London’s most unusual museums


By Simon Coppock for British Airways High Life magazine

Photography courtesy of V&A Museum of Childhood

Skip to Navigation

May 2016

London is home to lots of museums, from the famous to the fascinating. Here are five curious and quirky options to try out on your next visit to the capital.

1. The Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Horniman Museum and Gardens could be talked of in the same breath as London's major museums, given the breadth and fascination of its exhibits. There's a hall of historic, global musical instruments with push buttons that enable you to hear what they sound like, a fine basement aquarium and plenty of other ecological exhibits, and lots of Victorian taxidermy – not least the collection's celebrated walrus, mistakenly overstuffed in a misguided attempt to smooth out the wrinkles.

When and where? Open daily, 10:30-17:30; 100 London Road, SE23 3PQ (horniman.ac.uk)

2. V&A Museum of Childhood

Each glass case at the Museum of Childhood is crammed with toys and games, some that feel remote in time – tin soldiers from disbanded regiments, intricate train sets and blank-eyed Victorian dolls in ghostly white dresses – and some that are bang up to date. Much of the fun is for the never quite grown-ups: seeing early video games and the first generation of Star Wars figures, for example, can't help but evoke 1970s playtimes. The perfect counterpart to the grand halls of rarified sculpture and textiles at the museum's South Kensington parent.

When and where? Open daily, 10:00-17.30; Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA (vam.ac.uk/moc)

3. Museum of Brands

The Time Tunnel, centrepiece of the relocated – and expanded – Museum of Brands, is a uniquely nostalgic walk through everyday ephemera dating back to the start of the Industrial Revolution. This extraordinary selection of packages, ads and inventions is a mix of the eminently collectable and what we'd normally call rubbish. So alongside one of the earliest vacuum cleaners – basically an oversized accordion with hose attachment – and an extremely rare Crimean War boardgame are fag packets, tin cans, cereal boxes and washing-up liquid bottles, a fascinating social history curated from the trifles we all throw away.

When and where? Open Tuesday to Saturday 10:00-18:00, and Sundays 11:00-17:00; 111-117 Lancaster Road, W11 1QT (museumofbrands.com)

  • Blast from the past: the V&A Museum of Childhood

    Toy story

    Discover the UK’s finest collection of childhood-related objects at the V&A Museum of Childhood. Be sure to stop by the ‘Must Have Toys’ exhibition and revisit the nation’s favourite childhood toys of the 20th century decade by decade.

    Book a trip to London
  • Museum of Brands is a treasure trove of retro design

    Decades of design

    Featuring over 12,000 original items from posters to packaging, fads to fashion and everything in-between, you’ll be taken on a journey through the evolution of some well-loved brands and consumer culture at the Museum of Brands.

    Book flights to London
  • Take in spectacular views of the London skyline from the gardens of the Horniman Museum and Gardens

4. Grant Museum of Zoology

Imagine an eccentric Victorian museum and that’s the Grant: every corner stuffed with skeletons of beasts and birds, extinct and otherwise. Having moved into an atmospheric former library a few years back, the collection has a now rather famous jar full of moles, the very rare skeleton of a quagga (a kind of zebra) and innumerable birds, amphibians and mammals. There are incredibly detailed glass models of anemones and even a neat side room walled with beautiful microscope slides.

When and where? Open Monday to Saturday, 13:00-17:00; Rockefeller Building, University College London, 21 University Street, WC1E 6DE (ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology)

5. Sir John Soane's Museum

This enchanting house, left to the nation intact by its 18th-century architect-collector-owner, is no longer a London secret: expect to queue a little to get in. But it is fabulous. Soane remodelled the place, creating neat lighting effects you might not initially notice to display his incredible collection of artefacts, not least the alabaster sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I that’s in the basement alongside quarters for Soane's pretend monk. Look out, too, for ingenious fold-out panels that enabled Soane to hang multiple pictures on a single wall.

When and where? Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00-17:00; 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields,
WC2A 3BP (soane.org)