The Best Off-The-Beaten-Track Museums In London

William Morris Gallery | © Nick Bishop/Waltham Forest Council
William Morris Gallery | © Nick Bishop/Waltham Forest Council
Photo of Harriet Clugston
9 February 2017

Say goodbye to thronging crowds of tourists and make for the hills with these out-of-the-way museums. With the oldest sporting museum in the world, a sumptuous private palace of art, and a brilliantly bizarre collection of taxidermy, musical instruments, and African art, these local neighbourhood gems prove that you don’t need a big-name installation to have a brilliant, cultural time in London.

William Morris Gallery

Art Gallery, Museum
Map View
Lawn and driveway facade of William Morris Gallery, London
The former childhood home of William Morris Gallery is an award-winning gallery today | © Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Tucked away in Walthamstow in North East London, the William Morris Gallery is dedicated to the life of pioneering Victorian designer, author and socialist William Morris. The gallery is housed in a beautiful, Grade II-listed Georgian house, once Morris’ family home, with beautiful, manicured gardens featuring an ornamental moat. The gallery is divided into a series of rooms guiding visitors through the stages of Morris’ life, and contains 10,000 objects. See the original designs, textiles, wallpapers, ceramics, and furniture that made Morris one of the country’s most celebrated interior designers, as well as work from his close friends, the Pre-Raphaelite painters Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Leighton House Museum

Building, Museum, Park
Map View
Leighton House Museum silk room
Lord Frederic Leighton was a self-described enemy of the Pre-Raphaelites, but they had much in common | © Will Pryce
Described as London’s ‘private palace of art’, the Leighton House Museum in Holland Park is the labour of love of Frederic Leighton, the most famous artist of the late Victorian period. Built in 1865 but continually revised and extended over the next thirty years, the building was designed by Leighton as a studio-home, where he would live and paint, and it became a society hotspot in London — Queen Victoria was even known to drop by. The museum today contains over 70 of Leighton’s oil paintings, hundreds of drawings, and casts of his sculptures, as well as work by his contemporaries from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The sumptuous house itself is the star of the show, however — the decadent Arab Hall, in particular, is a sight to behold.

Geffrye Museum

Geffrye Museum, London
Geffrye Museum, London | © Ergonomik/Flickr
One of Shoreditch’s hidden gems, the charming Geffrye Museum is London’s museum of the home. Set in beautiful 18th-century almshouses, the main attraction is a long gallery of 11 recreated period rooms, showing the progression of styles and tastes through time, from the 1600s right through to the end of the 20th century. Visitors can also explore a restored almshouse, which at one time would have homed one of 50 poor pensioners, a 20th-century painting room, the original almshouses’ chapel, a tranquil garden reading room, and beautiful period grounds complete with walled herb garden.

Horniman Museum

Aquarium, Forest, Market, Museum
Map View
It’s safe to say Forest Hill is not going to be topping any tourist’s lists of must-visit London destinations any time soon, which is all the better for Londoners who want to take advantage of the brilliant Horniman Museum, a free anthropology and natural history museum set amidst 16 acres of beautiful gardens. The museum holds 350,000 objects and is most noted for its traditional natural history gallery filled with an extensive taxidermy collection. There’s also an aquarium, a collection of African art, a music gallery with 1,300 instruments, temporary art exhibitions, and plenty of community activities, such as a regular farmer’s market.

Cinema Museum

Map View
This great little South London museum is only open for pre-booked guided tours, but it’s definitely worth setting some time aside to visit. The Cinema Museum is dedicated to the history of the movies, with an extensive collection of artefacts and memorabilia encompassing ‘every aspect of going to the pictures, from the architecture and fittings of cinemas themselves to the ephemeral marketing materials that promoted the films of the moment’. In fact, the very building itself is rooted in cinema history — it was once Lambeth Workhouse, the Victorian institution to which Charlie Chaplin was sent as a child.

MCC Museum

Sports Center, Stadium, Museum
Map View
It’s a little known fact that the famous Lord’s Grounds are not just the home of world cricket, but also the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum. With the collection begun in 1864 and the museum opening in 1953, it is the world’s oldest sporting museum. Spanning the entire history of the game, the museum’s collection of cricket memorabilia is one of the most celebrated in the world. Highlights include the original Ashes urn, a stuffed sparrow mounted on the ball which killed it mid-flight in 1936, and various pieces of kit belonging to history’s greatest players, such as W.G. Grace.