London is filled with more museums than most travelers can probably see on a typical first visit. And some of them — the British Museum, for example — are so vast you could spend days there. To help make sense of it all, I’ve created this list of large museums I’d recommend visiting on a first visit to London with limited time.

1. The Imperial War Museum

Photo courtesy Ian
Photo courtesy Ian

There are plenty of museums that house instruments of death, but few with as comprehensive and poignant a collection as the Imperial War Museum. The museum has an array of tanks, guns, wartime documents and other artifacts from various 20th Century conflicts. During my visit, I found the WWI sections particularly striking, but coming face to face with any battlefield machinery is pretty impressive.

2. The Tate Britain


The very cool Tate Modern gets a lot of attention, but I’ve found it’s counterpart the Tate Britain to be even more intriguing. The Tate Britain holds works from British artists, and the range is impressive; the first time I saw a Damien Hirst piece was here, and it’s also where I began gaining an appreciation for the tumultuous seascapes of J. M. W. Turner.

This mix of old and new was one of the things I most appreciated about the museum. And as an added bonus, the crowds at the Tate Britain have tended to be much smaller during my visits than at some of London’s other museums.

3. The National Gallery

Photo courtesy José Manuel Ríos Valiente

This is the museum where I learned how to approach art in a large gallery setting: slow down, choose a piece to focus on, and don’t worry about seeing everything. It sounds obvious enough, but because The National Gallery is one of those museums everyone visits, there can be crowds of people plodding through, trying to cram it all in.

If you go don’t worry about that. Just find a particularly moving piece and sit down. What makes The National Gallery — which houses European art through the 19th Century — a great museum is that it’s a good size for this kind of viewing: big enough to have world class pieces, but not as unwieldy as, say, the Louvre.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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