Imperial War Museum London
Guns outside the Imperial War Museum entrance
Imperial War Museum hosts exhibits on the First and Second World Wars, art galleries, and 'Blitz Experience' and 'Trench Experience' exhibits (in case you missed the real things the first time around!). The IMW in does not just recount the course of wars, it shows how people experience war and conflict.

There are 5 branches of the museum; 3 are in Greater London, including the Southwark site, the Cabnet war Rooms, and the HMS Belfast. When the museum was established in 1917 its aim was to tell the story of both the civilian and military war effort both in Britain and across the British Empire.

Its focus has expended over the years to encompass all conflicts where British or Commonwealth forces have taken part since 1914. The collections are a fascinating mix of archival materials including photos, film, recordings of oral history, art, videos, plus objects associated with war and warfare like weapons, vehicles, and aircraft.

The museum's first home was the original Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and later moved to Sydenham. In 1924 it moved to the Imperial Institute in Kensington, then in 1936 it moved again, this time to the former Bethlem Royal Hospital buildings in Southwark.

The Hospital was built in 1814 to a design by James Lewis, then altered in 1835 by Sydney Smirke, with galleried wings either side of a large, porticoed entrance on Lambeth Road. The original hospital building now houses museum offices while the museum archives is in modern additions erected in 1966 and the exhibition halls are in a new space built in the 1980s.

The museum hosts a series of changing exhibits, with recent subjects including fashion during the days of strict rationing in WWII, photographs of the Afghan conflict, a Holocaust exhibition tracing the story of the Nazi persecution of the Jews during WWII, and an exhibit showing how one London family experienced the Second World War.

Regular exhibits showcase military uniforms, badges, medals, souvenirs, flags, insignia, and personal mementoes. See national collection of modern firearms, including weapons owned by Winston Churchill and Major TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). There are military vehicles including several used by Field Marshall Montgomery in WWII, and rare military aircraft including an original Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8, and the Supermarine Spitfire made famous in the Battle of Britain.

The museum has a huge archive of military documents on all aspects of warfare. Perhaps the most unexpected archive is the Imperial War Museum Stamp Collection. There are also pamphlets and ration books, trench maps and magazines like the famous Wipers Times. The archives include a collection of sound recordings, with a very large oral history section recording eye-witness experiences of war since 1914.

The museum is free to enter and is normally open daily except for the Christmas period.