Venture beyond the Wellcome Collection and the Jewish Museum in north London and you’ll find a number of great museums — most of them in storied locations — celebrating the cultures that grew out of industry on London’s waterways, the city’s Jewish heritage and the WW2 secrets you won’t find in bunkers of Westminster.
Markfield Beam Engine and Museum
The gorgeous steam engine at the Markfield Museum is decorated with Doric columns and acanthus leaves with flywheels 27 feet tall — its majesty belying the fact it used to pump sewage around town.
Now defunct, the engine still stands in its engine house in a quiet park just off the A10.
It’s open on the second Sunday of the month (plus the fourth Sundays in the summer) and sometimes they even turn on the steam so you can see it work. If you’re interested in Victoriana, it’s a bit of a hidden treasure.
Markfield Beam Engine and Museum, Crowland Road, N15 4RB. Second Sundays, 11am-5pm. Free
The other Museum of Transport
This city’s got a lot of transport, and it's also got a lot of transport museums. Whether or not you’ve been to the one in Covent Garden, Whitewebb’s in Enfield is also a great trip.
Reviewed by this very website, we noted the volume of acquisitions, including vintage motorbikes, buses and a train carriage (as well as a lovely caff and wishing well). Check out our review for loads more photos.
Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, Whitewebbs Road, Enfield, EN2 9HP. Tuesday, 10am-4pm, and the last Sunday of the month. £4
2 Willow Road
This Hampstead property is often overlooked for the impressive Fenton House and Hampstead pergolas nearby.
But anyone with an interest in 20th-century art and architecture should indulge their nosy side by wandering around Trellick Tower architect's Erno Goldfinger's former home, and the only modernist house in London that's open to the public.
It’s filled with furniture Goldfinger designed himself, alongside art by Bridget Riley, Marcel Duchamp, Henry Moore and Max Ernst.
Instead of wandering around the flat, visitors get guided tours — a great chance to learn and ask questions in a way museum visitors don't often get the chance to.
2 Willow Road, East Heath Road, NW3 1TH. Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-2pm. £7.20, £3.60
Literary London is so often thought of as Dickens’s dank, dark city of inequality and hardship.
But what about the London of a medical student-turned-poet? See the engagement ring and love letters Keats gave to his fiancée and his death mask, as well as manuscripts of his work and books from his library.
This museum offers visitors a great way to find out about early 18th-century London, life in the middle classes back then and the landmarks in Hampstead where Keats went to write.
Keats House, 10 Keats Grove, NW3 2RR. Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm. £6.50
From the civilian internees at Alexandra Palace to Tottenham's Speedway engine factory to its Roman settlement, there’s more at Bruce Castle Museum than you’d expect.
The building itself (along with its lovely grounds) has its own strange story: it was a private home from the 16th century, then a school and a doctor’s surgery. Perhaps a bit niche for many Londoners, but there are plenty of good resources here for anyone with an interest in local history.
Bruce Castle Museum, Lordship Lane, N17 8NU. Wednesday-Sunday, 1pm-5pm. Free
If you’ve ever enjoyed a walk or bike ride along one of the city's waterways, this place explains why they’ve got such a pride of place in contemporary London.
It's also, surprisingly, a great place for anyone who has a passion for ice cream: the museum sits in the warehouse of a late 19th-century ice cream baron called Carlo Gatti who imported Norwegian ice for his food business, and still has an ice well in the basement that particle physicists use for experiments.
If you can, plan your visit to coincide with one of the museum’s boat tours in the Islington Tunnel — they cost £8.40 and tickets include the price of entrance to the museum.
Canal Museum, 12-13 New Wharf Road, N1 9RT. Tuesday-Sunday 10am-4.30pm. £4, £2
For anyone who’s ever wondered whether a cigar is just a cigar... The Freud Museum has recreated the therapist’s office, including the couch and Freud’s collected figurines of characters from myths and classical religion.
The museum regularly runs great arts and cultural classes, courses and talks that are brilliant for writers and artists with an interest in the creative role of the unconscious.
For everyone else, this museum is a great place to look at how the roles of analysis and mental health care have diverged — and to make as many innuendoes as your visit allows.
Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, NW3 5SX. Wednesday-Sunday 12pm-5pm. £8, £6, £4; under 12s free.
The RAF Museum
Sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire at the RAF Museum and find out how British planes helped win the world wars.
This enormous site has hangars and halls of aircraft to see as well as detailed exhibits about pilots and pioneers, speeches and films.
RAF Museum, Grahame Park Way, NW9 5LL. 10am-6pm every day. Free
Ben Uri Gallery, also know as The Art Museum For Everyone
London's Jewish museum is unmissable, and if you want to find out more about Jewish heritage in London then this Kilburn spot is a great next trip.
More than 100 years old, the gallery has a collection of around 1,000 20th-century paintings and photographs including work by Frank Auerbach and the Whitechapel Boys.
Ben Uri Gallery, 108A Boundary Road, NW8 0RH. Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5.30pm; 11am-5pm at weekends and 1pm-5.30pm Mondays. Free