10 Under-the-Radar Museums in London
London’s major museums are as famous for their acclaimed collections as their relentless crowds. Experience more than long lines and rushed tours at one of our under-the-radar picks, each showcasing a different side to the world-leading cultural capital.
Horniman Museum and Gardens
A break from the city bustle.
Specializing in anthropology and natural history, this Victorian museum is best known for its unusual collection of stuffed animals, aquarium, and collection of musical instruments from across the world. Its 16-acre (6.5-hectare) garden is also home to a Butterfly House, Animal Walk, and London’s oldest nature trail, making this a firm favorite for nature lovers, hipsters, and families in the South London suburbs.
Don’t miss: The World Gallery, the museum’s 3,000-strong collection of international artifacts that focuses on cultural connectivity and humanist philosophy.
Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
Europe’s oldest surviving operating theater.
Up in the rafters of an 18th-century church, this unusual museum provides a sobering glimpse into the history of surgery and medicine. In an era before anesthetics, this tiny space saw London’s poorest patients operated on in front of a live audience, by the up-and-coming surgeons of the time. Be prepared to climb up 52 steps through the bell tower, via a narrow spiral staircase.
Don’t miss: Weekly talks and demonstrations that provide further insight into Victorian healthcare, which must be booked in advance.
The world’s first museum solely dedicated to the vagina.
Founded in 2019, this Camden Market museum explores all things vagina related. From periods and patriarchy to sex and stigma, the museum’s wide range of exhibitions and events are widely devoted to targeting taboos and promoting a healthier attitudes to human bodies. Admission is free.
Don’t miss: The gift shop, which sells exciting works by featured artists and ethically-sourced souvenirs often featuring a plethora of vagina-based puns.
Leighton House Museum
Classical elegance meets Victorian opulence.
This purpose-built studio-house is a sight to behold for any art, interior design, or architecture lover in London. Commissioned by Frederic Leighton and designed by George Aitchison in the late 19th century, this Grade II–listed property exudes the lavishness and luxury of late Victorian aristocracy through its blending of Middle Eastern designs and Classical shapes.
Don’t miss: The so-called Arab Hall, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful rooms in the capital. Look out for the golden dome and Islamic tiles.
Sigmund Freud’s final home.
This former home of Sigmund Freud was bequeathed to the public upon the death of his daughter, Anna, in 1982. It was here the psychoanalyst lived out his last years after escaping Nazi Germany, and today the museum features pieces from Freud’s only extensive collection, as well as exhibitions that explore his work and its impact on popular culture.
Don’t miss: Freud’s original couch, on which his patients would recline, restored to its fin-de-siècle level of finery.
Learn about how migration made the city.
Situated in Lewisham Shopping Centre, this acclaimed museum examines how many millennia of migration has made Britain what it is today. Its curated exhibitions, which feature the work of professional artists and community members alike, immerse visitors in Britain’s diverse migration stories and provide eye-opening insight into what it means to be a Londoner.
Don’t miss: The Departures exhibition, which looks at British emigration over centuries, and how it changed the lives of generations to come.
Fashion and Textile Museum
For fashionistas in the fashion capital.
Founded by Dame Zandra Rhodes in 2003, this creative and quirky museum in Bermondsey is a must-see for any dedicated follower of fashion. The small space hosts a new exhibition every few months, each showcasing a unique aspect of contemporary fashion and textile design, from London countercultural movements to fabrics from around the world. Plus, a regular program of expert talks provides plenty of insider insight into London fashion.
Don’t miss: The free highlights tour (you only pay admission), which takes place every Wednesday and Friday; space is limited so book in advance.
Museum of Croydon
A hidden gem in London’s most southerly borough.
London’s most southerly gem, Croydon, is all-too-often overlooked as a tourist destination, despite its rich cultural heritage and great travel connections. If you do make it down, don’t miss the Museum of Croydon, a local treasure that charts the history of the borough from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day.
Don’t miss: The Samuel Coleridge Taylor collection, which examines the life of the Croydon resident and celebrated composer, whose work famously drew on and in turn influenced African-American folk music in the early 20th century.
A treasure trove of cinematic history.
Dedicated to all things cinema, this charming Kennington museum has been fighting to keep its doors open for some years. Located in the former Lambeth Workhouse, where one Charlie Chaplin was sent as a little boy, the space has been transformed into an important historical monument, featuring a vast collection of movie memorabilia, props, and machinery that documents the history of film from its emergence to the present day. Tours must be booked in advance.
Don’t miss: From 20th-century French film to cult British classics, a huge range of screenings take place regularly at the Cinema Museum, while the on-site bar is widely listed as one of the area’s finest.
The last working windmill in London.
Dating back to the early 19th century, this working windmill is a top spot to learn about London’s industrial past and see the flour-making process in action. The interior can only be visited on a guided tour, though the Windmill Gardens are free to wander and bags of flour can be purchased on-site.
Don’t miss: A glimpse of the current working millstones, which were installed over 100 years ago.