- Discover more about the history of warfare and Britain’s role at the Imperial War Museum, London.
- Learn about the important conflicts that have shaped the world we live in today, such as the First and Second World Wars.
- Engage with the amazing artefacts of warfare that can be found in some of the museum’s permanent exhibitions.
- Find out more about the men and women who lived through the major wars of the 20th century and the acts of heroism that set them apart.
The Imperial War Museum is one of the best free museums in London for fans of military history. The museum depicts the development of modern conflict, from the trench warfare of World War I to the guerrilla warfare of modern conflicts in the Middle East.
One of the London museum’s most popular permanent exhibitions is its First World War Gallery. This exhibit charts the events of the biggest war the world had ever seen at that point in history. Learn about how the war began, the impact it had on the people who lived through it, and how the Allies achieved victory. Discover what it would’ve been like to be at the Battle of the Somme, the longest battle of the war, by going inside a lifelike WWI trench at the museum.
In the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the IWM, you’ll find the permanent Extraordinary Heroes exhibition. This gallery features the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses, two medals awarded by the British military for acts of heroism in war. The incredible features in this exhibit tell the story of the men and women who went above and beyond to protect their comrades and allies.
The Witnesses To War exhibition is another one of the IWM’s most popular permanent galleries. Here, you’ll find some of the vehicles, weapons, and aircraft used to fight the wars of the 20th century. These IWM collections include a British Spitfire fighter plane, which flew on 57 missions during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. There’s also the Nery Gun, a 13-pound cannon that was used in WWI. Another impressive vehicle is the Soviet T-34 tank, which revolutionised warfare and helped turn the tide in the Allies’ favour in World War II.
One of the strangest and most interesting permanent exhibitions at the museum is the Curiosities of War exhibit. This gallery has a fantastic collection of artefacts and objects from wartime donated to the Imperial War Museum archives. The artefacts include a sofa made out of fencing from an Afghanistan army base by British soldiers, a wooden horse used to train British army recruits in WWI on how to care for their horses properly, and the bar where the leaders of the WWII Dambusters operation used to drink.
The Turning Points: 1934-1945 permanent display at the museum tells the story of the critical moments in the build-up to and during the Second World War. Discover the ruined remains of a WWII Japanese fighter plane, left to rot on a small Pacific island before it was found again, fifty years later, covered by the jungle. There are also personal accounts and objects on display showing the impact of the war on the people who experienced it.
Perhaps the most significant exhibition on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum is the Holocaust Exhibition. This gallery tells the horrific experiences suffered by the Jewish people of Europe and other victims of Nazi oppression during World War II. The exhibit is a shocking reminder of the cruelty of war and a lesson to us all. There are some harrowing descriptions and displays in this section, so it is not recommended for children under 14 years of age.
The vast collection on display at the Imperial War Museum may seem daunting, but the museum has worked hard to make it as child-friendly as possible. The ‘Explore! A Kid’s Guide To IWM London’ is a fun and easy way for kids to discover the museum as they follow the guide’s clues and hints to learn more about the incredible artefacts inside the galleries and exhibitions. There are also guided tours available, which take you through the museum’s three floors and are suitable for all ages.
If you enjoy the exhibits at IWM London and want to discover, even more, you’re in luck. The IWM London is just one of five IWM sites across the country. There’s also the HMS Belfast warship, which is moored on the banks of the Thames in London. You can visit Churchill’s War Rooms in London, where Churchill and his Cabinet planned the strategies that helped lead the Allies to victory in the Second World War. There’s also the IWM Duxford museum in Cambridgeshire, which houses over 200 wartime aircraft and other military vehicles. In Manchester, you can also visit IWM North, which explores the impact of war on people and society.
What to know before you go
- Imperial War Museum opening times are between 10am - 6pm every day. It takes around three hours to see most of what the museum has to offer. Admission to the museum is free.
- The IWM’s café serves a wide range of food, from hot meals and lunches to snacks and drinks. It’s open from 10am - 5.30pm each day and has a children’s menu and an outside terrace, which is available from March to October.
- There are lots of accessible toilet facilities in the museum, which also have baby-changing facilities.
- The museum is accessible for wheelchair users and buggies, with step-free access from the West Entrance. However, the museum bag collection will not store buggies, so you have to bring the buggy around with you.
- The Imperial War Museum London is just a 10-minute drive from central London, just south of the Thames in Lambeth.
- With its central location, there are no car parking facilities at the Imperial War Museum. There’s limited street parking nearby, but the Novotel London Waterloo Hotel is a seven-minute walk away and has spaces that must be booked in advance.
- The museum is easily accessible by public transport as there are multiple stations nearby. Lambeth North (Bakerloo line) is a six-minute walk, Waterloo (Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern, and Waterloo & City lines and National Rail services) is a ten-minute walk and Elephant and Castle (Northern and Bakerloo lines and National Rail services) is a 15-minute walk.
- The museum is also well served by buses. The 3, 12, 53, 59, 148, 159, 344, 360 and 453 bus routes all have stops near to the museum.