Spring is verily in the air in London (at last!), which means sun must be on the way and the opportunity for visitors to the UK capital to enjoy days out. Yet, owing to the changeable British climate, some days will inevitably always be wash-outs – what to do then? Why, how about selecting one from the following dectet of marvellous museums for a visit…?
(Great Russell Street WC1B 3DG)
The daddy not just of all museums in London and the wider UK, but maybe of all museums throughout the world, the British Museum is a quite staggeringly packed attraction – the depth and breadth of its collection is mind-blowing. Covering every era of mankind from every corner of the world imaginable, the venue only actual displays a fraction of all the millions of millions of objects it can call on at any one time. Must-sees have to be its marvellous mummies, the Sutton Hoo Ship burial, the Rosetta Stone and, of course, those oh-so contentious Elgin Marbles.
(Exhibition Road SW7 2DD)
The first on this list of the inevitably-included trio of ‘Albertopolis’ venues located in elegant South Kensington, this offering is consistently one of the very best received of all of the capital’s plethora of mega-museums. Boasting seven full floors of terrifically interactive, educational exhibits, it’s a place of hands-on and compelling scientific, medical and technological learning for visitors of all ages, but especially the young ’uns – what with its very own Apollo 10 command module, 4D flight/ space simulators and gigantic 3D IMAX cinema.
Natural History Museum
(Cromwell Road SW7 5BD)
Almost as much a spectacle on the outside as it is within, this grand Alfred Waterhouse-designed Victorian building houses around 70 million specimens of extinct and extant animal, fossil, mineral, rock and plant examples. Its biggest draws are undoubtedly its world-renowned Life Galleries, though, with their extraordinarily extensive collection of beasts, creatures, creepy crawlies and almost-too-real dinosaurs. Try to time your visit for when the giant blue whale arrives in the Central Hall (it’ll be soon now) and the ice-skating outside (every Christmastime).
Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum
(Cromwell Road SW7 2RL)
If classic décor’s your thing, then the V&A’s definitely the place for you. Totally dedicated to the decorative arts, it’s rammed full of the beautiful and dainty; the exquisite and the unique. Offering up everything from some of the world’s finest ceramics and sculptures to perfect portrait miniatures and decades and decades’ worth of photography, its biggest highlight might just be its British Galleries, where you can chronologically journey through four centuries of British design – all the way from the era of King Henry VIII to the age of Queen Victoria.
London Transport Museum
(Covent Garden Piazza WC2E 7BB)
The capital’s perennially popular attraction devoted to all things public transport; it’s ideal for little tykes fascinated by things that move, containing as it does an original London Underground (Tube) electric train that dates from 1890, as well as an impressive selection of buses, trams, trolleybuses and rail rolling stock, and an eye-popping clutch of signs, posters, uniforms and engineering drawings collected together from across the history of London’s joined-up transport network. Situated as it is in Covent Garden Piazza, it’s such a centrally located venue that it’s very easy to get to should you and yours be staying in the middle of town – say, at a hotel near Bayswater Tube station like Shaftesbury Hyde Park International.
The Museum of London
(150 London Wall EC2Y 5HN)
London’s very own – and extensive – museum, this place chronicles the entire history of the magnificent metropolis, all the way from the prehistoric age (yes, really) through its humble beginnings as an Anglo-Saxon settlement and Roman town of import up to its present era as one of the biggest, boldest, brashest and most important cities on the planet. Offering fascinating temporary exhibitions, talks and children’s events the year round, it’s really worth a visit, though, for its fantastically reconstructed interiors of traditional London homes and streets – and, of course, all the artefacts unearthed via multiple archaeological excavations.
(224-238 Kensington High Street W8 6AG)
Covering the very best – and the extensive and very varied history – of product, industrial, graphic, fashion, architectural and multimedia design, this attraction’s was originally opened around 30 years ago by design giant Sir Terence Conran in a building near Tower Bridge, but a few short years ago relocated to the aforementioned museum-friendly district of South Ken, whose stylish appearance and atmos perfectly suits what the venue’s all about.
National Maritime Museum
(Park Row SE10 9NF)
Set in the glorious Georgian-era splendour of ‘Royal Greenwich’ on the banks of the River Thames (fabulous for a sunny summer’s day out), amidst the grandeur of The Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House, the Royal Naval College and the rolling green of Greenwich Park itself, this museum, dedicated as it is to Britain’s significant maritime heritage, is a too often overlooked gem of an attraction. Among all its naval-themed artefacts you’ll find a good number of cracking curios, such as bits of wreckage from a WWI-era zeppelin downed over the Thames and an original scale-model of Nelson’s Column.
Imperial War Museum
(Lambeth Road SE1 6HZ)
Finally (but far from least) is one of the capital’s greatest of all museums – truly. Intriguingly founded before the end of the First World War (yes, rather surprisingly) and actually housed in the one-time home of the famed Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital for ‘the mad’, IWM London is a sobering, visceral but thoroughly compelling immersion into the theatre of war from the late Victorian era right through to the present day. Its utterly immersive galleries dedicated to the First and Second World Wars are magnificent (the former including a life-size reconstruction of a Western Front trench), while throughout the venue you’ll discover examples of the vehicles and machinery of war and moving personal artefacts of those caught up in so many – too many – devastating conflicts.