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This repository’s miraculous cache of rarities from everyday life would do credit to the greatest national museums of any land, and it’s sure to satisfy history buffs. Displays contain so many forehead-smackingly rare or fascinating items that by the time you’re two-thirds through it, you’ll start to lose track. Exhibits start with local archaeological finds (including elephant vertebrae and a lion skull) before continuing to 3,500-year-old spearheads and swords found in the muck of the Thames. Voices from the past come alive again in chronological order: There’s a 1st-century oak ladder that was discovered preserved in a well, Norman chain mail, loaded gambling dice made of bone in the 1400s, a leather bucket used in vain to fight the Great Fire of 1666, a walk-in wooden prison cell from 1750, Selfridge’s original bronze Art Deco elevators, and far, far more. The biggest drawback is that you need to budget a few hours, otherwise you’ll end up in a mad rush through the entire lower floor covering the Great Fire to now—and it’d be such a shame to miss diver Tom Daley’s teeny Stella McCartney swim trunks. You also don’t want to miss the Victorian Walk, a kid-friendly re-creation of city streets, shops and all from the 1800s (grab a card at its entrance to know what you’re seeing). Also seek out the Lord Mayor’s state coach, carved in 1757, which garages here all year awaiting its annual airing at the Lord Mayor’s Show in November, and Great Britain’s petal from the Olympic flame cauldron, on display alongside a re-creation of a portion of it (the original petals were given to each country they represented).
The museum, built into the Barbican complex beside a Roman wall fragment (it will move to Clerkenwell in 2022), is easy to combine with St Paul’s, and it sells one of the best selections of books on city history. It also runs an excellent second museum in East London about Docklands. So rich is this city in history that behind the scenes, the Museum also owns the world’s largest archaeological archive, which is open for tours a few times a year