Located in the Barbican, the Museum of London is, as its name suggests, a site dedicated to London.
The Museum of London
Like many other major museums in the capital, entry is free and this is the perfect spot for a either a quick browse through London’s history or a fascinating full day out.
History of the Museum of London
The current Museum of London opened in 1976. It was formed by amalgamating two existing museums and their collections – the Guildhall Museum and the London Museum. If you are looking for an introduction to London and its history, then this is the place to go. It has over two million pieces in its collection, is Europe’s biggest archaeological archive and is visited by almost half a million people a year. It also has a sister museum, the Museum of London Docklands, located in Canary Wharf.
Museum of London exhibitions and collections
The museum’s main galleries and exhibitions track the history of London from its early days to today. Starting with ‘London Before London’, these cover key areas of the city’s past. These are organised into sections such as the Romans and the medieval period before looking at key centuries and times until you get to the present day. The way the museum is organised means that you can follow London’s timeline from start to finish if you wish or simply dip in and out of those periods that interest you.
The museum also runs a series of temporary exhibitions at any given time. Some of these are free – recent examples include an exhibit covering the 2012 London Olympics and an exhibition / workspace on the capital’s jewellery designers.
Some temporary exhibits charge an entrance fee. These usually last for a few months and you’d be advised to book events ahead of time, as they can be quite popular. Examples of recent/upcoming paid exhibitions include one on the Cheapside Hoard and one on Sherlock Holmes.
Museum of London highlights
Although every visitor will find something they like in the museum, there are some popular highlights. Odder exhibits include a Roman bikini, Oliver Cromwell’s death mask and an original 18th century prison cell. The Victorian Walk is extremely popular with both adults and kids. The museum has recreated a shopping street so you can see how shops used to look – unfortunately, the local pub doesn’t sell beer but you can still soak up the atmosphere!
The museum is also the permanent home of the Lord Mayor’s Coach, although the coach is still used for the Lord Mayor’s Show in November every year so isn’t in the building for a couple of days that month. This golden coach was built over 250 years ago and is certain to impress.
Kids’ Activities at the Museum of London
Like any London museum, the Museum of London caters for its younger guests well. There are interactive activities dotted around the site and a range of organised activities at weekends and during school holiday periods. These include hosted hands-on activities, archaeology events, arts workshops and storytelling sessions that really bring history to life.
The museum also organises events for the under-5s including play, sensory and hands-on activities. You can find an up to date listing of family events on the museum’s website.
You can also borrow family activity bags free at the museum’s information desk. These are suitable for 4-11 years olds. The museum also has some activity sheets for the over-5s and its website has sheets that you can download before your visit if you prefer.
Visiting the Museum of London
The Museum of London is located at London Wall in EC2. Its closest tubes are Barbican and St Pauls. Entrance to the museum, its permanent galleries and exhibitions and some temporary events is free; some larger exhibitions have a charge. The museum has a formal bar and kitchen dining area and a range of cafes dotted around.
These can get busy, and you might find it easier to use the dedicated dining space – you can eat your own food here or buy takeaways from one of the cafes. There are other food and drink options in the area outside of the complex if you prefer not to use the museum’s facilities.
Taking in the Museum of London Docklands
The Museum of London Docklands is part of the Museum of London and is well worth a visit in its own right. This museum shows port and river collections dating from Roman London through to the Canary Wharf development. It is based in a 200 year old warehouse at West India Quay in Canary Wharf.
Although you can access this museum from Canary Wharf tube or the DLR’s West India Quay station, kids might enjoy taking a Thames Clipper riverboat ride to get there – you can take boats from Maritime Greenwich Pier or Bankside to Canary Wharf Pier and the journey lasts around 15 minutes.