Imperial War Museum

Things to do in London | Imperial War Museum

Whether you’re staying in one of our London hotels for a big day out or a night on the town, it’s well worth taking in a museum while you’re in town. 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. Plus, our hotel near the Imperial War Museum will be keeping the home fires burning until you get back.

Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

Essential information

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.

Things to see

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.

First World War Galleries
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.

The Holocaust Exhibition
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.

Witnesses to War
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.

Secret War
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.

A Family In Wartime
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.

Turning Points (1934-1945)
Explore key moments of the Second World War told through the connections between people’s lives and the objects on display. It’s here you’ll find an original Enigma machine, used to send coded messages.

Eating and drinking

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 to October.

Open at peak times like weekends and school holidays, you’ll find the Park View 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.

Right across the road from the Imperial War Museum is The Three Stags. This cute little place that’s been named one of the most eco-friendly pubs in London. With a great selection of real ales (try the Bonkers Conkers) and some very good homemade pizza to munch on (straight from the wood-fired oven), they also have outside seating. Too cold? Head indoors where there are lots of interesting things to look at, from traditional original features to a bit of punk art - they sometimes hold exhibitions upstairs.

Getting to Imperial War Museum

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.

By car
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.

By bus
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.

By bike
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.

By 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.