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London has countless museums to explore, covering a wide range of tastes and interest. They range from those commonly found in the typical Top Ten lists, to those that even many locals are not aware of. The following provides a sampling of museums, both well known and obscure.
Mandatory for art buffs are the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery sits on Trafalgar Square and houses a fine collection of European paintings from 1250 onwards. There is no entry fee - but visitors are encourage to donate something if they enjoy their visit. The National Portrait Gallery (head up to Leicester Square and you will find it) contains a collection of portraits of famous British men and women from Henry VII to today's actors and musicians. This is another museum that is free to the public (although special exhibits often attract a fee).
There are two Tate galleries in London. The original Tate Britain houses work from British artists from 16th century to the present day, and hosts the controversial Turner Prize for contemporary art each year (except the 2007/08 Turner Prize exhibition, which will be held at Tate Liverpool from 19 October 2007 – 13 January 2008). The new offspring Tate Modern, has an international collection of Modern Art from 1900 to present day. Both galleries have free admission, but regularly have exhibitions profiling artists or movements, for which you have to pay. The Tate Modern offers great views over the Thames in it's cafe and restaurant.
Victoria and Albert (V&A), Natural History Museum and Science Museum are all close to South Kensington tube stop, and can provide an exhausting day of education. The V&A has over 3000 years worth of artefacts from all over the world, which can all be seen for free. Other seasonal exhibitions dealing with design and history will charge for entry, the museum shop is expensive but offers some unusual gifts. The Science Museum and Natural History Museum are equally fascinating for both children and adults, the Natural History Museum is most popular for its dinosaur exhibits, and the Science Museum for it's impressive collection of vehicles, aircraft and space technology and it has a speical play area for children. Both are free, except for special exhibits and rides.
Visitors to the Imperial War Museum are reminded just how many wars Britain has fought. The museum contains decommissioned tanks and planes, a renowned Holocaust exhibition, documents and artifacts from both World Wars, an espionage exhibition and much, much more. Visit http://london.iwm.org.uk for more information on special exhibits and museum hours.
Just off St. James Park, visitors can catch a glimpse of Winston Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms. Built to withstand German bombs during World War II, this underground warren was constructed to allow Churchill and the Cabinet to continue working in safety throughout the Blitz. "This," Churchill said in 1940, "is the room from which I will direct the war." Made up of the Map Room, the Cabinet Room, Churchill's Room and the Transatlantic Telephone Room, the Cabinet War Rooms were closed down in August 1945 and preserved to offer today's visitors a fascinating snapshot of World War II. For more information, visit http://cwr.iwm.org.uk.
Also, there is an RAF Museum in north London worth visiting.
Museum of London - Taking you through the fascinating story of how London became what it is today. From prehistoric settlements, through invasions, plagues, fires and social upheavals to the present day. Best of all, it's free to get in.
British Museum - one of the most famous museums in the world, you'll find the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles among the collection of breathtaking pieces. Not only is the collection impressive, but the renovated building in which it is held is a work of art itself. Admission is free. Many people come to the British Museum to see the Egyption mummies - for those interested in Egyptian history, consider visiting the Petrie Museum also.
St. Paul's Cathedral - built by Sir Christopher Wren, the original St. Paul's was destroyed by the Great Fire of London. An imposing structure from the outside, the inside offers visitors a chance to get a glimpse of London from the upper galleries. Admission - £10 for adults. Climb the 500+ steps to the top of the dome for an amazing view of London! (Not for the faint of heart....)
The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden is a great places for families. All of the exhibits are interactive and take you through the transportation history of London. Climb in and out of old carriages, buses and tube cards. Collect all 13 "stamps" as you walk through, to keep the kids interested and entertained. Great gift shop. Museum is free for children under 16 years old.
The Geffrye Museum, at Shoreditch, though considerably smaller than most covered here, is very pleasing to adults as well as being a childrens' delight. It is primarily a museum of furniture, although there are numerous other artefacts and pictures. The arrangement is of a series of period rooms. The museum also features a restaurant with a great view towards the interior garden and a souvenir shop with a good selection of books about London and the UK. The admission is free but you are encouraged to donate some money if you enjoy your experience.
Some of the lesser visited or less well known museums include places such as the World Rugby Museum, the British Dental Association Museum, the Brunel Museum, the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Florence Nightingale Museum, and the Twinings Tea Museum.
The main realization in London is that there is always another museum to see.
There are numerous websites that can help the visitor to London sort through the complex range of museum choices. These include:
LondonMuseums.org which is a comprehensive list, including details on National Trust properties and English Heritage sites,
TimeOut's Museum page which allows you to search by date which is excellent for special exhibition information,
Visit London's Museum page which allows you to look at major categories, such as Kid's museums, major museums and speciality.
Official London Pass Attraction List, which details over 60 attractions, landmarks, tours, sights and museums in London.