Those who have experienced London's public transportation understand just how amazing it is. From the buses to the London Underground, the British city is all about getting you from place to place, quickly and easily, without a car. But it hasn't always been this way. London's current transportation systems have evolved and grown over time, which is the subject at the heart of the London Transport Museum. The museum can sometimes be overlooked for flashier tourist attractions, but it's an engaging and immersive experience perfect for travelers of all ages.
History and Background
The London Transport Museum, located in an old Grade II-listed Flower Market building in Covent Garden Piazza, focuses on the heritage of London and its transport system, telling the stories of people who have traveled and worked in the city over the past 200 years. It traces the history of London transport from the Victorian era through today and showcases things like the first Tube trains to the evolution of the iconic red buses.
The collection dates back to the 1920s when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve two Victorian horse buses and an early motorbus for future generations. During the 1960s, the Museum of British Transport opened in an old bus garage in Clapham and moved to Syon Park in 1973 with the name the London Transport Collection. The existing museum first opened in 1980 and was refurbished in 2005. Today, the London Transport Museum owns and displays over 450,000 items.
What to See and Do
There's a lot to see and do in the London Transport Museum, so set aside at least an hour or two for your visit. The collection features actual historical modes of transportation, like horse and motor buses, taxis and bicycles, and there are tons of colorful old posters and transport maps to admire throughout the displays. There are even old transport signs, dating as far back as the 1800s, in case you wondered what the original London Underground signs looked like. While most of the collection is permanent, the London Transport Museum also houses temporary exhibitions and specially focused displays.
The museum offers special events for children and families, including activities over holidays and school breaks. Check the online calendar for upcoming events, all of which are free with museum admission. There are also Under 5s sessions for young visitors happening every week.
How to Visit
The museum recommends coming during the afternoons if you want to avoid the crowds. It's family-friendly, with lots of amenities for kids, including stroller parking, a baby changing room and an All Aboard play zone for younger visitors ages 0-7.
Unlike many London museums, you'll have to pay an entry fee to get into the Transport Museum, but it's valid for a year with unlimited entry. Ticket packages are also available for visitors who want to take a ride on the Thames Clipper or visit other London attractions. Check the museum's website for current packages and more information.
To get to the museum, which is located off the Covent Garden Piazza, take the Tube to Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Holborn, Charing Cross, or Embankment stations. Or hop one of the many buses that drop off on the Strand or at Aldwych. These include the RV1, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, and 139. Those who want to take advantage of the Thames Clipper, a boat service that connects various points along the Thames, should get on and off at Embankment Pier. There is limited parking by the museum so driving is not recommended.
Tips for Visiting
- The London Transport Museum has a cafe, called Canteen, which serves an all-day menu, including options for kids. The surrounding neighborhood of Covent Garden also has plenty of restaurants.
- Purchase tickets online in advance to save money on admission.
- If you want to learn more about the museum in advance of your visit, check out the museum floor plans on their website. There is a free stamper trail throughout the exhibitions that will help you follow the story told in the displays. The stamper trail starts on level 2 and can be a fun way to engage kids in the journey.
- Older visitors should head to the museum on Thursday or Friday evenings once a month when the London Transport Museum holds its "Museum Lates" events. On specific dates, the museum stays open until 10 p.m. and features curator talks, DJs and interactive activities.
- If you want to know even more about the history of London's transportation systems, the Transport Museum offers guided tours at their Museum Depot in Acton.