1) Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
This unique collection of over 12,000 everyday items by consumer historian Robert Opie celebrates the mundane through the decades – the packaging and products that have formed a subtly integral part in our lives over the past 120 years. With cabinets crammed full of bottles, toys, posters and crisp packets, these relics serve as an unusual reflection of social and political changes, as well as some pretty canny advertising.
2) Petrie Museum of Egyptology
The private collection of William Finders Petrie forms not only one of the largest archaeological collections in the world from Egypt and Sudan, but also a very special museum experience. With over 80,000 artefacts, there is a huge amount of material to draw on for display and, whereas the likes of the British Museum display their antiquities in clear and predictable ways, the Petrie Museum adopts a refreshingly understated presentation – one that gives you the sense of peeking into a professor's personal cabinet of curiosities.
3) Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum
Located down a back corridor and up a small stairwell of St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum is marked only by a historical plaque and a small sign. Despite its understated appearance, this restored laboratory is the site of one of the most important events of the 20th century: Fleming's discovery of penicillin from some accidental mould in a petri dish in 1928.
4) Clockmakers' Museum
A small, quiet room in the Guildhall Library building, the Clockmakers' Museum is a haven in London's busy business district. The museum – the oldest of its kind, open since 1874 – holds over 600 watches from England and Europe, and clocks as old as the 17th century. This is a charming place to visit, full of dainty miniature ladies' watches and imposing grandfather clocks, and a half-size replica of John Harrison's 1770 clock – the one that helped solved the problem of determining longitude at sea.
5) Dennis Severs' House
Dennis Severs' House is unlike any other historical house or museum. In fact, you had better not call it a museum, as Severs was notorious for having ejected a visitor for this very reason! Severs bought 18 Folgate Street in Spitalfields in the 1970s and then spent the next 20 years creating a marvellous Georgian home, including its imagined residents, a family of Huguenot weavers. The experience at Dennis Severs' House is conducted in complete silence, from the moment the house manager ushers you in from the street – and the effect is immediately spellbinding.
6) Garden Museum
On London's South Bank, the site of the medieval St Mary's church serves as the final resting place of notorious 17th century gardener and collector John Tradescant, the man responsible for the introduction of the pineapple and the magnolia to Great Britain. Now in possession of a huge collection of horticultural artefacts, this museum is a unique celebration of hugely important gardening figures and of the English garden.
7) Museum and Library of Freemasonry
It is telling that the Freemasons United Grand Lodge of England offers its visitors a small leaflet providing answers to such questions as "Why are you a secret society?" and "Why do your 'obligations' contain hideous penalties?" This fraternity clearly has a reputation to live down. And its exhibition is certainly intriguing, with its most interesting curiosities including a bread roll converted into a silver inkwell and a 19th century satin birch desk, complete with secret compartments and inscriptions.
8) Grant Museum of Zoology
The Grant Museum of Zoology is in much the same vein as the Petrie Museum, with its ancient objects and scientific curiosities all crammed into cabinets. They have a fantastic selection of skeletons, as well as some more unexpected specimens such as a massive, coiled Anaconda. Curated with a great sense of humour and a good eye, this is where you want to inaugurate your offspring into the world of zoology, and potentially instill a lifelong interest.
9) Freud Museum
A recreation of pre-war Vienna, 20 Maresfield Gardens served as Sigmund Freud's final surrogate home after fleeing Nazi occupation in Austria in the late 1930s. Now the site of the Freud Museum, this house perfectly preserves Freud's unique workspace, his notorious couch, and his house and gardens, full of interesting items and the Freud family's own personal possessions. Although Freud only spent the final year of his life here, the preserved interior of this house still bears the distinct marks and atmosphere of the Freud family home.
10) The Cartoon Museum
The Cartoon Museum, one of London's youngest and smallest museums, tells a layered and important story. Filled with original cartoons dating back to the 16th century, this tiny space is filled with nostalgia and a distinctly English sense of humour. There is an excellent overall timeline, and smaller captions by each cartoon to give you its individual history and importance – and all are so readable, and often so amusing, that the huge amount of information you're absorbing almost goes down without your noticing it.