Museums are a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the history of South London, with many having unique themes to explore! If you’re looking for art galleries, have no fear! We believe these deserve a list of their own. Whether you visit the many historical sites and famous homes or the check out unique histories, we have found 20 of the best museums in South London that will be perfect for your next day out!
100 London Road, Forest Hill SE23 3PQ
This museum’s story started when Frederick John Horniman opened up his home to the public and his collection of objects he had collected throughout his life. Horniman was a Victorian tea trader and philanthropist, travelling to places such as Egypt, Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Japan, Canada and the United States! This unusually interactive museum lets you see the objects up close and personal, even being able to touch and play with them! This free museum is definitely worth a visit and, with its loose rules, makes a great place to bring the kids!
Horniman Museum and Gardens
2 Dugard Way, Kennington SE11 4TH
This museum is for you film lovers! At The Cinema Museum, you’ll find showings of unique films you’ll unlikely be able to see anywhere else, as well as vintage cinema items to celebrate the long history of film. Browse through the extensive collection of classic film memorabilia, including posters, vintage cinema seats and even be greeted by volunteers wearing the traditional usher uniforms! This museum deserves lots of support from its community to stay running and sharing their love of film!
The Cinema Museum
St Thomas’ Hospital, 2 Lambeth Palace Road SE1 7EW
Learn the life story of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale! Be treated to live actors telling and showing the story of this iconic historical figure, from her Victorian childhood to her experiences in the Crimean War. This museum is located inside ST Thomas’ Hospital, which is the site where Nightingale founded The Nightingale Training School. Visits to this museum also reminds us of the impact the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ had on modern nursing today and her incredible journey.
Florence Nightingale Museum
Romney Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
The National Maritime Museum celebrates the history of life at sea, with a vast collection of objects from a wide range of expeditions, from polar to pacific! This museum spans decades of seafaring history, exploring grand Tudor ventures and intimate personal stories too. One of the most iconic parts of the museum is Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, located in the grounds of the museum and makes the perfect photo opportunity! The ship is a down-sized replica of Nelson's flagship HMS Victory, where the sailor died during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
National Maritime Museum
100 Hackford Road, Stockwell SW9 0QU
This museum is the holder of the National Typefounding Collection, which are a collection of artefacts exploring the history and legacy of type founding in England. A type foundry is a company that designs and produces typefaces, before computers came along to give us digital typing! This nuanced museum is certain to provide a unique experience and a more indepth look into a practice that perhaps has been forgotten by most of us, making it even more fascinating to discover more about this traditional form of letter printing.
The Type Archive
Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich SE10 8XJ
This is one of the many historical sites in Greenwich that appear on this list and the Royal Observatory is the place to soak up everything to do with space! One of the most significant sites at this museum is the Prime Meridian Line, where East meets West! Stop by the Peter Harrison Planetarium and enjoy one of their breathtaking planetarium shows and attend astrology lectures to further your understanding of this interesting subject!
5 Lambeth Palace Road SE1 7LB
Be surrounded by gorgeous greenery at the Garden Museum to celebrate British gardens and a mutual love for gardening! You’ll be able to see updated exhibits exploring different aspects of gardening throughout time, often providing vital information about the importance of keeping our environment as green as it can be! After you’ve spent the day exploring, you can head to the award winning Garden Cafe, serving up decadent lunch and dinner dishes to perfectly finish off your visit.
1 Windrush Square. Brixton, SW2 1EF
At this museum they celebrate black history everyday! Black Cultural Archives is, in fact, the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting stories and objects from British black history. It offers the public an inside look into how African and Caribbean people came to Britain and changed its society into how we know it today! They always make sure to keep interesting events running throughout the year, including a Pan African Book Sale and film festivals!
Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham BR3 3BX
This unique museum specifically focuses on the lives and experiences of people with mental health problems. They constantly try to add to their collection in a bid to aid their visitor’s understanding of mental health and how deeply it can affect people’s lives. The museum is on the site of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which is actually the first institution to specialise in treating those who are mentally ill. One of the most interesting things you can see here are archives from records taken when the hospital was still running, offering an inside look into how the patients were treated in the past compared to today!
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe SE16 4LF
The mission of the Brunel Museum is to share stories of the Thames Tunnel Project and the lives of the Brunel family. Sir Marc Isambard Brunel actually designed the Brunel Engine House, which would become part of the infrastructure of the Thames Tunnel. The underground chamber of this museum is open everyday, holding talks and workshops of the history of both the building and the Sir Marc himself. As well as visiting the Engine House, you can also see the Grand Entrance Hall, which is the world’s first caisson, which is a watertight structure to protect it from the pressure from the water above!
1 Clink Street, London, SE1 9DG
The Clink Prison dates way back to the 12th century and is still regarded and one of Britain's most notorious museums. It offers an interactive educational experience, taking its visitors through the truth of the prison’s history. You’ll be able to take informative tours around the buildings, with their expert guides giving you all the insider information of the going ons of the prison when it was still active. Feeling brave? You can even spend an evening here on a ghost hunt and perhaps encounter some paranormal happenings during your visit!
The Clink Prison Museum
Anerley Hill SE19 2BA
When you visit this museum, you’ll be taken through the history of the Hyde Park and Sydenham Crystal Palaces. There are large scale models of the Crystal Palace to explore, as well as ceramics and other objects associated with the iconic building. Visiting The Crystal Palace Museum is a fantastic way to spend a peaceful Sunday afternoon, feeling immersed in the history of the Crystal Palace and how it came to be (and what’s left of it today!).
King William Walk, Greenwich SE10 9HT
Climb on board and celebrate one of the fastest ships of its time, using their audio guide to have an intimate tour of the historic Cutty Sark. This museum wants its guests to have the best understanding and be fully transported back in time, that’s why they have on-site actors interacting with visitors and giving them an inside look into the crew of the iconic ship. Finish off your day on a high with some delicious afternoon tea!
Luxted Road, Downe, Orpington BR6 7JT
Visit the home of the one and only Charles Darwin at Down House! Darwin lived in the house for 40 years until his death in 1882, with his wife Emma. Be a part of history as the monumental text On The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection was written here! You’ll be able to see and enter a reconstructed replica of Charles and Emma’s bedroom and the gardens, which Darwin used as his personal ‘outdoor laboratory’. Don’t forget to join the interactive guide to hear behind the scenes stories from some of Darwin’s most famous work.
Court Yard, London SE9 5QE
At Eltham Palace, you can see the blending of decades, exploring the art deco designs of when the home was occupied by the Courtaulds and see the Great Hall and its medieval history. Their glasshouse cafe creates a beautiful backdrop to your visit, where you can unwind and enjoy delicious refreshments. Want to know more? Check out A Fascinating Look Into Eltham Palace!
Eltham Palace and Gardens
22 Ridgway, Wimbledon, London SW19 4QN
This unusual museum charts the specific history of Wimbledon of more than 3000 years! It explores what life in Wimbledon would have been like from early prehistory, right up until how we know life to be there today. Just a few of the collections this museum houses include artefacts from Wimbledon society, manuscripts from local texts and press cuttings from past news. This is a great museum to visit if you want to discover history that is a little closer to home!
12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich SE10 8ER
Another unique addition to our list is The Fan Museum, the world’s first museum dedicated to the preservation of fans. As well exploring how the design and manufacture of fans has developed over time, new fans are frequently made in the museum and you can even attend workshops to make your own! There are over 5,000 fans on display at this museum, leaving you with plenty to discover. The Orangery is a favourite spot to visit here, where you can have afternoon tea in this special ‘secret’ garden.
The Fan Museum
83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF
Founded by British designer Zandra Rhodes, the Fashion and Textile Museum is dedicated to showcasing the different elements of fashion design and the making of these clothes. As well as displaying famous pieces from times past, this museum aims to inspire the new generation of designers to be bold with their creative pieces and carry on pushing boundaries. There are dozens of workshops and events that take place throughout the year, including inside looks into the lives of famous designers and textile workshops into how to make your own clothes!
Fashion and Textile Museum
Balham High Rd, Tooting Bec, London SW17 7BA
This museum is for the craft lovers of South London, where you can explore vintage and modern sewing machines and watch how they develop before your eyes! Discover the unique history of the sewing machine, from seeing the first Singer machine to 600 other machines of dozens of varieties. The first Singer Machine was in fact given to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter as a wedding present!
Great Maze Pond, London, SE1 9GU
The Science Gallery London perfectly marries art and science to create contemporary exhibits that explore real social issues that we face today. Until January 2020, you’ll be able to see their latest exhibit, ON EDGE: Living in an Age of Anxiety, which displays creative responses to our current anxious times, providing a thoughtful reflection on our modern life. The science aspect will come in from cutting edge research into mental health from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
Science Gallery London
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