Set aside two hours to romp through 450,000 years of London history at this entertaining and educational museum, one of the capital's finest. Exhibiting everything from a mammoth's jaw found in Ilford to Oliver Cromwell's death mask via the desperate scrawls of convicts on a cell from Wellclose Prison, interactive displays and reconstructed scenes transport visitors from Roman Londinium and Saxon Ludenwic right up to the 21st-century metropolis. Free themed tours offered daily; times displayed by the entrance.
The first gallery, London Before London, looks at the ancient settlements that predated the capital and is followed by Roman London, which is full of archaeological finds like gold coins from Nero's reign. Don't miss the skeleton of the Harper Road Woman who lived in Londinium as it was razed by Boudica. Glimpse the real Roman city wall from the window before watching the 1348 Black Death video in Medieval London. A six-minute film covers the great 1666 conflagration that completely altered the city in War, Plague & Fire; also look for the etching of Charles I being beheaded – it's displayed near a painting of him with his head stitched back on.
Downstairs displays exquisite fashion and jewellery in the Expanding City and the Rhinebeck Panorama, an incredibly detailed watercolour of London in 1806. After the recreated Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, you'll emerge into People's City and a suitably Dickensian mock-up of a Victorian street. Other exhibits include a 1908 taxi cab, a 1928 art-deco lift from Selfridges, an interactive water pump that makes clear the perils of the once-insanitary water system, and a fascinating multimedia display on the suffragettes. This section ends with WWII, where the testimonies of ordinary people are particularly moving. World City brings things up to date with Beatles memorabilia, race riots and gay-rights marches. The gilded and frescoed Lord Mayor’s coach (1757) is then found in the City Gallery.
Sadly the much-asked-after fatberg – a vast glob of waste pulled from the sewers beneath Whitechapel – can currently only be seen on the museum website; it's set to re-emerge when the Museum of London moves to a new site at Smithfield Market in 2022. The museum has a second branch in Docklands.