The Best Small Museums in London | Look Up London

The 20 Best Small Museums in London

London is home to an incredible selection of world-class museums but we’re also spoilt for choice with quirkier, small ones too.

In no particular order, here is my selection of the 20 best small museums in London. How many have you visited?!

1. The Hunterian

Named after the pioneering surgeon, John Hunter this museum isn’t for the squeamish. Set within the Royal College of Surgeons you can expect specimens (human and animal) galore as well as insights into the grave-robbing trade in which Hunter excelled. Fascinating and morbid in equal measure, the new refurbishment makes an already great museum really excellent. You can read my full blog about it here.

The Hunterian Museum – Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. Free but Pre-booking required. Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Holborn WC2A 3PE

2. The Foundling Museum

One of the most moving experiences you can have in a London museum. It tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, an early orphanage established by retired sea captain Thomas Coram. Throughout its history tens of thousands of ‘foundlings’, abandoned by their parents passed through this place. Their story is thoughtfully and compelling told through a combination of informative, gallery spaces and beautiful historic rooms. Read more about it here.

The Foundling Museum – Closed Mondays. Ticketed, Adults £9.50. 40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury WC1N 1AZ

3. Charles Dickens Museum

Along a charming Bloomsbury terraced street, you can visit the only home lived in by Charles Dickens that’s still standing. While living here from 1837 to 1839, he wrote several of his early novels, including Oliver Twist and you can even see his writing desk. They run wonderful temporary exhibitions and decorate the whole house for Christmas! I also narrated a local Bloomsbury audio guide that you can purchase from their website.

Charles Dickens Museum | Best Small London Museums | Look Up London

Charles Dickens Museum – Wednesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. Ticketed, Adults £12.50. 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury WC1N 2LX

4. Sir John Soane Museum

Home to the eminent Neoclassical architect of his day, to enter Sir John Soane’s home is to almost step inside the man’s brain. Every feature of every room is covered with his attention to detail, inspiration and items from his collection. They offer free introduction tours but the paid-for highlight tours are really fantastic and incorporate a dramatic reveal of Hogarth’s A Rakes Progress.

Best Small Museums - Sir John Soane Museum

Sir John Soane Museum – Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Free entry, no need to pre-book.

5. Dennis Severs House

Unlike any other museum on this list (nor in London!) Dennis Severs house is more like an immersive theatre experience. The house was built in 1724 but has been completely reconstructed by the American Severs who then opened it to curious guests from the 1980s. Today its in the care of the Spitalfields Trust and there’s strictly no photography on the silent self-guided tours. It’s surreal and utterly atmospheric.

Dennis Severs House | The Best Small Museums in London | Look Up London

Dennis Severs House – Saturday and Sunday. Ticketed, from £15 with different tour options.

6. 575 Wandsworth Road

A true hidden gem, along this busy street you would never guess that a National Trust property was behind the front door at 575 Wandsworth Road. In 1981 the poet, novelist and civil servant Khadambi Alsache moved in and over the next 19 years he covered almost every surface with hand-carved artworks created from reclaimed wood. You’re not allowed to take photographs but here is one from the National Trust website so give you an idea.

© National Trust / David Clarke

575 Wandsworth Road – Thursdays and Fridays. Ticketed, adults £11. 575 Wandsworth Road, SW8 3JD. Tickets are released each month and sell out quickly as there’s only six spaces per slot.

7. Dr Johnson’s House

The home of Dr Samuel Johnson, famous 18th century writer and author of the famous English Dictionary. Grade I listed, this is the only surviving original home on Gough Square, built in the late 17th century with some fabulous original features.

Dr Johnson's House | The Best Small Museums in London | Look Up London

Dr Johnson’s House – Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 11am-5pm. Ticketed, adults £11. 17 Gough Square, City of London EC4A 3DE

8. St Bartholomew Hospital Museum

Not to be confused with their pathology museum, the St Bartholomew Hospital Museum tells the story of London oldest surviving hospital, founded in 1123. Even if you’re not interested in medical history it’s worth visiting for the stunning Hogarth Staircase, painted by William Hogarth in the 1730s

Hidden Gems of West Smithfield

St Bartholomew Hospital Museum – Tuesday-Friday, 10am-4pm. Free, no pre-booking required. *As part of restoration works they are closing from 1 September 2023 until late 2024*. Giltspur Street West Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE

9. Crossness Pumping Station

I mean really, who doesn’t want to visit a sewage pumping station?!

If you’re on the fence you might be persuaded when you see inside. Built in the 1860s, it’s a true masterpiece of Victorian engineering and while it doesn’t have guided tours, the volunteers at open days can answer any questions.

Crossness Pumping Station

Crossness Pumping Station – Sporadic open days (see website). Ticketed, adults from £12. Bazalgette Way, Abbey Wood, London SE2 9AQ

10. Old Operating Theatre Museum

If anything will make you thankful for modern medicine, clambering up the vertiginous staircase to see an authentic 19th century operating theatre might just be it. Set within the attic of St Thomas’s Church its the oldest surviving surgical theatre in Europe and the surrounding cabinets of torture equipment surgical instruments can almost put you off a Borough market lunch around the corner.

Old Operating Theatre Museum

Old Operating Theatre Museum – Thursday-Sunday, 10.30am- 5pm. Ticketed, adults £7.50. St Thomas’ Church, 9a St Thomas Street, London Bridge SE1 9RY

11. Leighton House

Home and studio to the Victorian artist Lord Frederick Leighton, the newly refurbished museum can probably lay claim to the most jaw-dropping interior in London. I wrote a more detailed blog when it reopened which you can read here.

Leighton House Arab Hall | Look Up London

Leighton House Museum – Wednesdays to Mondays, 10am -5:30pm. Ticketed, Adults £11. 12 Holland Park Road, London W14 8LZ

12. Bow Street Police Museum

Telling the story of policing London from its earliest beginning in the 18th century, the museum us also set within the actual former Bow Street Police Station within objects from the adjacent Bow Street Magistrates Court. I filmed a YouTube video all about it when it first opened which you might enjoy here.

Bow Street Police Museum | The Best Small Museums in London | Look Up London

Bow Street Police Museum – Friday-Sunday, 11.30am-4.30pm. Ticketed, Adults £6. 28 Bow Street, Covent Garden WC2E 7AW

13. London Mithraeum

Under the Bloomberg HQ in the City, descend a few metres underground and you can sit within a Roman Temple, built in the 3rd century AD. There’s an immersive installation to transport you back in time but the highlight for me are the archeological Roman finds on display on the first floor. You can read my blog here.

Roman Temple

London Mithraeum – Closed Mondays and various timings on other days. Free, no pre-booking required. 12 Walbrook, City of London, EC4N 8AA

14. The Charterhouse

A Medieval gem right in the heart of the city (and a favourite stop on my Smithfield walk!) Charterhouse dates back to the 14th century and was built on the site of a plague pit. It became a respected monastery then a Tudor home and later a school and almshouse, both of which survive today! Tours of its buildings and gardens are both excellent but you can visit the museum and chapel for free.

Charterhouse

The Charterhouse – Tuesday-Saturday, 10.30am-4.30pm. Ticketed for tours, Adults £15.  Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AN.

15. Two Temple Place

Not strictly a museum, this Victorian mansion was built for William Waldorf Astor with no expense spared in the 1890s. In regular use for events and filming, the public get the chance to visit when they host exhibitions on a range of subjects and can book a tour at other times.

Ceiling Two Temple Place

Two Temple Place – Various timings. Ticketed for tours, Adults £10. 2 Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD

16. Turner’s House

The home of JMW Turner, child prodigy and one of the greatest British painters of all time. Turner bought this – his third – home in 1813 as a rural retreat and it tells the story of his successful career and private life. You can read more on my blog here.

Turner's House

Turner’s House – Wednesday-Sunday, 12pm-4pm, Ticketed, Adults, £8. 40 Sandycoombe Road, Twickenham TW1 2LR

17. Strawberry Hill House

As extravagant as the man who built it, Strawberry Hill House is so bonkers that it coined its own architectural term for outrageous Neo-Gothic design. Completed in 1790, it was home to Sir Horace Walpole, son of Britain’s first Prime Minister Robert Walpole. You can read more about it here.

The Gallery, Strawberry Hill House | Look Up London

Strawberry Hill House – Sunday-Wednesday, 11am-4pm, Ticketed, Adults £14.50 268 Waldegrave Rd, Twickenham TW1 4ST

18. Handel Hendrix

Newly reopened after an extension refurbishment, this museum tells the story of two musicians; George Frederick Handel and Jimi Hendrix who were next door neighbours 200 years apart.

Handel Hendrix | The Best Small Museums in London | Look Up London

Handel Hendrix – Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Ticketed, Adults £14. 25 Brook Street, Mayfair W1K 4HB

19. Sambourne House

If you fancy stepping inside a Victorian time capsule, this museum in Kensington is the place. The family home of Linley Sambourne, the illustrator who took great pride in creating a most fashionable London townhouse. I’ve written all about my visit in the blog post here.

Sambourne House | A Victorian Time Capsule

Sambourne House – Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5:30pm. Ticketed, adults £11. 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, W8 7BH

20. Bethlem Museum of the Mind

The history of Bedlam – the mental asylum so notorious its nickname means chaos – seems a grim topic for a museum. Thankfully, the Museum of the Mind has been curated with sensitivity and care. From its origins as a monastic organisation by Liverpool Street Station, to Southwark and now Beckenham the hospital is now part of the NHS and still treats patient’s mental health. You can read my blog here.

Mental Health Awareness Week Visiting Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Museum of the Mind – Wednesday-Saturday, 9.30am-5pm. Free, no booking required. Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, Kent BR3 3BX

Phew!

Well I hope this list gives you an excellent startin point for exploring London’s best small museums. Of course there’s plenty more to discover. Let me know in the comments if I missed your favourite and whether you’ve visited any of these!

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8 Comments

  • Hunterian Museum – got to be the creepiest museum ever, when you find out how Dr. Hunter acquired many of his specimens …

    June 7, 2023 at 7:59 am
  • Anne Chatterton

    Reply

    Dear Katie, I really enjoy all the info you provide. Thank you for your recent post about the Denis Severs house and exhibition. After many failed attempts over the years, I visited last week and it didn’t disappoint. It’s an amazing theatrical experience.
    You probably know it but can I put in a word for Marble Hill House on the Thames near Richmond? It’s a wonderfully restored rare Georgian house built by a woman.
    Thanks again.

    June 7, 2023 at 9:42 am
  • Pamela Riedel

    Reply

    I’ve ventured to the Charle’s Dickens House and Museum and definitely plan another visit, perhaps during the Christmas season!
    The listing of twenty is intriguing;!

    June 7, 2023 at 11:02 am
  • David Strong

    Reply

    Hi Katie,
    Visited a few of these, but there’s also some on here I’m keen to add yo my list.
    The Library and Museum at Freemasons Hall, accompanied by a tour of the Grand Temple would be high on my list, but then I am biased :-)

    June 7, 2023 at 11:49 am
  • Katie MacAuslan

    Reply

    Hi Katie – just as well we are retired! We have already visited almost half of your list but you provide plenty more to keep us occupied and enriched. Two additions to your list: Museum of the Order of St. John in Clerkenwell and Dorich House on Kingston Hill.

    June 7, 2023 at 1:12 pm
  • Jason Nathan

    Reply

    Hey Katie –

    If you haven’t been here, cannot recommend it enough:

    https://www.jencksfoundation.org/cosmic-house

    Jason (from the Clerkenwell b’day walk)

    June 8, 2023 at 3:50 pm
  • Peek Frean Museum

    Reply

    The Peek Frean Museum is a fascinating archive of all things Peek Freans biscuits based at their famous old factory in Bermondsey.

    Entry is by appointment but is free! Simply email us at Peekfreanmuseum@hotmail.com with a few dates you can make it & we’ll agree a mutually convenient date/time for you to pop along

    June 14, 2023 at 5:22 pm

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