According to a recent survey, London now boasts close to 1 000 museums, 8 000 restaurants, 200 theatres, over 120 000 hotel rooms for all budgets, and five international airports. The ‘Capital City of the World’ really does have a lot to offer. And they’re certainly world leaders when it comes to that first statistic – museums.
In fact, London could be called the World Capital of Museums as well. What sets London’s museums apart from the rest of the world’s offerings is firstly, the truly remarkable items that they contain – it is spectacular to know you’re looking at the actual Rosetta Stone, or an original Leonardo Da Vinci drawing, or a real Egyptian mummy, or the handcuffs used by the famous escape artist Harry Houdini. The second is the way each museum’s contents are cared for and curated and presented in a way that makes them absolutely fascinating and relevant to our lives. And of course, everyone just loves the idea that entrance to most of the museums and galleries is free. People often think that museums are dusty, old, boring places, but London’s are the exact opposite.
Four museums – the British Museum, Victoria & Alfred Museum, Natural History Museum and the Science Museum – stand out in particular. More than once, the British Museum has been called the greatest attraction in London. Its collection, which has been sourced from all over the world, is among the most comprehensive in existence, and illustrates the story of human culture from its early beginnings to the present day. If you only have a short time, make sure you see the Rosetta Stone, Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs, Parthenon sculptures, Samurai armor and as much of the Egyptian department as you can.
The Victoria & Alfred Museum celebrates art and design with 3 000 years’ worth of extraordinary and noteworthy artifacts. Some 150 galleries on seven floors contain furniture, ceramics, sculpture, paintings, posters, jewellery, metalwork, glass, textiles, and much more. And no, these priceless treasures aren’t for sale – as much as you’d love to buy them! As well as the impressive dinosaur exhibit, the Natural History Museum boasts a collection of the most spectacular and rarest animals in the world. Want to see a life-sized blue whale? Or a 40 million year-old spider? Or thousands of plant, animal, fossil and rock specimens? Then this is where you – and especially your kids – want to be.
The Science Museum features seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits – all showcasing developments in contemporary science and technology. The highlights are the famous Apollo 10 space command module and a flight simulator, which are very popular with children. These four London museums are reasons enough to travel to London and an entire lifetime could be dedicated to the study of each museum’s contents. If you are limited in time, each one has an expertly compiled website with suggestions and summaries of what specific items to see, and information on new and upcoming exhibits. There are other museums, well worth spending a good deal of time at. Among the vehicles on display at the London Transport Museum is the first underground electric train which interestingly, had no windows because there was nothing to see underground.
The Imperial War Museum contains examples of the machinery and technology of war – as well as communications and spying equipment, war literature and other artifacts from conflicts of the twentieth century. Military history fanatics will also enjoy the National Maritime Museum, where one of the highlights is the famous Admiral Lord Nelson’s uniform from the Battle of Trafalgar. The Design Museum features contemporary furniture design, graphics, and architecture and industrial design concepts – and altogether tells the story of why good design is so important and relevant to the world right now.
The Museum of London is an entertaining education of the city’s history. It is packed with exhibitions that tell the story of prehistoric London, the city under Roman rule, and the grandeur of medieval London and other important stages in its history. A prominent part of London’s museum culture is its art museums and galleries. The quality of the works permanently on display and on once-off exhibitions is spectacular.
London’s National Gallery is filled with works by great masters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Leonardo Da Vinci. The gallery was founded in 1824 to display a collection of just 36 paintings, but today it is home to more than 2 000 works. The popular Tate Britain gallery is referred to by the Tate institution as ‘The home of British art from 1500 to the present day’ and is not to be missed by serious art fans. The Tate Modern gallery, another of the Tate institutions, is housed in the former Bankside Power Station on the banks of the River Thames. Here you can see work by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Salvadore Dali, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.
Other acclaimed galleries include the Barbican Art Gallery, Hayward Gallery, National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, The Royal Academy of Arts (founded in 1768), and the small Serpentine Gallery, which sits in a beautiful spot in the middle of Hyde Park. Recently, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, lovingly exclaimed that his city is the ‘greatest big city on the planet’. Being the mayor, this is could be considered an unashamedly biased claim. But Mr Johnson isn’t the only chap who likes London. At the end of 2013, a survey revealed that a record number of travelers (possibly in the region of 16 million – they’re still counting the final quarter) made their way to London last year – many of them to the city’s brilliant museums. If you do too, you will not be disappointed!