Six of the best London war museums


From the time you walk into the atrium of this newly-refurbished museum in Lambeth to find a Spitfire and Harrier jump-jet hanging overhead this is a special experience. Founded in 1917 (during the war) it tells the story of warfare from WWI onwards as experienced by individuals. It also chronicles how the so-called Great War marked the shift to mechanised slaughter from the cavalry charges that preceded it. It also details how WWI was the world's worst family dispute: Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was Queen Victoria's favourite grandson and the cousin of Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Britain was so ill-equipped for WWII that some artillery was taken out of the museum and returned to service.


G224CJ The Cabinet War Rooms, Westminster, London tra12-sixbestLondon

The Cabinet War Rooms, Westminster, London. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

The television series The Crown and the film The Darkest Hour have brought British WWII prime minister Winston Churchill to renewed attention recently. It's a thrill to dive under the streets of Westminster to the simple rooms where much of that war was conducted. It's a step into a past of basic furnishings, wooden desks, manual switchboards and Bakelite telephones with warfront maps and ashtrays everywhere. It's a fascinating labyrinth. It soon becomes clear that guiding victory from these makeshift quarters was far from certain. You exit through the Churchill Museum, where the life of one of the 20th century's most complex characters is well laid out, warts and all.


EJ26N5 HMS Belfast on the River Thames, and Tower Bridge, London. tra12-sixbestLondon

HMS Belfast on the River Thames, and Tower Bridge, London. Photo: Alamy

The foreboding battleship-grey shape on the River Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge is HMS Belfast, the only surviving British vessel from the Normandy landings bombardment fleet. It's been here since 1971 as a museum that provides the opportunity to explore life at sea during WWII. The shock from the 5000 shells the vessel fired over those 33 days cracked the crew's toilets. Even when fully operational the toilets were rudimentary. The bridge is solid, with no touch of luxury, and as you explore the nine decks of the ship you soon discover how uncomfortable life at sea must have been – especially when the outer decks were coated in ice during the Battle of North Cape.


FW89K1 Horse Guards Parade, London, UK. 1st April, 2016. A modern-day Eurofighter Typhoon, iconic second world war Spitfire fighter and world war 1 Sopwith Snipe in central London to celebrate the RAF Museums campaign offering members of the public the opportunity to have their name written on the wings of an RAF Red Arrows Hawk Jet that will fly through the 2017 display season. Credit:  Malcolm Park editorial / Alamy Live News. tra12-sixbestLondon

Aircrafts from the RAF Museum on display in central London. Photo: Alamy

The NW London suburb of Colindale may not be familiar to many but Hendon, where it's located, is known as a birthplace of British aviation. The museum is scattered across six hangars that have been redeveloped to celebrate the 2018 centenary of the RAF. It even offers the opportunity to sit in the pilot's seat of a Spitfire and there are two simulators. In 1914 the Royal Flying Corps had 1500 people. Over the next four years the role of aviation changed from battlefield surveillance to bombing and aerial fighting and the RAF was 205,000 strong. This is all revealed in the First World War in the Air exhibition, surrounded by aircraft of the period.


CPAHXH Nelson's Victory ship in a bottle by Yinka Shonibare relocated to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich Park South London England UK tra12-sixbestLondon

Nelson's Victory ship in a bottle by Yinka Shonibare relocated to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich Park, South London. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

The Thameside suburb of Greenwich is not just the point from where all time is measured but also home to the sprawling National Maritime Museum, the world's largest. From an earlier age you can see Nelson's coat from Trafalgar (with the hole in the left shoulder from the bullet that killed him) – his pigtail is preserved and the saw that amputated his arm. The Jutland 1916 gallery presents depictions of, and artefacts from, the largest sea battle of WWI that involved 279 vessels. Most poignant is a pair of binoculars recovered from the sunken HMS Invincible. Forgotten Fighters: The First World war at Sea is in commemoration of WWI and explores the naval side of the conflict.



PR4R8N London, UK 29 September 2018 Four first  World War battle buses were on display outside the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden,The B Type buses, are the survivors of the 900 that were requisitioned ,one of them still in war paint to camouflage them form the enemy,they attracted huge crowds Credit: Paul Quezada-Neiman/Alamy Live News tra12-sixbestLondon

The first four World War battle buses on display outside the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Photo: Alamy

Prepare to battle through all the school children enjoying this fun museum within Covent Garden. Old buses and quaint London Tube carriages – what's not to love? There's also a display of the development of the iconic London tube map, widely regarded as one of the world's best graphic designs. However, the LTM has a serious side, too, particularly in recounting London Transport's role in war: 1915 brought the first air raids and by the end of the war more than 4 million people had sheltered in Tube stations overnight. There's even one of the buses that was sent to war – many were used for troop movement (driven by their regular drivers) but in WWI some were used as carrier-pigeon lofts. Initially, these Battle Buses were still red and complete with advertisements, but were later painted in camouflage.

David McGonigal travelled to London at his own expense and was a guest of The Beaumont Hotel.