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Visiting the Imperial War Museum in London, England

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Jason is a world traveler and shares his experiences with the world.

The Front Entrance To The Museum

The Front Entrance To The Museum

Military Conflicts During the 20th Century

My first time in Europe was at the beginning of May 2022. I was sitting in my hotel room in Central London, wondering what I should take on first. I had no set schedule for my first week in Britain and could adventure however I chose. The first place I decided to visit was the Imperial War Museum. After a 20 minute Uber ride through the city, I arrived outside and witnessed the picture you see in the above photo.

The Imperial War Museum houses various artifacts and equipment involving every war Britain was involved in from the 20th Century through the modern day. From the Great War to World War II, and into the various conflicts involving NATO since 1950, there is an exhibit for each one. This article will break down some of the highlights I found from touring the museum and my thoughts on it.

Let's get into it!

The Great War Exhibit

Once you walk in, you'll be greeted with a few levels to tour. The place to start is the Great War exhibit, which takes you on a journey through how the Great War (later referred to as World War I) developed and the evolution of how it changed between 1914 and 1918. As you walk, you see how the war looked throughout its duration by learning from the equipment displayed.

As you go along, you will walk into an exhibit that simulates if you were in a trench warfare scenario. You hear the sounds of orders being shouted, distant machine gun fire in the background, whistles going off, and even the sound of one of the first ever armored vehicles traveling above you.

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This is a quote from the Great War exhibit I found inspiring and interesting and wanted to share. Various quotes from soldiers at the front lines can be found throughout the museum. Take the time to read them.

Standing in the trench simulation.

Standing in the trench simulation.

This is taken from the position of standing in the trench looking upward towards the armored tank. This was one of the main highlights of the Great War exhibit.

Pickelhaubes from the Great War

Pickelhaubes from the Great War

There is lots of equipment from all countries scattered throughout the museum, including dozens of the Pickelhaube—spiked helmets the Germans used primarily during the first half of the war.

Various weapons from the Great War

Various weapons from the Great War

This photo mostly just shows off the bayonet, but you will find various weapons used in each war exhibited throughout the museum. These weapons were used during the Great War.

World War II and the Holocaust

For World War II, there is both a Holocaust and a war-related exhibit. Both provide unique insights and have artifacts that typically are only seen in photos and videos. Similar to the Great War, you will follow along the path as the war happened—from beginning to end. The Holocaust exhibit is in a separate section next to the war exhibit. I would highly recommend checking out both of them!

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Both major theaters of war are represented in the exhibit. The many artifacts range from a piece of metal from the Arizona that was sunk at Pearl Harbor, to Bernard Montgomery's beret. Montgomery was a senior British Army officer that served in both world wars. Again, there's a lot here and you could probably spend days in these sections analyzing everything. So take your time!

A piece of the hull from the USS Arizona is displayed at the museum.

A piece of the hull from the USS Arizona is displayed at the museum.

This was one of the most surprising artifacts to me. I never knew a part of the Arizona was taken to Britain, and it was nice to see some recognition for the United States at Pearl Harbor.

A gift for Chiang Kai-shek

A gift for Chiang Kai-shek

A standard that was given as a gift to Chiang Kai-shek. Kai-shek was the leader of the Republic of China (a position now often referred to as the President of Taiwan) and aligned himself with the Allies of World War II. He is another historical figure I have spent years studying and it is a treat to see a part of him in person.

A Japanese fighter plane that crashed and was recovered.

A Japanese fighter plane that crashed and was recovered.

This is a Japanese fighter plane that was recovered in the jungle somewhere in Southeast Asia. It puts in perspective how the Japanese favored mobility and speed over armor for their fighter planes.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's famous beret.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's famous beret.

This is Montgomery's beret. I always found Montgomery fascinating since I was a kid, so to see apart him in person is a treat for me. This is located across from the Eagle you will see in the next photo.

A battle damaged Eagle taken from the Reich Chancellery after the fall of Berlin

A battle damaged Eagle taken from the Reich Chancellery after the fall of Berlin

The Eagle in the picture above is arguably the most prized possession at the museum. It is one of the featured items showcased in their catalog and advertised at any chance possible. It symbolizes a defeated Germany and is a piece of their history now in British hands.

Post World War Conflicts

Many of the artifacts from this era are not concentrated in one area of the museum, but rather are spread throughout.

I did not take many photos of this part of the museum, but the most noteworthy item to see from the post-World War conflicts is one of the unused casings for the atomic bomb.

At the end of the WWII exhibit, you will also find a small section on the creation of NATO and a little history about its purpose.

Final Thoughts

Along with this being the first place I explored when in London, it is also one of the best. If you are interested in anything history or military history related, this is the museum for you. Even if history is not necessarily your thing, this is a place worth checking out (at least once).

Being a free museum, it is extremely generous with what it has to offer. There is so much in this place that I cannot note all of it in this article. Instead, I hope you will take the time to tour this museum and hope what I didn't cover will come as a surprise for you. This is your chance to see rare artifacts from the world wars; it is one thing to see photos of these artifacts, but it is an entirely new experience to see them in person. It makes history come alive and you will walk away with perspectives you never had before. I would highly encourage you to set aside a few hours to check out this magnificent museum.

One last thing I will note that made this place a great experience is the ambiance curated for each exhibit. Ranging from distant machine gun fire, the shouting of orders, the sounds of tanks moving into action, and even just ambient music to fit the mood, this works perfectly to really help you take in the museum.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this article gave you some insight into the Imperial War Museum and what it offers. Please check out my other articles on various other historical places as well.

© 2022 Jason

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