The Imperial War Museum London is part of a collection of five Imperial War Museums and historic sites in the UK exhibiting on war and conflict. Founded as the Imperial War Museum in 1917, it was set up to record the war effort and the sacrifices made during the First World War.
You might not feel comfortable around the concept of Imperialism, or about war itself, but the museum is a fascinating resource that details war in all its horror, from the perspective of the people who fought and suffered, from the First World War to the present day. The stories can be difficult to hear, and that means the museum is just as much about the lessons we need to learn as it is about military might.
Massive engines including entire planes and boats, first-hand accounts and interactive exhibits help visitors see war through the eyes of the people who lived through it, and that makes it even more fascinating than a mere dry exhibit of war machinery could possibly be.
If you'd like to put your visit to the museum at the heart of a trip to London, good hotels near Imperial War Museum London include our South Kensington and Paddington easyHotels, both of which are convenient, comfortable and welcoming.
History and trivia on the Imperial War Museum
The history of the museum is tied closely with its many and varied exhibits.
- The building the museum is currently housed in used to be the old Bedlam mental hospital, AKA Bethlehem. The hospital moved to a new location, and the museum moved in.
- The IWM enjoyed a £40 million redevelopment in 2014
- The museum still gets letters redirected from the original Kensington office address, an address that was printed in the ration book that first advertised it all those decades ago
- The museum isn't all about war, nor does it glorify war. Many of the exhibits reveal a yearning for peace
- When the Museum moved to its current home in 1936, it took six weeks to move all the exhibits in
- The V1 bomb and V2 rocket were Nazi inventions that failed to end the war in their favour. The man who invented the V2, Werner Braun, was sent to the USA after the war and the tech he invented was ultimately used in the first moon landing. You’ll find out all about it on your visit!
- Tirpitz the pig was rescued by a British sailor after the sinking of the German SMS Dresden off the Juan Fernandez Islands in 1915. The pig fast became a mascot on board HMS Glasgow
- Tony Blair’s face is the star of the show on the artist Bill Drummond's playing cards, made in 2002 as a protest against the so-called ‘War on Terror’
- Artist Steve McQueen's 'Queen and Country' is a collection of 155 sheets of stamps, each commemorating a soldier who died in the Iraq War.
- The museum commemorated its 100 year anniversary in 2017 with a centenary of stories from its collections across five branches
Permanent displays include Turning Points, which looks at 1934 to 1935, and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery of extraordinary heroes. The First World War galleries are permanent as well. But the events held there are one of the biggest attractions, a stream of excitement including wonders like plays, talks, tours, meet the author sessions, films, and opportunities to actually meet war veterans in person and hear awe-inspiring stories.
Ticket prices – How much are Imperial War museum entry fees? Entry is free.
Imperial War Museum opening hours – 10am to 6pm every day, closed from the 24th to the 26th December. The last admissions are at half past five.
What's on each floor?
- Ground Floor – First World War exhibits, Witnesses to War, a cafe, lockers, information point, loos, shop and ticket desk
- First floor – Second World War and War Story, plus a book shop, cinema, lockers and tea room
- Second Floor - Secret War and Peace & security 1945 to 2014, plus a conference room, Explore History facility, teaching rooms, research room and loo
- Third Floor – Special exhibition space plus Art and Photography galleries 1-3 and special IWM programmes at Gallery 4, Curiosities of War, exhibition shop, tickets and loo
- Fourth Floor – The Holocaust exhibit and the roof terrace
- Fifth Floor – The Lord Ashcroft Gallery – Extraordinary Heroes
- First World War galleries
- The Holocaust Exhibition
- Witnesses to War
- Secret War
- A Family In Wartime
- Turning Points
Good restaurants near the Imperial War Museum include Riverside 2 at 18-20 Kennington Road, an excellent Italian. There's Paladar on London Road, number 4-5, a Latin American treat, or The Three Stags at 67-69 Kennington Road, a really good gastropub. Maderos is at 222 Kilburn High Road, known for its wonderful grills, and Baltic Restaurant and Bar at 74 Blackfriars Road serves tasty Polish cuisine. If you fancy something really special, why not try the Laughing Gravy on Blackfriars Road, no 154, consistently rated in the top 150 restaurants in London by TripAdvisor and just a short walk away.
Getting to the Imperial War Museum
How to get to the Imperial War Museum?
Walking - As with the whole of central London, a walk is a really exciting way to discover more about the city for yourself, up close and intimate. All you need is comfortable shoes and a map or app to find your way around this fascinating capital, a place that's just as ancient as it is contemporary, where marvels like the Shard and the old City of London co-exist in a surprisingly small area. The minute you begin walking, you realise how very accessible London is on foot.
If you travel by car, there’s free parking at the Imperial War Museum for Blue Badge holders.
Underground – The closest underground rail station is Lambeth North, and the next nearest are Waterloo, for the Bakerloo, Jubilee and Northern lines, and Elephant & Castle for the Bakerloo and Northern Lines.
Bus – You want the Imperial War Museum stop L, served by the 159, 134, 53 and 344 bus services, or any bus going down the Lambeth Road.
Train - The nearest mainline train station is Waterloo, a 10 to 15-minute walk away.