Whether you’re in London for a big day out or a night on the town, it’s well worth taking in a museum while you’re here. Fun, fully interactive and (for the most part) free to enter, London museums are world class. While many are in the centre, slightly further south you’ll find the Imperial War Museum London. The IWM tells the story of modern warfare, from World War I to current conflicts. The stories can be difficult to hear, but don’t think that a visit here is going to be a total downer. The wartime memorabilia reflects the spirit of those living through terrible times and, with military vehicles, planes and weapons to look at, there’s something for both young and old visitors to enjoy.
To really get the most out of your visit, why not book into a Premier Inn Hotel near the Imperial War Museum London? There’s one right around the corner, ready and waiting to get your city break off to the best possible start.
IWM London was founded in March 1917 when Sir Alfred Mond approached the War Cabinet and asked them to create a national war museum to record events taking place during the Great War. His vision was of a place that was “not a monument to military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”.
In 1939 the Museum started adding artefacts from the Second World War to its collection - and so began its current policy of including memorabilia from all modern British conflicts.
Today IWM London aims to collect and display material as a record of everyone’s experiences during war and to commemorate the sacrifices made by all sections of society.
Although south of the centre, IWM London is still in Zone 1. It’s actually part of a family of five museums, IWM North is in Manchester and there’s IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire. Two other IWM branches, the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast, can be found just a short distance from the Southwark home of IWM London.
Oyster Cards at the ready, because the Museum is served by several local bus routes, all of which stop just outside.
The bus routes include 3, 12, 53, 59, 148, 159, 344, 360, 453 and C10.
Tube and train
The nearest tube station is Lambeth North for the Bakerloo line. The nearest mainline train station is Waterloo, which is a 10 to 15-minute walk away, or you could just hop on any bus that goes down Lambeth Road.
Driving and parking
Driving to IWM London? The postcode for your satnav is SE1 6HZ. The Museum is within the Congestion Charge zone and there is only limited parking nearby. There are NCP car parks in Waterloo and Elephant & Castle.
Fancy getting to IWM London under your own steam? You could hire a bike from one of the Cycle Hire Scheme docking stations you find in the city. The nearest docking stations to the Museum can be found on Lambeth Road.
The Museum underwent a £40 million redevelopment in 2014. Its new look was unveiled by Prince William in July 2014 and included a new First World War gallery, a new central hall as well as improved facilities and better access for disabled visitors.
The museum is open everyday from 10am to 6pm with last admission at 5.30pm. This includes Bank Holidays, although it is closed on the 24, 25 and 26 December. Admission is free, but there may be a charge for special events and exhibitions.
If you’re visiting with children on a weekend or over the school holidays, you’ll find plenty of activities laid on, and they’re designed to suit all ages and abilities.There’s also a Picnic Room so families and groups can bring their own food.
IWM London's lovely gift shop sells books, CDs, DVDs, clothing, souvenirs and gifts. There’s a massive selection of things for little ones, too, like pocket money toys, games and activity books. You’ll probably have to drag them out kicking and screaming!
There’s step-free access via the West Entrance on the right-hand side of the building, just past the café entrance. There’s also free parking for Blue Badge holders. Book your space by calling 020 7416 5000 two days in advance of your visit.
In addition to the permanent exhibitions we’ve listed below, IWM London offers a programme of changing displays to give in-depth looks at different war-related topics. Special events, such as private tours and author talks are also held throughout the year. With so much to see, you’ll need at least two and a half hours for your visit - and allow more if you fancy stopping for a bite to eat at the cafe.
This poignant display tells the story of the First World War through a rich collection of 1,300 items. These range from weapons, uniforms and equipment, to more personal items like diaries, letters and keepsakes.
This award-winning exhibition tells the story of the Nazi persecution and murder of Jewish people in Europe from 1933 to 1945 through the eyes of the people affected. Not for children under the age of 14.
Housed in the stunning Foster-designed atrium, Witnesses to War presents nine objects including a Harrier jet and a Spitfire plane, a T-34 tank and a Reuters Land Rover damaged by a rocket attack in Gaza.
Pssst! It’s time to get sneaky! Secret War goes deep undercover to peer into the secret world of spying and covert operations. Discover the work of Britain’s Special Forces and all their secret strategies.
Told through the lives of the Allpress family, you’ll learn how ordinary Londoners coped during the Second World War. Find out about rationing, evacuation, war work and events from the London Blitz to VE Day.
As part of its redevelopment the Museum now has not one but two Oliver Peyton cafes. There’s the large one on the ground floor of the Museum which has an outdoor terrace, and a tea room on the first floor. But if neither of those take your fancy, you’ll find great pubs and restaurants just a stone’s throw away.
To eat with a great view of the main atrium, head to the main cafe on level 0. Forget clingfilm-wrapped sandwiches. The Cafe serves stone-baked pizzas, charcoal-grilled burgers, sandwiches, cakes and children’s meals. You can even sit outside on the terrace with views of the park -the outdoor terrace is open from March-October.
Open at peak times like weekends and school holidays, you’ll find the Tea Room on level 1. It’s also licensed, so you can enjoy a wine or beer with your meal. Like the Cafe, it serves a wide range of hot and cold drinks, teas, cakes but also gives you the opportunity to have afternoon tea or try one of its fabulous sharing platters.
Consistently rated in the top 150 restaurants in London by TripAdvisor, the Laughing Gravy is a short walk from the Museum. It occupies the ground floor of an original foundry building, seats up to 50 diners and has a buzzy bar. With classy decor and soft lighting it looks unassuming, it serves up top quality dishes made from fresh, seasonal ingredients, and is known for its seriously lip-smacking cocktails. If you’re here on a Sunday, it’s well worth stopping off for a roast.
Just round the corner from the Imperial War Museum is the Grand Union Kennington. A great place to stop for a beer, wine or cocktail, inside there’s vintage furniture and retro seating. But the place really comes to life in summer on its rooftop terrace with views of the London Eye, lit by fairy lights when the sun goes down. It’s also well-known for its Burger and Bubbles nights, where for 90 minutes you get a tasty burger and all the prosecco you can drink for £25.