Offbeat London Museums
Looking for a new muse? Check out the best offbeat London museums to seek some inspiration and escape the London crowds.
Whether you’re looking for a place to entertain the kids, an emergency shelter on a rainy day or just feeling the urge to be a bit cultured, these offbeat London museums have got you covered.
Sat on the edge of Regents Canal lies the Ragged School Museum, one of the East End’s best hidden gems. Originally opened as a school in 1877, Dr Barnardo aimed to provide children in Mile End with basic education; the school closed in 1908 when government local authorities began to provide schools for East End children. Since 1990 the building has been turned into an immersive museum which allows visitors to engage in Victorian school life and understand the wider picture of London during the Victorian age. The museum is free to all and open Wednesdays and Thursdays 12pm – 5pm and the first Sunday of each month.
Opened in 2004 as the British Postal Museum, this museum allows visitors to take a glimpse into London’s first social network. The postal system was established over 500 years ago when Henry VIII tasked Sir Brian Tuke with establishing a postal network to serve his court. The postal system has been a fundamental aspect of British society. Having undergone refurbishment in 2011, The Postal Museum has become one of London’s finest museums fit with a driverless underground mail rail which visitors can experience for themselves. Adult tickets for the exhibitions and a ride in the Mail Rail are £17.05 (including a £6.25 voluntary donation).
Originally established as the historic home and library of 19th century architect Sir John Soane. This museum allows visitors to take a glimpse into the life and mind of one of the 19th centuries most influential individuals. In keeping with Soane’s request, the museum has been left untouched, in its original state for over 180 years since his death for the general public to see. Head down to Holborn and marvel at one of London’s only examples of the original ‘cabinet of curiosity’ museums all for free!
Adjacent to the flagship Twinings store on the Strand, the oldest tea shop in London, stands the tiny unsung Twinings Museum. On these exact premises in 1706, the Twining company was founded by R. Twining. Stroll on down the Strand to exhibit the oldest shop in the City of Westminster. Here you can unearth the story of one of the UK’s longest standing products. Why not also let loose and treat yourself at the loose tea bar as a post museum treat.
Situated on the edge of Notting Hill’s Portobello Road is the Museum of Brand – a historical capsule of consumer culture which stems from the Victorian age right up to the present day. The museum’s permanent and temporary exhibits examine how brands and advertising have shaped society. The museum illuminates the ways in which the public and the changing faces of society have affected branding and marketing. Open Monday – Saturday from 10am – 5pm and open Sundays and Bank Holidays from 11am – 5pm, guests can enter the museum for £9.
In 1739 philanthropist Thomas Corma founded the London Foundling Hospital to offer several impoverished and abandoned children in London a stable upbringing. The Foundling Hospital just off of Russell Square uncovers the stories behind the establishment of the hospital, tells the stories of those children who lived there and also examines 21st century views of the child.
The museum collections include iconic 18th century artworks by Hogarth, Emma Brownlow and Joshua Reynolds as well as several of Handel’s possessions and musical works. The nature of a parent giving a child to the Foundling museum meant offering the child a token; with many women only having the clothes on their body, the Foundling Museum now has the largest collection of 18th and 19th century fabrics. Adults can enter the museum for £11 (£10 without a donation) from Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm and Sundays 11am – 5pm.
Home to Greenwich meantime, London’s planetarium and the Prime Meridian of the World, the Royal Observatory is a museum which does not get enough attention. Sat at the top of one of London’s finest free views, this museum looks over the quaint district of maritime Greenwich. Come and explore the ways in which this building has contributed to the fascinating stories of astronomy and navigation. Open Monday – Sunday 10pm – 5pm with an adult entry of £13.50, this museum needs to be on everyone’s to do list.
Tucked away up in Forest Hill, the Horniman Museum and Gardens is one of London’s finest unsung museums. As a museum predominantly housing artefacts and stories relating to anthropology, natural history and musical instruments, this museum hosts an abundance of fascinating stories. With a new aquarium, a farmer’s market every saturday a musical gallery and a butterfly house, this destination is fit and fun for the whole family. Free to enter from Monday through to Sunday with not a single computer touch screen in sight, immerse yourselves in all the museum has to offer!
This south London museum holds a vast collection of archives, art and historic objects which showcase the story of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the history of mental health care and treatment. Originally opened in 1247, the hospital was the first institution in the UK to specialise in mental illness. Uncover this fascinating story in this beautiful art deco building from Wednesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm.
Located in the south London district of Bermondsey lies the Fashion and Textile museum which showcases a display of contemporary London fashion. Founded by iconic British designer Zandra Rhodes, the exhibitions showcase the stories of contemporary fashion through photography, textiles and garments. The creativity ceases to stop there: why not try one of the various craft workshops which the museum hosts, ranging from tie dye, decorative collage and silk painting. Adults can enter in for £9.90 on Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm and on Sundays from 11am – 5pm.
Did I miss any London museums?
Lara Mills – I am a contributor for To Do List. My favourite features of offbeat London centre around cheap eating, hidden drinking destinations, photographer hotspots, city views, quiet places to work as well as the latest pop ups and exhibitions.