Best Small Museums in London


Sir John Soane's Museum

© Gareth Gardner

London's collection of small museums devoted to the weird and wonderful is unrivalled by any city in the world. Search hard enough and you'll find collections on canals, fans, sewing machines and magic.

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Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Nostalgic trip through old tins, packets and boxes from yesteryear.

111-117 Lancaster Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 1QT

Tube: Ladbroke Grove Station


From Cornflakes to Ker-plunk, Spacedust to Spacehoppers, take a nostalgic tour through 200 years of British consumerism with Robert Opie's unique creation. Enter the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising and you enter a time tunnel transporting you from the Victorian era to modern marketing, stopping off to examine the Edwardian craze for ping-pong, the beginnings of radio and television, two World Wars and the Swinging 60s. Socially significant, historically telling and, ultimately, visually stunning this collection of consumerism is unique in both content and quantity - with over 500,000 items in total amassed by Opie it's the largest of its type in the world. Many of the everyday objects on display here are only too easy to remember, transporting you instantly back in time (Schweppes, Bird's Dream Topping, Brasso), with others it's hard to believe they ever existed at all (Lazenby's Jelly Crystals, bile beans and Franklyn's Superfine Shag).


Sir John Soane's Museum

Former residence of Sir John Soane, architect of the Bank of England and an enthusiastic collector.

13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn, London, WC2A 3BP

Tube: Holborn Station , Chancery Lane Station


An appealingly higgledy-piggledy treasure trove of artefacts, the extraordinary Sir John Soane's Museum elegantly located on Lincoln's Inn Fields is well worth an exploratory rummage. Lurking in nooks and crannies within the sprawling rooms and halls of neo-classical architect Sir John Soane's former residence are over 30,000 architectural drawings and antiquities. Works by Turner, Canaletto and Piranesi feature in the painting collection, with William Hogarth's eight canvasses of 'A Rake's Progress' forming the centre-piece. One of the most intriguing rooms is the Picture Gallery with walls made up of large folding panels. Look out, too, for the alabaster Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti I dated 1370BC appropriately located in the basement 'Sepulchral Chamber'.


2 Willow Road

1930s Modernist house designed by Ern Goldfinger.

2 Willow Road, London, NW3 1TH

Tube: Hampstead Station


Managed by the National Trust, 2 Willow Road is, in fact, a Modernist terrace of three Hampstead houses originally designed and inhabited by Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger. The concrete and red brick construction replaced a row of traditional cottages, which were demolished in the face of strident opposition from locals. James Bond author and Hampstead resident, Ian Flemming, opposed the construction of 2 Willow Road and named his villain Auric Goldfinger after the controversial architect. Number 2 - Goldfinger's family home - is the largest of the three buildings. A stunning spiral staircase exists as the only single structure to interrupt the open, spacious interior created by the concrete frame. Furniture designed by Goldfinger remains inside the house, alongside 20th century art works by Bridget Riley, Marcel Duchamp, Henry Moore and Max Ernst.


Brunel Museum

Museum commemorating the world's first subaqueous tunnel built by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel assisted by his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, Southwark, London, SE16 4LF

Tube: Rotherhithe Overground Station , Canada Water Station


Within the original engine house in Tunnel Road, SE16, this permanent exhibition commemorates the world's first subaqueous tunnel built by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel assisted by his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. As well as commemorating Brunel's first project - the first metro, part of which is still in use as part of the East London Line today - and his last: the first modern ocean liner the Brunel Museum is also an ancient monument and listed building. It contains a restored J & G Rennie compound horizontal V steam pumping engine and events are regularly held in a restored shaft.


18 Stafford Terrace

A virtually untouched and immaculately preserved slice of Victorian living.

18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London, W8 7BH

Tube: High Street Kensington Station


For a virtually untouched and immaculately preserved slice of Victorian living, visit Edward Linley Sambourne a delightful museum and one of the few genuine Victorian townhouses that remains pretty much unchanged. The building, also known as 18 Stafford Terrace, has become something of a little known national treasure. Home to the Victorian cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and his family from 1874 it remarkably survives with almost all of its furniture and fittings intact. When young Sambourne decided to move in with his new wife they opted to furnish their home in the modish aesthetic and artistic style of the period. Stained glass windows, fancy Oriental porcelain, dark patterned wallpaper, rich rugs, grand brass beds and ebonised wardrobes are just some of the Victorian goodies adorning the high-ceilinged rooms of this fascinating property.


Emery Walker's House at 7 Hammersmith Terrace

The best preserved Arts and Crafts interior in the UK.

7 Hammersmith Terrace, London, W6 9TS

Tube: Stamford Brook Station


One of 17 gorgeously preserved Georgian houses overlooking the Thames at the west end of Hammersmith's Upper Mall, 7 Hammersmith Terrace the former home of Emery Walker - the great printer and antiquary - is a fascinating place. Walker was a close colleague and friend of William Morris, who he helped set up the Kelmscott Press. When Emery Walker died in 1933 his daughter maintained the house as it had been in her father's lifetime. The house claims to possess the best-preserved Arts and Crafts interior in the UK. Until recently it was a private home and first opened to the public in 2005. As a result of its fragile nature, the house only receives a few hundred visitors a year with a maximum of eight people allowed per tour. In order to secure tickets sign up on the Emery Walker website.


Leighton House Museum

Opulent museum next to Holland Park with golden mosaics and gilded walls.

12 Holland Park Road, Holland Park, London, W14 8LZ

Tube: Kensington (Olympia) Station


Leighton House is one of the most opulent museums in London, and its small scale makes it easy enough to explore thoroughly in an afternoon. Located on the edge of Holland Park, this opulent 19th-century home of Lord Leighton is decorated with domed ceilings, fountains, and plenty of marble. Golden mosaics, gilded walls, elaborate paintwork, domed ceilings, trickling fountains, cool marble and mosaic tiles make Leighton House worth a visit. Built between 1864 and 1879 on the edge of Holland Park, the home of classical artist Lord Leighton also became home to his extensive collection of Victorian paintings. One of the most stunning features of the house is the Arab Hall which forms the centrepiece to the house. Tiled with over 1,000 vibrant, peacock blue tiles from Iran and Syria by the ceramic artist William De Morgan, these provide an opulent theme that is carried out throughout the house.


Hunterian Museum

Fascinating mix of comparative anatomy and pathology specimens.

35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn, London, WC2A 3PE

Tube: Holborn Station , Chancery Lane Station, Temple Station


The glorious Hunterian Museum within the Royal College of Surgeons, a curious collection of medical specimens, has been based in Lincoln's Inn Fields since 1813. It boasts a host of enlightening, permanent and temporary, galleries and exhibitions. Amassed over four centuries by a cast of colourful characters including John Hunter (1728-1793), it offers a fascinating mix of comparative anatomy and pathology specimens. There are complete skeletons, bones, skulls and teeth, dried preparations, corrosion casts and wax teaching models. Visitors can also examine historical and modern surgical and dental instruments and technologies, as well as paintings, drawings and sculpture. Also within the college, the Wellcome Museums of Anatomy and Pathology are teaching collections, available to qualified practitioners and students of medicine, nursing and related subjects.


Fan Museum

This unique museum houses the world's finest collection of fans including exquisite examples from the 18th and 19th centuries.

12 Crooms Hill, London, SE10 8ER

Tube: New Cross Station (East London line closed. Bus service operates)


This unique museum houses the world's finest collection of fans including exquisite examples from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Fan Museum is housed in a beautifully restored 1721 building which provides a superb and elegant setting for the exhibits. Visitors can also explore the landscaped Japanese-style garden, a spectacular orangery with much-admired mural, and fascinating gift shop. In addition to the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions are arranged approximately every four months.


The Cartoon Museum

London's first museum of British cartoons, caricature and comic art.

63 Wells Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1A 3AE

Tube: Tottenham Court Road Station , Holborn Station


Combining art with humour, The Cartoon Museum is a museum-cum-gallery with a refreshingly vibrant personality. After 13 years on Little Russell Street in Bloomsbury, the museum found a new home in 2019, moving to Wells Street in Fitzrovia. Following a 1 million re-fit, the venue now has two main gallery areas, a Clore Learning Studio and a destination shop. The playful interiors feature cartoony smashed windows, desks with feet, tiger-striped flooring and a stairwell decorated with icons from over a century of cartoon characters. The displays themselves have also been reinvigorated with space for a permanent collection and regularly changing exhibitions displaying works by more than 300 artists. Visitors can see everything from Hogarth prints to Gerald Scarfe's illustrations as well as more than a century's worth of British comics with original artwork from The Dandy, The Beezer, Judy and Watchmen. The place is positively brimming with cartoons, caricatures and comics, guaranteed to keep you sniggering throughout your visit.


Bank of England Museum

Museum within the Bank of England traces the history of the bank from its foundation by Royal Charter in 1694 to its role today as the nation's central bank.

Bartholomew Lane, City, London, EC2R 8AH

Tube: Bank Station , Cannon Street Station, Mansion House Station, Moorgate Station, Monument Station


Sorry, no free samples here but you can get your hands on a real gold bar. Housed within the Bank of England, the Bank of England Museum traces the history of the bank from its foundation by Royal Charter in 1694 to its role today as the nation's central bank. The collections include everything from ancient gold bars to the modern market bar, coins, and a unique collection of banknotes. Visitors can learn all about bank note design and production, and live information on stocks, securities and foreign currency is given at the Dealing Desk. There are also many items you might not expect to find - pikes and muskets used to defend the bank, Roman pottery and mosaics uncovered when it was rebuilt in 1930, and documents relating to famous customers such as Horatio Nelson, George Washington and the Duchess of Marlborough. The entrance to the Museum is in Bartholomew Lane which is off Threadneedle Street.


Garden Museum

The Garden Museum provides an insight into the history and development of gardens and gardening in the UK.

Lambeth Palace Road, South Bank, London, SE1 7LB

Tube: Lambeth North Station


Adjacent to Lambeth Palace on the banks of the River Thames, the Garden Museum provides an insight into the history and development of gardens and gardening in the UK. From May 2017, following a major refurbishment, visitors to the museum can see the collection in The Ark Gallery, a building within a building which creates seven new galleries for the museum's collection - a recreation of the cabinet of curiosities put together by John Tradescants (father and son). Famous for gardening for Charles I, their collection became the core of the Ashmolean Museum. Outside a bronze extension has been created to frame a new garden by Dan Pearson. Another new addition, The Garden Wall is a striking installation made of more than 200 tiles showing treasured gardens. In the reproduction of a 17th century garden, filled with flowers and shrubs of the period and found in St Mary's graveyard, are the tombs of famous 17th century plant hunters, the John Tradescants and Captain William Bligh of the 'Bounty'.


The Foundling Museum

Originally established in 1739 as a hospital which looked after abandoned children.

40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1AZ

Tube: Russell Square Station


The Foundling Museum is one of London's real hidden treasures. Originally established in 1739 as a hospital which looked after abandoned children, the museum now tells their story. Using oral testimony, original artefacts and photographs, their history is explored and compared to the lives of contemporary children. In addition, the museum displays works by the many artists who became governors of the hospital, including William Hogarth and Handel. It's all housed in interiors preserved from the 18th century. There are very few museums in London that offer such a fascinating history. Each month the museum hosts a variety of afternoon concerts in the Picture Gallery which are free with museum admission. Concerts and recitals usually take place at Thursday lunchtimes, one Sunday in the middle of the month and the last Friday of each month.


Charles Dickens Museum

The Charles Dickens Museum is the world's most important collection of material relating to the great Victorian novelist and social commentator.

48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 2LX

Tube: Russell Square Station


Charles Dickens brought London to life with his imaginative depictions of city life and his fascination and passion for the foggy Victorian streets have inspired two centuries of readers. His iconic characters such as Fagin, Scrooge, Guppy, Artful Dodger and Magwitch have seeped into London's historical fabric and his fictional scenes have ingrained themselves in our everyday culture. The Charles Dickens Museum is the world's most important collection of material relating to the great novelist and social commentator. The 48 Doughty Street property is the only surviving London home of Dickens (from 1837 until 1839), author of such classics as 'Oliver Twist', 'A Christmas Carol' and 'David Copperfield'. On four floors, visitors can see paintings, rare editions, manuscripts, original furniture and many items relating to the life of one of the most popular and beloved personalities of the Victorian Age.


London Canal Museum

Housed in a former ice warehouse, this museum tells the story of London's canals.

12-13 New Wharf Road, King's Cross, London, N1 9RT

Tube: King's Cross Station


A trip to the Canal Museum reveals there's more to London's man-made waterways than just enjoying a day out in a narrow boat. You'll learn about the history of the canals which were once an important route for horse drawn commercial traffic in the late 18th and early 19th century. A tour of the museum gives you the chance to see inside a narrow boat cabin, get to know the people who used the canals as well as the horses that pulled the boats, and the cargoes they carried. The museum also tells the related story of London's ice trade - and is housed in a former ice warehouse originally constructed in 1862-3 for Carlo Gatti, a well-known ice cream maker. Today the museum still has a huge commercial Victorian ice well used to store ice imported by ship and canal boat from Norway. With Regent's Canal right outside, a visit the museum makes it easy to imagine just how important these waterways once were.


Geffrye Museum

A quirky museum showcasing the changing style of the English domestic interior.

136 Kingsland Road, Hackney, London, E2 8EA

Tube: Old Street Station


There aren't many museums that can have William Morris and Ikea under the same roof, but the Geffyre is one of them. The focus of this quirky museum is the changing style of English domestic interior, from the 1600s to the present. The museum is set in a series of lovely 18th century almshouses, and is surrounded by gardens. As you walk through the various rooms, you can see how English furniture, paintings and decorative arts have changed through the years. You'll see the progression from elegant Georgian interiors to over-the-top Victorian decor.


Dennis Severs' House

The house at 18 Folgate Street captures 18th century life as experienced by a family of Huguenot silk weavers.

18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London, E1 6BX

Tube: Liverpool Street Station


The brainchild of eccentric designer and performer, Dennis Severs' House at 18 Folgate Street captures, in a series of evocative snapshots, 18th century life as experienced by a family of Huguenot silk weavers. Built in 1724, Severs transformed each individual room within the red-brick Georgian terraced house into evocative tableaux vivants designed to draw the visitor into another world and another all-encompassing experience. Visitors or guests are invited to explore, in total silence - by fire or candlelight - each of the ten rooms. Smells, sounds, and sensations suck visitors deeper into each tableau, enabling them to piece together every scene to produce a living creation. This historic gem deserves to be experienced as the creator intended - in silence and with an open mind.


Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Located within University College London, this is one of the largest and most fascinating collections of Egyptian archaeology anywhere in the world.

Malet Place, University College , Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 6BT

Tube: Euston Square Station , Warren Street Station, Euston Station, Goodge Street Station


The Petrie Museum, located within University College London, is one of the largest and most fascinating collections of Egyptian archaeology anywhere in the world. There are over 80,000 artefacts showing the development of Egyptian culture, technology and daily life from prehistoric to Roman times. The collection includes the world's earliest surviving garment, a dress of around 2800BC, colourful tiles, carvings and frescoes from many important Egyptian and Nubian settlements and burial sites. You'll find the museum which is open to the public on the first floor of the DMS Watson library.


Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

Tucked away in the roof of the old St Thomas Baroque church, the 19th century Old Operating Theatre is the oldest in England.

9a St Thomas Street, Bankside, London, SE1 9RY

Tube: London Bridge Station


Hidden away in the roof space of the old St Thomas Baroque church, this restored 1821 women's operating theatre is the oldest operating theatre in England. The 19th century Old Operating Theatre is located on the original site of St Thomas' Hospital. The theatre - together with the Herb Garrett that also shares roof space - provides a fascinating glimpse into the past using exhibits to tell the story of surgery and herbal medicine. Functioning before antiseptic and anaesthetic surgery was invented, the theatre's ominous collection of sawing, cupping, bleeding, trepanning and childbirth instruments appear more implements of torture than healing. The wooden spectator galleries surrounding the operating bed provide a stark reminder of the audiences who would gather, with morbid fixation, in the "theatre" to observe proceedings. Tours, talks, lectures combined with the location, detail and design of this museum make this place one of intrigue and interest - as well extreme squeamishness.


Florence Nightingale Museum

Museum situated on the site of St. Thomas Hospital, devoted to one of England's best known nurses.

2 Lambeth Palace Road, South Bank, London, SE1 7EW

Tube: Waterloo Station , Lambeth North Station


It is only fitting that the Florence Nightingale Museum is housed inside the St. Thomas hospital - after all, Nightingale helped found the hospital in 1860. The famous nurse first came to fame serving during the Crimean War. Later, she had a prominent role in the training of fellow nurses and turned nursing into a respectable profession for women. She also worked to raise the standards of hospitals and the health care system, and published several books on hygiene. The Florence Nightingale Museum holds 53 of her 200 published works, as well as portraits of her and personal letters written during the Crimean War. There is also a life-size reconstruction of a Crimean ward scene and a 20-minute audio-visual presentation to showcase how she went from a quiet, introverted child to an internationally recognised figure.


London Museum of Water And Steam

Be amazed by the massive historic engines that pumped Thames water to London's taps, and follow in the footsteps of Charles Dickens to explore London's exciting watery past.

Green Dragon Lane, Brentford, London, TW8 0EN

Tube: Gunnersbury Station


Be amazed by the massive historic engines that pumped Thames water to London's taps, and follow in the footsteps of Charles Dickens to explore London's exciting watery past at the London Museum of Steam and Water. Get hands-on to find out more about the gruesome details of the capital's watery past, and water's role in the Victorian battle for public health, in the interactive waterworks area. Here and at the outdoor splash zone you can test your muscle power as you have a go at water-pumping machines from throughout the centuries. The Rotative engines are in steam every weekend along with their Cornish engines on selected weekends. The Waterworks Railway runs every Saturday, Sunday, Bank holidays and selected Fridays in August school holidays.

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