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The Top Ten Museums in London

Updated on November 04, 2015
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Katherine loves art history and visits art galleries and museums on a regular basis. She also writes exhibition reviews.

Do you know which are the most popular museums in London?

London's Museums are some of the top visitor attractions in the UK.

This a compendium of information about the top museums and galleries in London, based on monthly visitor numbers.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport publishes monthly and annual visitor numbers for museums and art galleries in the UK

Tate Britain - The Home of British Art

Tate Britain - the Home of British Art
Tate Britain - the Home of British Art

photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell (author)

This is the side entrance in Atterbury Street - opposite the Chelsea College of Art & Design. Millbank and the River Thames is at the end of the road

#1 TATE LONDON (Tate Britain and Tate London Combined) - FREE - 7,029072 visitors in 2013/14

Tate London comprises Tate Britain and Tate Modern.

Tate Britain is the 'senior partner' having been around the longest plus it is the home of the Turner Collection. The museum focuses on British artists - past and present - and art by artists who lived in Britain for a long time. The Turner Prize exhibition is always located at Tate Britain.

However Tate Modern is more central and gets the larger number of visitors for its collections of international contemporary and modern art post 1900.

Both Museums are located right next to the River Thames and are connected by the Tate Riiver Boat. It's perfectly feasible to walk between the two - I've done it!

  • 2013/14: 7,029072 visitors (Tate Modern 4,805,768 and Tate Britain 1,418,986)
  • 2012: 6,853,469 visitors (Tate Modern 5,318,688 and Tate Britain 1,534,781)

BOTH MUSEUMS ARE FREE TO ENTER although there may be charge to enter temporary exhibitions.

Tate Modern - from the Millennium Bridge (on a dull day in Autumn)

photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell (author)
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell (author)

The Art Guide - London - by Sam Phillips HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

London (The Art Guide)
London (The Art Guide)

Paperback: 240 pages

Publisher: Thames & Hudson (April 2011)

I've got a copy of this guide and I think it's quite possibly the best one I've yet seen covering art in London.

It also has excellent maps of where all the museums and galleries are and includes some which often don't get featured in some of the more "popular" guides.

This is a fully illustrated guide to the riches of over 100 of London's museums and galleries. It focuses on the best in the city's collections to create an easily navigable, narrative history of art. The guides unique approach allows you to locate your favourite artist or style of art in any museum and follow this throughout the museums of London.

 

#2 British Museum - Free - 6,758,935 Visitors in 2013/14

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

The British Museum is a national museum of global importance. Its collection of seven million objects provide a record of the art and artefacts of different human cultures across the world.

The Museum has a clear focus on its attraction for international visitors and people who live all over the world. It promotes the sharing of features of national identity across the world and ensures its celebrated collection can be accessed by and used by citizens of the world. It lends objects and shares expertise across the country to make a reality of universal cultural entitlement.

"In no other museum can the visitor see so clearly the history of what it is to be human."

The Museum has more or less continuously expanded and changed shape and configuration since it started! The museum was founded by Sir Hans Sloane in 1753. It moved to its current site in Great Russell Street in 1759. There have been major building programmes throughout its history. The British Library - which used to focus on the Round Reading Room - finally moved to a separate site in 1997.

The Reading Room at the British Museum has, in the past, been used by a large number of famous figures, including notably

  • politicians and political thinkers Karl Marx, Lenin, Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah;
  • authors Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, and H. G. Wells.

Visitor numbers

  • 5,465,861 visitors in 2008
  • 5,569,981 visitors in 2009
  • 5,842,138 visitors in 2010 (4.9% increase)
  • 5,575,946 visitors in 2012
  • 6,758,935 visitors in 2013/14 (financial year)

Entry to the British Museums is FREE. There is a charge to enter some temporary exhibitions.

The Great Court of the British Museum - and the original circular Reading Room

The Great Court of the British Museum, with the tessellated roof designed by Foster and Partners arching around the original, circular, Reading Room of the British Library.
The Great Court of the British Museum, with the tessellated roof designed by Foster and Partners arching around the original, circular, Reading Room of the British Library. | Source

London by Dorling Kindersley - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: London
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: London

Dorling Kindersley publish my preferred travel guides with excellent graphics as well as reliable information about areas and key locations. If I have to take one guide with me when I'm travelling then their guide is the one I take.

London has a lot of ace museums and it's no surprise that these are all well covered by this book.

What I really like about these guides in relation to Museums is you really get a sense of how big the Museum is and where things are due to the use of the cutaway diagrams.

Rated an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon by 43 reviewers.

Series: EYEWITNESS TRAVEL GUIDE

Paperback: 440 pages

Publisher: DK Travel; (September 15, 2014)

 

#3 National Gallery - Free - 5,903,000 Visitors in 2013/14

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN Tel: +44 (0)20 7747 2885

I think the National Gallery is a must see if you come to London - even if all you do is climb the steps at the main entrance and look out at Trafalgar square and down Whitehall to parliament. It's an iconic view

I do high speed tours of the National Gallery for people who come to visit London and me. However it's very easy to spend a complete day here as there are a colossal number of fine works of art in the collection and on display (when they're not travelling the world).

You'll often find there are a lot more people in the National Gallery than you might expect. The very popular - and crowded - galleries are those housing the nineteenth century British (Turner. Constable, Gainsborough etc) and European art (Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and the rest).

They do a good programme of courses, lectures and workshops - you need to move fast to book up for some of them.

The food is pretty good too and you have a choice of three separate venues within the building. My preference is for a table in the corner of the National Dining Rooms overlooking Trafalgar Square with Eton Mess for dessert.

Visitor Numbers

  • 4,382,614 visitors in 2008
  • 4,780,030 visitors in 2009
  • 4,954,914 visitors in 2010 (3.7% increase)
  • 5,085,000 visitors in year ending March 2011
  • 5,903,000 visitors in 2013/14

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London | Source

The Art Museum - RECOMMENDED

The Art Museum
The Art Museum

Hardcover: 992 pages

Publisher: Phaidon Press (October 17, 2011)

Amazon reviews: 4.3 out of 5 stars (15 customer reviews) | Like (36)

The first time I saw this book I had a good look at it. Which is not easy as it's the biggest and heaviest art book I've ever handled. Its huge size also makes it hugely expensive - however it is quite unlike any other book about the works of art in museums that you have ever seen before.

Anyway, the upshot is that my other half bought it for my Christmas Present - and it now resides on its side on my art library bookshelves - it's afr too tall to stand up!

"This revolutionary and unprecedented virtual art museum in a book, features 1,000 oversized pages of over 2,700 works of art. It is the most comprehensive and visually spectacular history of world art ever published."

The book took ten years to put together. It's designed to be accessible and valued by both experts and people new to art. That's once they've found a method for reading the book given its size and weight!

 

#4 NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM (South Kensington) - 5,571,539 visitors in 2013/14

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5792

The Natural History Museum is a branch of the British Museum. It originally moved to South Kensington in 1881 and houses all the natural history collections generated by original voyages of discovery. Its current mission is to maintain and develop its collections, and use them to promote the discovery, understanding, responsible use and enjoyment of the natural world.

This museum has seen an incredible expansion in visitor numbers in recent years - coupled with a significant development programme for its internal structure - which now includes the 8 storey cocoon shaped Darwin centre which opened in 2009 and now houses the 20 million plant and insect specimens.

The museum also has a rather splendid dinosaur in its main entrance hall.

Visitor Numbers

  • 3,701,347 visitors in 2008
  • 4,105,106 visitors in 2009
  • 4,647,613 visitors in 2010 (13.2% increase)
  • 5,021,762 visitors in 2012 (3% increase)
  • 5,571,539 visitors in 2013/14

Large Mammals in the Natural History Museum

Source

Natural History on the Museum's Exterior

Photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

#5 VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM (South Kensington) - FREE - 3,231,700 visitors in 2012

The Victoria and Albert Museum is located at Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

The V&A is probably the greatest museum of decorative art and design in the world. It has over 3,000 years worth of artefacts from many of the world's richest cultures and over 1,000,000 works. The purpose of the Victoria and Albert Museum is to enable everyone to enjoy its collections, explore the cultures that created them and to inspire those who shape contemporary design.

It's been enjoying a significant increase in visitors in the last couple of years.

Visitor Numbers

  • 2,483,382 visitors in 2008
  • 2,269,880 visitors in 2009
  • 2,629,065 visitors in 2010 (16% increase)
  • 3,042,034 visitors in year ending March 2011 (including the Museum of Childhood)
  • 3,231,700 visitors in 2012

Museum Opening Hours:

  • 10.00 to 17.45 daily;
  • 10.00 to 22.00 Fridays (selected galleries remain open after 18.00. ).
  • Closing commences 10 mins before time stated
  • Closed 24, 25 & 26 December

The tunnel entrance to the V&A is open from 10.00 - 17.30 daily but may be closed, on occasion, on the advice of London Underground.

Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington

Source

#6 SCIENCE MUSEUM (South Kensington) - 2,766,994 visitors in 2010/11

The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.

Open 10am - 6pm every day except 24 to 26 December.

The Science Museum was founded in 1857 as part of the South Kensington Museum. In 1909 it gained its independence. It's now renowned as the home to a number of famous items such as Stephenson's original Rocket locomotive, Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1 and Crick and Watson's DNA model. The Science Museum has over 300,000 objects in its care, with particular strengths in the history of western science, engineering technology and medicine since 1700.

ITogether with three other museums it forms the National Museum of Science and Industry

2,647,487 visitors in 2008

2,793,930 visitors in 2009

2,751,902 visitors in 2010

2,766,994 visitors in 2010/11 (year ending March 2011)

Entry is FREE, but charges apply for the IMAX 3D Cinema, simulators and some special exhibitions.

#7 National Portrait Gallery - Free - 2,096,858 Visitors in 2012

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2H 0HE

The National Portrait Gallery has to be one of the best if not the best portrait gallery in the world, in terms of breadth and depth of the collection. The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. It aims to promote the medium of portraiture which today focuses on photography as well as painting. Sculpture tends to come a poor third behind these two.

Every year it plays host to a major portrait prize of international significance

1,829,155 visitors in 2008

1,961,843 visitors in 2009

1,819,442 visitors in 2010

1,758,522 visitors in year ending March 11

2,096,858 visitors in 2012 (12% increase)

Open daily 10:00-18:00; Open until 21:00 Thursday and Friday.

Last admission to paying exhibitions is either 45 minutes or 1 hour before the Gallery closes.

National Portrait Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery, London
National Portrait Gallery, London

#8 National Maritime Museum - 2,433,163 Visitors in 2010/11

National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF

The National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory and Queen's House are normally open 10.00-17.00 seven days a week. Last admission 30 minutes before closing. Admission free.

The Museum is located in Greenwich, a short walk from the Cutty Sark DLR, local bus stops and Maze Hill and Greenwich stations. The Royal Observatory and Planetarium are in Greenwich Park.

2,068,244 visitors in 2008

2,367,904 visitors in 2009

2,419,802 visitors in 2010

2,433,163 visitors in year ending March 11

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Source: Wikipedia

#9 IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM (London) - 1,095,442 visitors in 2101/11

Imperial War Museum London

Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ

ENTRY IS FREE (there is a charge for temporary exhibitions)

Open 7 days a week except 24 - 26 December 10.00am - 6.00pm

Source: Wikipedia

#10 HORNIMAN MUSEUM - 584,974 visitors in 2010/11

Horniman Museum & Gardens, 100 London Rd, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ.

Open daily 10:30am - 5:30pm

Free Admission

© 2010 Katherine Tyrrell

Comments and Feedback - comments are very welcome - but please do not spam

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      wow, the great court museum looks grand and huge, thanks for the lens

    • ireneporter profile image

      ireneporter 3 years ago

      Nice lens. Whenever I get to London I try to visit at least one museum. I just can get enough of them.

    • stickyboard profile image

      stickyboard 5 years ago

      Hey Great lens! I just made a lens on 100 Great things about London and figured you might like it? It's a collaborative thing, so you might even like to contribute?! Anyway hope you like it - it all based from a blog if you're interested http://100london.blogspot.com/

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 5 years ago

      We visited all 10 when we lived in London, and I'm glad to see the Horniman listed. We lived somewhat near it and visited there several times. It's lesser known but very cool. Nice lens!

    • profile image

      webgain 5 years ago

      great lens.. i like London and this is nice lens about museums in London. I really enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      lovetouring 5 years ago

      The science, war and history museum are fantastic attractions for families with young child, especially during the upcoming half term and pending summer holidays. They often have events running (check their websites for the latest information) and offer a wide range of tactile exhibitions for the kids to touch, play with and climb over.And entry is free so it wont burst the bank! Well at least not until the kids reach the gift shop ;)

    • LondonWanderer profile image

      LondonWanderer 5 years ago

      A fantastic lens. If you get a chance please check out my (short) lens on the Sir John Soane's Museum in London, it really is a gem.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Great lens and a great list of museums too. The Museum Of London is good as well. I went to the Tate Gallery, and it was awful, full of modern art that I just didn't get. Love the Science, Natural History and Imperial War Museums. Blessed by an angel.

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