My first year in London I was broke. Like really broke. I was studying and not working. So with no steady funds coming in I was limited in what I could do, well so I thought.
I attempted to pull myself out of my homesickness by exploring one new attraction a week. That attraction almost always ended up being a museum. Now that I’m rolling in cash (I’m not) I try to donate when I can.
In particular order my 5 favourite museums (all free):
1. British Museum – Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
You may not be a huge fan of museums but you must visit the Brit museum, even if you are only in London for a short time. The great court ceiling is stunning and that in itself is a sight to see. The first time I walked in I must have stared at the ceiling with my mouth open for a good 10-15 seconds. You just feel dwarfed inside.
Beyond this you will find amazing pieces including a huge slab of the Rosetta Stone (always with a crowd around it). It is encased, as it should be but what you will find predominantly in the museum is that most pieces are not encased – great for pictures. This museum also has controversy! Who doesn’t love some good drama – when it doesn’t involve you? I only knew about the Greeks wanting their goods back but the link shows there are more pieces in dispute. I’ve seen these items up close and they are gorgeous. I can see why they aren’t giving them up.
2. Science Museum – Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London , SW7 2DD
It seems to be a recurring theme for me to visit the science museum where ever I travel. The best I’ve seen so far – Tokyo ( I mean of course) and the worse – Toronto (sad but true). This one is quite good. Lots of interactive exhibits (lots broken too unfortunately) which makes it fun for adults who like to be big kids.
The first time I visited was to see the Japan Car exhibit. Cool but a bit of a disappointment. The coolest car I wanted to see was taken away a few weeks before and I didn’t know this until I was there. The website didn’t even say anything, yes I’m still bitter. Another plus are the reasonably priced 3D films. Lastly, once a month they put on a late night for adults only. So take everything I just described and mix with alcohol, enjoy.
3. Museum of London – 150 London Wall, London, EC2Y 5HN
I love history. If you want to know the history of London this is the museum for you. It is much smaller than the two previously mentioned and that is actually the biggest plus for me. It underwent refurbishment not long ago and it looks even better than before.
One of the new things on offer is a Pleasure Garden – mind out of gutter (to be fair that’s where mine was when I came across it). You can go inside this fake pleasure garden to get an idea of what they were like. There is also ‘The Book of Tributes’ permanently on display in remembrance for those who lost their lives in the 7/7/2005 bombings.
4. Imperial War Museum – Lambeth Road, London, SE1 6HZ
I stumbled upon this museum in search of the Tibetan Peace Garden which turned out to be on the grounds of the museum. The garden was a bit of a disappointment. Only because it was early spring and nothing had grown so it looked barren. Side bar – I have a mandala tattoo on my back, that link explains what that is. So I stayed, attempted to study and it started to rain. I took shelter in the war museum.
I am not a war history enthusiast so I didn’t think I would like this museum but it’s pretty amazing. It is clear to see the draw for kids as well. Giant torpedos, tanks, and planes are scattered in the main foyer and it is impressive. It is a well laid out museum, and just really interesting. I like the section that discusses the world conflicts since WW2.
5. Natural History Museum – Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD
I recently visited this museum for the first time in March. I’ve walked by it many times to go to the science museum and admired the gorgeous building. There was also a lot of hype around the new Darwin Centre opening up so I always wanted to go but never made it in. Again an easy draw for kids, dinosaurs, bugs etc.
It was a wildlife photography exhibit that finally drew me there. The exhibit was amazing. I love photography and animals so put the two together and it was worth the money. I did get a chance to peruse the museum a bit, and even went through the earth quake simulator. It was a weird coincidence that I was in the simulator which showed an earth quake in Japan on video a mere 5 days before the real earth quake hit Japan.
Honourable mentions: Victoria & Albert (runner-up for 5th, I just haven’t spent enough time there yet), Museum of Childhood, and National Gallery.
If you are strapped for time prioritize what you want to see when you visit. Places like the National Gallery and Natural History Museum are now charging a quid for the map of the gallery but they are very helpful. If it assists them to keep their doors open and free I am all for it. I’d also suggest going early when visiting the Brit museum or National Gallery if you want to avoid the crowds but it’s never that bad even at peak times. Maybe I only see it that way because once you are in Rome for Easter no crowd seems as big.
Finally, there are a lot of museums that offer ‘Lates’ as they are called. So great date night idea! You’re welcome. For a full listing of museums click here.