London is one of the world's great museum cities. Already been to the British Museum and the National Gallery? Spend the day perusing the capital's smaller museums. We've chosen five under-the-radar destinations that are required viewing for any history buff. What to expect: Manageable crowds and tons of quirky artifacts—highlights include Churchill's half-smoked cigars and Napoleon's toothbrush.
1. Churchill War Rooms:
In June 1938, the War Department transformed an unassuming set of basement offices in Whitehall into the centre of Britain’s war effort. Located ten feet below ground, the War Rooms became fully operational on 27 August 1939, exactly a week before the German invasion of Poland and Britain's declaration of war. Originally intended as a temporary base of operations, the secret bunker housed Churchill and his War Cabinet for the next six years. When Churchill visited the Cabinet Room in May 1940, he declared: "This is the room from which I will direct the war." The coolest part? The bunker look exactly as it did when the lights were switched off on 16 August 1945. Once you've soaked in all of the military greatness, head over to the adjoining Churchill Museum. The exhibit features thousands of artifacts relating to Churchill's life (including his half-smoked cigars). You'll also be able to listen to extracts from the Prime Minister's speeches and peruse his wartime correspondance.
2. The Wallace Collection:
Have a thing for Rococo? You should probably spend the day here. The Wallace Collection contains a dizzying array of French 18th-century paintings, furniture, and porcelain. Painstakingly assembled by Sir Richard Wallace, the private collection was bequeathed to the British nation by his widow in 1897. Never heard of him? He's the guy who gifted all of those pretty green drinking fountains to Paris in the 19th-century. Once you've marinated in all of the fine art, spend an hour ogling the intimidating weapons on display in the armory. Make sure to take a scone break in the oh-so-British tea room before you leave.
Charles Dickens Museum
Why is the Charles Dickens Museum a must-visit? Because this charming Georgian townhouse is the author's only surviving London home and it looks exactly the way it did when he lived here. The meticulously restored space is packed full of rare books, family photographs, and personal objects you won't get to see anywhere else. A newly-married Charles Dickens moved into this Bloomsbury property in 1887. Relatively unknown when he took up residency at 48 Doughty Street, Dickens had written Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist by the time he moved out. Insider tip: Book a spot at one the museum's candlelit Christmas readings if you're in London over the holidays.
The Wellcome Collection
The Wellcome Collection is dedicated to exploring "the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future." Translation: It's a wonderland of oddities. Sir Henry Wellcome, the museum's founder, was born in a log cabin in Wisconsin in 1853. The pharmaceutical executive packed a lot into his 82 years. He invented aspirin, became a knight of the British Realm, and amassed a vast collection of medical paraphernalia in the hopes of creating a "Museum of Man." Here's what to expect: old-timey surgical instruments, prosthetic limbs, and Napoleon's toothbrush.
Herry Lawford via Flickr
How did London evolve from a Roman settlement into the megacity it is today? The Museum of London provides an in-depth analysis of the city's development through the ages. Housed in a 200-year-old warehouse, the museum holds the largest archaeological archive in Europe. The permanent collection includes exhibits on Roman, Medieval, and Victorian London. Artifacts range from Bronze Age tools uncovered during the building of the Crossrail Underground railway to The Lord Mayor of London's State Coach. Expect to spend several hours here: there's a lot to take in.