I honestly think a huge mistake that London tourists make is to only visit the city’s most popular museums, like the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. Don’t get me wrong, they have some interesting items there (albeit, many stolen, but that’s for another article) but you’re missing out on plenty of unique museums in London that are absolutely worth a visit.
This list covers some of the most interesting and unique museums that you should add to your itinerary.
Prefer to watch instead of read? A few of the museums mentioned below are featured in our YouTube video, showing you a good look inside of each.
BTW… when you see (WA) this means that this museum is fully wheelchair accessible.
1. Handel and Hendrix in London
It’s purely coincidental, but two very famous musicians inhabited two side-by-side properties in Mayfair, also separated by a couple of centuries. Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel’s homes are now museums dedicated to the life and work of both musicians. Hendrix’s flat has been set up to recreate what it actually looked like back in 1968-1969, and you can walk around Handel’s grand home to see what it might have looked like back when he was one of the most famous people in London.
WA, just get in touch with the museum before arrival so they can best accommodate your needs.
£ | Mayfair | Handel and Hendrix’s website
2. The Garden Museum
The Garden Museum is so underrated! Set in the stunning church of St Mary’s at Lambeth, which had been abandoned and was saved by the museum’s founders, it showcases and celebrates British gardens and gardening through permanent and temporary exhibitions. Of course, there’s a beautiful courtyard garden to visit and the museum’s cafe is regarded as one of the best places for breakfast or lunch in the area.
WA, use the Cafe entrance to avoid the gravel.
£ | Lambeth North | Garden Museum’s website
3. Dennis Severs’ House
Located in Spitalfields, Dennis Severs’ House is like a time capsule, taking you through the lives of a Hugenot family of silk-weavers from the 1720’s right up to the beginning of the 20th century. Dennis Severs is the American creator of the house, and his wish was for visitors to feel as if they’re experiencing a “still-life drama” as they take their escorted tour, which is conducted in complete silence. This is truly one of the most unique museums in London.
£ | Spitalfields | Dennis Severs’ House website
4. Fashion and Textile Museum
I always recommend the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey to anyone interested in fashion or design. The unique thing about this museum is that it has one exhibition at a time, which remains for just a few months, and then the museum shuts for a couple of weeks in order to create a completely new one. This means that you can visit multiple times and see completely different displays and learn something new.
£ | Bermondsey | Fashion and Textile Museum’s website
5. Museum of Brands and Packaging
I like this museum because it gives us a unique way to learn about British history and pop culture. Walk through the corridors of the Museum of Brands and Packaging and you’ll see how poignant elements of history impacted consumerism, fashion, packaging and other parts of British life throughout the centuries.
The museum also has a cute little cafe and garden where you can enjoy a post-visit pastry and coffee.
£ | Ladbroke Grove| Museum of Brands and Packaging’s website
6. Leighton House Museum
Leighton House Museum was the home of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton from 1830 to 1896. It’s the only studio-house open to the public and beyond just the incredible beauty of the home, it also houses a large collection of fascinating paintings and sculptures created by both Leighton and his contemporaries such as Burne-Jones, Millais, Stevens, Alma-Tadema and the Cecil French Bequest.
The most unusual-yet-breathtaking feature of the house is the Arab Hall, which is lined with over 1,000 mosaic tiles that Leighton collected on his travels around Syria, Turkey, and Persia.
£ | Kensington | Leighton House’s website
7. Cinema Museum
Charlie Chaplin fan? The Cinema Museum in Kennington is actually housed in the old Lambeth Workhouse where Charlie lived for part of his childhood. As you can expect, this unique museum in London celebrates the art of cinema by housing a collection of artefacts, memorabilia and equipment that preserves the history and grandeur of cinema from the 1890s to the present day.
You can only visit the museum via a guided tour or by attending a screening or event, so be sure to check their website to book yourself in for your visit.
£ | Kennington | Cinema Museum’s website
8. Anaesthesia Heritage Centre
To many, a museum on the history of anaesthesia seems a bit odd, but if you’re in the healthcare profession, this might be of interest to you. Through the museum’s over 4500 objects, you’ll see everything from the first demonstration of ether in 1846 to equipment that’s still used today.
All of the volunteers at the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre are retired Anaesthetists, and if you’d like to do a guided tour with one, you can choose from themes like wartime, chemistry and paediatrics. Be sure to book this in advance!
£ | Fitzrovia | Anaesthesia Heritage Centre’s website
9. Vagina Museum
The founders of the Vagina Museum set it up because there was a penis museum in Iceland but annoyingly, no equivalent for vaginas. So they created one right in London’s Camden, which is very fitting, and absolutely makes it a must for the unique museums in London list.
Visit the Vagina Museum to learn and appreciate the vagina in a way you may never have before. To get the most out of the museum experience, book into one of their “experiences”, which include crochet classes, quizzes, night-time comedy, and more.
WA, although the museum is located on the Stables Market which has a cobbled floor, it may be difficult for some people with mobility needs.
£ | Camden | Vagina Museum’s website
10. London Canal Museum
Canals are big in London. For many Londoners they’re a daily part of life, some live on a canal, and well, plenty of Londoners and tourists alike just love to visit them. At the London Canal Museum, you can learn more about the history of these London staples, the people and animals who have impacted them, and why you might see a lot of painted flowers and castles along them.
The museum itself is housed in a former ice warehouse built around 1862 for Carlo Gatti, the famous ice cream producer. The museum runs monthly evening talks, activities for families, guided towpath walks and guided trips through the Islington Tunnel, so check their website to find something fun to participate in.
£ | Kings Cross | Canal Museum’s website
11. Horniman Museum
The quirky Horniman Museum is a favourite of Londoners. The museum is home to the collections of the well-traveled Frederick John Horniman, a Victorian tea trader and philanthropist who picked up some very unique anthropological gems on his jaunts around the world.
Also unique for a museum is that visitors are encouraged to pick up artefacts and even try them on!
Free | Forest Hill | Horniman Museum’s website
12. London Sewing Machine Museum
Another super-niche option, the Sewing Machine Museum in Tooting Bec is the personal collection of Ray Rushton, a sewing machine salesman who opens up a public viewing once a month, on the first Saturday. It’s relatively unknown and isn’t advertised, so this is absolutely one of the most unique museums in London to go to if you can manage to plan a visit.
The collection houses over 600 sewing machines from many moons ago up until more recent, including one that was given to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter as a wedding gift.
Free | Tooting Bec | London Sewing Machine Museums’s website
13. British Dental Association Museum
Another one for medical nerds! The British Dental Association Museum began back in 1919 when Lilian Lindsay, the first woman to become a qualified dentist in the UK, donated a bunch of her old dental instruments to the association. These days, there are over 30,000 items to check out, including various instruments, equipment, furniture, photographs, and archive items.
Interestingly, the museum also has a unique collection of oil paintings dating back all the way to the 12th century.
Free | Fitzrovia | British Dental Association Museum’s website
14. The Cartoon Museum
For some fun and nostalgia, head to the Cartoon Museum in Fitzrovia. You’ll see ever-changing displays of British cartoons, comic strips and animations, from artists like Gillray, Giles and Steve Bell. The curated collections are put together by the Cartoon Art Trust, a UK registered charity. The museum’s revenues support new work by cartoonists and comic artists, so your ticket price does some good!
£ | Fitzrovia | The Cartoon Museum’s website
15. Pollock’s Toy Museum
The oldest Toy Museum in the UK, Pollock’s Toy Museum in Fitzrovia was started in 1956 by Marguerite & Kenneth Fawdry and is run by the Fawdry family to this day. It’s home to a unique collection of toys, dolls, puppets, and curios from all over the world, arranged in colourful display cases. One of their most notable pieces is “Eric”, one of the world’s oldest teddy bears!
It’s said that David Bowie would visit Pollock’s Toy Museum for some outfit inspiration, and the museum has been featured in some notable written works. The museum almost had to shut due to COVID restrictions but fans of the museum were able to save it due to a successful crowdfunding campaign.
££ | Fitzrovia | Pollock’s Toy Museum’s website
After being closed for so long due to COVID (most are due open around 17th May 2021) these unique museums in London definitely need your support more than ever, so do consider booking a ticket or planning a visit the next time you’re after something interesting to do in London.
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