Imperial War Museum London: Discovering Britain’s Military History

Imperial War Museum London
Imperial War Museum London
Imperial War Museum London

Suppose you’re looking for an authentic and immersive experience of Britain’s military history. In that case, there’s no better place to start than the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. From tanks to planes, uniforms to medals, and photographs to artworks, the museum houses an unparalleled collection of objects, archives, and personal stories that bring the conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries to life. Whether you’re a history buff, a veteran, a student, or a tourist, this article will guide you through the fascinating exhibits and activities of IWM London.

Imperial War Museum London

Despite being in the military since 2003, I (Joel) have never been to the Imperial War Museum London. So, where better to go on a rainy London day than somewhere you haven’t been that’s indoors and has a connection to you? Housed in a remarkable piece of architecture, the IWM London has two standout things inside – the BAe Harrier GR.9 hanging from the ceiling in the atrium display and The Holocaust Galleries on Level 2.

Has there ever been a cooler plane take to the skies than the Harrier? I think not! And The Holocaust Galleries is a harrowing reminder of a time that can never repeat itself. We left the gallery feeling different to how we entered it. That’s the power of the gallery.

IWM London
IWM London

What is the Imperial War Museum London?

One of the best museums in London is what it is! War is a world away from the comfort of our daily lives, which is why the drama and shock of war and the cutting-edge technology of the military fascinate us. And the Imperial War Museum delivers this in such a powerful way.

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The IWM was founded in 1917 during the First World War as a repository of archives and artefacts related to the British and Commonwealth war effort. Its original name was the National War Museum, and its purpose was to collect and preserve the memory of the war for future generations. In 1936, the museum moved to its current location in Lambeth, South London, after being housed in Crystal Palace and South Kensington. The building the IWM now calls home was formerly the Bethlem Hospital.

Over the years, the museum has expanded its scope to cover warfare from the First World War to the present day. Its collections now include over 155,000 three-dimensional objects, ranging from weapons and vehicles to uniforms and diaries, from propaganda posters and films to contemporary art and photography. The museum also conducts research, education, and outreach activities. The IWM London isn’t alone in its quest to educate either. There are other locations, including the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast in London and IWMs in Manchester and Duxford.

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What to Expect at the Imperial War Museum London

The museum is full of fascinating stuff. From armoured press vehicles damaged by rocket attack to window frames from the World Trade Centre, manned torpedos, Lancaster Bomber cockpits and concentration camp prisoner jackets, the IWM has thousands of items on show to capture your attention.

But the heart of the Imperial War Museum is its five permanent galleries, each dedicated to a specific theme. These galleries offer a chronological and thematic journey through the wars and their impact on society, politics, and culture, from the trenches of Flanders to the skyscrapers of New York. Here are a few to give you a flavour of what to expect.

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First World War Galleries

The First World War gallery tells the story of the war that changed the world, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the Armistice of 1918. The gallery features an immersive recreation of a trench and a range of artefacts, such as weapons, uniforms, and letters that illustrate the experiences of soldiers and civilians.

Second World War Galleries

The Second World War gallery covers the global conflict that lasted from 1939 to 1945 and shaped the 20th century. The gallery displays a variety of iconic objects, such as a Spitfire fighter plane, a V-2 rocket, and a Blitz fire engine, as well as personal stories of soldiers, civilians, and resistance fighters.

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The Holocaust Galleries

The Holocaust gallery is a sobering reminder of the horrors of the Nazi genocide of six million Jews during the Second World War. The gallery presents a chronological and geographical account of the Holocaust, from the rise of Nazi anti-Semitism to the liberation of the concentration and extermination camps. The gallery features a range of artefacts, videos and interactive displays that convey the human dimension of the tragedy. There’s even a suicide ampoule hidden away in a corner. Suicide ampoules, or capsules, were carried by German SS officers as a suicide measure.

Special Exhibitions

In addition to the permanent galleries, the Imperial War Museum hosts a range of special exhibitions that showcase different aspects of the conflicts, from contemporary art to new perspectives on historical events. These exhibitions change regularly, so it’s worth checking the museum’s events page for the latest updates. You can even see future special exhibition dates on the website.

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Other Events and Activities

In addition to the galleries and exhibitions, the Imperial War Museum London offers a range of events and activities that engage visitors of all ages and interests. These events and activities include events for families, talks, tours, private tours, and lectures and discussions. Check the events page for the latest events list.

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Planning Your Visit to the IWM London

If you’re planning to visit the Imperial War Museum London, here’s some practical information that may be helpful:

Facilities and Services

The museum has a range of facilities and services that aim to make the visit as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. These include a cafe and restaurant, a gift shop, and free Wi-Fi access throughout the building. The museum is fully accessible for wheelchair users (via the west entrance) and has a range of accessibility features, such as audio guides and sign language interpretation.

Opening Times, Prices, Contact Details

💷 Free


🕙 Open daily, 10am to 6pm

📞 020 7416 5000

IWM London Location

📍Lambeth Rd, London, SE1 6HZ

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The Imperial War Museum London is a fascinating and thought-provoking museum providing comprehensive and immersive insight into the conflicts that shaped the modern world. Its permanent galleries offer a rich and diverse collection of artefacts, testimonies, and interactive displays that capture the human experience of war from different perspectives. At the same time, its special exhibitions provide a platform for new perspectives on historical events. Whether you’re a history buff, military enthusiast, or simply curious about war, the Imperial War Museum London is worth visiting.

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Is the Imperial War Museum worth visiting?

Yes, it’s 100% worth visiting! The Imperial War Museum is a little off the beaten track in London, but it’s one of the best museums in the city. It’s full of fascinating items to engage you for a few hours, and best of all, it’s free!

How long does it take to visit the Imperial War Museum London?

It depends on your interests and pace, but you should allow at least two hours to explore the museum. It’s easy to get lost in the galleries with all the interesting things on show, plus you’ll want to wander around the shop or even grab a spot of lunch.

Is there a cloakroom or luggage storage at the museum?

Yes, the museum has a cloakroom where you can leave your coats and bags. However, there are no facilities for storing large items such as suitcases.

Are there any guided tours available at the museum?

Yes, the museum offers a range of guided tours that cover different aspects of the collections and exhibitions. You can book a tour in advance on the museum’s website or at the ticket desk.

Is the museum suitable for children?

Yes, the museum has a dedicated family area and a range of activities that cater to children and young people. However, some exhibitions may contain sensitive material, such as The Holocaust Galleries, so young children are advised not to enter.

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Imperial War Museum London

Imperial War Museum London

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