From ancient history to modern art, explore the city with our list of the 50 best museums and galleries in London.
No visit to London is complete without checking out its fantastic selection of museums and galleries. Here are 50 of the best (in no particular order), from big hitters to quirkier specialist museums. You'll see there's one to suit every interest and many of them are free to visit – take your pick, then use the London attractions map to work out how to get there and which one to visit next.
Step into the world-famous British Museum and revel in its amazing collection of rare and historic artifacts from around the world. Highlights include the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies.
2. Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)
Be dazzled by the eclectic art and design on offer at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Its vast collections include everything from ceramics and fashion to wallpapers and jewellery, spanning 5,000 years.
3. Imperial War Museum London
Discover the realities of modern wartime history at IWM London, from the First World War to the present day. Its permanent displays include Curiosities of War, The Holocaust Exhibition and the First World War Galleries.
4. Natural History Museum
Explore our planet's living wonders at the Natural History Museum. Inside the striking building, favourites include the Dinosaurs gallery, the blue whale model and the state-of-the-art Darwin Centre, where you can see hundreds of specimens as well as scientists at work.
5. Science Museum
Get hands-on at the Science Museum's interactive galleries and simulators. Trace the journey of scientific breakthroughs, then visit the in-house IMAX 3D cinema and take a trip deep underwater or zoom high up into space.
6. Museum of London
Uncover the fascinating history of the capital at the Museum of London. Explore the life of the city from prehistoric times, through Roman and Medieval rule, plague and fire, to Victorian London and the present day global city.
7. Tate Modern
Don't miss Tate Modern, the iconic power-station-turned-art-gallery, which houses modern and contemporary art from round the world. See the latest installation in the massive Turbine Hall and admire works by Picasso, Bourgeois, Warhol, Rothko and more.
8. National Gallery
See masterful works by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Turner, Renoir and Van Gogh, just some of the artists showcased at the National Gallery. With more than 2,000 paintings from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, the place is a veritable treasure trove.
9. Royal Academy of Arts
Visit the Royal Academy of Arts, the oldest fine arts institution in Britain, founded in 1768. As well as giving a public platform to artists through the annual Summer Exhibition, it hosts a world-class programme of international exhibitions.
10. Tate Britain
Take a tour of the best in British art at Tate Britain, sister gallery to Tate Modern. Discover masterpieces from 1500 to the present day, by the likes of Hockney, Bacon, Turner, Riley, Lowry and Moore.
11. Museum of London Docklands
The Museum of London Docklands houses all manner of objects charting London’s history as a port. Exhibits found within this 200-year-old warehouse include Sailortown, recreating what life was like in 19th-century London; and London, Sugar & Slavery, about the capital’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.
12. Cutty Sark
Take the ship's wheel, meet the crew and explore beneath the hull of Cutty Sark, the world's oldest surviving tea clipper. You'll uncover plenty of seafaring shenanigans and discover how the ship became the fastest of its kind during your time on board this Greenwich attraction.
13. National Portrait Gallery
Stand face to face with kings, queens and modern-day celebrities at the National Portrait Gallery, home to the world’s largest collection of portraits. Works include the Chandos portrait, the most famous painting of William Shakespeare; a sketch of Jane Austen by her sister; and a painting of the Brontë sisters by their brother.
14. Wellcome Collection
Explore what it means to be human through science, medicine and psychology at the Wellcome Collection. Highlights include Darwin’s walking stick and Napoleon’s toothbrush. Look out for the schedule of thought-provoking talks and temporary exhibitions too.
15. Household Cavalry Museum
Located right at Horse Guards, the Household Cavalry Museum celebrates the history and people of this renowned regiment, founded in 1661. Take a closer look at sharp uniforms, see troopers preparing their horses, and try on helmets and pieces of armour.
16. V&A Museum of Childhood
Take a nostalgic trip back to your youth at the V&A Museum of Childhood and see how kids lived and played in years gone by. The museum has a delightful collection of childhood objects dating back to the 1600s, including retro toys, antique games and dainty dolls.
17. National Maritime Museum
Chart Britain’s rich naval history at the National Maritime Museum, from sea battles to voyages into the unknown. Among the museum's free galleries, you can explore Polar Worlds, go on Pacific Encounters, see Turner's Battle of Trafalgar Gallery, and find unique exhibits such as the uniform Nelson was wearing at the Battle of Trafalgar.
18. British Library
See literary treasures, from Magna Carta to Shakespeare's First Folio and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, in a permanent, free exhibition at the British Library. The UK’s national library also has a programme of world-class temporary exhibitions.
19. London Transport Museum
Discover how public transport played a part in the development of London with a visit to the London Transport Museum. See the original artwork for Harry Beck’s Underground map, the world’s first Underground steam engine, old London Routemaster buses and more.
20. Barbican Art Gallery
Located within the Barbican performing arts centre, the Barbican Art Gallery showcases photography, fine art and design in a rolling programme of exhibitions. While you’re there, don't forget to check out The Curve, a free exhibition space.
21. Design Museum
Experience the world of contemporary design at the sleek, modern Design Museum. Its exhibitions feature fashion, graphics, architecture and more, while its line-up of talks and events complements the stunning visual displays.
22. Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
Go behind the scenes at Wimbledon, the home of tennis in the UK. Take a tour of the famous grounds and learn about the players who found fame there. Sports fans should also check out London’s other sports museums.
23. Grant Museum of Zoology
Explore fascinating and unusual specimens at the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London. The quirky museum has around 68,000 specimens, from a bizarre jar of moles to an extremely rare skeleton of the extinct South African zebra, the quagga.
24. Charles Dickens Museum
See the building where the great writer himself lived from 1837 to 1839. The Charles Dickens Museum spotlights the real life of a man best known for his fiction. Carefully restored rooms showcase the museum’s collection of letters, pictures and books, as well as temporary exhibitions.
25. Royal Observatory Greenwich
Marvel at space and time with Royal Observatory Greenwich's many attractions. Must-dos include straddling the Meridian Line, seeing a planetarium show and learning how a self-taught clockmaker made waves by solving the problem of longitude at sea.
26. Jewish Museum
Discover London’s rich Jewish culture, heritage and identity at the Camden-based Jewish Museum. Temporary exhibitions sit alongside permanent galleries on the Holocaust, Jewish ceremonial art and the history of Jewish life in Britain.
27. Foundling Museum
Witness the touching story of the Foundling Hospital, the first home for abandoned babies in London, at the Foundling Museum. Alongside the children's scant belongings are tokens left by their mothers, plus artworks by the likes of Hogarth and Reynolds.
28. The Wallace Collection
Enjoy the delights of the Wallace Collection, a historic London townhouse whose 28 elaborate rooms are decorated with outstanding art. Visit the armories, see paintings by Titian, Hals and Velázquez, and admire 18th-century French treasures – some once owned by Queen Marie-Antoinette.
29. Freud Museum
Step into Sigmund Freud's study and see his famous couch at the Freud Museum, located in the former home of the famous psychoanalyst. Discover his journey from Nazi-occupied Vienna to London, and muse on the inner workings of the mind.
30. Sir John Soane's Museum
Explore Sir John Soane's Museum, the architect of the Bank of England's former home. The house, untouched for almost 180 years, contains some 30,000 architectural drawings, as well as antiquities, artworks by Hogarth and Turner, and the sarcophagus of King Seti I.
31. London Canal Museum
Step back in time to the days when London’s canals were bustling with traders, boat dwellers and cargo – and its streets full of the clip-clop of horses pulling the boats and carts. Located in a former ice warehouse, the London Canal Museum even has a preserved ice well inside.
32. Fashion and Textile Museum
A pioneering centre of contemporary fashion, textiles and jewellery, the Fashion and Textile Museum was founded by colourful British design legend Zandra Rhodes. As well as permanent and temporary exhibitions, it runs courses for creatives.
33. Garden Museum
Take a tranquil moment at the riverside Garden Museum to celebrate British gardens and gardening. Explore its temporary exhibitions before venturing into the garden to see the words and pictures come to life.
34. Royal Air Force Museum
Fly back in time and discover the history of aviation at the Royal Air Force Museum. Learn about the earliest balloon flight, see the impressive collection of more than 100 aircraft and test your pilot skills in a 4D flying experience.
35. Horniman Museum and Gardens
Spend a day at south London's popular Horniman Museum and Gardens, a favourite with children and fans of natural history and anthropology. Visit the famous stuffed walrus, see the aquarium, play in the park and enjoy events for all the family.
36. Guildhall Art Gallery
Not only is the Guildhall Art Gallery a treasure trove of paintings spanning five centuries, but it also has a secret. During its renovation in 1985, developers discovered an underground Roman amphitheatre, where gladiators and wild animals once prowled and which you can now visit.
37. Museum of Brands
Revisit your childhood through the packaging and adverts of decades gone by. The Museum of Brands has more than 12,000 items, dating back as far as Victorian times, including sweets, household products and more.
38. Sherlock Holmes Museum
Venture into the home of the famous fictional detective at the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street. Inside his apartment, life-size waxworks recreate breakthrough moments in the place where he solved many of his baffling cases.
39. Hayward Gallery
The brutalist-style Hayward Gallery is known for showcasing the work of innovative and experimental artists from around the world. It also brings art into the open by placing installations outdoors or in other corners of the Southbank Centre.
40. Fan Museum
As any enthusiasts of period dramas know, fans have all kinds of uses, from cooling to gossiping. Discover more about their history and see stunning examples from the 18th and 19th centuries inside the beautiful environs of the Fan Museum in Greenwich.
41. Dulwich Picture Gallery
See one of the country’s most superb collections of Old Masters at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in picturesque Dulwich Park. Look out for pieces by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Canaletto, then enjoy a meal in the cafe.
42. Saatchi Gallery
Discover new artists from around the globe at the Saatchi Gallery. This influential contemporary gallery in Chelsea, founded by art collector Charles Saatchi, is best known as a springboard for new talent.
43. The Postal Museum
Encounter the exciting history of Royal Mail and the postal service at the Postal Museum. For an extra thrill, take a ride on the Mail Rail, the subterranean train that ran from Whitechapel to Paddington and kept London’s communications flowing for more than 75 years.
44. White Cube Bermondsey
See the latest works from world-famous artists at White Cube Bermondsey. It was founded by Jay Jopling, the trendsetting gallerist who represents Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum and Damien Hirst among others. The space at London Bridge is complemented by its sister gallery, White Cube Mason's Yard in St James's.
45. Whitechapel Art Gallery
Experience a real artists' hub at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which houses historical archives, art courses, a bookshop and a cafe. The east London gallery has long championed modern and contemporary artists, from Kahlo and Picasso to Pollock and Rothko.
46. The Photographers' Gallery
Explore the latest in contemporary photography through the lens of The Photographers' Gallery. Britain's leading centre features work from new and established photographers, a shop selling prints, plus talks and events.
47. Keats House
Delve into the world of English Romantic poet John Keats at Keats House, the Grade I-listed building and garden where he once lived. The museum features paintings, prints and other objects belonging to him and his peers.
48. Clink Prison Museum
Serve your time at the Clink Prison Museum, a recreated medieval prison located on the site of the original Clink. Discover the history of the gaol and its rowdy neighbourhood, and find out what it was like to be an inmate at one of England’s most notorious prisons.
49. National Army Museum
Find out about the history of the armed forces at the National Army Museum. Relive the heritage of the army from the English Civil War to the modern day, through a showcase of thousands of historical objects.
50. South London Gallery
The cutting-edge South London Gallery in Peckham is known for highlighting up-and-coming talent – the likes of Gilbert and George and Tracey Emin have been spotlighted here. The gallery also runs family workshops and artist-led events.