London is home to a plethora of different museums focusing on everything from the history of London to the history of comics, but this article is about 6 of the best museums and attractions in London which have a darker subject matter.
1 – Grant Zoological Museum
Rockefeller Building, University College London, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE
Nearest tube station: Euston Square
This museum is found in the University College of London and is free of charge – they do have a donation box as you go in, and I personally think it’s worth giving them a little (you can also “adopt” any of their specimens which I think is quite good fun). This collection shows off the natural world with a variety of skulls, full skeletons and wet specimens. I would say that it is the largest and most varied such collection I have seen, and is shown off in a very old school way, which works well with this kind of collection.
One of the nicest things about it (especially compared to the Hunterian museum – discussed next) is that you are encouraged to take photos. For those with a keen interest in art they will even (upon request) remove specimens from cupboards to allow you to study them in more detail for drawing.
2 – The Hunterian Museum
Royal College of Surgeons of England, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
Nearest tube station: Holborn
The Royal College of Surgeons of England owns this incredibly interesting collection. There are many skulls and wet specimens on display in a similar way to those in the Grant Zoological Museum, but in a much more contemporary setting. Rather than the zoological museum however it focuses much more heavily on human anatomy (although it does have animal specimens as well), showing wet specimens of organs and how disease affects these. The best displays in here however are kept in draws, so make sure that you open these and have a look at their vast collection of medical tools and equipment – after all it is a collection put together by surgeons! There is no charge for this museum but they do have a donation box which I feel is worth putting a little money in.
3 – Ripley’s Believe it Or Not
The London Pavillion, 1 Piccadilly Circus, London W1J 0DA
Nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus
The London Ripley’s is spread across 6 floors according to their website and displays over 700 artifacts, however when you’re going around inside, it doesn’t feel like that many floors. The majority of the items in this museum are not what you would call macabre, featuring on the unusual and amazing, however amongst the artworks and wax models you will also find 2 headed calves, skeletons and a collection of beautifully preserved and well displayed shrunken heads.
4 – The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garett
9a St Thomas St, London SE1 9RY
Nearest tube station: London Bridge
Part of St Thomas’ Church and the old St Thomas’ Hospital the operating theatre was established in 1822 and is the oldest remaining operating theatre, which is great as you get a real feel for the size of these places – it is much smaller than I had expected! As interesting as this is however the room before this is the more unusual and made the visit well worth it! There is a modest collection of old surgical equipment, a number of human pathological samples (which sadly you cannot photograph) and the largest collection of antique apothecary bottles I have seen… Including a number of rare and valuable heroine, laudanum and cocaine bottles.
One of the weirdest things about this museum is the entrance which requires you to go up a very steep and narrow staircase (which is also the way out), with the final step in to the entrance being at a funny angle. I can imagine it being difficult and even dangerous for older visitors.
5 – The Natural History Museum of London
Cromwell Rd, London SW7 5BD
Nearest tune station: South Kensington
There are a huge number of different exhibits at the natural history from dinosaurs to bugs and minerals to stuffed mammals… Although every time I have been the dinosaurs always seem to be off display! The focus from this article however is mainly for the stuffed specimen galleries which are always open to the public, although sadly as they are all quite old specimens most of them are really faded (especially things like the Tasmanian devil, giant panda and tiger). There are also a number of wet specimens which can be seen on special tours of the archives. The reason for our most recent visit here however was the new human evolution exhibit which was described in the national papers as the “wall of skulls”. With that kind of title given to it, I was sadly a little disappointed with firstly the low number of skulls on display, and even more so due to the fact that the vast majority were just casts – don’t go under the impression that you will see a large collection of real prehistoric skulls… Very interesting nevertheless.
As with many of the larger museums in London this one is free of charge (of course they push quite hard to try and get you to buy their guide books), and you are allowed to take photos, which is something I love in a museum… There’s nothing more annoying than a museum with a no photography rule.
6 – The Tower of London
Tower Hill, London EC3N 4AB
Nearest tune station: Tower Hill
One of London’s most iconic locations and certainly worth visiting… Its a spectacular place with a fascination and long history… A great place to learn a thing or two!
I’m hugely interested in torture implements from medieval times in particular, so was excited about the torture exhibit, which to be honest wasn’t what I expected and filled predominantly with replicas… However they are still interesting to see and read about – and certainly fit in to the subject matter discussed here! The history of the menagerie here also always interested me, and once again that exhibit was a little disappointing… I was hoping to see more of the old enclosures, how they were kept and perhaps a little more about the darker side of its time at the tower.
Two things not to miss are the crown jewels and the white tower. The tower in particular is home to a really great collection of Armour, weaponry and gifts from ambassadors! If you take the time to read the signs and have a good look around, there will certainly be plenty here to satisfy the macabre little monster inside you, and even if you’re not a fan of that, this place is steeped in history so diverse that there is bound to be something here for every one to find something of interest.
Whether you are planning to visit all the museums listed here, or just stopping by one or two whilst in London, if you’re sightseeing in the capital it’s worth considering the London Pass, a pre-paid card (also available as a smartphone app) offering entry to over 80 visitors attractions. It’s not cheap and costs £75 for a one-day pass, but if you are in town for longer it costs as little as £20 per day (adult) for a 10-day pass. Is the London Pass worth it? Well that depends on how many of London’s visitor attractions you plan to visit but according to this London Pass review, it certainly seems so.