London: Places to visit for military history buffs

I am planning to spend up to a month in London next summer, and I have some questions about sights/sites that appeal to military history buffs such as myself. This will be my third visit to London in 16 years (the most recent being in 2012) and I have already seen: Imperial War Museum, Army Museum, Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast, and the Tower of London. Here are my questions: (1) What is the difference between the RAF museum that is outside of London and the Imperial War Museum aircraft museum near Cambridge? (2) Both the Tank Museum (Bovington, Dorset) and the Royal Naval Museum (Portsmouth) are to the south and west of London. Will I have time to see both museums on one long day when travelling by train? Given how much it cost me to travel to Weymouth last year to see the sailing competition, I would prefer to visit both museums on a single train trip. If this is not practical it might be that the cost of staying in Portsmouth for one evening might be the same as the second train trip. (3) Are the regimental museums scattered throughout London worth seeing? (4) Is there anything that I have missed? Thanks for your input. Geor(ge)

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11918 posts

I can help a little with number 1, as a bit of an RAF (WWII) buff. Hendon is very convenient to the public transport in London. It is a traditional static museum. Plenty to see and I'm glad I went. Duxford is near Cambridge and is, even today, an active airfield. Aircraft are all over, and you might, just might, see something moving or flying. If you are there for an airshow, they put on a doozie of an airshow, comparable to a Confederate Airforce (as was) show. They fly in all sorts, and have all sorts on the base. Their massed flypast has to be seen. Planes are restored and repaired there and you never know what might be in a hanger. In addition to hangers and tie downs there are also bunkers and huts, and a briefing room as it was in WWII. I like both a lot, but maybe you can see where my heart is, so it is hard to be objective and non partisan. It also may help that Duxford isn't a million miles from me. I will admit that whilst buses regularly go to Duxford, it is a bit easier to get to on display days, if completely over-run with fans.

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2658 posts

You might look into Bletchley Park, more on the intelligence side than hardware, but interesting to many.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10581 posts

If you haven't seen it, there's a Guards museum very close to the Cabinet War Rooms... or at least, there was when I last visited London over a decade ago.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
4030 posts

Hi, I'll address (4). Yes, based on your itinerary two more museums on war history you can get to. You mention Duxford, which I've yet to see, but in North London is another RAF museum at Colindale accessible by the Tube, after that ca 10 mins walk. Unlike in German museums that include Luftwaffe planes, in England they aren't "sanitised," something you'll recognise right way there, In Portsmouth is also the D-Day Museum in addition to the naval Museum. I also recommend the Guards Museum located near St James Park.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1672 posts

Go to St. Paul's Cathedral to see the American Chapel in the back dedicated to all US servicemen stationed in England during the war who died in the war. Great stained glass windows by a famous artist with each state represented and a book of the dead with each serviceman listed. I think the money to build it was raised by the people of London. Worth it in my opinion.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21697 posts

Geor, Regarding your questions..... (2.) Although it may be theoretically possible, I very much doubt that it would be realistic to visit the Tank Museum and the Royal Navy Museum on the same day, especially via public transit. I haven't visited the Navy Museum (yet), but I have visited the Tank Museum in Bovington several times. It's extensive and will take at least four hours to see it properly. That doesn't include the time to get there. Last time I was there, a multi-milion Pound renovation was underway, so I imagine it's even MORE extensive now. (4.) Another Museum that's also south west of London is the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton. It's also extensive and reportedly the largest Museum of it's type in Europe. If you have time to venture a bit farther afield, another site you might find interesting is Eden Camp, which is just outside Malton, north east of York. It was a POW camp for Italians and Germans during the war. The trip from London to Malton is about 2H:30M each way, so it should be possible to do it as a day trip, but I haven't checked the return times back to London. I believe there are Buses from Malton to the Camp, or you could use a Taxi. Some other sites that you could look at (since you'll be there for a month): > With a trip to York, you can visit the incredible Railway Museum. > With a trip to Winchester, you could visit the five Regimental Museums at Peninsula Barracks, which include the Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) and the Gurkhas. > With a trip to Manchester, you could visit the Imperial War Museum North, which is quite different from the London version. > As the others have mentioned, Bletchley Park and Duxford are worth a visit. Happy travels!

Posted by Kevin
near Ringwood, Hampshire, UK
521 posts

(2) Both the Tank Museum (Bovington, Dorset) and the Royal Naval Museum (Portsmouth) are to the south and west of London. Will I have time to see both museums on one long day when travelling by train? Given how much it cost me to travel to Weymouth last year to see the sailing competition, I would prefer to visit both museums on a single train trip. If this is not practical it might be that the cost of staying in Portsmouth for one evening might be the same as the second train trip. If you travelled between the two, you'd pretty much pass my house. I know the Dockyard well (naval family, lived in navy married quarters nearby as a child) and I'd say that you really need the better part of a day to see everything properly. You can get a ticket that covers all the Dockyard attractions (HMS Warrior, HMS Victory, Royal Naval Museum) as well as a boat trip to see what we ironically refer to as "the fleet", or as much of it as happens to be in port. It used to cover the Mary Rose museum as well, but since the new building opened this year I'm not sure if there may be an extra charge for that. You could rush round all of it in a few hours, but if you are really interested in naval history then it'll take you longer. The tank museum is near Wool. Assuming you travel by train you'll need to go from Portsmouth to Southampton Central and change there. It'll take about 2 hours 15 minutes and costs £24.90 for an 'Anytime' single. So, London to Portsmouth (get the 07.15 from Waterloo, arriving 09.26, £33.10 'Anytime' single), Dockyard opens at 10.00, 3 hours there, catch the 13.23 from Portsmouth Harbour, arrive Wool 15.34... Seems like a bit of a rush.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

As long as you're in Portsmouth, you might as well take in the Royal Marines Museum. That's worth at leas a week and a half right there.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
1804 posts

The Guards Museum is still there in Horseguards Parade. There is an admission charge, but it is included in many of the museum 'packages'. The National Army Museum has been almost completely revamped in recent years so might be worth a re-visit depending on when you last went there. Still free (donation requested).

Posted by Laurel
Arlington, WA
874 posts

Geor, Would you be at all interested in the Military Tunnels in the White Cliffs of Dover?

Posted by Marty
Rockville, MD, USA
70 posts

Question 2 I have done Portsmouth as a day trip from London (back when the Mary Rose was still getting wax treatments). We spent the entire day and loved it. I have done the Tank Museum as a long day trip from London (March 2013). I'm not as into military history as my family but I was absorbed for five hours (well that included lunch, LOL). They're not as close as they look on the map so if I were you I'd split them up. Question 4
My father was stationed in Parham during World War II. They have a small museum in the retored control tower. Although the runways have returned to farmland you can see where they were from the top of the tower. If you visit you'll probably spend a couple of hours. If you have a car there are other former bases in the region, as well as the American Cemetery in Cambridge (which is still on my To Do list along with the IWM near Cambridge).

Posted by john
Barnard Castle, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
56 posts

If visiting Duxford (the museum you state near Cambridge) don't forget to visit the US Airforce military cemetery just up the road from Duxford it is beautiful and very moving. if you are visiting the imperial war museum combine your ticket and visit HMS Belfast just down the road and on the Thames... If you are a military veteran please private email me and I might have some interesting information for you on things you can do as a veteran ..

Posted by Brian
Los Angeles, California
1986 posts

Just back from London- to correct a posting above; there are two "guards" museums. The one on Horseguards is the Horseguards Museum (the ones on horses); the Guards Museum (the foor guards)is on Birdcage Walk on the southern side of st James Park (nearer B.Palace). If you are or were a toy soldier nut, although they are both small, they are both worth visiting. The Guards Museum has a large section on the Crimean War. Also adjacent to the Gurads Museum is the "Toy soldier project and store", with the best selection of toy soldiers for sale in London. Visited both within the last two weeks, and enjoyed them both.

Posted by Geor
Seattle, Wa, USA
255 posts

Hi all: Thanks for your responses to my questions. I have put the following sites on my "to see" list: Imperial War Museum (this is my favorite London museum and its interior will have been remodeled by the time I visit in late August, 2014); Army Museum; RAF Museum; Bletchley Park; Tank Museum; various museums in Portsmouth; Guards Museum and other regimental museums in greater London; Army Chapel; and the Gurkha and other regimental museums in Winchester. The other suggested sites will be visited if I have time. Maybe I will take a five week vacation (cost isn't the big issue - it's getting back to the office). Geor(ge)

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
4030 posts

Hi, In London the Royal Arsenal and Artillery in the Woolwich area could be well worth your time, esp you want to see ordinance, lots of it. You have an envious trip ahead of you.

Posted by Geor
Seattle, Wa, USA
255 posts

Fred: Thanks for the tip. Shucks, I was in Woolwich last year to attend the Olympic shooting competition (saw Jamie Gray win gold for the USA) and missed the Ordnance display. I will see what they have to offer.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
4030 posts

@ Geor: That Woolwich area with its museums and Royal Arsenal has lots of displays, such as the 17 pounder, and the like. It's most likely to occupy most of a day.

Posted by Patty
Steilacoom, WA, USA
577 posts

We loved the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth.You may need a taxi to get there, although it it not far from the waterfront area. We've done the D-Day experience pretty thoroughly in France, so it was enlightening to see the embarkcation material. It also reminded us just how much Portsmouth suffered. Additionally, a tapestry was made of the D-Day timeline in the Bayeux tapestry tradition. very cool.

Posted by Alex
Sheffield, UK
51 posts

Little bit older, but there's the Lunt Roman Fort in Bagington, near Coventry, which is interesting, and about a mile from the Midland Air Museum.