Apparently, I was spending too much time at the museum display as the quiet was interrupted by the words “Aunt Sue let’s go!” as my niece had stamped her ticket at this attraction and was ready to move on. Me? Not so much, I was quickly realizing that the London Transport Museum was a hidden gem that I wanted to geek out on. Having visited London for so many years on business and vacation, I’m not sure why I never visited before, I guess I thought it was for kids. Now with my niece, I had an excuse to visit the museum and climb the historic buses and walk through the old tube cars.
The London Transport Museum is situated in one corner of Covent Garden Market, easily within steps of many shops and restaurants of the market. There was no line to enter on a sunny June Friday which was a bit surprising. The museum is free for kids and £16 for adults (some think this is expensive but you get an annual pass to return). There were a few local families with children exploring but not many so the place felt empty which made it easy to have displays all to myself.
London Transport Museum – A Look Back at History
The museum layout is easy to follow as it starts with the early history of London, its transit options (by foot or horse) and it’s growing population. With easy to read displays and interactive displays walking through the history is fun and really interesting (ok for me, my niece not so much). I was stopping to look at the advertising posters, photographs, memorabilia, read the brochures, open the drawers of maps and sensitive materials under glass – basically I was trying to see each and every item.
“Aunt Sue!” never on this ten-day trip had I heard my name so much from my niece. I was taking way too long in her opinion to get through the displays (excuse me for actually reading everything!). I was also taking soooo many pictures according to her (I’ll give her that one) and not enough photos of her.
London Transport Museum – Women in History
When I entered the room that talked of women working in transit during the war, my niece was a bit more interested as the display showed the minimum height and held a costume to try on. My niece told me she was tall enough now at age eleven to work on the bus, I laughed and said you barely do chores at home, you’d never survive a real job. Quickly she sulked and ran to the next display (tough love folks!).
Interactive Fun – Punch Your Ticket
The museum gave us tickets to punch and fill up along the way ensuring that we visited each collection. My niece was focused on the task with the fun cut out shapes of the transit collection (horse, bus, cab, train, etc.).
I’ve always been fascinated by the London Underground (and Paris metro) not only by its layout, color schemes and precision but also by the fact that so many years ago, people dug really far down underground to install an elaborate tunnel system of trains and walkways – all without modern technology, computer aided designs and such. It’s hard to fathom the skill, vision and need back then for a modern transit system – from horses to buses and taxis to trains. Considering in 1901, London’s population was 4.5 million, transit was definitely needed in the city and to grow the towns/villages along the train line. The evolution of the transport is all on display and one big “how’d they do that” episode in my opinion.
London Transport Museum – Modern History
After we finished the top levels, we worked our way downstairs where the more modern history is displayed in the actual buses, black cabs and an interactive train driver simulation.
After crashing the train many times, we figured best to escape the tunnel and view the Underground memorabilia display cases nearby.
“Aunt Sue!” (I was wanting to change my name). I was engrossed reading old tube maps, looking at displays that dated the early 90’s when I first visited London, twenty-five years ago. These displays showed the London transport that I’ve experienced – I still remember our first red double-decker bus ride in 1989, the old Routemaster bus – we boarded from the back and climbed the spiral stairs to the top (definitely a hazard today). It was classic, iconic London back then and the museum has classic, iconic London on display.
Final Thoughts – The London Transport Museum
When my niece was about to physically pull me away from the display (as kids much younger than her would do), I gave in and decided I will return to the London Transport Museum alone on future visits to the city. We ended our visit with thoughts of the future via video monitors and quizzes that held my niece’s attention.
She then asked me questions about transit in London and here at home in Philadelphia. Despite seeing the history through the years, it wasn’t until the computer asked her questions did she connect the dots and become interested (shame as it is a fascinating place). Suddenly, it wasn’t “Aunt Sue! Let’s Go!” it was “Hey, Aunt Sue, can you take my picture” and “Aunt Sue, look! isn’t this cool?”
So, while you may want to see Big Ben, walk through the park, ride the London Eye or visit The British Museum, I would definitely recommend you add the London Transport Museum to your list and not wait as long as I did. In the end, “Aunt Sue” really had way more fun than the kid did and can’t wait to return to play on my own.