Imperial War Museum, London

The Imperial War Museum in London isn’t really designed with toddlers and young children in mind, although this doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit with your little ones, especially if they have older siblings, as it is a fabulous place to take an older child or teenager who is eager to learn more about the World Wars. In terms of a toddler however, you should not expect to spend the whole day there. Most of the displays are unsuitable for children of a young age with the objects telling a story that is very reliant on the accompanying text to appreciate. Throughout much of the museum the objects displayed are not familiar to young children and have complicated stories to tell which will be difficult for a toddler to comprehend. An introduction to a few of these of objects is fine but a full day of this would not keep them engaged.

Our Little Museum Visitors however loved the Large Exhibits Gallery. This a huge, open, indoor space, filled with vehicles and large weapons from the World Wars. It includes a number of aeroplanes which fascinated Garden Boy and they were both thrilled with the opportunity to step inside part of an aeroplane and pull faces through the window. There is lots of space for them to have freedom to explore what they are drawn to in this gallery and Garden Dad was happy to wander with them, reading out amazing facts to them from the information boards.  They easily spent an hour in this gallery and would have stayed for longer had we not dragged them away to the ‘Children’s War’ exhibition.

The Children’s War exhibition is really the only other gallery that a toddler would find engaging. Despite containing some familiar objects such as toys and room settings, there is also a lot here that they will be unfamilar with such as gas masks and ration books which will raise enough questions and difficult concepts for them for one visit. It is a great place to introduce them to a difficult part of their history however. Garden Girl showed some understanding on a very basic level that it was a difficult time and food supply was short. She could identify with creating a vegetable patch and making your own clothes because things were not available in the shops. She was amused that there was no TV in the living room but liked the idea of telling stories together instead and listening to the radio and dancing. Garden Boy liked the toys, the barriers, navigating the staircase and sitting at the desks in the replica school room. The yellow brick road, leading to a short tunnel, provided much enjoyment for them both.

Even though these galleries are portrayed from the point of view of children in the war, it isn’t an easy exhibition to show a toddler. There is a lot to explain and it isn’t worth taking them if they are tired. They need to be willing to listen if they are not just going to run around aimlessly not looking at anything and will need some guidance. These galleries are also not easy to navigate with a pushchair. The 1940’s house is on two storeys and there is no lift down that we could find so you will need two adults to juggle the children and pushchair down the steep 1940’s staircase. The pushchair was also in the way a lot in the house part of the exhibit, blocking the path for other visitors while we stopped to look in the rooms. We were in the way a lot and this made us hurry around part of the exhibtion that they were both enjoying. There was no noticable place to leave pushchairs or belongings in the museum either, so we had no option really but to lug the pushchair around with us.

If you are in this part of London and have a couple of hours to fill, or a member of your family has a particular interest in the World Wars then it is worth taking your toddlers. We have friends who live close by and we take our Little Museum Visitors for a few hours whenever we visit them but I wouldn’t otherwise plan a day trip there with them.

Practicalities

  • Only some of the galleries are really suitable to create an enjoyable visit for toddlers. If you plan your visit to only incorporate the Large Exhibits Gallery and The Children’s War you will save yourself some frustrated wandering around a maze of galleries in which your children will become increasingly bored and frustrated. (Note, The Children’s War exhibit is a temporary display and ends in December 2012).
  • The Large Exhibits Gallery and most of the museum is accessible with a pushchair and wheelchair but the 1940’s house is difficult to navigate with a pushchair and a wheelchair user will not be able to access the upper floors at all.
  • There is a cafe on the ground floor where you can buy hot food or sandwiches. As we usually eat with friends close by we haven’t tried out the cafe so I can’t comment on how good the food is, but I did check the menu and they do offer a children’s lunch box.
  • There are wheelchair accessible toilets in the museum, although not on all floors and there are also baby changing facilities.
  • The main entrance to the museum has steps leading up to the doors and a further couple of steps once inside. We carried the pushchair in, but if you require wheelchair access or prefer a ramp then there is another entrance on the right of the building which is signposted.
  • The museum staff are friendly and welcoming to children.
  • There is no museum car park and there is only limited meter parking on the nearby roads. The museum is also located within the congestion charge zone so it is recommended that you travel by bus, tube or train. Details of the nearest bus stops and tube and rail stations can be found on the Imperial War Museum website.
  • There is an onsite museum shop.

Admission Prices

  • Entry into the museum is Free
  • There is sometimes a charge for special exhibitions

Opening Times

  • Daily, 10am till 6pm
  • Closed 24th-26th December

Learn More

To find out more or to check for updated information prior to your visit, have a look at the Imperial War Museum website.