Theatres of war
There are in fact five separate Imperial War Museums, just three of which can be found in London - the other two are in Cambridge and Manchester. They are of course vital destinations for history enthusiasts, but every visitor will be pleasantly surprised by how much there is to learn and enjoy here. While it would be tough to pack all three into one day, don’t miss the chance to see at least one of these amazing and often humbling attractions.
The largest museum, IWM London, is dedicated to the human stories of modern war and conflict. Located near Elephant and Castle, it is a magnificent space featuring a stunning atrium with tanks, missiles, boats and fighter planes suspended from the ceiling. Comprehensive galleries cover the realities of World War I and World War II in informative detail, including a great section on one family’s experience of WWII on the lower floor. The museum makes excellent use of interactive software; there is also a good on-site café.
On the other side of the river, the Churchill War Rooms is both a wartime bunker and museum of the life of our greatest Prime Minister. History breathes in these rooms, left largely as they were in the last days of WWII - it is here that much of the Allied war effort was conducted. Original maps in the Map Room, Churchill’s own furnishings, and an excellent audio guide all work to bring the space to life in a fascinating and often moving display. The adjoining Churchill Museum is full of well-curated exhibits relating to Churchill’s life and legacy. Docked in the Thames, a mere stone’s throw from iconic attractions such as the Tower of London and the London Eye, is HMS Belfast. This impressive vessel is one of three which survive from the fleet that bombarded Normandy in 1944, and is open for visitors to explore life on a wartime battleship. Offering a sobering look at the conditions of the sailors who lived on board, nearly all areas of the ship are accessible, from the engine to the gun room, and realistic reconstructions make for an immersive experience.