Are you planning on going on a trip to London? We will give you our top 5 of the most unique museums of London. In this article you will find insights about the history of the museums, information about the highlights that you should not miss, and of course funny facts and practical information. At the end there will be given some extra tips for the die hard museum lovers that you might find interesting.

1. London Horniman Museum

One of the most educational but fun places in London is the anthropological museum, the Horniman Museum. With a collection of more than 350,000 objects including a huge aquarium, this museum is definitely unique and bizarre. 

Horniman Museum London GowithOh

The museum with its anthropology, natural history and musical instruments is part the 16 acres of landscaped gardens in Forest Hill, London. If you are going with your family to London this is a great place to visit, with so many things to see and with so many activities to do!

What Is the Story Behind the Museum?

In 1860 the English man Frederick John Horniman began a museum to showcase his enormous collection that was born because of his passion for collecting objects and artefacts that had anything to do with natural history. His goal with this museum was to educate the people and enrich their knowledge.

Horniman travelled a lot, for example to Africa, North America and Asia. He had the opportunity to travel, but this was not the case for most of the people in Forest Hill in London. In 1890 the museum was freely opened to the general public, by doing this he gave the underprivileged the chance to learn and experience different cultures and histories.

The collection grew fast and in 1898 Horniman had to demolish the museum and had to build a bigger building. Architect Charles Harrison Townsend was chosen as leader for this project, which was finished in 1901. And because of a donation of Horniman’s son, he could build a library and a lecture theatre.

The Highlights

Mosaic

The mosaics that you can find on the original building were designed by Robert Anning Bell and his team of mostly young woman. The mosaic has a neo-classical design and consists of more than 17,000 tiles!

Walrus

The big overstuffed walrus is definitely another highlight. Besides his size there is another thing very interesting about this animal. The walrus is dated out of 1886! So he is already for more than 120 years part of the collection of the museum.

Aquarium

When you visit the museum you should visit the aquarium too, especially when you are with children. The aquarium showcases animals from all over the globe. Explore sea life with its different colors, shapes and animals.

Fun Facts

The founder of the museum, Frederick John Horniman is the son of john Horniman. He founded the now global Hornimans Tea Company in Newport in 1826.

The collecting mania of Frederick Horniman was not always positive. He collected so many items in his house that by the late nineteenth century his wife could not bear it anymore and told him that or the collection had to leave or they will. And with that the whole family moved to a different home.

Besides his stuffed animal collection he has a large collection of insects mostly assembled around 1880. From butterflies to beetles you can find them all. And there is even a butterfly that is named after Frederick Horniman, the Horniman swallowtail butterfly.

How do you get to the museum?

Practical Information Horniman Museum London GowithOh

Opening Hours

Days Times
Monday until Saturday From 7.15 am – sunset
Sunday 8am – sunset

2. Fan Museum

Another unique museum that we recommend is the Fan Museum in London. The museum is located in the wonderful Greenwich district in a historic building dated out of 1721 surrounded by a secret garden kept in the matching Japanese style.

Fan Museum London GowithOh

The Fan Museum showcases more than 4,000 fans from all over the world with fans dating back from the 11th century back to now. On basis of the fans, the museum tells you the story of customs of different cultures, economic stories and the history through the years.

What Is the Story Behind the Museum?

The first fan is estimated that it is made in the 11th century. During the years the fan made lots of changes, most of the time cultural dependent. Although the fan is no longer the most important accessory for the woman, but it is not forgotten. Nowadays they are used for special moments such as royal weddings and other special events and in some countries like Spain it is still frequently used.

Hélène Alexander was so fascinated by fans because of her degree in history of art. She discovered that they were little pieces of art and mostly basewd on paintings. She started collecting fans from everywhere in the world.

And as time passed and her collectors drift increased, she became unstoppable and noticed by others. She wanted to show her collection with the rest of the world and opened together with her husband world’s first fan museum in 1991. The museum is funded by charitably donations and the gift shop.

The Highlights

Townhouses

First we have to highlight the building itself. The fan museum is located in two Grade II listed townhouses. These beautiful buildings were constructed in 1721 and where restored by Hélène to their original 18th century beauty. Besides she added the Orangery, painted by Jane Barraclough, it is a blast to have a high tea there!

Middle Ages

All the fans are beautiful, but there are some fans which are very special in this collection. The museum has a few fans from the Middle Ages; they are fixed flat vellum rectangle shaped fans.

High Tea

What is better after a tour through all these fancy accessories, than having a high tea? Yes, having a high tea in the Orangery. You can enjoy delicious scones or cakes together with some typical afternoon tea.

Fun Facts

While the Greeks, Romans and Etruscans used the fans for it functional use, namely to cool them self, the Chinese used it for the cultural use. They associated the fans with ancient mythical stories. And later on when the fan was brought to Europe it was used to show your economic status, mostly woman of royals and noble families had fans.

During this European fashion, we had real craftsmen who were specialized in making the most amazing fans. These craftsmen were member of special fan-making guilds. There works were very delicate, they used expensive materials such as ivory and gold and precious gemstones and pearls.

There are two types of fans: Fixed and folding. The first fans were all of the fixed type. The folding types are known from the Geishas and the Spanish dancers. Still do they use the fixed type in Africa, most of the time made of leather.

How Do You Get to the Museum?

Practical Information Fan Museum London GowithOh

Opening Hours

Days Times
Tuesday until Sunday From 11:00 until 18:00 h

3. Cartoon Museum

In the same neighborhood of the famous British Museum there is a small hidden museum that is unique in his kind, the Cartoon Museum. In this museum they display different types of cartoons and caricatures that date back from the 18th century until now. 

Cartoon Museum London GowithOh

Especially when you are going with your family this is the right museum to visit in London. But there is for adults also enough to discover and to freshen up your childhood memories with all the popular strips like Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and others. The museum offers different kind of cartoon workshops and has a library with a rich collection of more than 3,000 books.

What Is the Story Behind the Museum?

The history of the cartoon started with caricatures made in Italy in the 18th century. Master artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Annibale Carracci drew these caricatures. The idea behind it was to keep a drawing so simple as possible, draw a person and his personality with just a few strokes.

During the years cartoons became to be more storytelling, besides caricature they can express now humor or satire too. In 1988 cartoonists, collectors and cartoon lovers grouped together to found an organization in London that was dedicated to the cartoon. They exhibited their works and collections in different exhibitions in different places and in 2006 they got their own place on the Little Russell Street.

Besides showing the art they also focus on education. With workshops for all ages and a large museum shop where you can choose out of more than 900 books with information about everything that is related.

The Highlights

Murals

What definitely belong to the highlights are the colorful mural paintings, painted by top cartoonists like Steve Bell, Dave Brown, Martin Rowson, Peter Brookes, Chris Riddell, MAC and Hunt Emerson.

Political Cartoons

You will found the funny but politically charged cartoons of Hogarth, James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson. They can be entitled as the founders of the modern British political social cartoons and satires.

Most Successful

The cartoons of William Heath Robinson and H.M. Bateman are the two most successful British cartoonists of the beginning of the 20th century. The museum has the famous cartoons of “Wallace and Gromit” of William Heath Robinson and “The Man Who…” cartoons of H.M. Bateman.

Fun Facts

The word cartoon comes from the Italian word “cartone” and the Dutch word “karton”, this means strong paper or pasteboard and refers to the 17th century when every drawing on pasteboard was called cartoon. These drawings on pasteboard were used for the composition while making frescoes.

Within the strip comics of Popeye, Popeye has a friend who is completely the opposite of the trained vegetable eating main character. His friend is a big fat hamburger lover, called J. Wellington Wimpy. Which was a marketing choice of Whimpy’s a popular hamburger and fast-food chain in England.

If it is coincidentally or stealing nobody ever knows but on the same day in March 1951 another comic strip named Dennis the Menace was published in the United States. To distinct these two for marketing reasons the American comic was renamed Dennis and the British version was often called Dennis and Gnasher, his best friend.

How Do You Get to the Museum?

Practical Information Cartoon Museum London GowithOh

Opening Hours

Days Times
Monday until Saturday From 10.30 – 17.30h
Sunday From 12.00 – 17.30h

4. Dental Museum

For visiting another unique museum in London you should pay attention to the BDA Dental Museum. This museum is already more than 100 years old and is owned by the British Dental Association, which wanted through the museum to educate people about the history of dental care in England, the practice and the science.

Dental Museum London GowithOh

The museum dates back to 1919 and exhibits over 20,000 objects that are related to dental care. This includes of course dental instruments but they also have a rich photo collection, furniture and art. This museum is even for the people who do not like the dentist; a visit will change your opinion about the dentist.

What Is the Story Behind the Museum?

Dental Care dates back as far as we know to 7000 BC. Lots of myths and primitive tools were used to help people with their tooth problems. Because tooth problems were already there before sugar made its appearance, due to coarse food and natural sugars in food. So the dentist became more and more important the more Europe developed.

In 1919 Lilian Lindsay, the first woman in England that qualified as dentist, opened the BDA Dental Museum with all the old dental instruments that were given to her as gift. This small collection fast grew through the roof, with now more than 20,000 objects and artifacts.

The first aim was to educate the members of the BDA only, until 1967 it was not open for public. When the museum moved to its present building they opened it for general public too.

The Highlights

Rowlandson

The first highlight is the dental painting of the English painter Thomas Rowlandson, called “A French Dentist showing his artificial teeth and false palates”, made in 1811. Rowlandson lived from 1756 till 1827 and besides paintings he also made caricatures.

Adriaen van Ostade

Another painting that you should definitely see is the even older painting of the famous Dutch painter Adriaen van Ostade, lived in 1610 to 1685 a century that is called the Dutch golden Age because of the economic position of the Netherlands. The paining is called “Der Zahmbreder” and is oil on canvas.

Historic Equipment

The historic dental equipment collection is very extensive and a highlight on its own. The clockwork drill and dental engine for example is very fascinating or the old school ether inhaler.

Fun Facts

The history of the toothbrush is still short. In Europe we had our first bristle toothbrush in the 17th century. Of course forms of tooth brushes like natural sticks or twigs already existed. It is china that claims they invented the first bristle toothbrush in 1498.

Did you know that the arrival of toothpaste even is seen as the earliest form of ancient civilization? The first toothpaste were mixtures of flowers, honey and powdered fruits, even mice and urine were sometimes used as ingredient!

How Do You Get to the Museum?

Practical Information Dental Museum London GowithOh

Opening Hours

Days Times
Tuesdays and Thursdays From 13:00 until 16:00 h

5. Sherlock Holmes Museum

Stepping out by the Baker Street stop reminds you of the iconic Sherlock Holmes, doesn’t it? The founders of the Sherlock Holmes Museum must have thought the same. The Holmes character created by the Scottish writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and lived at 221b Baker Street, the place where now the museum is located.

Sherlock Holmes Museum London GowithOh

The museum sketches the authentic setting written down by Conan Doyle perfectly. With different rooms, interviews, wax figures and other artifacts you will get the feeling that the detective really lived. With a large museum shop on the ground floor, three floors of themed rooms this museum is definitely worth paying a visit, even if you or your children are not fan of the books.

What Is the Story Behind the Museum?

The story of Sherlock Holmes spread over 4 novels and more than 50 short stories, the first novel was published in 1887. The story is about a detective who is one of the most fantastic detectives of London because of his sharp way of thinking and masquerading in combination with how he uses forensic science.

The house in which the museum is located is built somewhere between 1881 and 1904. In 1989 the Sherlock Holmes Society of England bought the house and opened the Sherlock Holmes museum. The building is divided into four floors. On the ground floor you will find the museum shop with the largest Holmes themed collection and the entrance.

On the first floor you have the study of the detective with the armchair, the fireplace and the other props that are described in the books. On the second floor you have the bedroom of Doctor Watson and Mrs Hudson, prominent characters in the books. And on the third floor you will even find more characters made out of wax.

The Highlights

Notebook

The first highlight is definitely the notebook which is the birth place of Sherlock Holmes. The museum has the “A study in Scarlet” notebook of Conan Doyle, with the first lines of the story ever written in 1886.

Painting

The second highlight is the painting of the French master of impressionism; Claude Monet (1840-1926). It is the painting called “Pont de Londres” is an original oil on canvas where he pained the Charing Cross Bridge in London in 1907. 

Museum Shop

The shop is definitely a highlight for all the Sherlock Holmes fans.  As we already mentioned, the store has the largest collection of themed objects, from pipes to novelty teapots to the legendary movies and books, you can eat your heart out.

Fun Facts

The Sherlock Holmes character is famous, so famous that it is the most-filmed fictional human character ever! He played in more than 220 films a role according IMDb (Internet Movie Database).

If you have to recall an image of Sherlock Holmes in your thoughts, you probably will see a man wearing a deerstalker cap and cape with a pipe in his mouth. But do you know that Sherlock Holmes never where these things in the original books? This information is added later when the stories got rewritten or filmed.

Besides the museum, there is something else that you might like as Holmes fan! If you take the metro to Charing Cross you can find the Sherlock Holmes Pub, where you can have some drinks or dinner in Holmes style.

How Do You Get to the Museum?

Practical Museum Sherlock Holmes Museum London GowithOh

Opening Hours

Days Times
Monday until Sunday From 09:30 until 18:00 h

Tips for the Museum Lovers

London Pass

If you are planning on an active city trip in London you should take a look at the London Pass. The London Pass is an initiative of the government of England. With this pass you can enter more than 60 attractions and museums for free. Besides the free entrance, you also get a useful guidebook and special offers for restaurants and shops in London.  And you will never have to wait in the line because with the London Pass you will get precedence so you can skip every line.

Public Transport

Buying the Oyster card, a governmental transport cart that can be used for every form of transport, will save you money because the tickets are more expensive. You will even get a 50% discount on the London Tube and you also get special offers for restaurants and bars in the English capital.

With the public transport system in London you have so many choices in how to get somewhere, that is might be confusing. Check out our transport guide for extra information.

Recommended Districts

The Waterloo district in London is definitely a district that we can recommend if you are looking for a trendy district with great transport links close to the center of London. The river the Thames flows around this neighbourhood with the famous London eye. Besides, Waterloo we can recommend Kensington and Earls Court, these adjacent districts are the home of lots of museums like the Natural History Museum, and they are close to Hyde Park and the Maryle Bone district, with the Sherlock Holmes museum and the Dental Museum.

Author
At GowithOh, we are an enthusiastic team of self-confessed Europhiles who are passionate about travel. We especially love the variety of city breaks possible in Europe, from the historic UNESCO heritage cities like Prague, to the more cosmopolitan beachside destinations like Barcelona. We love discovering the hidden gems in different cities and sharing them with our fans so everyone can benefit and enjoy the perfect city break in Europe.
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