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Yeah, yeah, we know you've missed the restaurants and the pubs – but we also bet you've missed your dose of art and culture, too. After all, London is home to some of the world's best and brightest museums and galleries, bursting with mind-opening inspiration at every turn. But look beyond the big names and you'll also find a clutch of cool, quirky and well-curated institutions celebrating everything from toys to taxidermy and, erm, vaginas. 

So without further ado, we've tracked down London's best independent museums and galleries – most of which are open now. Most places require you to book in advance due to covid-19, so make sure you check the latest details before you visit. 

Horniman Museum, Lewisham

London's independent museums and galleries | Horniman Museum

(image: Pam Fray)

So loved in South London it borders on cultish, the Horniman Museum is stuffed to bursting with… Taxidermy. Yep, really. Makes pals with the 100-year-old walrus before wandering halls piled high with curios and taking a seat in the butterfly house. 

horniman.ac.uk

Garden Museum, Lambeth

 

This lovely little spot in the shadow of Lambeth Palace pays homage to the UK's most beautiful gardens. It reopened a few years ago complete with its own restaurant – the Garden Museum Café – which offers seasonal dishes that are as artfully put together as the gardens celebrated in the exhibitions. Inspired to get green-thumbed? Our terrarium kits will help you create your very own piece of paradise, even if you don't have outdoor space.

gardenmuseum.org.uk

The Old Operating Theatre, London Bridge

London's best independent museums and galleries | Old Operating Theatre

(image: Ann Lee)

Feeling macabre? This bijou museum is tucked away in an ancient attic near London Bridge, complete with old surgical equipment. That overdue trip to the dentist doesn't look so bad after all... 

oldoperatingtheatre.com

Keats House, Hampstead

London's best museums and galleries | Keats House

(image: John W Schulze)

How's this for a seriously romantic date: amble around Hampstead Heath, then stop in at Keats' former home and gardens. The tiny Regency villa has been given over to original manuscripts and there are occasionally live poetry readings, too. Drop in some of Keats' most romantic quotes and you're onto a winner. Not up on your Romantic poetry? Here's one to get you started: “My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you.” Bit dramatic, if you ask us. Or if you don't fancy heading out, get drama delivered to your door with our Bard in Your Yard? experience. 

visitlondon.com

The Vagina Museum, Camden

Not open yet, but you can donate

Does what it says on the tin. This museum is a glorious celebration of the vagina. The founders of the museum with miffed (or as they say, muffed) that there was a penis museum in Iceland, but no vagina equivalent – so they went on to set up their own institution. Through coolly curated exhibits and events, the museum spreads awareness of gynaecological health and act as a forum for feminism, women's rights, LGBTQ+  and the intersex community. It's not currently open, but you can donate to keep this brilliant project going.

vaginamuseum.co.uk

Cartoon Museum, Holborn 

Not open yet, but you can donate

Cartoons might seem all fun and games, but they're actually a seriously historic medium – comic art has been a hugely important form of expression basically ever since drawing began. The museum is still currently shut, but you can donate or check out their online exhibition: Laughter of Our Own Making, Cartoons from the secret artists of Changi Prison Camp 1942–1945, and incredible selection of drawings testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

cartoonmuseum.org

Estorick Collection, Canonbury

Perched on Canonbury's pretty streets is an even prettier Grade II-listed Georgian building: the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. It might seem unassuming, but this is museum with substance as well as serious style – it's internationally renowned for its Futurist collection, as well as figurative art and sculpture dating from the 1890s-1950s. 

estorickcollection.com

Pollock's Toy Museum, Fitzrovia

Pollock's Toy Museum

Tiny, quirky and definitely not just for children, this independent museum is housed in two Georgian buildings in Fitzrovia, filled to the rafters with board games, marbles, puppets, wax dolls (bit creepy) and intricate model shops. Not enough for you? There's even a 4,000 year old mouse made out of clay from the river Nile – as well as the world's oldest surviving teddy, Eric, who has lived to the ripe old age of 115. Good on you, Eric. 

pollockstoys.com

The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, Hackney

A delightfully loopy museum dedicated to the weird and the weirder: McDonald's Happy Meal toys, occultists paintings, dodo bones, two-headed kittens… Yeah, knock yourself out. Looking for more Hackney inspo? Read our guide – and check out our Japanese whisky-tasting experience while you're at it. 

lasttuesdaysociety.org

William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

William Morris wallpaper

You might know him best for his floral wallpapers, but William Morris was, in fact, one of Britain's most radical and forward-thinking artists. And as you'd expect from such a mover and shaker , Morris was seriously ahead of the curve – even when it came to Walthamstow, now one of London's trendiest neighbourhoods. He lived in the area way, way, way before it was cool, and his family home has now been turned into a gallery celebrating his diverse work. 

wmgallery.org.uk

 

FURTHER READING: After all that culture, you might just need a pub or two – and we can help you with that.

(main image: Igor Miske)

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