London is home to some of the world’s best museums, with institutions such as the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and Science Museum all being globally recognised and explored by millions each year. These and a host of other esteemed London museums are undoubtedly worth a visit, but there are many smaller contributors to the city’s cultural scene that may also pique your interest.
It’s easy to overlook some of London’s lesser-known gems, but the more unusual venues are often fascinating in their own right. In this guide, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best unusual London museums, for those looking to explore alternatives to the most renowned.
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
In Notting Hill lies the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, where visitors can journey into a ‘time tunnel’ and discover the history of consumer culture. The museum’s collection was started by consumer historian Robert Opie and now includes over 12,000 original items, including 1890s cosmetics, First World War Oxo Cubes, 1930s chocolate wrappers and so much more from brands with which we are familiar. At every corner visitors are transported into a different decade, each area housing hordes of retro designed packaging and nostalgia.
Churchill War Rooms and Churchill Museum
In Westminster are the Churchill War Rooms, a series of underground rooms from which Winston Churchill directed the troops during WWII. This truly fascinating space allows visitors to see the area just as it would have been at the end of the war in 1945, with every piece of furniture and fitting having been left in situ.
Adjacent to the War Rooms is the Churchill Museum, which opened in 2005. The venue is the only major museum in the world dedicated entirely to Sir Winston Churchill and examines his life in detail, with an interactive timeline of his achievements as well as recordings of key speeches. The collection exhibited includes personal papers, infamous quotes, photographs and even clothes worn by Churchill, with much consideration given to his personality and eccentric habits.
In Holborn, just a short walk from the British Museum, is the easily missed yet incredibly charming cartoon museum. The venue deserves greater recognition, with its extensive collection of British cartoon art that dates from the 18th century to the present day. The museum enables visitors to discover and delight in cartoons that have passed them by as well as remember those that were loved in childhood.
Popular cartoon strips are displayed alongside rarer works that are more politically minded than playful, and it’s interesting to see how the medium has been used in different ways. For those who want to study the form further, the museum also has a library at which you can make an appointment to explore further material.
The Vault at Hard Rock Café
You’ve probably visited or at least passed by one of the established chain’s restaurants before, but London’s Hard Rock Café, the original restaurant, is also home to a fascinating separate museum space known as The Vault. For fans of music memorabilia this is a must-see, with many impressive exhibits on display.
Notable items include a harpsichord frequently used by The Beatles, the guitar used by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash in the November Rain video and the first ever guitar owned by Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols. The Vault’s opening hours are different from the main restaurant, but admission is free and the museum is open seven days a week.
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