It was almost as hard to decide on just a few favourite museums, as it was to sift through my list of pubs. But this list has been based on breadth of interest (hopefully, something for everyone), and I’ve kept to those that have free entry.
The Geffrye Museum is a unique expo of domestic life through the ages, housed in renovated almshouses and set off by gardens to match the era of the rooms, all in the gritty East End. Wander through the rooms, arranged chronologically, where you’re able to touch most exhibits and listen to audio and read excerpts that transport you to the past. My favourite is the living room recreated from 1970s furnishings, fabrics and appliances. It’s brilliant. The Kingsland Road location is also notable for its Vietnamese restaurants; any one of them makes a great lunch stop after a morning at the museum.
The Wellcome Collection opposite Euston station is described as a destination for the incurably curious. Part of the Wellcome Trust group of charities, the Collection is difficult to categorise. It has a science and medicine focus but prides itself on displaying challenging artworks. Its frequently changing exhibitions are fascinating and often somewhat macabre. The complex includes a library and cafe, and Blackwells runs the onsite bookshop. Definitely worth popping in for a quick look, if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Another unforgettable, eclectic and eccentric collection that deserves some of your London time is Sir John Soane’s museum/house. An architect and member of the Royal Academy, he spent his life adding to and arranging his collection of antiquities, artworks and furniture, and then left it to the nation, for the benefit of amateurs and students. It might sound dull, but is anything but. The purpose-designed house, built during the late 1700s-early 1800s, is as quirky and atmospheric a place as you’re likely to find. And for atmosphere plus, visit on the first Tuesday of the month when the house is open late and candle-lit.
Bethnal Green is of my favourite underground stations (lovely ceramic tiles), and is also home to the unusual Museum of Childhood. An offshoot of the V&A, the Museum of Childhood is not just (or even mostly) for children. It displays toys, games and clothing, many from the Victorian era. It’s a gentle place, a reminder of simpler times when boys played with spinning tops and girls nursed exquisite china dolls. But don’t think it’s all rose-coloured and dewy-eyed; there are changing exhibitions which take a fresh look at the collection, or challenge us to see the contemporary world through children’s eyes.
My final pick of London’s lesser-known museums is the Canal Museum, near King’s Cross. Accommodated within an old ice house, it’s a fascinating peek into the precursors of motorways and railways, and tells the story of how England developed and thrived on the back of canal developments. You’ll learn about an old and mysterious way of life, that you can still observe today in the middle of London’s Regent’s and Grand Union canals.