Best of London Museums Off the Beaten Path


Spending hours admiring the priceless paintings in London’s National Gallery, or dedicating a whole afternoon to ogling the exceptional artefacts of the Wallace Collection, are just two of the many museum-experiences the vibrant English capital has to offer. But there’s something to be said for the more off-beat and less-visited showrooms scattered around town.

London may be home to some of the world’s prime art and science museums, yet it also plays humble abode to some of the most fascinatingly unique museums in the world. Some, it must be said, are just weird and somewhat disturbing we’ll admit, yet they are all superbly educational, infinitely enticing and not a just a wee bit wacky. So ditch the crowds for a few hours during your next visit to London and check out three of the most unusual museums in town.

Hunterian Museum

This particular showroom is not unlike a train wreck: no matter how hard you try, you just can’t look away. This most quirky of institutions is by far one of the most interesting in London, yet we’ll be the first to admit that those who are easily put off their lunch should approach it with caution. Apparently, not everyone is as impressed with seeing hundred-year-old diseased body parts floating in jars of formaldehyde as we are…fancy that.

hunterian 2The Hunterian Museum is part of London’s Royal College of Surgeons and has been operating for two centuries. John Hunter, a revered Scottish physician with a penchant for collecting random ‘spare bits and bobs’ was the inspiration for this museum, and it now houses the doctor’s most impressive collections of preserved human and animal body parts. Yet Dr Hunter’s kleptomaniac tendencies were not actually as gruesome as may initially appear. He was not only completely dedicated to finding the causes and cures of venereal diseases (hence the syphilis diseased brains), but his in-depth study of body parts is considered to be the forefather of modern-day organ transplant techniques.

Some of the parts on display are over four centuries old and, in case you can’t tell a liver from a kidney, don’t fret! The museum does a great job of detailing the specimens on show. While some visitors deem this to be a macabre showroom, we like to think it is a brilliant historical showcase of the evolution of medicine.

Old Operating Theatre Museum

If you’ve managed to spend a couple of hours at the Hunterian without feeling nauseous, then we urge you to check out the Old Operating Theatre Museum and really test your guts! Europe’s oldest operating centre is now a display maze of superbly primitive surgery equipment dating back to the early 1800s, complete with rusty scalpels, blunt saws and dozens of other specimens of dubious usefulness. The extensive displays of gory instruments, and the corresponding lengthy description of how they were used are quite awe-inspiring; the reconstructed operating room is a rather compelling sight and, finally, being reminded that general anesthesia had not yet been invited at the time these tools were used is quite possibly the most sobering experience of all.

operating theatre

This is an absolutely gripping museum to visit if you’re at all interested in the evolution of medicine, and surgery in particular, over the last two centuries.

Grant Museum of Zoology

If you’ve ever read Bill Bryson’s ‘Short History of Nearly Everything’, and were left in complete awe at the microscopic view of our globe, you may want to head to the Grant Museum during your London vacation. This incredible space is dedicated to all creatures great and small, most of which are by now extinct. Fascinating to say the least, the museum showcases exhibits of stuffed, dehydrated and pickled animals and covers the gamut of our planet’s animal kingdom.

zoologyThere’s a section of animals which are long extinct (including the long-lost bones of the very last dodo) and a whole part dedicated to those animals which are currently risking extinction. When it comes to natural history museums, there are few which could rival the Grant for sheer amount of specimens. There are almost 70,000 exhibits to admire, most of which are extremely rare.

 

Photos:

The Creative Penn via Flickr

John Pannell via Flickr

Tom NMooring via Flickr

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