The 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.

During the current global pandemic many of these small museums are struggling to survive. I’ve chosen a few of the most wonderful places that I’ve personally visited and that you should definitely add to your to-do list!

I’ve tried to share some different ways that you can still enjoy these brilliant spaces remotely and I’ve also included the ways you can support them if you’re able to.

1. The Foundling Museum, Bloomsbury

The Foundling Museum tells the story of the UK’s first Foundling Hospital, an orphanage established in 1739 as a way of dealing with the rising numbers of abandoned babies. Their display of memorabilia is emotional without being too sentimental, telling the story of an overlooked part of London’s history.

You can read more about my visit to the Foundling Museum here, as well as an interesting public art display in nearby Marchmont Street here.

Best Small London Museums - Foundling Museum

As well as preserved historic interiors it has a surprising collection of contemporary art and outside on the railings there’s a moving Tracy Emin sculpture, a tiny bronze glove that looks like it’s been left behind.

Best Small London Museums - Foundling Museum

During lock down they have an interesting list of available talks, podcasts and documentary you can enjoy. If you’d like to support their work they run a membership programme and accept donations, more information here.

2. Charles Dickens Museum

At the Dickens Museum you can experience the Victorian family home where Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers.

The Other Dickens: Discovering Catherine

48 Doughty Street is the author’s only surviving home, but alongside its evocative spaces the museum runs a great selection of temporary exhibitions. However, while in lockdown you can explore their YouTube channel and blog which delve deeper into some of their fabulous collection.

They explain the different ways you can support them in the meantime here.

3. Leighton House, Kensington

The best example of art simply for ‘art’s sake’ Lord Leighton created his home in the 1860s as a symbol of his success. The highlight is the Arab Hall, it’s simply one of the best interiors in all of London.

Leighton House Arab Hall

Happily there’s a website here where you can explore all the beautiful rooms in panoramic style, whetting your appetite for your next visit! You can also read my blog post from when I visited back in 2017 here.

4. The Charterhouse

Practically bursting with history is The Charterhouse. Though it only reopened to the public in 2019, it has a history dating back 700 years with plenty of twists and – frankly, gruesome – turns.

Charterhouse

You can read more about The Charterhouse and its epic story in the blog post here and there are different ways to support their museum, including pre-purchasing your entry tickets for a tour here.

I also featured it during the first part of my Smithfield virtual London walking tour. You can watch the video below and the relevant section starts around 3 min 20 seconds in.

5. Crossness Pumping Station

Alongside Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Crossness is one of two London ‘cathedrals’ to sewage. The Victorians loved fusing engineering with OTT decoration and these survivors are truly eye-opening places to visit.

Crossness Pumping Station

Crossness is brilliant because unlike Abbey Mills it is usually open to the public on select open days. Needless to say, these aren’t happening right now, however you can see and hear more about Crossness Pumping Station from a previous visit here.

Without visitors they are struggling to support themselves and so are accepting donations via their website here.

6. Sir John Soane’s Museum

Imagine a house owned by an avid – but slightly mad – art collector, hell-bent on cramming everything physically possible on the walls. Then you get an idea of John Soane’s home.

Best Small Museums - Sir John Soane Museum

Owned by the architect John Soane and still laid out like a house. To add even more atmosphere they also host candlelight evening tours which are pretty special.

Best Small Museums - Sir John Soane Museum

If you haven’t managed to visit before, or it was a while since you did, they have just launched an incredible 3D scan of the highlight rooms and so you really get a sense of swooping inside this gem of a building. Experience it here.

7. The Old Operating Theatre

Not for the faint-hearted, the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London Bridge is full of morbid medical fun. The highlights are live Victorian medical demonstrations but the whole museum is wonderfully eclectic and atmospheric.

If you haven’t visited (or fancy another trip) you can book and e-ticket for a future date here to help support them.

Old Operating Theatre Museum

I visited when it reopened in 2017 and you can explore inside here. They’re also just recently launched a series of short audio history snippets on YouTube.

8. Dennis Severs’ House, Spitalfields

Tucked off busy Bishopsgate is Norton Folgate, an enclave of forgotten 18th Century London. A cross between an art installation and an immersive theatre show. There’s no phones or any talking allowed but this adds to the suspense. As you walk through a series of rooms, you feel as though the historic occupants have just left their seats.

Dennis Severs House

A unique experience in London, Dennis Severs is definitely somewhere to visit if you enjoy London’s history and at the moment they’re selling gift vouchers to help them continue after lockdown.

You can read about my visit to this haunting London peculiar here and I also found a fabulous (if dated!) YouTube documentary with Dennis Severs himself…

Got any others to recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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1 Comment

  • Horst Hasenstrauch

    Reply

    Great tour Katie, get’s one “out of the house”, I enjoyed every minute of it.
    Keep it going, please, Horst

    April 29, 2020 at 10:48 am

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