On every London corner, there is a world class museum or gallery. Now, that isn’t true in a literal sense, but the English capital has such an abundance of cultural hotspots that it can often seem to be fact. These are the best of the best in the Big Smoke, from national treasures to less heralded options.
The British Museum was the very first public national museum in the world, which is reason alone to schedule a visit. Add to this an incredible range of artefacts covering human history from the very beginning to the modern age, one of the most comprehensive permanent collections in existence, and you have yourself arguably the most must-visit museum in town. Much of the collection was put together during the halcyon days of the British Empire, a subject that becomes more hotly disputed all the time, but The British Museum is a wonder all in itself. Don’t even think about covering it all in one visit.
Founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England, the Tower of London has seen plenty of ups and downs in the years since. It has fulfilled a number of roles (including a stint as a zoo, of all things), but it is perhaps best known for the more gruesome elements of its history. The Tower acted as a prison for many years, and a host of notable Brits spent time in its dank cells, among them Elizabeth ! and Sir Walter Raleigh, and is famous for being a place of torture, death and despair. Sounds like the perfect tourist attraction to us.
When we were but young exploration-hungry pups, London’s Natural History Museum was a place of awe and splendour. This excitement remains today, and the South Kensington museum is an absolute must for anyone interested in the wonderful history of our planet’s beasts, both living and long gone. The dinosaur exhibitions inspired that youthful awe, and fans of extinct lizards are in for a treat and then some.
London is a city defined by its history, but the many twists and turns over the centuries make for an immensely complex and confusing story. The London Museum remains the best place to visit for clarity and understanding, as the Barbican-located spot is the largest urban museum in the world. The museum is just a short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral, further embellishing the inherently ‘London’ atmosphere of this most historic area.
Found directly on famous Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is home to thousands of pieces covering everything from the 13th century to the modern age. Works by da Vinci, van Gogh, Monet, Turner and other greats await inside, making this one of the great art galleries in Europe. The audio guide is well worth shelling out a fiver for.
Wax museums might not be the most popular in the modern age, but Madame Tussauds has enough history in the bank to regain more than enough credibility to justify a visit. The whole thing started as an 18th century travelling show, before blossoming into the most famous collection of wax figures on the planet. If you want a selfie with anyone from David Beckham to Mahatma Gandhi, The Incredible Hulk to Miley Cyrus, this is the (somewhat pricey) place to go.
One of the most important centres of astronomy on the planet, The Royal Observatory has a can’t be beaten location on a hill in Greenwich Park, above the magnificent Thames. Some of the most important tools in the history of universal navigation are found here, along with a splendid modern planetarium.
Opened in 1856, London’s National Portrait Gallery was the first of its kind around the globe. Most of the nation’s most important historical personalities are represented in portrait form within, from William Shakespeare to kings and queens via everyday folk on the streets of the capital. Entry is free.
The British Empire was the largest the world has ever seen, and much of it came about due to that whole ‘the English had ships before everyone else’ thing. It stands to reason that the UK has a long and proud history of maritime exploration and fascinating, a story best heard at London’s National Maritime Museum. The museum is spread over three floors of a predictably beautiful building in Greenwich, and admission is free with the exception of certain exhibitions.
Established way back in 1852, the Victoria & Albert Museum is the world’s largest decorative arts and design museum in the world. There are more than two million artefacts inside this beauty, covering every corner of the globe and more than five millennia of art. Head to South Kensington underground station to access the museum. Admission is free.