What are the must-see military museums in London?

11 June 2024

London, a city steeped in history, is home to some of the most prestigious museums across the globe. For those captivated by warfare, the military past, or simply fascinated by the historical context that shaped our world, London has a remarkable collection of military museums. From the well-known Imperial War Museum (IWM) to the lesser-known Guards Museum, London offers a deeply immersive educational experience. Follow us on this journey as we uncover the top must-see military museums in London.

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum is a must-visit for any history enthusiast. Established in 1917, the IWM was initially meant to record the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its empire during the First World War. Today, it offers a comprehensive overview of British involvement in all major conflicts since 1914.

The museum is divided into a series of rooms, each devoted to a particular chapter of military history. The exhibits range from authentic wartime artefacts, personal stories of war veterans to large-scale military vehicles and artillery. Don't miss the gripping Holocaust Exhibition that brings to light the horrors of Nazi persecution during the Second World War.

The National Army Museum

The National Army Museum is a treasure trove of British military history. Positioned in Chelsea, this museum reflects the long and distinguished history of Britain's land forces. The museum traces the army's history from the British Civil War to modern-day conflicts.

One of the most popular exhibits is the Battle gallery, showcasing the British army's role in major global conflicts. In the Soldier Gallery, you'll delve into the life of a soldier, their training, experiences, and personal sacrifices. This museum is a testament to the courage, perseverance and indomitable spirit of the British army. A trip to the National Army Museum is not just a treat for history buffs, but an educational and humbling experience for all.

The Royal Air Force Museum

The Royal Air Force Museum is a tribute to over a century of aviation history, with an emphasis on the British air force's contribution to it. It boasts a staggering collection of over 100 aircraft from different periods, making it a must-visit for any aviation enthusiast.

The museum is divided into several hangars, each showcasing a different facet of aviation. The highlight of the museum is undoubtedly the Battle of Britain Hall, where you can see iconic aircraft that played a crucial role in the historic battle. Also, don't miss the First World War in the Air Gallery that provides a vivid insight into the birth of aerial combat.

HMS Belfast

Docked on the River Thames, the HMS Belfast is an iconic symbol of London's rich naval history. This cruiser served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and the Korean War, playing a significant role in both. Today, it stands as a floating museum, offering a glimpse into life on board a ship during wartime.

Guided tours of the HMS Belfast provide visitors with an opportunity to explore everything from the ship's engine rooms to the captain's bridge. Be sure to check out the Operations Room, where you can learn about the complex logistics of commanding such a massive vessel during wartime. The HMS Belfast serves as an important reminder of the naval prowess of the British armed forces.

The Churchill War Rooms

A visit to London would be incomplete without a tour of the Churchill War Rooms. Located beneath the streets of Westminster, this underground complex served as the nerve centre for British leadership during the Second World War. It was here that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his inner circle plotted the course of the war.

The museum offers a unique perspective on the war, allowing visitors to explore the Cabinet War Rooms, the Map Room, and Churchill's personal quarters. The museum also contains the Churchill Museum, which is dedicated to the life and legacy of Winston Churchill. This immersive experience offers a fascinating glimpse into Britain’s wartime past.

The Household Cavalry Museum

Situated in the heart of Westminster, the Household Cavalry Museum is a captivating blend of living history and military heritage. It tells the story of the Household Cavalry – the oldest and most senior regiments in the British Army. The museum is unique in the sense that it provides a look into a working military building where ceremonial duties are performed.

Within the museum, visitors can uncover the 350-year long history of the Household Cavalry, which has served monarchs from Charles II to the present queen, Elizabeth II. An array of uniforms, weapons, and horse furniture are on display, showcasing the evolution of the regiments. A highlight of the museum is the viewing windows that allow visitors to witness the daily routine of the cavalry as they prepare for ceremonial duties.

Visitors can also explore the interactive displays, getting a sense of what it takes to be a Household Cavalry soldier. The engaging exhibits allow you to try on the ceremonial uniforms, understand the rigorous training and learn about the roles the cavalry has played in major historical events.

The Guards Museum

The Guards Museum is a lesser-known gem that offers a rich insight into the history of the five regiments of Foot Guards – the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards, and Welsh Guards. These regiments have been protecting the monarch since 1660, and their storied history is eloquently displayed in this museum.

The museum is located in Wellington Barracks, close to Buckingham Palace, allowing visitors to get a glimpse of the changing of the guard ceremony. Inside, the museum narrates the history of the regiments through a collection of uniforms, weapons, medals, and other military memorabilia. It also enlightens visitors about the regiments' current role and duties, their involvement in past wars and conflicts, and the significance of their ceremonial duties.

Among the exhibits, the Battle of Waterloo display, where the Guards played a significant role, is a standout. Interactive displays provide a chance to delve deeper into the life of a Guardsman, their experiences, and sacrifices.


London's military museums offer a profound exploration into the city's deep-rooted military history. These museums provide an in-depth look into the various facets of war - from the heroism of the soldiers, the military strategies, to the reality of life on the battlefield and the home front. The Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum, Royal Air Force Museum, HMS Belfast, Churchill War Rooms, Household Cavalry Museum, and the Guards Museum all offer unique glimpses into different aspects of the British military past.

Whether you're a military history enthusiast, a student of history, or simply a curious traveller, a visit to these museums is sure to be a rewarding experience. The personal narratives, historic artefacts, and immersive exhibits all serve to remind us of the sacrifices made during the war and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

A journey through these museums is not just a walk through the corridors of the past, but a step towards understanding the world we live in today. Each museum tells a piece of the larger story of Britain's military history, making a visit to these war museums in London an unforgettable exploration of the nation's past.

As Winston Churchill once said, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." These museums serve as a vital bridge to our past, allowing us to learn, remember, and pay tribute to those who fought bravely for the nation.

Copyright 2024. All Right Reserved