than six million objects. It is primarily concerned with the social history of London and its inhabitants throughout its history.
  • Museum of London Docklands
    • The Museum of London Docklands tells the history of London’s River Thames and the growth of Docklands. The museum is part of the Museum of London and opened in 2003 in an early-19th century Georgian “low” sugar warehouses built in 1802 on the side of West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs, a short walk from the Canary Wharf development. The building that houses the museum was originally called No.1 Warehouse and was built during the expansion of West India Docks.
  • National Army Museum, London
    • The National Army Museum is the British Army’s central museum. It is located adjacent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the “Chelsea Pensioners”. The museum houses five galleries that cover British military history from the English Civil War up to modern day. The museum focuses on the overall history of British land forces, unlike other military museums in the United Kingdom which concentrate on the history of individual corps and regiments of the British Army.
  • Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
    • The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is part of University College London Museums and Collections. The museum contains over 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese artefacts. The museum was established as a teaching resource for the Department of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College in 1892. Professor, William Matthew Flinders Petrie, conducted many important excavations, and in 1913 he sold his collections of Egyptian antiquities to University College, creating the Flinders Petrie Collection of Egyptian Antiquities, and transforming the museum into one of the leading collections outside Egypt. Petrie excavated dozens of major sites in Egypt and his successors continued to add to the collections, excavating in other parts of Egypt and Sudan.
  • Royal Air Force Museum London
    • The Royal Air Force Museum London, also commonly known as the RAF Museum is located on the former Hendon Aerodrome. It includes five buildings and hangars with close to 100 aircraft, showing the history of aviation and the Royal Air Force. It is part of the Royal Air Force Museum, and there is another site at RAF Cosford in Shropshire.
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
    • Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse associated with William Shakespeare. The original theatre was built in 1599, destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then demolished in 1644. The modern Globe Theatre reconstruction is an approximation based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings.  Shakespeare’s Globe was built close to the site of the original theatre and opened to the public in 1997. There is also an exhibition about Shakespeare’s life and work.
  • Sir John Soane’s Museum
    • The Sir John Soane’s Museum is a house museum that was formerly the home of the neo-classical architect John Soane. It holds drawings and models of Soane’s projects and his collections of paintings, drawings and antiquities.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral
    • St Paul’s Cathedral, London, is an Anglican cathedral, which sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. The present cathedral, dates from the late 17th century, was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. Its construction was part of a major rebuilding programme in the City after the Great Fire of London. The cathedral is one of the most recognisable sights of London. Its dome, framed by the spires of the churches dominated the skyline for over 300 years. It was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1967.
  • City of London Police Museum
    • The City of London Police Museum focuses on the history of the police force for the City of London, the financial centre of the UK. It is ‘One Square Mile’, but it has its own police force, separate from the Metropolitan Police. Exhibits include uniforms, Victorian-era police equipment and artefacts, communication devices, World War II displays, and exhibits about Jack the Ripper and other famous murder cases.
  • Household Cavalry Museum
    • The Household Cavalry Museum is the museum of the Household Cavalry. Visitors can view the Household Cavalry horses in their 18th-century working stables. The museum focuses on the training and history of the regiment.The afternoon inspection of the guards and horses happens daily at 4 pm. This routine began in 1894 when Queen Victoria found the guards drinking and gambling in the afternoon instead of tending to their duty. She proclaimed that they would be punished by a Four ‘O’ Clock inspection daily for the next 100 years. This proclamation and punishment officially expired in 1994, but Queen Elizabeth II chose to continue the inspection parade out of respect for tradition.
  • Museum of Freemasonry
    • The Museum of Freemasonry is based at Freemasons’ Hall, London. The Museums collections are composed of masonic ceremonial objects, jewellery, regalia, ceramics, glassware, silverware, clocks, furniture, books, prints and manuscripts relating to English Freemasonry and its interactions with overseas lodges and orders. It also retains artefacts concerning other associated fraternal orders and friendly societies such as the Oddfellows, Foresters and many other societies both current and no longer in existence.
  • Tower Bridge, London
    • ower Bridge is a combined drawbridge and suspension bridge in London built between 1886 and 1894. The bridge crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and has become an iconic symbol of London. Tower Bridge is sometimes confused with the historically known London Bridge, situated some 0.5 mi (0.80 km) upstream.
  • Tower of London
    • The Tower of London is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies at the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078.
  • Wellcome Collection
    • The Wellcome Collection is a museum displaying a mixture of medical artefacts and original artworks exploring “ideas about the connections between medicine, life and art”. The museum offers contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, the Wellcome Library, a café and a bookshop. The Wellcome Collection was founded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936). An enthusiastic traveller, Henry Wellcome amassed a massive collection of books, paintings and objects on the theme of the historical development of medicine worldwide.
  • Westminster Abbey
    • Westminster Abbey is a large Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, London, England, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronations and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. The building itself was a Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral. Since 1560, the building is no longer an abbey or a cathedral, having instead the status of a Church of England “Royal Peculiar”, a church responsible directly to the sovereign.

London’s Top Museum Destinations

London is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world and is one of the most visited city in the world with over 65 million visits. The top most-visited attractions in London are:

  • The British Museum
  • The National Gallery
  • The Natural History Museum
  • The Southbank Centre
  • Tate Modern
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • The Science Museum
  • Somerset House
  • The Tower of London
  • The National Portrait Gallery


  • Which are your favourite London Museums?
  • Which are your favourite London Heritage Sites?
  • Which are your favourite London landmarks?

London’s Museums

  • City:                         London Museums
  • Sovereign State:      United Kingdom Museums
  • Country:                  England
  • Settled:                   By Romans c.43 AD (as Londinium)
  • Population:             14 Million metro area


Explore British Proverbs and Quotes

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“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
– William Shakespeare


Photo Credit: By Diliff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons