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Sights worth seeing,

May 02 2024

London medical museums


Uncover London’s macabre medical curiosities, learn about great minds who made groundbreaking scientific discoveries and step into the spaces where history happened. Medical museums have fascinating stories to tell, so here’s our guide to the best London medical museums.


The Old Operating Theatre, Southwark

Be glad you’re arriving here pain free. Visit Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre in the roof of St Thomas’ Hospital. The Old Operating Theatre museum offers a rare and rather gruesome glimpse into medical practices of the 19th century. Often, those unfortunate enough to be brought here as patients would undergo operations without anaesthetics or antiseptics, in front of an audience of local dignitaries and students. It’s a riveting peek into Dickensian London, tucked away at the top of a spiral staircase. There’s also a gorgeous apothecary shop and special Victorian surgery talks held on weekends too. 

Open Thursday to Sunday, 10:30am to 5pm (last entry at 4.15pm)


Florence Nightingale Museum, Southbank

Uncover the life story of the world’s most famous nurse. Florence Nightingale Museum tells the story of the Lady of the Lamp, who founded modern nursing. You’ll learn about her pioneering medical approach, wartime experiences and personal life. The museum reveals how radical her approach to medical care was in her lifetime and the appalling conditions that inspired her to fight for better care. See the actual lamp that gave her the famous nickname and peek inside her medical case. 

Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm)

Hunterian Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Forget the fake waxworks in the London Dungeon, the Hunterian Museum has the real thing. If you have a strong stomach, this museum behind the Royal College of Surgeons is perfect for you. Explore over 3,000 gruesome and fascinating anatomical specimens across eight floors. You’ll see veins and arteries from dissections conducted in the 17th century, Winston Churchill’s dentures and the skeleton of Charles Byrne, who was 7ft 7in tall. 

Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm (last entry at 4pm)


Wellcome Collection

If you’d rather learn more about the human body without all the grizzly pickled body parts, visit the medical galleries for free at the Wellcome Collection, dedicated to health and human experience. Inside is the collection of the 19th-century British pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome, the first person to replace mixtures of tonics and powders with medicine in pill form. His interest in healthcare and medicine took him around the world where he collected oddities, including a 19th-century artificial nose and Napoleon’s horsehair toothbrush. There’s also a wealth of health-based exhibitions, including Being Human, which covers modern healthcare. There are also more historic items collected by Henry Wellcome in the Science Museum’s Wellcome Galleries (see below). 

Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm (and until 8pm on Thursdays)


Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries at the Science Museum

The world’s largest medicine galleries are in the famous London Science Museum, which displays thousands of objects from across the centuries. The museum is home to the world’s first MRI scanner, offers advice on how a postmortem examination is done and lets you try out robotic surgery tools (not on actual people though, thankfully). There are also more of Henry Wellcome’s historic medical objects, including Captain Scott’s medicine chest he used in the Antarctic. In the Victorian pharmacy here, you can learn about poisons and how to make your own medicine. 

Open daily, 10am to 6pm (last entry at 5:15pm)


Freud Museum, Hampstead

Once home to Sigmund Freud and his family, who moved to North London to escape the Nazis, the Freud Museum near Finchley Road tube station is a fascinating insight on the founder of psychoanalysis. This museum was also the home of Sigmund’s daughter, Anna, who was a pioneer of child psychoanalysis and lived in the building until her death in 1982. It was Anna’s wish that her home be turned into this museum, and among the antiquities, writings and art works sits her father’s famous couch in his study. This is a must for anyone interested in psychology or psychiatry.

Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10:30am to 5pm.


After probing London’s medical history, relax at one of our Central London Thistle Hotels. A stay at Thistle Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens puts you close to the Science Museum. Thistle Holborn is just a short stroll to the Hunterian Museum, and Thistle City Barbican has the Florence Nightingale Museum nearby.