December 2013 update:
IWM London will be temporarily closing to the public from 6 January 2014 until summer 2014, when we will fully reopen the museum, launching new First World War Galleries, revealing the new atrium with large object displays, and new shops and cafes. Nearer the re-opening the information here will be updated.
The Imperial War Museum London partially reopened on 29 July 2013 following a temporary closure to begin transformation works and build new First World War Galleries.
The reopening brings a major new family exhibition Horrible Histories: Spies and IWM Contemporary, a new program showcasing significant works by leading artists in response to war and conflict. (Read my review of Horrible Histories: Spies.)
While IWM London is partially open (from 29 July – Summer 2014) building works to transform the museum will continue behind the scenes until the new reconfigured atrium is revealed with large object displays and new First World War Galleries to mark the First World War Centenary in Summer 2014.
Imperial War Museum General Information:
The Imperial War Museum was opened by King George V on 9 June 1920 and moved to this location from South Kensington in 1936. The building was previously Bedlam hospital, a notorious mental asylum.
This was the floor plan before the museum closure. I will update these details below once we know for sure which areas are available when the museum reopens in July 2013.
Exhibits are spread over 6 floors:
LG (Lower Ground)
First World War (Highlight: Trench Experience)
Second World War (Highlight: Blitz Experience)
G (Ground floor)
Large exhibits (Highlights: A Polaris missile and five aeroplanes including a rare Mark I Spitfire are suspended below the glass domed roof.)
The Children's War
Information / Cafe / Shop
1 (First floor)
Survival at Sea
2 (Second Floor)
3 (Third floor)
The Holocaust Exhibition
Not recommended for children under 14.
4 (Fourth floor)
Crimes against humanity
Not recommended for children under 16.
Address: Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ
Nearest Tube Station: Lambeth North
Opening Times: Open daily: 10am - 6pm. (Closed: 24, 25 and 26 December.)
Admission: Free. (Special exhibitions may charge an admission fee.)
You can take a highlighted tour of Imperial War Museum's main galleries, using extracts from the Museum's Sound and Document Archives. Find out more about 40 key exhibits and listen to the experiences of the men and women who made history. The audio guides are available from the Information Desk. The full tour lasts approximately 1 hour 45 minutes. There is a small charge.
- There are steep steps at the main entrance so if you need a level access, for example if bring a child in a buggy, or a wheelchair-bound visitor, go to the right of the building to the Park Entrance on the side.
- The building is fully accessible with two main lifts (elevators) plus an extra lift dedicated to the Holocaust Exhibition.
- On LG (Lower Ground) start on your left - The First World War - and keep to the left so you don't miss anything. It can be confusing as the exhibition winds around in little circles but follow the arrows and stay left and you won't miss anything.
- Photography is allowed so you can have fun taking photos of the large exhibits. I found the best views are from Floor 2.
- The shop usually has a sale at the end of a temporary exhibition so check for merchandise reductions.
- Floor 1 has a British heavy bomber plane fuselage which you can climb through. This is a hit with the kids who will go round and round and round...
- The Holocaust Exhibition and Crimes against humanity are both hard-hitting so be prepared to be affected. Do stop and take time to reflect as what you see can be disturbing.
- The Cafe has children's meal and snack options. Highchairs are available at the back of the last room.
- If the weather is good, have some time in the grounds which has a small outdoor cafe and space for kids to run around.
- Best for kids under 10: Large exhibits and the Children War exhibition.
- Best for pre-teens: Secret War - it's all about spies.
- Best for older teenagers: Holocaust Exhibition.
New Information - to be confirmed nearer to summer 2014
From July 2014, IWM London will open ground-breaking new First World War Galleries to mark the centenary of the First World War, along with a newly configured atrium showcasing IWM's iconic large objects.
The new galleries will draw on IWM's First World War collections which are the richest and most comprehensive in the world. Weapons and uniforms, diaries, letters and souvenirs, will sit alongside photographs, art and film - many of which have never been seen before. The Galleries will also feature interactive digital displays and immersive spaces, encouraging visitors to explore a range of themes and challenge their perceptions of the conflict.
Visitors will journey through 14 areas of the Galleries, discovering the story of the First World War, how it started, why it continued and its global impact, through the lives of those who experienced it on the front line and the home front. Highlights in the Galleries include Life at the Front, where with a Sopwith Camel plane and Mark V tank looming above, visitors will be able to explore a recreated trench, complete with a soundscape that will evoke what daily life was like for the troops. In Feeding the Front, one of the areas which explores the stories of those on the home front, the Supply Line, an interactive table over 4 metres long, will allow visitors to discover the unprecedented scale of production required to keep the troops fed and fighting.
There will also be two atmospheric reflection areas in the Galleries, with objects and voices from IWM's Sound Archive that will encourage visitors to pause and explore some of the most difficult aspects and questions surrounding the war, including the act of killing and the fear of being killed.
Having considered some of the big questions and choices, ordinary and extraordinary, that the people of Britain and its former Empire had to face in this first 'total war', visitors will leave the Galleries with a new perspective on this landmark conflict.
IWM London's renown atrium space will have been transformed as we reveal our new designed by Foster + Partners.
On entering the museum, visitors will be presented with nine iconic objects including a Harrier, Spitfire and V2 rocket suspended from above as well as a T34 tank and a Reuters LandRover damaged by a rocket attack in Gaza. Large architectural fins line the atrium, creating new terraces above, and as visitors move through the space, more of IWM's collection will be revealed.
Level 1 of the transformed space presents key stories from the Second World War, such as the role of strategic bombing, the fronts in Russia and Africa and the D-Day landings, through curated displays using both large objects and other materials from IWM's collections, including film and artworks. Further up the museum, visitors will be able to explore contemporary conflicts from 1945 through to present day. Displays cover topics including how Britain and Europe re-built itself after the Second World War and the way conflicts have been fought and communities divided in places such as Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
From July 2014, IWM London will also present Truth and Memory the largest and first major retrospective of British First World War art for almost 100 years. This major exhibition, featuring over 110 paintings, sculptures and drawings from IWM's collections, will assess the immediate impact and enduring legacy of Britain's First World War art and include works by CRW Nevinson, Paul Nash, Eric Kennington and William Orpen, some of the most important artists of the twentieth century.
Alongside the new First World War Galleries, atrium displays and Truth and Memory exhibition, our permanent exhibitions and temporary displays will continue including A Family in Wartime, Secret War, the award-winning Holocaust Exhibition, The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes,Horrible Histories®: Spies, our visual arts programme, IWM Contemporary and War Story where visitors can discover the lives of those who have served in Afghanistan.
From July 2014, IWM London will also have three new shops with bespoke gifts and souvenirs, a new museum café run by Peyton and Byrne which opens out onto the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, as well as new and improved visitor facilities.
You can book a Wartime London Tour through Viator.