Everyone’s after an ‘off the beaten track’ experience when they’re on holiday, and sometimes following a guidebook too rigorously might mean you miss out some hidden gems. Although London is brimming with world-famous museums like the Natural History Museum and Churchill War Museum, there are plenty of other unknown hot-spots for you to visit, too.
Discover a part of London’s culture you never knew existed in our list of London’s most unusual museums.
Possibly the strangest of all London museums is The Old Operating Theatre Museum, detailing the history of surgery and medicine. It houses the oldest operating theatre in Europe, which dates back to 1822, and features artefacts from midwifery, obstetrics and anaesthesiology, as well as nursing and patient care. Visitors can also witness how surgeries were performed before anaesthetics were available in 1846 – enough to make you shudder! Those with a delicate disposition, zone out at the gory bits…
Dedicated entirely to drawings and illustrations, this fun museum opened in 2006 to house the collection of the Cartoon Art Trust, which has been collecting and preserving the best of British cartoon art since 1988. Its three main galleries display original artwork from British cartoons and comics, past and present – and is great for highlighting the true British humour. Artists featured include David Law (Dennis the Menace, Beryl the Peril) and Leo Baxendale (Bash St. Kids, Minnie the Minx), as well as Victorian cartoonists including John Leech, George Cruikshank and George Du Maurier.
This may not sound that unusual, but when you realise that this small museum is essentially a big collection of food wrappers and packaging, you’ll see that it is! Not your average dusty relic and ancient artefact museum, it’s a quirky display of nostalgic brands and best-loved slogans familiar to everyone (especially the oldies). Marvel at Mars bars and Oxo Cubes from World War I, Kit Kats from the 1930s and learn about the timeline of brand packaging from Cadburys and Marmite.
London is surprisingly green with enough parks to shake a stick at. If you’re not happy with the smattering of royal oases in the capital, hunt out the Garden Museum, the city’s very own museum dedicated to these open spaces. Set up in 1977 to save the abandoned ancient church of St Mary’s from demolition, it also marks the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570-1638) – the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history. Learn about how the landscape of gardens has changed over time, from Victorian tricks to modern day trades.
London’s not just famous for its River Thames, but there are miles of canals to be explore, too. To discover life on the waterways, head to the London Canal Museum in Camden (also a former ice warehouse). Here you’ll learn about how the canals were built and the lives of the people who lived and worked on them, as well as the history of the boats that float upon them. It doesn’t end there, you can even find out the history of the museum itself and learn all about Italian Carlo Gatti who used to import ice from Norway to make his famous ice cream, or gelato, we should say.