21 quiet museums in London that are open on Sundays
A smaller, quiet museum in London that’s open on Sunday is a rare thing – or so I thought until I started the research for this post. The result is probably one of the best selections of museums I’ve seen in a long time. Consider me proved wrong…
1. Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
The oldest operating theatre in Europe, housed in the roof space of St Thomas’s Church in Southwark. The site was once home to St Thomas’s Hospital before being solely dedicated to the church, and this tiny part of British history was restored and opened as a museum in 1962.
Find out how surgery was conducted before anaesthetics and antiseptics, before taking yourself off for a good lie down.
Sunday opening times: 10.30am – 5pm
Nearest station: London Bridge
More information: The Garret website
2. Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
There’s nothing like everyday objects and souvenirs from the past to remind you of how the world has changed in a few years. The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising houses an impressive collection of household items from the 1800s, 1900s and right up to the present day.
Sunday opening times: 11am – 5pm
Nearest station: Notting Hill Gate
More information: Museum of Brands website
3. Horniman Museum
Fans of the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and/or the London Aquarium should have this small-but-perfectly-formed south London gem on their list for their next available Sunday. The Horniman’s Natural History gallery is over 110 years old and houses an extensive collection of 19th century skeletons, preserved specimens and fossils, including a taxidermy mount of a walrus.
And not to be outdone by its larger cousins, the Horniman also boasts a range of African masks, religious altars and Egyptian mummies. And yes, it’s got live stuff too: a purpose-built aquarium is the home of butterflies, tropical frogs, corals and even jellyfish, among other little creatures.
Sunday opening times: 10.30am – 5.30pm
Nearest station: Forest Hill
More information: Horniman website
4. The Foundling Museum
The children’s charity Coram started life in 1739 as The Foundling Hospital – set up by Thomas Coram to care for babies who were at risk of abandonment. It was the first children’s charity in the UK and Coram had to campaign for no less than 17 years for permission from King George II to create it and another two years after that for the hospital to open.
His persistence paid off – in the 231 years that the hospital was running, The Foundling Hospital cared for 25,000 children and the charity now changes the lives of a million children a year.
The charity’s headquarters have now moved to Russell Square and the hospital building serves as a museum covering both its own history and that of the charity.
Sunday opening times: 11am – 5pm
Nearest Tube: Russell Square or Kings Cross St Pancras
More information: Foundling Museum website
5. The Freud Museum
Last home of the ‘father of psychoanalysis’ Sigmund Freud and now a museum in his honour. Freud lived here with his family during the last year of his life after escaping the Nazis and his study, including his famous couch, is preserved as he left it.
Sunday opening times: 12pm – 5pm
Nearest Tube: Finchley Road
6. London Canal Museum
London’s canals were once a major way to transport cargo around the country, as well as an industry in themselves. This unusual museum explains the history behind them. (Note: it’s not half as boring as it sounds.)
Sunday opening times: 10am – 4.30pm
Nearest Tube: King’s Cross
More information: Canal Museum website
7. The Fan Museum
‘Celebrating the history of fans and the art of fan making’ says the Fan Museum’s website. Quaint as you like – in a good way. Stop for afternoon tea in their orangery once you’re done in the museum.
Sunday opening times: 12pm – 5pm
Nearest station: Greenwich
More information: The Fan Museum website
8. The Geffrye Museum
Described as a ‘homage to the British living room’, The Geffrye Museum has resisted the hipster invasion of east London and remains unapologetically prim. Peer through the hypothetical curtains of families through the ages – a house porn-lover’s dream.
Sunday opening times: 10am – 5pm
Nearest station: Hoxton
More information: Geffrye Museum website
9. The Garden Museum
Located in the derelict remains of St Mary-at-Lambeth church and overlooked by Lambeth Palace, this is the first gardening museum in the world and possibly the most delightfully British place you will ever visit.
Explore the small grounds and visit the tombs of two 17th Century gardeners, before venturing into the museum’s three sections: ephemera, tools and a library.
Sunday opening times: 10.30am – 5pm
Nearest station: Westminster, Waterloo, Lambeth North or Vauxhall
More information: Garden Museum website
10. V&A Museum of Childhood
Its big sister may be packed come weekends, but the V&A Museum of Childhood should be far enough away from central London to put off rowdy tourists. As its name suggests, this collection in Bethnal Green charts the evolution of everything from intricate Victorian dolls houses and paintings to Lego and He-Man – and even the trusty space hopper.
Sunday opening times: 10am-5:45pm
Nearest Tube: Bethnal Green
More information: V&A Museum website
11. The Ragged School Museum
Test your slate board handwriting and avoid the dunce’s hat during a full 45-minute lesson what was once London’s biggest free school. Known as a ragged school and set up to give the area’s poorest children a basic free education, it was the work of Thomas Barnardo – also the founder of Barnardo’s children’s charity.
The building itself was threatened with demolition in the 1980s but saved by local people, and has served as a museum since 1990. The museum and Victorian lessons are free, but you’ll be hard-pressed to resist a £2 donation for their trouble.
Sunday opening times: 2pm-5pm (first Sunday of the month)
Nearest Tube: Mile End
More information: Ragged School Museum website
12. The Household Cavalry Museum
If you’ve ever wondered what goes into creating the pomp and ceremony of the Royal pageantry, as well as preparing for active service in the British Army, then The Household Cavalry Museum will be just your bag.
Housed in the Horse Guards in Whitehall – still a working stables and the headquarters of the Household Division – the museum promises a behind-the-scenes look at one of Britain’s most celebrated traditions.
Sunday opening times: 10am – 6pm
Nearest station: Charing Cross, Westminster or Embankment
More information: Household Cavalry Museum website
13. Keats House
Once the home of poet John Keats and now a peaceful museum. See Keats’original manuscripts and take inspiration from the beautiful place he called home.
Sunday opening times: 1pm-5pm
Nearest station: Hampstead Heath, Hampstead or Belsize Park
More information: Visit the City of London website
14. Fashion and Textile Museum
Situated in an orange and pink building in ‘fashionable Bermondsey’, the Fashion and Textile Museum was founded by British designer Zandra Rhodes. It houses (as you might expect) an impressive collection of culturally significant clothes, jewellery and fabric from around the world.
Sunday opening times: 11am–5pm
Nearest Tube: London Bridge
More information: Fashion and Textile Museum website
15. Handel & Hendrix
You undoubtedly know the names, but did you know these two great music legends lived in two houses next to each other? Explore both Handel and Hendrix’s former homes and escape the Oxford Street crowds at this elegant museum in the heart of central London.
Sunday opening times: 12pm – 6pm
Nearest Tube: Bond Street
More information: Handel & Hendrix website
16. The Florence Nightingale Museum
‘The lady with the lamp’ has become an iconic symbol of nursing and wartime care, but many often forget that the real-life Florence Nightingale not only had a radical impact on sanitation, military health and hospital practices, but also changed the face of nursing (literally) by establishing it as a respectable profession for women.
Learn more about the lady herself – and see her pet owl Athena in the flesh – at this museum dedicated to her life.
Sunday opening times: 10am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Westminster or Waterloo
More information: www.florence-nightingale.co.uk
17. Leighton House Museum
If ever there was a place that summed up the phrase ‘hidden gem’, this was it. Leighton House was once the home of the artist Frederic Leighton, who transformed his Kensington house into an Aladdin’s cave of gold, turquoise and some of the most intricate interior designs in London.
Sunday opening times: 10am – 5.30pm
Nearest station: High Street Kensington
More information: www.leightonhouse.co.uk
18. The Guards Museum
The Guards Museum covers the five regiments of Her Majesty’s Foot Guards: Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards, who not only see active service but also guard the royal palaces alongside the Household Cavalry. Their museum not only serves to show the public the variety of their work but also acts as an educational tool for young Guardsmen.
The Guards Museum is just a short Tube ride from the the museum dedicated to the Household Cavalry (see number 8 on this list).
Sunday opening times: 10am – 4pm
Nearest Tube: St James’s Park, Green Park, Waterloo, Charing Cross or Victoria
More information: www.theguardsmuseum.com
19. 2, Willow Road
A 1930s house in NW3 might not look like your average National Trust property, but the former home of the architect Ernö Goldfinger is considered so influential and ground-breaking that it’s been turned into a suburban museum to preserve it.
Sunday opening times: Tours on the hour 11am – 2pm (free to explore independently 3pm – 4.30pm)
Nearest station: Hampstead Heath
More information: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road/
20. Churchill War Rooms
The chance to stand in a room where 20th Century history was made. 70 years after World War II ended, the underground bunker that sheltered Winston Churchill and his cabinet against the Blitz is still preserved and available to visit. Most fascinating of all is the map room, which they promise has ‘remained exactly as it was left on the day the lights were switched off in 1945’.
Sunday opening times: 9.30am – 6pm
Nearest Tube: Westminster
More information: www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms
21. Ham House
We end our tour of London’s Sunday gems in a location so beautiful that King Charles I saw fit to give the lease for it to one of his closest friends. Ham House is set on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond and is regarded as one of the grandest Stuart houses in England. Given to the National Trust in 1948, it boasts a stunning orangery (now serving as a gorgeous café), a collection of rare and intricate artefacts and, apparently, a ghost or two.
If you’re coming in from the north side of the river (from Twickenham, or from the north end of Richmond), don’t forget to take a pound coin: you’ll have to catch the (frankly wonderful) ferry to get there.
Sunday opening times: 12pm – 4pm
Nearest station: Richmond or Twickenham
More information: Visit the National Trust website
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