If you’re interested in military history and war museums, London is going to be a real treat for you. There is a fantastic collection of war museums in London that tell the story of military conflicts around the world, and the museums on offer cover a range of topics.
Some museums, such as the Royal Air Force Museum, focus on a specific branch of the British military, whilst others focus on telling the story of crucial military events and locations related to one war, like the Churchill War Rooms. Many of these London war museums are also free to visit.
As well as war museums, London is also home to a number of war memorials, dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in service of their country. In today’s post, I’m going to share some of our favourite war museums in London, as well as a small selection of the War Memorials in London that you might want to pay a visit to.
War Museums in London
1. Imperial War Museum London
If you only have time to visit one military museum in London, then we highly recommend the Imperial War Museum London as the one to go to. This, like a number of the other military museums in this list, is operated by the Imperial War Museums organisation.
Opened in 1917, the Imperial War Museum London covers modern military conflicts spanning from World War 1 though to the present day. Exhibitions are divided into various themes, with a strong focus on telling the story from the perspective of those who lived through each experience. These exhibitions include the First World War, The Holocaust, and the Secret War – the latter of which explores the history of espionage and the work of the British Special Forces.
Naturally, there are plenty of objects to look at as well as all the information, including military hardware, uniforms and so on. The atrium display is particularly impressive, featuring objects including a Harrier jet, a Spitfire, and a V-2 rocket.
Useful Info: The Imperial War Museum London is open every day from 10am – 6pm (except 24th – 26th December), and entry to this museum is free, although special exhibits may have an entry fee. Closest tube stops are Lambeth North, Waterloo and Elephant & Castle, and there are multiple local bus options as well. For full up to date information including opening times and special events, see this part of the website.
2. Churchill War Rooms
One of the most popular war related museums in London is the Churchill War Rooms. Part of the Imperial War Museums, this museum is located in the actual underground bunker where Prime Minister Winston Churchill co-ordinated the British war effort.
The museum is divided into two parts. One focuses on the story of the Cabinet War Rooms, and this part of the museum leads you through the underground complex where the British government command centre was located, taking in such highlights as Churchill’s secret trans-Atlantic phone booth, sleeping quarters, and the Map Room.
The other part of the museum tells the story of Winston Churchill himself, going through his whole life from birth to death, and has a wide number of artefacts relating to the man, including personal possessions, letters, and even the door to Number 10 Downing Street when he was Prime Minister.
If you’re interested in learning more about Winston Churchill and visiting more Churchill related sights, take a look at Jess’s comprehensive Guide to Churchill Sites in England.
The Churchill War Rooms are a very popular attraction and queues often form to get in. We’d advise visiting early to avoid wasting a long time in a queue.
Useful Info: The Churchill War Rooms are normally open every day from 9.30am – 6pm with the exception of the 24th-26th December when it is closed. There is an entry fee. We recommend buying your tickets in advance online for fast-track entry. For more information, including how to get here and up to date opening hours and prices, read the information section of the Churchill War Rooms website here.
3. Royal Air Force Museum London
If you are particularly interested in specific branches of the military, then London has you covered. I love all things to do with flying, so naturally a visit to the Royal Air Force Museum London was a favourite of mine when researching this post.
Spanning five buildings and huge hangars, this museums tells the whole story of the Royal Air Force, as well as the history of aviation in general. With over 100 aircraft on display, ranging from early biplanes like the Sopwith Camel, through to modern bomber aircraft. Naturally, there are also many “famous” aircraft models from various wars, including the Lancaster Bomber, Spitfire, and Hurricane.
There is a lot to see at this museum, with one whole hangar given over to the history of aviation, whilst another covers bombers. There are also engines and clothing on display, and you could easily spend at least half a day here.
Useful Info: The RAF Museum London is free to visit, although there are paid attractions inside, such as flight simulators, films, and the opportunity to sit in some of the planes. The museum is located in north London at the former Hendon aerodrome. There is parking on site, but from central London the easiest way to get here is by tube to Colindale. For more information on opening times, how to get here and other facilities, see the official website here.
4. National Army Museum London
Re-opened in March 2017 following extensive re-development, the National Army Museum in Chelsea is the main museum of the British Army. This museum extensively covers the history of the British Army across five galleries, spanning from the English Civil War in the 1640s right up to modern day conflicts.
The galleries, which span four floors and include over 2,500 objects, are divided across five themes, Soldier, Army, Battle, Society, and Insight.
These lead on from each other, starting with a walk through of the changing life of a soldier through the centuries, before expanding to the history and evolution of the Army itself. The Battle gallery covers key battles and tactics spanning nearly four centuries of conflict, before the Society gallery looks at the impact of these conflicts and the army itself on British society as a whole. Finally, the Insight gallery looks at the impact of British Army activities around the globe.
This structure is clearly well thought out and walking through the museum is a fascinating experience, with a lot of interactive information on display, as well as military hardware. This is an excellent museum that we highly recommend!
Useful info: Open daily 10am – 5.30pm, closed 25, 26 December and 1st January. Admission to the National Arym Museum is free, with Sloane Square tube station the closest stop. Full information on activities, opening times and pricing can be found at the official website.
5. National Maritime Museum
Having covered the other two branches of the British Military, you would naturally expect there to be a museum dedicated to the Royal Navy, the oldest branch of the Military. And you would be right. However, the National Museum of the Royal Navy is in Portsmouth rather than London, which is a couple of hours from London by train or car.
All is not lost though. There are two excellent museums in London where you can learn more about Britain’s military activities at sea. The first of these is the National Maritime Museum, part of the Royal Museums Greenwich.
The museum is home to a vast array of maritime exhibits charting the history of life at sea, from exploration through to battles, with naval topics including the Battle of Trafalgar as well as First World War Sea battles. There is also a gallery dedicated to Nelson and the Royal Navy, titled “Nelson, Navy, Nation”, which charts the history of the Royal Navy from 1688 through to 1815.
The National Maritime Museum is in Greenwich, which has more than enough attractions to warrant a whole day out, including the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark, amongst others.
Useful Info: The National Maritime Museum is free to visit, although temporary special exhibits usually have a fee. It’s open daily from 10am – 5pm every day except 24-26 December, and can be reached by tube, DLR or boat. Read more about planning your visit here.
6. HMS Belfast
If you like your museums to be hands-on experiences that really reflect their subject matter, you are going to love HMS Belfast. This museum ship, moored on the Thames River just near Tower Bridge in London, was originally a Royal Navy light cruiser which saw action in both World War 2 and the Korean War. This included providing bombardment support for the Normandy beach landings in 1944.
She was retired from active duty in 1963, and following a period of debate as to her future, opened to the public as a museum ship in 1971, becoming a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978.
This historic warship can now be fully explored by visitors. On board, you’ll learn all about what life was like on board for the crew of up to 950 men, both at times of war and peace, between World War 2 and 1963. This is a really fascinating exhibit, and definitely not to be missed if you have an interest in naval warships.
Useful info: Open everyday except 24-26th December. Opening times vary depending on season, and weather can also affect deck opening. Check the website for opening information and times. Tickets can be purchased at the ship.
7. Household Cavalry Museum
The last two London war museums on our list cover specific information about specific British Army regiments.
First on the list is the Household Cavalry Museum, dedicated to the Household Cavalry, comprised of the two most senior regiments in the British Army with origins dating back as far as 1661. Combined with the five regiments of the Guards (see next entry) these seven regiments comprise Her Majesty’s Household Division, who have responsibility for guarding both the Sovereign and the Royal Palaces.
The Household Cavalry Museum, which is found right in the heart of London at Horse Guards, just near Trafalgar Square, covers a full history of the Household Calvary, and includes uniforms standards and awards.
There’s also information about the modern day household cavalry, which form both ceremonial duties as well as operational roles across the globe. The museum is also a working stable, and you may be able to see the horses in this 18th century building through plexiglass.
This is an excellent museum to get a behind the scenes look at one of the most historic regiments of the British Army, and is well worth the visit. You will also be able to admire the guards in their uniforms atop their horses outside the museum, and depending on the time you visit, you can see the guard change here as well for free.
Useful Info: Open every day with some public holiday exceptions. Opening times vary by season. In addition, times vary depending on ceremonial duties, so you’ll want to check the website to avoid disappointment. It’s right in central London, so there are multiple easy transport options. There is an entry fee, although it it is free to holders of the London Pass.
8. Guards Museum
Finally, the other museum to focus on specific regiments of the British Army is the Guards Museum. This museum covers five regiments of Foot Guards in the British Army, specifically the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards.
The Guard Museums contains a wealth of information and artefacts related to these five regiments, and serves as an education centre for new Guardsmen to learn about their regimental heritage. The various roles of the Guards are explained in detail, and overall this is an excellent museum if you want to learn more about the specific role of these regiments within the British Army.
While you are here, don’t miss the Guards Chapel, which is opposite the Museum and free to enter. This is the spiritual home of the Household Division, and the walls are lined with the colours carried by the Foot Guards since 1770. In addition, don’t miss the on-site shop of the Guards Museum, known as the Guards Toy Soldier Centre. This is free to visit, and has hundreds of toy soldiers for sale, many of which are set up as set pieces depicting battles.
Finally, don’t miss the Guards Memorial, which is opposite Horse Guards Parade, and which commemorates those who gave their lives in battles since the first world war.
Useful info: The Guards Museum is open every day from 10am – 4pm, with some exceptions as detailed on the official website. The nearest tube stations are St James’s Park, Green Park, Waterloo, Charing Cross and Victoria. There is an entry fee, but the Guards Museum is free to holders of the London Pass.
London War Memorials and Monuments
Having covered some of our favourite military museums in London, we just wanted to share what we think are some of the most interesting War Memorials in the city. There are a great many war memorials of course, so you could spend quite a lot of time visiting these, but if you have less time on your hands, here are some you can consider that we have visited.
If you have more time, there are many more, both in London and the wider UK, see here for a comprehensive UK guide, and here for a full list of monuments and memorials in London. All of the listed monuments are free to visit.
1. The Cenotaph
Found on Whitehall, between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament, the Cenotaph is the UK’s official national war memorial. Originally erected for the 1919 London Victory Parade following World War 1 as a temporary structure, a permanent structure was erected in 1920 to serve as a lasting memorial to those who lost their lives in service of their country.
Today the Cenotaph is the focal point of the annual National Service of Remembrance in the UK, which takes place on Remembrance Sunday every November, and commemorates the contribution of British and Commonwealth servicemen and women.
2. Monument to the Women of World War 2
A little way to the north of the Cenotaph is the Monument to the Women of World War 2, unveiled by the Queen in 2005, and dedicated to the work and sacrifice of women during the war. The UK was lacking in a memorial to these important sacrifices for a very long time, and it is fitting that this monument takes pride of place on Whitehall.
Around this area there are a number of other memorials, monuments and statues to wartime events and figures, so do keep an eye out for these.
3. Battle of Britain Memorial
The Battle of Britain Memorial, found overlooking the River Thames on the Victoria Embankment, is a magnificent sculpture commemorating the British military personnel who took part in the Battle of Britain, one of the Second World War’s most famous battles, and arguably the first military campaign ever to be fought solely by air forces.
Raging over the skies of southern England for over three months, the Battle of Britain involved the Royal Air Force defending the United Kingdom against wave after wave of Luftwaffe attacks. The aim of the attacks was to achieve air superiority over Britain, which if successful, would have been disastrous for the Allied war effort.
The success of the Royal Air Force in overcoming the attacks and successfully defending Britain was famously summed up by Winston Churchill with the words “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, and those who fought in the Battle of Britain have often been known as “The Few” ever since.
The memorial, which is 25 metres long, depicts scenes from the battle, along with plaques depicting the names of nearly 3,000 airmen and ground crew who took part in the Battle on the Allied side. It also contains the Winston Churchill’s quote referenced above.
4. Animals in War Memorial
The contributions of animals to wartime must not be forgotten, and as such, a memorial specifically to the animals who served, suffered and died in the wars and conflicts can be found in London.
The Animals in War Memorial is particularly moving as these animals often endured terrible conditions through no choice of their own, for conflicts not of their making. This message is brought home by the words inscribed on the memorial: “They had no choice”.
The monument can be found on Park Lane, Hyde Park.
5. Guards Crimean War Memorial
As well as the above memorials, there also are memorials across London commemorating older conflicts. One of these is the Guards Crimean Memorial, which commemorates victory in the Crimean War of 1853 – 1856.
Unveiled in 1861, this memorial in St. James is now Grade II listed, and consists of a statue of three Guardsmen and a woman denoting Honour. The statue is cast in bronze from cannons which were captured at the siege of Sevastopol.
6. Bomber Command Memorial
Unveiled in 2012 at the edge of Green Park, the Bomber Command Memorial commemorates the airmen who lost their lives serving in Bomber Command during World War Two.
The memorial really puts into context the incredible loss of life of the war. Of the 125,000 men who served in Bomber Command, 55,573 of them lost their lives – nearly 50%! The sculpture, by Liam O’Connor, features seven men, each representing a different role within Bomber Command.
7. Wellington Arch Area
The Wellington Arch is a large triumphal arch, originally built as an entrance to Buckingham Palace, and later becoming a victory arch celebrating the victory of Wellington over Napoleon.
Around the Wellington Arch there are a number of memorials to various wars, nations and units. These include the Royal Artillery Memorial, the Australian War Memorial, the New Zealand War Memorial and the Commonwealth Memorial Gates.
8. Imperial Camel Corps Memorial
Last on this list of war memorials in London – is the Imperial Camel Corps Memorial.
This was a relatively short lived infantry brigade formed during World War 1 and disbanded in 1919 following the conclusion of the war, but during it’s height had four battalions who saw active service in the Middle East. The memorial lists the names of all 346 men who died service with the Camel Corps, and depicts a man riding a camel.
It can be found in Victoria Embankment Gardens, which is very close to the previously mentioned Battle of Britain Memorial.
As well as war memorials, London has some very impressive monuments to military leaders, military victories, as well as Kings and Queens.
Some that are definitely worth checking out are Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, the Statue of the Earl Mountbatten on Mountbatten Green, the Wellington Arch at the western corner of Green Park, the equestrian statue of George IV in Trafalgar Square, and the memorial to Edith Cavell, just north of Trafalgar Square.
Again, there are many more, but these will give you an idea of what is on offer!
Well, that sums up our guide to some of the best War Museums in London, as well as some of London’s War Memorials. We hope you found it useful and enjoy visiting some of these many excellent museums in London. We also have a lot more content on both London and the wider UK, plus some external resources we think you’ll find helpful. These are:
- Many of the museums and memorials mentioned above are free, but those that aren’t are included on the London Pass. Check out our full review of the London Pass which can help you figure out if the pass would help you save you money on your trip to London or not.
- To help you pack for London, we’ve put together a detailed London Packing list
- Interested in Winston Churchill, check out Jess’s guide to finding Winston Churchill sites in England
- Tips on finding the best Photography Locations in London that I put together
- To help you plan your time in London effectively, check out our itineraries for 1 Day in London, 2 Days in London, 3 Days in London and 6 Days in London
- For the Harry Potter fans amongst you, take a look at our guide to the key Harry Potter filming locations in London
- Our guide to 8 Things to Do in Kensington, London, in case you wanted to focus more on a specific region of the city
- Tips on spending Two Weeks in the UK, should you want to have London as the start of a bigger adventure
- Our experience taking a full day walking tour of London, in case you like the idea of a fully guided day
- Interested in day trips from London, we have posts on a Stonehenge, Bath & Cotswolds day trip, and tips on planning a Oxford day trip.
- Heading further north? We have loads of content on Scotland, including a 2 Day Edinburgh itinerary, a guide to the North Coast 500 and a 2 Day Glasgow itinerary
- If you are looking for London travel guides, we’d recommend checking The Eyewitness Travel Guide to London and the Rick Steve’s London guide, which are both excellent sources of relevant information
And that’s it! Thanks for reading our post. As always, if you’ve got any comments or questions, let us know in the comments below!