Museums and Galleries

If I learned nothing else during my time in London, I certainly discovered that it is a treasure trove of museums, galleries, and historical sites. The best part is, many of them are totally free! Above is a general Google Map showing you the hundreds of museums in London, but I definitely have a few favorites that are must-sees when visiting London:

  • The Victoria and Albert Museum is totally worth a visit no matter what you’re interested in. It’s the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, with over 4.5 million items. I could spend days inside and never get bored. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that its namesake is my favorite historical figure, but that aside, it is a truly wonderful collection. Be sure to check out the jewelry gallery, and if you’re going to be there before March 2015, put the wedding dress exhibit on your bucket list.
  • The Natural History Museum is right next door to the V&A, and if you’re already in South Kensington, why not check it out too? If you’re a fan of fossils and dinosaurs, this museum is definitely for you. The main hall is beautiful and holds a huge dinosaur skeleton that can move. They also have an awesome earthquake simulator in their Red Zone that you should make time to visit.
  • The Imperial War Museum is actually my very favorite London museum. I made my first visit on a class field trip and instantly fell in love. The museum has material covering most every war that Great Britain has taken a part in, and the crown jewel of IWM London is their recreated trench that immerses you in the environment so many soldiers spent weeks and months in using sounds and smells. IWM is closed until mid-July in preparation to celebrate the centenary of WWI, and I can’t wait to see the changes they’ve made.
  • I don’t even know where to begin with the British Museum. It pretty much has anything and everything that you could ever be interested in seeing. If you can’t find something of interest to you at the British Museum, there’s something wrong with you. It was in the backyard of my school in 2012, so I spent a lot of time going through it and I still didn’t get to see everything. Must-sees are the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone (duh), and the Lewis Chessmen. Right now they have a Viking exhibit, and this summer there’s a mummy exhibit.
  • Another museum/gallery that I spent a lot of my time visiting is the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. They’re housed in the same building so it’s like a two-in-one wonderland. Walking through the galleries is always relaxing, and they have the artwork of so many famous artists it’s overwhelming. Plus they’re open later than a lot of places in London, so you can always go browse for an after dinner treat. The Portrait Gallery has William and Kate’s official portraits, but if that’s not enough to entice you, they have over 195,000 portraits of other really awesome historical figures. Go check it out.
  • As a deep lover of books and future librarian, I would be remiss not to mention the British Library. In fact, I hope that heaven looks like the British Library. It holds a special place in my heart because it is where I decided that I wanted to be a librarian, which altered the direction of my life and future. Apart from that, the BL has a truly fabulous collection of books, manuscripts, and other archival material. Some of their biggest treasures include the Magna Carta, several Shakespeare related documents, the Gutenberg Bible, and William Caxton’s editions of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. It’s an amazing place to spend some quiet time. But be warned: it might just change your life!
  • For modern art fans, the Tate Modern is basically heaven. Even for those less impressed by modern art, you’ll still find yourself intrigued and interested in this museum. Housed in a former power station, the museum holds some of the wackiest and most popular modern art pieces. The building itself could almost fit into the collection. The best part is that most of the galleries are free, so even if you decide it’s not for you, you haven’t lost anything.
  • The Museum of London is a great place to visit whether it’s your first time in London or you’ve lived there your whole life. I visited it many times for various class field trips, and somehow found or noticed something new every time. It’s located right by part of the original Wall of London. My favorite part is the Victorian street-scape that you can walk through to imagine what Victorian London was like. There’s also a really cool interactive version of Charles Booth’s poverty map, which shows the income levels of Londoners in the 19th century. No matter what part of London’s history you’re interested in, you can always find out more at the Museum of London.
  • Museum of London Docklands is an extension of the MoL, but mention-worthy on it’s own because it’s one of the hidden gems of the city. It’s on the Isle of Dogs, and its main focus is to tell the history of London as a trading hub. You’re guaranteed to learn at least 5 things you didn’t know before, but probably many more than that. It’s a smaller museum, but definitely worth the visit.
  • The Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea was one of my favorite haunts. Right down the Kings’ Road from my old dormitory, I was able to visit it pretty much any time I wanted. There is always really cool art on exhibit, and it’s conveniently near lots of shops like Zara and Cath Kidston. If you go on a Saturday, there will probably be something exciting going on in Duke of York Square, so you’ll get the full Chelsea experience.
  • One of the more interesting museums in London is the Hunterian Museum. John Hunter was a surgeon and teacher who collected all kinds of specimen. His collection is at the Hunterian Museum. It’s kind of creepy, but so cool. There are lots of preserved organs and other body parts of humans and animals, There are also historical surgery instruments that make me glad that I was born in the 20th century.
  • Just for fun, I’m adding Leavesden Studios, home to The Making of Harry Potter, to this list. I was one of the lucky few to visit the studio during its opening week, and it was one of the most magical days of my life. Any self-respecting Harry Potter fan owes it to themselves to make the trip out of the city and check out the sets and costumes from the movies. Oh and don’t forget to buy a chocolate frog before you leave!
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