Visiting World War 2 museums in London will take you back in time during one of the most difficult periods in British history. As the only West European country not conquered by the Nazis, Britain has been the ultimate place of resistance against Nazi Germany. As a consequence, World War 2 museums in London abound and contain large collections of military gear and material. If you’re interested in the history of World War 2, London is the best place to get more in depth.
1. HMS Belfast
HMS Belfast docked on River Thames is one of the best World War 2 museums in London
See my photos from HMS Belfast
My favorite of the World War 2 museums in London is the famous HMS Belfast. Did you know Town-class cruiser HMS Belfast is one of just three remaining battleships from the Allied fleet of the D-Day Landings in Normandy? The ship was on active duty since 1939. In her first days, HMS Belfast was part of the naval blockade of Nazi Germany and later it became famous for being the first allied ship to fire during the D-Day land invasion of Normandy.
She was damaged by a mine and returned to service in 1942. This grand ship participated in Arctic convoys for Soviet forces, in Allied invasion in France, and later HMS Belfast was transferred to the Pacific Ocean. The vessel saw last days at sea in 1963 and became a World War 2 museum in London in 1971.
Located on the Thames River near Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast is easily accessible to visitors. The entrance fee also includes an audio tour which provides great historical background to your experience visiting this huge vessel. Among the top attractions onboard is the Gun Turret Experience, an interactive look at the famous Battle of North Cape when the ship fought and helped defeat the German boat, Scharnhorst. The experience behind the 6-inch gun turret at the rear of the ship is enhanced with lights, smoke and movement.
The Bridge is the central place where the senior officer made decisions, and you can see the site where the captain steered the HMS Belfast through sea and battles. Other notable areas to explore include Boiler and engine rooms, a B shell room and hoist, and the main deck.
Visiting HMS Belfast is part of my walking tour of London from Tower of London to St Paul’s.
2. Churchill War Rooms
Secondly on my list of World War 2 museums in London is the Churchill War Rooms. One of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum showcases the life of British prime minister Winston Churchill, his cabinet, and the Army Chiefs of Staff. This World War 2 museum in London is located under the New Public Offices in King Charles Street, the British government’s wartime headquarters and army hosted several important rooms. The Map Room was central Britain’s information hub of the War Cabinet. Operated from 0 to 24 by military personnel, the officers provided intelligence and essential information for the Prime Minister, military Chiefs of Staff, and the King. You can see pinholes on the map from convoy movements in the Atlantic and leftover sugar cubes from 70 years ago.
Winston Churchill said in May 1940 he would wage war from the Cabinet Room. The Cabinet War Rooms hosted over 115 Cabinet meetings. Other notable attractions include Transatlantic Telephone Room directly connecting to the Pentagon building and Churchill’s office-bedroom with BBC broadcasting equipment. You can explore the original desk from which he addressed the public four times during the war and look at his personal belongings. Churchill War Rooms is one of the World War 2 museums in London. It offers classic visits with booking in advance, private guided tours, and Operation Black Door, an immersive event experience.
Plan your trip to Churchill War Rooms
Book a local walking tour with tickets to Churchill War Rooms. In addition to visiting the War Rooms, this beautifully conducted tour will take you to most important sights in Westminister.
3. Imperial War Museum London
A British Supermarine Spitfire Mark IA on display at the Imperial War Museum
See my photos from IWM London
Thirdly on my list of favorite World War 2 museums in London is the large IWM London. The central building of the Imperial War Museum was opened in 1917 to commemorate the efforts of the British military in the First World War. The museum’s home from 1936 is in Southwark, and you can see two impressive 15-inch guns from HMS Ramillies and HMS Resolution. The atrium on the ground floor in this World War 2 museum in London hosts unique exhibits like Supermarine Spitfire number RR/6915 from the Battle of Britain, Mark V Tank from WW1, an 800 mm shell from Schwerer Gustav, and other attractions. The museums will guide you through the illustrious history of wars and conflicts. The two biggest attractions are The Holocaust exhibition and the Turning Points: 1934-1945 permanent collection with the Second World War’s key moments. The Holocaust is not suitable for children under 14. It showcases documents, photographs, artifacts, and videos of the harsh reality of the mass extermination of Jews and other groups during the Second World War. You can explore personal stories and testimonials, as well as some artifacts found with survivors of the Nazi death camps.
The Turning Points exhibition tells a story of the WW2 through significant artifacts. The Lancaster Bomber, a huge flying fortress, was used in the aerial bombing from 1943 onwards. The deciphering of the German Enigma Machine, used as an encrypted secret code between German ranks, was a huge turning point in the war. You can see a Japanese Zero fighter, found 50 years after the action on a Pacific Island with a British bullet in the fuselage. Without raw materials and supply, the Japanese airforce left it in the jungle. These are just fragments from a huge collection in one of the largest World War 2 museums in London.
4. Imperial War Museum Duxford
German tank position on display at Duxford Land Warfare Museum
See my photos from IWM Duxford
IWM Duxford is the largest air museum in Europe with seven main buildings, several permanent exhibitions, and over 200 exhibits, mainly aircraft. It is located at a still-active airfield in Duxford, only 50 miles north of London. You can reach it via train from London Liverpool Station to Whittlesfort Parkway. From there you can grab a taxi. While not located in London, Duxford is still relatively close to the capital and an amazing place to visit. So I had to include it in my list of World War 2 museums in London. Visiting IWM Duxford is one of my favorite day trips from Cambridge.
The Battle of Britain exhibition is in a hangar originally used in 1940 by fighter squadrons. Learn about the campaign, sit in Spitfire Cockpit, or explore the Hurricane on the viewing platform. Visit the Battle of Britain Ops Block. See the Operation Block with historic Operations Room with the recreation of the pivotal 15th September 1940, the climax of the battle. Learn about the Dowding System and how Royal Airforce Duxford was an essential part of the RAF fight against Luftwaffe. You can explore the American Air Museum and see the incredible Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and P-51D Mustang American fighter. With these huge collections, you can round up World War 2 museums London tour on a high note.
5. Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park Mansion was the headquarters for British codebreakers during World War 2
Bletchley Park is a country estate located 50 miles north of London that served as the home to the Government Code and Cipher School. Home to numerous exhibitions that tell the story of Britain’s codebreakers, From London’s Euston Station, trains stop at Bletchley Station, a six minute walk from Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park’s importance merits a spot on my list of World War 2 Museums in London.
The admission fee includes an audio tour featuring event reenactments and interviews with veterans who were stationed at Bletchley Park. The Intelligence Factory exhibition explains how Bletchley Park’s staff worked around the clock to convert enemy communications into intelligence that helped the Allies win the war. An immersive film tells about Bletchley Park’s role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
A museum features the world’s most comprehensive displays of Enigma machines. You will learn how British codebreakers broke Germany’s most strategic cipher, Lorenz. A separate room houses the Bombe machines that were used later in WW2 to decipher German Enigma ciphers. An exhibition pays tribute to Alan Turing, who broke the Enigma code and was the subject of the film The Imitation Game, which was filmed at Bletchley Park.
Is it Worth Visiting World War 2 Museums in London?
I loved visiting each place and learned so much about World War 2! However, you do require at least half a day to visit each of these places, so if you’re short on time while visiting London, you need to look at your priorities. However, if you’re spending a few days in London, I highly recommend including one of these World War 2 museums on your list of places to visit, especially if you enjoy history.
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