The War Museums Everyone, From Neophyte to Expert, Should Visit In London

Date post added: 27th July 2023

“Lest we forget,” – a line taken from Rudyard Kipling’s poem Recessional remains a strong part of our rhetoric around honouring those who served us during wartime. It reminds us not to forget the people who died in wartime so that we can enjoy peace.

Our nation’s history has been shaped by war. By learning from it, we can forge ahead and use it to inform our future. Our wartime history helps us to understand our national, social and economic background and make up. There are several military museums around London sharing the stories, artefacts and history of war. Their museum collections help to bring wartime experiences to life, and discover how it affected people at that time and still in the present day. Here, we highlight London’s war museums and their military collections.

Imperial War Museum London

Imperial War Museum

Lambeth Road, SE1 6HZ

If you’re only going to visit one military museum, it should really be this one. The Imperial War Museum London (IWM London) was set up over 100 years ago while the First World War was still in full swing. You’ll discover fascinating stories from those who lived through war years, both military personnel and civilians. Its museum collections go up to the present day. You’ll find exhibitions on the Northern Ireland conflict and another named From War to Windrush, exploring the journeys people made from Commonwealth countries to relocate to the United Kingdom.

As you step inside the museum, your eyes are drawn skyward to the impressive atrium. Explore the six floors of galleries and collections, highlighting a century of conflict and how it’s changed us. The Holocaust exhibition is a hard watch, but it conveys the gravity of the harrowing events in a rightly sensitive manner.

Churchill War Rooms London

Churchill War Rooms

King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AQ

In underground Westminster, you can follow in the footsteps of wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Walk along secret, hidden passageways to gain access to Churchill’s War Rooms – the nerve centre of government decision-making during World War II. Within these cabinet war rooms, key officials made life-changing judgements which determined the path of the Second World War allied troops.

Learn about Winston Churchill’s remarkable life and leadership in The Churchill Museum, located within this underground nerve centre. The museum collections will help you to understand how it felt to be in London during the Blitz and how the community fostered that renowned ‘Blitz spirit’.

National Army Museum - the art gallery

National Army Museum

Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HT

Attention! March on down to the National Army Museum in Chelsea where the British Army is front and centre of its exhibitions and collections. Through its interesting displays, you’ll discover the changing roles of British army regiments throughout history. Dive deeper into British conflicts around the world. The museum hosts performances of soldier stories which really bring home the very real experiences of the British military.

Royal Air Force Museum

Royal Air Force Museum

Grahame Park Way, NW9 5LL

If your military fascination is fixed in the sky, then we recommend you visit a suite of hangars in Colindale that celebrate the work of the RAF. The Royal Air Force Museum celebrates the RAF’s 100+ year history. The six hangars house an impressive collection of military aircraft. Discover how the RAF was formed in 1918, during the First World War. Uncover stories from the Battle of Britain where fighter pilots fought valiantly to repel the German Luftwaffe. Known as ‘Their Finest Hour’, this historic attack saw Hitler lose 2600 Luftwaffe aircrew, forcing him to rethink his planned invasion.

You can see how it feels to board a Spitfire and take a seat in the cockpit. There are also incredible interactive opportunities like flight simulators and flying with the Red Arrows, 4D style.

Venture outside London, to IWM Duxford to see Spitfires take to the skies from the airfield near Cambridge.

HMS Belfast

The Queen’s Walk, SE1 2JH

Once a British warship involved in active conflict, HMS Belfast now serves as a museum. The remarkable warship is moored on the River Thames, near Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. You’ll get a real taste of navy life as you climb up and down ladders exploring the 9 decks.

Get up close to the guns that fired some of the first shots on D-Day in Normandy and steer the ship into battle. Explore the engine room, and marvel at all the pressure gauges and dials. The ship’s command centre has become an interactive gaming centre so you can take the helm of the Royal Navy ship and lead it into battle. There are some great activities for families on offer, so it’s a great destination for a day out.

The National Maritime Museum

Park Row, SE10 9NF

This Greenwich museum is the place to discover all things sea-faring. The collections and exhibitions showcase history from Tudor times to the modern day. You’ll learn about the epic Battle of Trafalgar. The pièce de resistance being Nelson’s military jacket, complete with musket ball holes. And don’t miss the extraordinary artwork, Ship in a Bottle – an intricate replica of HMS Victory.

On the ground floor, the AHOY! Children’s gallery is where little ones can engage in fun sea-faring activities involving pirates, polar exploration and playing on board a boat.

Household Cavalry Museum

Horse Guards, SW1A 2AX

Situated in the heart of historic Whitehall, the Household Cavalry Museum gives you the opportunity to find out more about the regiment’s role and history. This living museum helps you to understand the tradition and ceremony associated with the household cavalry. You can even try on a replica uniform and visit the horses in the Victorian stables at Horse Guards.

You may be surprised to learn that they have two roles. Firstly, the mounted regiment are there to protect The King on ceremonial occasions and are an important part of the pageantry. Secondly, there’s an operational regiment of the British Army that serves across the world. The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals are senior regiments of the British Army.

Our guides have incredible knowledge of wartime history. Join them on the Westminster at war walk to hear fascinating stories about this incredible time.

David Tucker

David Tucker

David – the Seigneur of this favoured realm – broods over words, breeds enthusiasms and is “unmanageable.”* He’s a balterer, literary historian, university lecturer, journalist, logophile and lifelong thanatophobe. For good measure, he’s the doyen of London guides.

Read all articles by David Tucker