On land, sea and in the air: London’s must-visit war museums

Whatever the reason for your short-break in the UK capital (perhaps spent at accommodation like the Grand Royale London Hyde Park), there’s no doubt you ought to take the time while here to check-out one or two of its world-class museums and, if at all you’ve an interest in British military history, then London’s brimming with supreme sites dedicated to that very subject…

Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

(Lambeth Road SE1 6HZ)

Offering a captivating – and often so thoughtful it can be a little challenging – insight into what day-to-day life has been and continues to be like for both forces personnel and civilians in modern warfare, the IWM London truly is the UK’s most comprehensive and eye-opening museum dedicated to the subject. A long-standing major visitor attraction, it’s been through a recent renovation, in fact, and having reopened in summer 2014 is now blessed with a stunning new atrium and impressive galleries permanently dedicated to the First World War, the centrepiece of which is a superbly realised recreation of a Western Front trench, featuring all manner of naturalistic sounds, sights and even periscopes (the latter for being able to see ‘over the top’).

However, what catches the eye most immediately has to be the nine ‘Witnesses to War’ objects that greet visitors on their entrance to the building; a V2 rocket and Spitfire and Harrier aeroplane each suspended from the museum’s ceiling. Elsewhere, visit Level (‘Turning Points: 1934-1945’) for thousands of exhibits from World War Two, Level 2 for (‘Peace and Security’) for conflicts from the end of WWII up to the present and Level 3 (‘Curiosities of War’) for a fascinating selection of obscure objects, such as a bar where the legendary Dam Busters bombing crew once drunk and a settee made from hesco fencing by troops serving in Afghanistan.

churchil war rooms

Churchill War Rooms

(Clive Steps, King Charles Street SW1A 2AQ)

Located right beneath the beating heart of Westminster, this subterranean warren of rooms is where iconic Prime Minister Winston Churchill was, for long periods of time, forced to direct the British war effort during the Second World War’s 1940s. Today, fully open to the public and preserved (that is, they’ve been altered slightly since they were originally abandoned) to appear exactly as it would have done the cigar-chomping leader’s time spent underground with his immediate and military staff of the era. Indeed, each and every fitting and item of furniture is positioned as it would have been in situ; right down to a map room and a Transatlantic phone room, which afforded Churchill a direct hotline to his US counterpart, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Additionally, on the site is what’s referred to as the Churchill Museum, an attraction that offers a state-of-the-art showcase of his life, not least an interactive timeline of his lifetime’s achievements, as well as personal papers, unforgettable quotes, photos and even clothes, while the iconic man’s eccentric habits are far from overlooked – for instance, you may come across his oversized romper suit (as wide as it is tall!), along with letters to his staff ordering champagne be served at meals in spite of the inevitable wartime shortages.

RAF Museum

(Grahame Park Way NW9 5LL)

When better to visit this haven dedicated to commemorating Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) then in the organisation’s centenary year? Especially given the fact that this fine museum’s undergone a major redevelopment to coincide with the celebrations. Here then visitors can test their flying skills, explore stories of RAF personnel past, sit in a cockpit and encounter a trio of immersive exhibits that showcase tales of those brave souls in the blue uniforms. Moreover, this year’s upgrade’s resulted in landscaped green spaces, a children’s playground and a restaurant having been added to the site.

As a whole, the building comprises several hundred thousand objects, ranging in size from aircraft to lapel badges that, together, spanning more than a century of aviation history. Plus, lest we forget, there’s also what’s to be found in what was the old Hendon Aerodrome; more than 100 full-sized aircraft past and present – many suspended from the ceiling as if in flight – including fighters, bombers, water-landing aeroplanes and helicopters. Let’s face it then, both children and grown-up air-flight enthusiasts are bound to be on cloud line at the end of a visit!

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