The Fan Museum, Greenwich

For over 30 years now the Fan Museum has been the world’s preeminent institution whose primary mission is to preserve, display, and educate the public about the history, culture, and craftsmanship of hand fans. This unique attraction is home to approximately 7,000 hand fans, the oldest of which was made in the eleventh century; many of these remarkable hand fans are showcased throughout the year in the museum’s permanent exhibition space. Regular programming here is rounded out by expertly curated temporary exhibitions.

Money Saving Tip! The Fan Museum is included on the London Pass and GoCity London Pass. If you are sightseeing in London, then you can save a lot of money with the pass.

History of the Fan Museum

When it opened its doors to the public in 1991, the Fan Museum became the first institution in the world whose sole purpose was the conservation and display of hand fans. The Fan Museum was founded by Hélène Alexander, whose extensive personal collection of fans formed the initial basis of the attraction’s collection. In the approximately 30 years since its establishment, Alexander has served as the museum’s director while overseeing the staging of a significant number of fan exhibitions across the world. To this day, she is considered one of the planet’s foremost authorities on hand fans.

The Fan Museum occupies two restored Georgian-era townhouses on Croom’s Hill alongside Greenwich Park. Numerous other popular London attractions are located nearby, including the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark, and the Old Royal Naval College.

Fan Museum Highlights

The Fan Museum’s permanent collection is comprised of two critically acclaimed collections of historic fans. The Hélène Alexander Collection consists of fans, fan leaves, and related objects once owned by the museum’s founder. The Fan Museum Trust Collection contains all the tremendous acquisitions made by the attraction in the years since its establishment. Taken as a whole, the museum’s permanent collection numbers some 7,000 items spanning an entire millennium of fan production.

All visits to the Fan Museum begin on the ground floor, where a short, introductory movie shares background information on the museum, as well insight into the long history and rich culture of fans. Highlights of the museum’s permanent collection include fans created by artists such as Paul Gauguin and Walter Sickert; fans that date back to Elizabethan England and the heyday of the Japanese Court; and an exquisite gilded Fabergé fan. Along the way, you’ll also learn about different fan-making tools, techniques, and materials.

No trip to the Fan Museum is complete without touring one of their well-regarded temporary exhibitions. Throughout its history, the Fan Museum has hosted scores and scores of temporary exhibits, so regardless of when you visit you’re liable to witness a thought-provoking show. Recent temporary exhibitions of note include Coronations and Celebrations, which highlighted royal fans from 400 years of European history; and Heroic Figures, a showcase of fans that explored changing cultural perceptions around what it means to be considered a hero.

More to See and Do at the Fan Museum

The Fan Museum is one of London’s more distinctive tourist attractions. Here are a few other things to be mindful of as you plan your outing.

*The Fan Museum shop sells a variety of souvenirs and gifts. Among the intriguing products you’ll encounter here are jewelry, stationery, posters, exhibition catalogs, and of course, an unbeatable selection of fans in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and styles.

*A free audio guide is available for visitors wishing to enhance their experience of the museum’s permanent displays. Featuring an informative narration provided by the museum’s curator, this complimentary audio tour is a terrific way to get more out of your visit without spending a single extra cent.

*As you climb the steps to the museum’s upper-floor exhibition space, be sure and take time to observe the beautiful assortment of painted fans framed and hung along the staircase’s walls. Some of these remarkable specimens date all the way back to the seventeenth century. 

*Those visitors with a particular passion for fans will want to consider signing up for one of the museum’s fan-making workshops. These special sessions are available at the museum periodically; they see participants given the chance to create two of their very own fans under the tutelage of a skilled fan maker. For more information, check out the Fan Museum’s official website.

Why the Fan Museum Should Be on Your Must-See List

The Fan Museum might strike some London visitors as a bit too specialized in its focus, but before you deem this idiosyncratic museum too eclectic for your tastes, stop by and give it a chance. Many of the museum’s fans are gorgeous works of art, and the temporary exhibitions staged here do a marvelous job connecting the humble hand fan to all manner of important historical moments, groundbreaking cultural trends, and more. Plus, after you’ve learned all about fans you can pop over to one of the nearby Royal Museums Greenwich attractions: the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark, the Queen’s House, or the Royal Observatory.