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Imperial War Museum vs. Churchill War Museum

I'm going to be in London in mid July for 2.5 days so... I have limited time. When researching this site there appear to be two museums. Taking time into consideration which part OR museum would you recommend? Thanks!! BP

PS - Does anyone know how I can get access to visiting the Old Bailey while in session?

Posted by
3996 posts

Haven’t been to the IWM, but from my research, much of what is there (or similar) can be seen in other museums. The war rooms are unique to a specific point in history and provide a great insight (since they remain as they were) into what it was like working underground and the command and control structure that was in place. They are not recreations. I recommend the war rooms. We go to London somewhat frequently and will do the IWM on a bad weather day, especially since it is free.

Posted by
105 posts

That’s a tough one! I’ve been to both a coupe of times. I can’t pick a favourite.

They both offer different experiences. The War Rooms have definite focus on Churchill and the Blitz, while the IWM offers a more all encompassing experience and the so focus is not just WWII.

The IWM is much bigger and takes more time.

You can’t go wrong with either. Don’t know if that helped you, really.

Posted by
22 posts

We visited the Churchill War Rooms about a week ago and I would highly recommend it. It's best to buy tickets in advance (timed entry) and the focus is definitely on the life of Winston Churchill and the unique underground facility built for his war cabinet and staff. We spent about an hour and a half there and appreciated that it's within walking distance of other destinations like Buckingham Palace, St. James' Park and Westminster Abbey. It was handy to start our day at the War Rooms and move on to other sights from there.

Posted by
1216 posts

It depends on your interests. IWM is bigger and focuses on all wars not just WW2 it's also a bit further out than the Churchill War Museum. I've been to both Museums and as I have an interest in the British home front during WW2(Foyle's War), I loved the Cabinet War Rooms/Churchill. It seemed that this museum had more hands on exhibits and actually seeing how the government was run from that small bunker and seeing the actual furniture. Apparently, the War Rooms were just closed up after the war with the furniture and maps still on the wall.

So if you have any interest in WW2, I'd pick the War Rooms.

Posted by
3458 posts

The Imperial War Museum has a major focus on The Great War , which has a greater focus for The British and Europeans than for Americans . We last visited in 2014 on the eve of " The Guns of August " , and were fascinated and enlightened . Our trip in 2015 took us to Flanders and The Somme , and visiting The Imperial War Museum ( and a fair amount of preparatory reading ) enriched our time there immeasurably .

Posted by
4684 posts

Criminal court proceedings in Britain are usually open to the public, so you can walk in if there is space when you arrive. You may need proof of ID. Bags bigger than handbags are not allowed for security reasons and there is nowhere to store them.

Other than the public viewing galleries there is no access to the rest of the building.

Posted by
2391 posts

With limited time, I would go with the Churchill War Rooms - smaller and limited scope. With more time and an interest in WWI, definitely check out the Imperial War Museum - we spent an entire day there and only left because it was closing!

Posted by
9701 posts

I’ll just add that I’ve done both the Museum and the War Rooms. I didn’t really click with the Museum whereas I’ve been to the War Rooms at least 6-8 times over the years, including when they first re-opened them in the 80’s.

I just took my brother, SIL and her sis there last Saturday and they really liked it. We all have an interest in WWII. I love to be down there where the decisions were made!

I will tell you something weird. At the end of the War Rooms my brother was flipping thru a book in the shop on American servicemen in England in WWII. The book fell open to a page with a pilot from our Dad’s squadron taken in Belgium about a month before our Dad arrived at that base. We thought our Dad, deceased since 2012, was happy we were there.

Posted by
27714 posts

handkerchief or kleenex alert for Pam's post

Posted by
2256 posts

At the War Rooms, you see where history took place. It’s fabulous. The IWM is an excellent museum, but it can’t compete with coming face to face with history, IMO.

Posted by
3304 posts

The book fell open to a page with a pilot from our Dad’s squadron
taken in Belgium about a month before our Dad arrived at that base. We
thought our Dad, deceased since 2012, was happy we were there.

That's beautiful!

My recommendation is the Churchill War Rooms for the OP's limited amount of time.

Posted by
9701 posts

Well, my brother and I both started blubbering right there in the shop. Uh, lets see, also blubbered yesterday at the Battle of Britain Memorial at the statue of the pilot gazing across to France.

We had both taken Dad to a bunch of pilot and group reunions so met many of the guys. We are still in touch with one of the last still standing who just turned 97.