Best British War Museums and Memorials to Visit in the UK

Wondering where are the best British War Museums and Memorials to visit in the UK?

If you are a wartime enthusiast, you will not run out of places to explore in this part of the world. 

Best British War Museums and Memorials to Visit in the UK
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Head over to London and there you’ll find many of the world’s greatest museums and memorials dedicated to war. These are the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War Rooms, the Royal Air Force Museum, the Cenotaph and the Household Cavalry Museum. There is also my personal favourite – the HMS Belfast.

Aside from those that are in London, you still have many British war museums and memorials that are located in different parts of the UK. All of them are great storytellers of major world events that transpired when we weren’t even conceived.

Thanks to people devoted to conserving our past, we now have relics and narratives that speak of both beauty and hardships from before.

Ready to see what will be your favourite? Here is our list of the UK’s best war museums and memorials.

Best British War Museums and Memorials to Visit in the UK

1. Imperial War Museums

IWM LONDON
Address: Lambeth Road, London, SE1 6HZ
Operating Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Entrance Cost: Free of Charge
Website: IWM London

In 1920, IWM London was opened in the famous Crystal Palace by King George V. It was only in 1936 when the then  Duke of York reopened the museum where it is today. The venue of IWM London was once the central portion of Bethlem Royal Hospital.

What was only envisioned to be a place for World War I memorabilia is now a world-class museum exhibiting things of WWI and beyond. Objects at the IWM London include sound archives, photographs, documents and art all relating to war. Six vast floors are dedicated to bringing stories to life and retelling them to curious audiences of all generations.

Among the famous installations here in IWM London include the “Witnesses to War.” It shows a Spitfire aircraft, a V2 rocket, and a T-34 Russian tank all suspended in the air!

Another well-loved and rather an unusual piece in IWM London is the Camouflage Tree. To observe the enemies’ movements, an armoured tree serving as an observation post was developed by the British Army.

IWM NORTH
Address: Trafford Wharf Rd, Trafford Park, Stretford, Manchester M17 1TZ
Operating Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Entrance Cost: Free of Charge
Website: IWM North

IWM North is located in Trafford Park, which in itself has an interesting story to tell. The place was a bombsite during World Wars I and II. It was a main target in the Manchester Blitz. It is no wonder that as the building for IWM North was being established, they found  shrapnel and an anti-aircraft cartridge shell.

IWM North from the outside is an architectural sight to behold. The design is the brainchild of renowned architect  Daniel Libeskind, who envisioned it to be a structural representation of a globe shattered by conflict. That is why on your visit, you will encounter the terms EarthShard, WaterShard and the AirShard which are used to name the different parts of the museum.

The whole museum was designed to make you feel “disoriented,” as in the effect of being at war. Its exhibitions are focused on the history of conflicts and their lasting impact on human society.  

IWM DUXFORD

Address: Duxford Airfield, Building 425, Cambridge CB22 4QR
Operating Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
Entrance Cost: Tickets with Donation are at £25 for Adults, £22.50 for Seniors / Students / Disabled, £12.50 for Children ages 5 to 15, Free of Charge for Kids under 5, Free of Charge for IWM Members
Website: IWM Duxford

IWM Duxford is Europe’s largest air museum. It is located in the Duxford aerodrome which played an important role during The Battle of Britain in 1940.

“IWM Duxford stands apart from other aviation museums because the site is an exhibit itself. It played a central role in some of the most dramatic days in 20th century history – serving as a base for many of the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots during the Second World War.”

Source: IWM

One of the many highlights in IWM Duxford include Europe’s only SR-71 Blackbird. As of 2020, the aircraft is still undisputed when it comes to being the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.

IWM Duxford is home to The Royal Anglian Regiment Museum and The American Air Museum.

2. Churchill War Rooms

Address: Clive Steps, King Charles St, London SW1A 2AQ
Operating Hours: 9.30am – 6.00pm
Entrance Cost: If including voluntary contribution, £27.50 for Adults, £24.75 for Seniors / Students with ID / Disabled, £13.75 for Children, Free for Kids ages 4 and under
Website: Imperial War Museums

The Churchill War Rooms is part of the Imperial War Museums. It is an underground complex in Whitehall made up of basement offices for the key persons in the government.

Included in the War Rooms is the wartime bunker which housed Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his staff during the Blitz. The walls of the original Cabinet War Rooms heard numerous top-secret plans and strategies. Churchill himself described it as ““the room from which I’ll direct the war.”

As you visit the underground headquarters, imagine World War II meetings being held in that very same space. At the Map Room, you shall see books and charts just as they were. It is in the same room that they found a ration of three sugar cubes belonging to Wing Commander John Heagerty.

Did you know? There is a hand-drawn caricature of German leader Adolf Hitler on a large map. This can be found in the Chiefs of Staff Conference Room.

Source: IWM

3. Royal Air Force Museum

Address: Grahame Park Way, London NW9 5LL
Operating Hours: 10.00am – 5.00pm
Entrance Cost: Free of charge
Website: Royal Air Force Museum

The Royal Air Force Museum in London, also known as the RAF Museum, is a place to know more about the history of aviation and the Royal Air Force.

Queen Elizabeth II opened the RAF Museum in London in 1972. During the opening, the hangars were occupied by only 36 aircrafts. As the collection grew, smaller local RAF station museums were put in place.

Today, there are six hangars and many more exhibit areas which you can explore at the RAF Museum in London. Dig into the world war, try on a RAF uniform and even take the pilot’s seat as you move around the world of the Royal Air Force.

The RAF Museum is one of the top-rated destinations for children who enjoy learning in a fun environment. There is so much to see and experience hands-on in this British war museum.  

4. HMS Belfast

Address: The Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2JH
Operating Hours: 10.00am – 6.00pm from March to October, 10.00am – 5.00pm from November to February
Entrance Cost: £ 18 for Adults,  £ 16.20 for Students, £ 14.40 for Seniors, £ 9 for Children ages 5 to 15, Free of charge for those with London Pass. Online rates differ.
Website: Imperial War Museums

The HMS Belfast is a museum ship that has been permanently moored on the River Thames in London. It served for 24 years before being repurposed for education and preservation. While many war ships end up as scrap metal, the idea of preserving a full ship saved HMS Belfast from being one. 

In 1978, the Imperial War Museums officially added the HMS Belfast to its collection. Today, a visit to this well-maintained ship will show you how life is inside, to see how it is to serve at sea. Technical areas open to the public include the operations room and the Admiral’s bridge.

As the HMS Belfast celebrated its 80th Anniversary in 2018, they called forth visitors young and old to take part in the preservation of the ship. 

During regular days, the HMS Belfast is dependent on the restorative and maintenance works of her dedicated team, including help from interns and volunteers.

5. National Museum of the Royal Navy

Address: HM Naval Base (PP66), HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3NH
Operating Hours: 10.00am – 4.00pm
Entrance Cost: Single Attraction Day Tickets cost £24 for Adults, £23 for Seniors, £19 for Children ages 4 to 15
Website: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

The National Museum of the Royal Navy is one of the oldest British maritime museums, dating back to 1776. But before it is what it is today, this museum in Portsmouth was once called the Dockyard Museum. 

Among the many attractions at the National Museum of Royal Navy is the gallery entitled “Hear My Story.” It is a culmination of stories coming from ordinary men and women that make up the real Royal Navy. 

There is also the world-famous painting entitled “The Battle of Trafalgar Panorama.” The large painting was made by W. L. Wyllie in 1929. He was 79 years old when he made this masterpiece.

You will find the National Museum of the Royal Navy alongside HMS Victory and the Mary Rose. 

6. Bletchley Park 

Address: The Mansion, Bletchley Park, Sherwood Dr, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK3 6EB
Operating Hours: 10.00am – 6.00pm from March to October, 10.00am – 5.00pm from November to February
Entrance Cost: £21.00 for Adults, £18.50 for Seniors and Students, £12.50 for Children ages 12 to 17, Free of charge for kids under 12, Free for Friends of Bletchley Park
Website: Bletchley Park

The Bletchley Park is known as the home of codebreakers. Why is it so?

Several years back, the Bletchley Park which was originally a Victorian estate became a British venue for code breaking during World War II. It was the base of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) which is now regarded as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

When the war ended, the General Post Office took over Bletchley Park and made it into a management school. Today, the Mansion serves as a home to public exhibits. Its huts were rebuilt to showcase how the place was during World War II. 

In June 2014, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited the Bletchley Park as its  £8 million restoration project came into completion. This was a monumental moment because the Duchess’ grandmother Valerie and her twin sister Mary worked at the site during the war.

7. Household Cavalry Museum 

Address: Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, London SW1A 2AX
Operating Hours: 10.00am – 6.00pm from April to October, 10.00am – 5.00pm from November to March
Entrance Cost:  £9.50 for Adults, £7.50 for Children and Concessions, £25.00 for a Family Ticket (2 Adults and 3 Children), 50% Discount for Serving Military Personnel, Free of Charge for Veterans and Serving Household Cavalry Personnel and Accompanying Families
Website: Household Cavalry Museum

The Household Cavalry is unique because it is a living museum. While it talks of its rich past, it also shows you the active present where you can see The Queen’s Mounted Bodyguard at work. Everyday, they perform the guard change ceremony at Horse Guards, among many other duties.

At the Household Cavalry Museum, you can see fully-functioning 18th century stables alongside up-to-date exhibits. You can also Dress up like a cavalryman and don the iconic tunic, cuirass and helmet!

Did you know? “The afternoon inspection of guards and horses began in 1894, when Queen Victoria discovered the guards drinking and gambling instead of performing their protective duties. She doled out her punishment: the guards would be inspected at 16.00 daily for the next 100 years. In 1994, when the royal punishment officially expired, Queen Elizabeth II elected to persist with the daily inspections because by then they were a firmly established tradition.”

Source: London Pass

8. National War Museum

Address: Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, United Kingdom
Operating Hours: 9.45 am – 5.45 pm from April to September, 9.45 am – 4.45 pm from October to March
Entrance Cost: Free of Charge (Included in the Edinburgh Castle Entrance Cost)
Website: National Museums Scotland

A visit to the National War Museum is a must for those who are keen to learn about Britain’s military history. This museum is home to unique collections of military items that tell of historical stories from over 400 years. 

The National War Museum is located in Edinburgh Castle – the same venue of other military museums and exhibits including the Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Prisons of War exhibition. 

Where the museum is at Hospital Square is a former storehouse for artillery built in the 1700s. Later on, it was converted to a military hospital. It was in 1933 when the place became the warfare museum that it is now.

When paying a visit to the National War Museum, it will be hard to miss Robert Gibb’s famous The Thin Red Line. The artwork is among the most celebrated of all Scottish historical paintings.

9. The Cenotaph

Address: Whitehall, Westminster, London SW1A 2ET
Operating Hours: Always open
Entrance Cost: None
Website: Historic England

The Cenotaph (Greek for empty tomb) is a tall pedestal made to serve as a national memorial for the “absent dead” of Britain and the British Empire who perished in World War I and the following conflicts.

The Cenotaph was designed for HM Office of Works by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1919, but this was not the first that was erected on the site. Prior to it, Lutyens made a temporary memorial made out of wood and painted canvas in time for the 1919 London Peace Celebrations.

The Cenotaph of today is made out of Portland stone, and on top there is a tomb chest with a laurel wreath. There are also laurel wreaths suspended on both ends of the rectangular structure. Inscribed on the Cenotaph are the words “The Glorious Dead.”

At the base of The Cenotaph on the west side are the Royal Air Force Ensign, the British Union Flag and the British Red Ensign. On the east side, you have the Union Flag in between the British White Ensign and the British Blue Ensign.

10. The Women of World War II

Address: In the centre of Whitehall between Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence, Westminster, City Of Westminster, Greater London SW1A 2AS
Operating Hours: Open
Entrance Cost: None
Website:  Imperial War Museums

The Women of World War II is a cenotaph that was raised to commemorate the essential contribution of nearly seven million women during World War II. Shown here are 17 sets of clothing and uniforms hung neatly, encircling the monument. 

The war memorial is made of bronze, measuring 7000mm in height. It was sculpted by John W. Mills who captured the attention of the board of judges in the open competition. 

“I was interested in the concept of these women hanging up their uniforms and going back to their normal lives after the end of the war.” – John W. Mills

Source: Atlas Obscura

Some of the outfits that were featured in the war memorial include those of the Women’s Land Army, Women’s Royal Naval Service, nurses and police women.

In July 2015, Queen Elizabeth unveiled the Memorial to the Women of World War II to the public.

I hope that this collection of the best British war museums and memorials inspired and helped you in planning your museum-hopping around the UK.
Have you been to any of these British war museums and memorials?
Which one is your favourite?
Share it in the comment box below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Everything Zany Dual Citizen Travel Blog
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Everything Zany

Dual Citizen Travel Blog

Everything Zany is a Dual Citizen Travel blog: where East meets West, showing the best of both worlds. Our travel media brand is founded by travel and hotel industry expert – Ryazan Tristram, a Dual Citizen (British – Filipina) based in Worcestershire, UK. Everything Zany is a reputable and award-winning travel blog. Our work and contributions have been featured in Huffington Post, CNBC, Discovery Channel, GMA, Readers Digest, and Lonely Planet. Our missions are to build a great travel community and resource of travel tips, visa and travel guides for travellers. Join us as we travel around the globe with a mission to share the best of the world.

HMS Belfast British War Museum in London
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