There are some great World War 2 attractions in London that the whole family will enjoy.
World War II was a devastating event for London. More than 30,000 residents lost their life to bombings and hundreds of thousands more lost their homes and all of their belongings. The count of injured citizens was remarkably high as well, and you could see the chaos throughout the city as buildings crumbled to the ground.
The Docklands in the east end of London were a primary target for bombings because they represented a major hub for imported goods. Those goods were used to maintain the city during a critical period of wartime, so bombings in that area had a big impact.
If you enjoy history, you shouldn’t visit the city without exploring some of the top World War 2 attractions in London. There’s a lot to learn even if you’ve already studied the war in great depth. There are also some sites that just allow you to pay your respects to the lives that were lost and the soldiers who gave their all to defend London in critical times.
There are quite a few places you could visit to learn about the Second World War in London, but the following options are our top picks.
1. Imperial War Museum
If you’re interested in World War 2 in London, you should head straight for the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road. The London museum is part of a series of museums designed to chronicle memories of both world wars from a British perspective. The museums are a treasure trove of educational information, and they contain the personal stories of many soldiers who were impacted by the Second World War.
The Churchill War Rooms are one of the most popular attractions in the Imperial War Museum. You’ll tour the underground bunker where Churchill lived and worked during the Second World War. From those rooms, he met with important members of his team and made critical decisions that guided the outcome of the war.
The Imperial War Museum was designed to document all conflict in the history of Britain, so you can learn about far more than World War II. Exhibits can include a wide variety of subjects, and there are over 800,000 items on display throughout the Imperial War Museums.
2. HMS Belfast
Technically a part of the Imperial War Museum but standing independently on the banks of the Thames River, HMS Belfast is a World War II warship now serving as an educational museum. The ship itself is worth exploring because it is one piece of the Second World War that remains in great condition today. You can walk through the ship to get an idea of what it was like to fight from its decks during one of the deadliest wars.
Parts of the ship have been fully restored to represent the quarters that soldiers lived and worked in during the war. Those are some of the most powerful exhibits on the ship because they speak to the daily reality of war at sea.
HMS Belfast has nine decks loaded with exhibits that teach about the Second World War in Britain. Look for it on the South Bank of the Thames River along the Queen’s Walk.
3. The Women of World War II Memorial
More than 400,000 women were admitted into the armed forces when Churchill put out the call for women to step up and support the male troops. Millions took over jobs formerly filled by men back home, working in factories to produce the ammunition and other goods needed by the armed forces and everyday citizens.
In 2005, the brave women of World War II were celebrated in a monument placed on Parliament Street in Whitehall. It stands between the Cenotaph and the Old War Office Building. That placement was met with some controversy as some locals believed it was an effort to rewrite history, due to the memorial replacing a monument of Sir Walter Raleigh.
The bronze memorial features a line of uniforms representative of those worn by women fighting in World War II. The Queen unveiled the monument in dramatic fashion with a line of military helicopters flying overhead. Each helicopter was flown by a female pilot and was filled with only female crew members.
This is one of the best World War 2 attractions in London because it’s free and it covers a theme that is often overlooked in studies of the war. It’s a great place to snap a few selfies and think about the role women played in the Second World War.
4. The Cenotaph
The Cenotaph is a war memorial located close to the Women of World War II Memorial in Whitehall. It started as a temporary structure erected as part of a peace parade at the end of the First World War. It became a permanent structure and is now best known as the centerpiece of the annual Remembrance Service, which honors the men and women who fought in both world wars.
This memorial is dedicated to “The Glorious Dead.” No individual names are acknowledged because the creators wanted to allow each visitor to find their own meaning in the memorial. Cenotaph roughly means “empty tomb,” so it’s only fitting that many people who lost loved ones to the wars visit the memorial to grieve their losses and show respect to the heroes.
5. Royal Air Force Museum
When you’ve had enough touring World War II memorials outdoors, escape the heat or rain with a visit to the Royal Air Force Museum on Grahame Park Way. While it doesn’t focus exclusively on WWII, it offers an impressive collection of memorabilia and educational exhibitions related to the history of the Royal Air Force.
The museum does include some exhibits and information related to the Second World War. It’s educational for older kids and adults without neglecting the younger members of your family. Kids have a blast on the playground and often enjoy watching shows in the 4D theatre. Those kid-friendly options break up what may otherwise feel monotonous to a young child.
One highlight of the Royal Air Force Museum is the Spitfire Experience. It allows you to climb in the cockpit of a real Spitfire fighter plane. These aircrafts were used in World War II and were known for their lightweight design and speed. The cost of the experience is £25.00 per person.
You’ll get the most out of these World War 2 attractions in London if you study the war before heading to London. You can look for books on the subject or just read through websites related to the war online. Try to read a variety of sources to get a well-rounded perspective of how the war impacted London.
If you don’t have time to learn before you visit London, start with some of the city’s museums. You can then take a walking or bus tour to view areas of the city that were hardest hit by the bombings. You’ll have a new perspective on the beautiful city views when you see them with knowledge of the devastation that was there in the past.