Like 5 star hotels in London, museums are aplenty and big, well-known ones are often compiled on “best” lists, like those that line Exhibition Road in South Kensington. Places like Tate Britain or the Natural History Museum are indeed great attractions worth your time and appreciation, but London is also scattered with smaller museums that are just as fabulous. Here are London’s most underrated museums.
London’s Cartoon Museum, operated by the Cartoon Art Trust, proffering a selection of Britain’s most well-loved cartoons, caricatures, comics and animations. Its library is brimful of relevant books - more than 5000 of them - and more than 4000 comics are available for perusal. The museum was relaunched in July this year, so it is revamped and ready to be enjoyed. It was designed by Sam Jacob Studio, and is architecturally reminiscent of and inspired by cartoons. This is not just a venue to visually enjoy pieces of cartoon and animation art - though that certainly comes with the territory. It also offers an insight into the cultural value and influence of cartoons within society.
Opening times: Closed Mondays; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 10.30am-5.30pm; Thursday 10.30am-8pm
Address: 63 Wells St, Fitzrovia, London W1A 3AE
Contact: 020 7580 8155
Tickets: Adult £8.50; Concession £5; Student £3; Under-18 Free
The Sherlock Holmes Museum
Sat, of course, on Baker Street is the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Whether you are a fan of the books growing up, or rather Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation, you will find this museum exciting and interesting. Curated by Andrea von Ehrensteine and dedicated to one of literature’s finest detectives, this museum was Sherlock Holmes’ first museum of its kind. It is a small house - 221b, as depicted in literature - so your visit shouldn’t take you too long and will have you back to The Montcalm Royal London City Hotel for afternoon tea time (and we know Sherlock would approve).
The tours are self-guided, so you can focus on whichever details interest you most. It is open every day of the year except Christmas, so no matter the London hotel package you purchased, you are likely to be able to squeeze in a visit during opening hours.
Opening times: Everyday 9.30-6pm
Address: 221b Baker St, Marylebone, London NW1 6XE
Contact: 020 7224 3688
Tickets: Adult £8; Child (under 16) £5.
The House of Illustration
King’s Cross is known and loved for many features, from the Coal Drops Yard to the riverside dining. But one its most overlooked features, which is also one of London’s often overlooked museums, is Granary Square’s House of Illustration. This space pays tribute to illustrators from across the world, usually exhibiting the work of the current illustrator in residence. The events and exhibitions change regularly, which is needed for this small but impactful space, as you can see all it offers in under an hour. The changes give you a good reason to head back whenever they change! Its most striking feature is the one and only permanent exhibition, which is the work of British illustrator Quentin Blake.
Opening times: Closed Mondays; Tuesday - Saturday 10am-5.30pm; Sunday 11am-5.30pm
Address: 2 Granary Square, Kings Cross, London N1C 4BH
Contact: 020 3696 2020
Tickets: Adult £8; Student £5; Child (5-18) £4; Child (under 5) free
The Cinema Museum
Kennington’s Cinema Museum is a celebration of all-things-cinematographic. Though the collections preserve everything from original cinema advertisements and posters to staff uniforms and ticket stubs, it puts a heavy focus on pre-digital times when a trip to the cinema was a luxurious day-trip. It grapples with the social notion of cinema as a tool for imagination and escapism, and between the artefacts, memorabilia and equipment from cinema gone by, it maintains and encourages the joys of cinema and film through the ages. The building in which the museum is located is an old workhouse where Charlie Chaplin spent some of his childhood years - so even in sentiment, this museum is a beacon for cinematic celebration. It is small, but worth a visit, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Opening times: When pre-booking your tour, you will be able to discuss a preferred time
Address: 2 Dugard Way, Lambeth, London SE11 4TH
Contact: 020 7840 2200
Tickets: Adult £10; Children & concessions £7
V&A Museum of Childhood
While people usually flock to the V&A Museum in South Kensington on Exhibition Road, and for good reason, the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is often overlooked. Nestled just along from Bethnal Green Station in London’s east side, this museum is free and riveting. It would be a shame to miss out. It is a combination of items for and by children and is a fascinating way to see how cultural normatives have transpired over the years based on the toys offered to children. It shows a social history through the eyes of our most influenceable members of society, but also offers children a fun place to play and explore. It is a great activity for the whole family, as the exhibitions and displays are aimed at both age groups, balancing activity and information at every turn.
Opening times: Everyday 10am-5.45am
Address: Cambridge Heath Rd, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PA
Contact: 020 8983 5200
The Garden Museum
This is an absolute win during the Summer months, and just as lovely in other seasons provided you wrap up warmly. Not only is it an aesthetically pleasing place to visit, walk around and feel at peace within, but it is also a presentation of British gardening and a celebration of British plants. There are regular events hosted here, like houseplant festivals or evening gardening book launches. It also features a medieval tower, which guests capable of walking its 131 steps are encouraged to climb and enjoy views across the River Thames and Westminster.
Opening times: Sunday-Friday 10.30am-5pm; Saturday 10.30am-4pm
Address: 5 Lambeth Palace Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7LB
Contact: 020 7401 8865
Tickets: Adult £10; Senior citizen £8.50; Student/unemployed/art pass £5; Family (1 adult, 1 child) £12.50; Family (2 adults, 2 children) £25; Children under 6 free; Tower only ticket adult £3; Tower only ticket child (U18) free
This is not to say that you shouldn’t visit the popular museums when visiting London and staying at The Montcalm Royal London City Hotel… especially if you are only around for a short amount of time. They are popular for a reason. It is rather to encourage you to try some of these often overlooked museums because they are equally incredible and yet don’t get the recognition in traffic as they deserve. Each of these will leave you feeling inspired and enriched and will remind you of how much wonderfully cultural experiences are bubbling beneath the surface of London’s tourist scene.