Home to some of the world’s most renowned museums, London overflows with things to do on vacation. While big-name institutions certainly have their appeal, a trip off the tourist trail means fewer crowds. Include these five hidden gems in your London itinerary to provide insight into London’s quirky, charming, and often curious side.
1. Wallace Collection
With a setting as grand and historical as one of London’s finest townhouses, it would be easy for the setting to upstage the artifacts. Fortunately, the quality and splendor of the Wallace Collection makes it more than capable of holding its own. The museum, opened in 1900, boasts 25 galleries of fine and decorative artworks. The pieces, which range from the 15th to the 19th century, include world-famous masterpieces from Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens, and Velazquez. Visitors more interested in warfare than watercolors will appreciate the museum’s extensive collection of arms and armor. Take advantage of daily special events, including free London tours, art classes, and educational talks.
2. Museum of London
Often upstaged by the more famous British Museum, the Museum of London is dedicated solely to the history of the nation’s capital. Covering the prehistoric era to the present day, informational and interactive displays, along with a wealth of historical artifacts, illustrate what it was like to be a Londoner throughout the ages. Glimpse a limestone sarcophagus, 15th-century altar paintings, and Oliver Cromwell’s death mask. Experience London’s more recent history by wandering model Victorian streets, playing with interactive maps, and viewing the artwork. Take time to appreciate the museum’s location; set on the edge of the oldest part of London, it overlooks the remains of a Roman city wall.
3. Geffrye Museum
A hidden delight exploring an unusual subject matter, the Geffrye Museum provides a history of the middle-class English home from 1600 to the present day. Set in 18th-century almshouses, each room is dedicated to different era and hosts a collection of items such as furniture, photographs, and textiles. Information boards located throughout discuss evolving tastes and the way they reflect the changes in English society. If you’re fortunate enough to enjoy good weather during your London vacation, take a stroll through the museum’s surprisingly tranquil gardens. End your visit with a cup of loose-leaf tea at the onsite cafe.
4. Museum of London Docklands
With information and artifacts spanning from London’s earliest waterways to today’s regeneration of the port, the Museum of London Docklands explores the rich history of the River Thames and the Docklands. Explore a dozen galleries to discover the port’s hugely significant role in British history, covering subjects such as trade, empire expansion, slavery, shipbuilding, crime, and war. Those brave enough can wander the reconstructed streets of Victorian Wapping, known then as Sailor Town and famous for its debauchery and danger. The museum also hosts an interactive play area for kids.
5. Sir John Soane’s Museum
Spread throughout the home of the museum’s namesake, the Sir John Soane Museum remains largely as it did when the famous architect died in 1837. Architecture fans can experiment with unusual and ingenious features of the building and see sketches and models of Soane’s projects. Equally impressive is the wide collection of artwork and historical objects that the architect collected, which include fragments of Roman mosaics, Greek vases, and remains from the Old Palace of Westminster. As only 80 visitors can roam the museum at a time, it is fortunate that this museum does not attract the same hordes as London’s big name attractions. Nonetheless, be prepared to wait in line.
In a city so full of museums and galleries, opting for the most famous attractions can seem like the easiest and simplest option. However use our itinerary planner, and plan a visit to some of London’s less-frequented museums can reveal intriguing treasures even in one of the world’s most-visited cities.
Rosanna Young is a writer, avid traveller, and lifelong Londoner.