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The Imperial War Museums are a collection of museums both within London and north of London, in Cambridgeshire and Manchester. For information on all the IWM Museums visit: http://www.iwm.org.uk/
IWM London is undergoing a major redevelopment project to create new spaces and new ways for visitors to explore the collections. The First and Second World War Galleries are now closed. From 2 January to July 2013 IWM London will be temporarily closed.
Having visited the museum three separate times, with varied groups of people. Everyone has uniformly loved it. When you can take a group of high school students there and they enjoy it as much as your military-history loving husband, it is definitely a winner!
Aside from the obvious historical importance of some of the documents (like Hitler's signed order authorizing the march on Poland) the museum has a couple of interactive sections that bring the reality of war to life in a way that exhibits in glass cases cannot do. The WWI section wants the visitor to experience what trench warfare was actually like (and you do) and the WWII interactive exhibit attempts to replicate (with great success) what life was like during an air raid for Londoners during the Blitz. One hesitates to say more because of spoiling the experience. Take the Elephant & Castle Line on the Tube and you will be there in a short walk.
Entrance is free (although a donation is a good idea.)
IWM's HMS Belfast floats in the Thames and is open daily from 10-5. You can explore HMS Belfast’s nine decks to discover the stories of life on board this warship during the Second World War and beyond. Imagine sleeping in one of the tightly packed hammocks during duties in Arctic waters, or being stationed deep in the bowels of the ship when she opened fire in support of Allied troops on D-Day. Venture into the interactive Operation Rooms and immerse yourself in the midst of a battle in the Gun Turret Experience. Admission fee applies. Closest tube: London Bridge.
Open daily from 9:30 - 6 pm the IWM's Churchill War Rooms let you discover the original Cabinet War Rooms, the wartime bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz. Explore the historic rooms to experience the secret history that lives on underground. Discover the stories of those who worked underground as London was being bombed above them, and then find out more about the life and legacy of Winston Churchill in the interactive Churchill Museum. Closest tube: Westminster. Admission fees apply.
About 1 hour north of London is the IWM Duxford museum - set within the spacious grounds of the famous former First and Second World War airfield. Lose yourself for a whole day wandering under and around some of the most iconic aircraft in the world and get hands-on with award-winning interactive exhibitions. IWM Duxford is home to an impressive collection of over two hundred aircraft as well as tanks, military vehicles and boats. An original 1917 Belfast hangar hosting the Battle of Britain exhibition contrasts dramatically with the remarkable architecture of the American Air Museum, designed by contemporary British architects Foster and Partners. Opened in 2007, AirSpace tells the story of British and Commonwealth aviation. Its Aircraft Hall is home to over 30 aircraft including an iconic Spitfire, a legendary Lancaster and the fastest-ever Concorde.
Near Manchester, is IWM North - now 10 years old. Discover powerful stories that reveal how war shapes lives, from a soldier’s last letter home to the twisted steel of New York City's World Trade Center. Housed in Daniel Libeskind’s iconic building representing a globe torn about by conflict, IWM North offers a free day out like no other. Admission free.
For those interested in museums like those offered by the Imperial War Museum Group, you should also consider the RAF Museum in North London. Admission is free and a large range of RAF planes are on display.