21 of the most wonderful and weird museums in London

If it’s your first time in London then chances are that you’ve got the city’s most famous museums at the top of your wish list. The Natural History Museum, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Science Museum are some of London’s best known museums and deservedly so.

But, once you’ve ticked these big ticket items off your must-see list then it’s time to turn to some of London’s more unusual sights. The capital is home to dozens of other lesser-known museums – some that even locals don’t know about.

Whatever your hobbies or interests, chances are there’s a museum for you from textiles and cartoons to medicine and mail – there’s even a museum dedicated to sewing machines. Yes, there really are that many weird museums in London!

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Weird Museums in London
Can you spot the walrus at the Horniman Museum?

Our favourite unusual museums in London

Of the many quirky museums open to visitors in London, the following are some of our favourites. One thing to note, the wonderfully quirky and popular Pollock’s Toy Museum is currently closed while the museum looks for new premises.

Museum of Brands

Located near Notting Hill, the London Museum of Brands tracks the history of consumer culture from Victorian times through to the present day.

It was started by Robert Opie, who came from a family of collectors and one day decided to save a packet of Munchies from a vending machine in Inverness. From here his collection grew until he one day had enough to open up a museum.

The museum’s collection is housed in the Time Tunnel, glass display cabinets packed full of items from across the last 200 years. The exhibition starts in the Victorian era with newspapers and magazines displays alongside song sheets, railway timetables and perfume bottles. Next is the Edwardian era and then onto the Great War and on through history until you get to the present day. 

Altogether it’s a fascinating look at social change, culture and lifestyle through British history.

Museum of Brands

Fashion and Textile Museum

Anyone with a love of fashion should head to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey. The museum was founded by flamboyant fashion designer Zandra Rhodes and is the only museum in the UK dedicated to showcasing contemporary fashion and textile design.

The museum hosts a range of temporary exhibitions covering a broad range of textiles and designers. Current and past exhibits have included the Fabric of Democracy (exploring printed propaganda textiles) and the textile designs of Andy Warhol. 

Workshops, talks and events are regularly held here too. It’s a great option for teens in London. 

Fashion and Textile Museum

The Fan Museum

Located in Greenwich, The Fan Museum is the only one of its kind dedicated to the history, culture and craft of the fan.

The small museum is housed in a pair of Grade II listed Georgian houses and was found in 1991 by Dicky and Hélène Alexander – Hélène has spent her lifetime collecting fans and now has over 5,000 dating from the eleventh century to the present day. Additional fans have been subsequently been added to the collection making the museum home to the world’s largest collection of fans.

The permanent exhibition of this unique museum explores fans through the ages covering 1,000 years of fan history and culture from flat vellum rectangles used during the Middle Ages through to ornate folding fans from the 18th century. Also on display are a rare Elizabethan-period fan and a Fabergé fan with gold work and enamelling.

The Fan Museum

Old Operating Theatre 

One of the most unusual museums in London is the Old Operating Theatre, the oldest surviving operating theatre in Europe. Dating back to 1822, and housed in the attic of St. Thomas Church, this is where the poorest of patients came for treatment. Pain relief was limited to alcohol, opiates and chloroform as well as a wooden cane to bite down on when the pain became too much!

The operating theatre was only rediscovered in 1956 and opened as a museum six years later. Today it’s a fascinating insight into medicine and medical procedures from time gone by. On display are herb garrets used by the apothecaries, instruments used during procedures including cupping, bleeding and skull-driving, and information on the history of the church and hospital itself.

Old Operating Theatre Museum

Weird museums in London
Fashion magazines on display in the Museum of Brands

The London Sewing Machine Museum

This wonderfully quirky museum really is a hidden gem, dedicated to the history of the humble sewing machine and houses some 700 machines, made for both domestic and industrial use. These aren’t any old sewing machines, however, among the collection is a machine gifted to Queen Victoria’s daughter and the very first machine by Singer. 

The museum is the result of Ray Rushton who built up the collection over a period of 40 years and is today one of the best and most extensive in the world. Make sure to check ahead if you want to visit, however, as the museum is only open on the first Saturday of every month between 2pm – 5pm.

The London Sewing Machine Museum

Cartoon Museum

Anyone with an interest in cartoons and animation should head straight for the Cartoon Museum, home to over 6,000 original cartoon and comic artwork as well as over 8,000 books and comics. The permanent collection includes wartime cartoons, modern satirists including Ralph Steadman and original Rupert Bear artwork from 1921. Exhibitions and events are held throughout the year. 

The Cartoon Museum

Alexander Fleming Museum

This niche museum is located in Paddington and well worth a visit. It’s dedicated to the life and work of Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming, the man responsible for discovering penicillin.

On display is a reconstruction of Sir Alexander Fleming’s laboratory, some of his personal belongings and a video explaining how a chance discovery after coming back from holiday led to a lifesaving drug that revolutionised the medical world and ushered in a new era of antibiotics.

Alexander Fleming Museum

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Located on one of the most famous streets in London – and the home address of the city’s most famous fictional detectives – is the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Dedicated to the stories of the super sleuth created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the museum offers visitors the chance to look inside the life and stories of the Sherlock Holmes and Victorian London.

Housed within a four-storey Georgian townhouse (with a cheerful London ‘Bobby’ standing outside) the rooms are filled with Victorian furniture and knick knacks as well as items from famous cases solved by Holmes and his sidekick Watson. There’s also a good gift shop on site.

Be prepared to queue for the Sherlock Holmes Museum, it is one of the most popular in London.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

Weird Museums in London
Visit the old home of Charles Dickens

House of Dreams

A serious contender for London’s top weird museum is the magical House of Dreams, created by artist and designer Stephen Wright. Located in East Dulwich, this terraced house has been transformed into the most fantastical of destinations, decorated top to bottom, inside and out, with found objects.

You’ll spot dolls and teeth moulds, tinsel and family photographs, colourful plastic bottles and so much more. Alongside the thousands of items are hand-written memory boards that recall important event in his life. 

The House of Dreams is only open to visitors on certain dates (roughly once a month) so make sure you book well in advance. 

The House of Dreams

The Postal Museum

One of our favourite museums in London is the Postal Museum which examines the origins and history of the humble letter.

Located opposite the enormous Royal Mail depot in Kings Cross, the museum is formed of three parts. There’s the main museum itself detailing the history of the postal service with lots of interactive elements, quirky facts and even the chance to dress up. Then there’s Sorted! a brilliant play space for children under 8 and the final section is the Mail Rail.

The Mail Rail really is the highlight of this unique museum. From the 1920s until its closure in 2003, trains transported letters and parcels 6.5miles across London along underground tunnels. The train line linked six sorting offices with mainline railway stations and delivered four million letters every day! Today, two new trains have been adapted from the original design and take visitors on a 15 minute trip, 21 metres underground.

The Postal Museum

Horniman Museum

Located in Forest Hill, south London, the Horniman Museum is truly one of the best museums to visit in London with kids. It’s well known for its collections of anthropology and musical instruments as well as its aquarium and butterfly house. But what it’s most famous for is its over-stuffed walrus on display in the main Natural History Gallery.

Apparently, when Victorian taxidermists first received the walrus they were confused by the strange-looking creature and its heavy folds of skin. Having never seen a living walrus, they thought the wrinkles should be smoothed out and stuffed the skin until he was fit to burst.

As well as the permanent exhibitions, the Horniman regularly hosts temporary exhibitions on a whole range of subjects. Past exhibitions have examined the history of hair as well as our relationships to cats and dogs. The museum hosts excellent activities during the school holidays too.

The Horniman Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum

One of the most beautiful museums in London has to be inside the museum dedicated to Sir John Soane. The British architect, who was responsible for designing the Holy Trinity Church and the Bank of England, among other buildings, was also a keen collector of art, furniture, architectural paintings and models.

Having amassed quite a collection in the 19th century he decided to open the doors of his house to ‘amateurs and students’ and today the home is open to all as a museum. Don’t miss the Sarcophagus of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Weird Museums in London
The Old Operating Theatre in London

London Canal Museum

London has a large and varied network of canal routes, originally built to transport goods. Today the canal routes are some of the prettiest corners of London. Canal boats often line these navigable waterways, many of them are homes but some are also businesses; one of the most unusual bookshops in London can be found on a barge and another canal boat has been transformed into a puppet theatre.

You can learn all about London’s canal networks and the London Canal Museum in Kings Cross, central London. Discover how they came to be built, learn about the lives of the workers and cargoes, and understand how the canals work.

The London Canal Museum

The Charles Dickens Museum

Discover the life and works of Charles Dickens, widely considered to be the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, in the house where he once lived.

The excellent Charles Dickens Museum is located in the house where the writer lived with his family between 1837-1839. It’s been set up to look as if Dickens was still living there and represents a traditional middle-class Victorian home with furnishings, portraits and decorations that belonged to Dickens.

Also on display are works by Dickens; it was while living here that he finished writing The Pickwick Papers, and wrote Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist

The Charles Dickens Museum

Leighton House Museum

Another weird museum in London to add to your list is the Leighton House Museum. The former home of leading Victorian artist Sir Frederic Leighton, the house is nothing short of extraordinary. From the outside it looks like simply a very nice Kensington townhouse but inside the home is a ‘private palace of art’.

Inspired by this travels, Leighton transformed his home into a rich, opulent reflection of his life and work. The most famous room is the Arab Hall, created following a visit to Syria in 1873, and decorated using antique tiles from Damascus. The museum has recently undergone an £8 million restoration project and has reopened with a new wing previously closed to visitors.

Leighton House Museum

The Original Cockney Museum

You’d think that a museum dedicated to cockneys would be located in the East End of London but you’ll find this one – the only one of its kind – in Epsom. The museum is the work of George Major, the Pearly King of Peckham, who long had a dream of opening his own museum.

Today, the original museum celebrates the history and heritage of the cockney tradition, a truly unique part of London heritage. Discover what it means to the a Pearly King or Queen, test your Cockney rhyming slang, and learn what city life was like in the 19th century.

The Original Cockney Museum

Weird Museums in London
Curios in the Sherlock Holmes Museum

Florence Nightingale Museum

One of the best small museums in London is the Florence Nightingale Museum, located within St Thomas’ Hospital, just off Westminster Bridge. The unique museum, which opened in 1989, celebrates the life and work of the world’s most famous nurse.

The museum charts Florence’s life from childhood (when her parents tried to dissuade her from becoming a nurse) to her time in the Crimean war (where she contracted a life-changing illness) and how she campaigned for better healthcare for ordinary people.

On display are perusal items belonging to Florence Nightingale, including the actual lamp that earned her the nickname The Lady With The Lamp.

The Florence Nightingale Museum

Anaesthesia Heritage Centre

Sticking with the medical theme, the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre is probably one of the more unusual museums in London. The museum traces the incredible story of anaesthesia from ancient practices to modern day anaesthetists.

There’s a large collection of anaesthetic equipment on display including hand bellow and pipes from 1774, used to pump comatose patients back to life as well as the original 19th-century John Snow chloroform inhaler. The centre is also home to a large library dedicated to the history of anaesthesia. Events and educational programs are also held throughout the year. 

Anaesthesia Heritage Centre

Cinema Museum

Dedicated to showcasing the history of the silver screen is this unique museum in London. The Cinema Museum houses a unique collection of artefacts, memorabilia and equipment that reflects the history and popularity of cinema from the 1890s to the present day. 

Enjoy the many photographs, art works, posters, projectors on display as well as usherettes’ uniforms and all manner of fixtures and fittings that you might find in a movie theatre from ashtrays to signage. 

The Cinema Museum

Handel and Hendrix Museum

This is less a weird museum in London and rather a truly exciting new museum that will open in May 2023 (tickets go on sale in April). The museum is dedicated to musicians Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel, who both lived in London on the same street. Handel lived at 25 Brook Street from 1723 until his death in 1759 and Hendrix moved into a flat at number 23 in 1968. 

The new museum is a celebration of the two musicians and showcases their music, stories and collections. 

Handel and Hendrix Museum

Dennis Sever’s House

One of the strangest museums in London (if not all of the UK) is the eccentric home of the late Californian Dennis Sever. In 1979 he bought a run-down Georgian house in Spitalfields and set out on a mission to create a living history of London.

Sever invented a fictional family who lived in the house from the late 17th to the 19th centuries and designed rooms that reflected stories of their lives. Each room is filled with objects that are either original period pieces or are items he made himself. 

When Severs opened the house to the public he would conduct tours of the property himself until he died in 1999. During lockdown, staff discovered hundreds of cassette tapes of Severs’ tours and today the tours are led by an actor using the original tours as a blueprint. 

It truly is one of the most unique museums in London. 

Dennis Sever’s House

Photos sourced from Depositphotos.

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