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Our guide to London: Museums

British Museum

Britain’s largest and oldest museum, it is the most visited tourist attraction in London, with over 6 million annual visitors.  The British Museum owns a vast collection of drawings and prints, a small sample of which is always on show in Room 90; it also stages one-off exhibitions – sometimes with free entry.

National Maritime Museum

Comprising three sites: the Maritime Galleries, the Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House, the National Maritime Museum illustrates the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people.

 

Apsley House

The Duke of Wellington’s London Residence the highlight of the museum is the art collection much of which used to belong to the King of Spain.  Works by van Dyck, Goya, Rubens and Murillo are displayed as well as the famous, more than twice life-size nude statue of Napoleon by Antonio Canova.

Bank of England Museum

Housed in the Bank of England itself, the museum contains a considerable number of items accumulated over the 300 years of its existence.  Banknotes, furniture and cartoons are used to illustrate its history and its role at the centre of the UK economy today.

Barbican Arts Centre

A jewel in an ugly concrete ghetto, it is home to the London Symphony Orchestra and the London chapter of the Royal Shakespeare Company and holds free gigs in the foyer area.

Courtauld Institute

Excellent collection of Impressionists and post-Impressionists with several masterpieces by Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

Charles Dickens Museum

Atmospheric early 19th century house, laid out as it was when Charles Dickens lived here from 1837 to 1839.  It was here that Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby.

Design Museum

Just beside Tower Bridge, the Design Museum is one of the world’s leading museum’s devoted to contemporary design in every form from furniture to graphics and architecture to industrial design.  The Design Museum’s mission is to celebrate, entertain and inform.

Estorick Collection

Georgian mansion with a small but interesting collection of twentieth-century Italian art including Modigliani, di Chirico and the Futurists.

Imperial War Museum

British and Commonwealth World Wars memorabilia; film footage of different war fronts, plus Holocaust Exhibition.

Syon House

Seat of the Dukes of Northumberland since Elizabethan times, today it embraces a garden centre, a wholefood shop, a trout fishery, an aquatic centre stocked with tropical fish, a mini-zoo and a butterfly house as well as the castellated house and extensive gardens.

Kenwood House

This majestic mansion has a small but important collection comprising 17th century Dutch and Flemish works, 18th century English portraits, and a small French Rococo section, plus statues and extensive grounds.

Museum of London

This museum located near the Barbican Centre provides a detailed account of London life from prehistoric times to the present day.

Musical Museum

Housed in a converted church, it is packed with a collection of over 200 automatic musical instruments.  During the noisy 90 min demonstrations, you get to hear every kind of mechanical music-making machine from music boxes to the huge orchestrions which used to be a feature in London’s cafes.  The museum also holds one of the world’s finest collections of player-pianos and an enormous Art Deco Wurlitzer cinema organ.

ICA Gallery

The institute of Contemporary Arts has two gallery spaces in which it displays works that are considered “challenging” or “provocative”.  To visit you must be a member of the ICA; a day’s membership costs £1.50 (Mon-Fri) or £2.50 (Sat & Sun)

Ham House

Home to the Earls of Dysart for nearly 300 years it has changed little since it was expensively furnished in the seventeenth century.  The house boasts fine Stuart interiors from the ornate Great Staircase to the Long Gallery, featuring six “Court Beauties” by Peter Lely.  It also has beautiful formal 17th century gardens and an Orangery serving tea.

Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy’s continual big-name temporary exhibitions draw the crowds, and it is often necessary to reserve a ticket in advance.

Science Museum

This exciting museum traces centuries of scientific and technological development, with impressive and educational displays.

Tate Britain

This gallery focuses on work from 1500 to the present and has the best collection of British art in the world.

Tate Modern

This exciting gallery covers modern art from 1900 to the present day.

Theatre Museum

The collection documents the history of British theatre from Shakespeare’s time up to the present, with a wealth of memorabilia, paintings and prints of famous thespians.

Victoria & Albert Museum

Known to Londoners as the V&A, this museum covers all aspects of arts and crafts with exhibits from 3000 BC to the present day.  It is one of London’s great pleasures.

The Wallace Collection

On Manchester Square stands Hertford House, a miniature eighteenth-century French chateau where the Wallace Collection is housed.  The house was bequeathed to the nation by the widow of Sir Richard Wallace, and the collection includes Franz Hals’ Laughing Cavalier, Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda and Valazquez’s Lady with a Fan.

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Situated at 221b Baker Street, the first floor study overlooking Baker Street is maintained as it was in Victorian times – a must for Sherlock Holmes fans.