My favorite activity in any city with rich history is museum hopping. London was an absolute dream for a museum nerd like me. There are tons of museums all over the city. Art museums, science museums, you name it. The best part? Most of them are free. (And I would be lying if I said free isn’t one of my favorite words.) If you are traveling to London, please squeeze in a visit to at least one museum. You won’t regret it, I promise! To read the other posts I have written on London, check these out: Part 1 (Tower of London, Buckingham Palace)/ Part 2 (Westminster area, Big Ben)
Since Jared was traveling for work, I had four whole days to myself. It was definitely daunting to wander a foreign country on my own, but after I quickly learned the tube system it was a piece of cake to get around. If you’re on a solo trip to London, I highly recommend the museums simply because it’s a great solo activity. It’s not quite as fun to go on something like the London Eye by yourself, I’d imagine, but wandering a museum at your own pace is actually fun. It’s like going to the movies alone – it’s probably more desirable to go with someone else at the end of the day however going alone doesn’t quite take away from the experience. Going to a museum on your own means you can see everything you want.
Beautiful architecture and famous artwork. The museum is known to have one of the greatest collections of art of all time, however it’s quite limited to European artwork from early centuries. To be honest, most of the artwork here wasn’t really my taste although the gallery with 18th to 20th Century paintings was amazing. I’m not a snobby art gallery person I promise so this is new to me. As soon as I saw some of the pieces that I’ve admired for years, I felt emotional. (Who am I?!) Perhaps it’s the nostalgia from when I used to go to art classes and replicate the Impressionist style of painting. I’ve never felt that way from just looking at paintings! If you love Degas, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, etc. then you must stop by the gallery. (Oh yeah, it’s free.)
*Side note: Something you may not know about me is that I studied art on the side for many years. It all started with art lessons when I was in grade school. I did charcoals, then pastels, and eventually settled into oil painting. I have loved Impressionism ever since and it was so surreal to see some of the paintings in real life that I had only known from prints or textbooks.
A trip to the National Gallery means you will have walked through Trafalgar Square already. I wouldn’t go out of your way to visit, but if you are passing through it’s fun to see the lions and even climb up on them. I myself went with the viewing only option as there were hoards of children climbing and running around the statues. For such a busy area, there are very few dining options other than some chains. We stayed right by Trafalgar Square for a few nights and we’d recommend taking a tube or taxi to some other areas for more unique food options. There are two Pret’s nearby that were handy for a late night sandwich run though :)
I can’t even begin to describe how much I loved the Victoria & Albert museum. It was the most magical place and probably my favorite museum I’ve been to so far. It’s a bit overwhelming with over 2 million items, but that’s how I could easily spend days upon days inside. There are tons of different galleries that house all sorts of design and decorative art pieces. Unlike the National Gallery, there is more variety and something for everyone. The collections are listed here and you’ll see they have everything from wedding dresses to textiles to architecture. (I love the Dale Chihuly piece in the entrance! He’s a local Seattle area artist.)
If the weather is nice, take a break and sit at the tables in the courtyard. It’s completely surrounded by the museum galleries and has a large fountain. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the courtyard was. One of the museum researchers saw me spinning around in circles taking panoramas and Instagram videos (lol) then offered to take a photo of me. (PS: said photo was pretty lackluster hence I’m not posting it.) Afterwards she asked me to take a photo of her in front of the fountain. She told me after a whole year of working in the museum, she had forgotten how beautiful it really is. I was so glad that me nerding out over the architecture could help a regular visitor see the museum through new eyes!
Tip: if you’re riding the tube to get here, you can take the tunnel entrance right from the tube to the museum.
Natural History Museum
This one’s right next to the V&A so you can get off at the same tube stop and it’s literally steps away! The outside of the museum is gorgeous and I spent a good five minutes standing at the top of the steps from the tube tunnel to take it all in. The inside has plenty of beautiful architecture including some interesting sights like an escalator that goes through a hollow Earth sculpture.
Only worth going inside if you have children or really like dinosaurs in my opinion. If you’re pressed for time, definitely go to the V&A instead. Lots of educational exhibits geared more to younger audiences here. In fact, I was constantly trying to make my way around groups of schoolchildren on a field trip. I seem to have forgotten how noisy kids are. (As proof, see photo below of said schoolchildren. One of probably 30 groups I saw.)
During my research before we went to London I had heard sooooo much about the British Museum. Given the name and reputation, I figured this would probably be a museum I should save for a day when Jared could go with me. We decided to save the museum for Friday evening since most museums open late on Fridays (do your research on hours before planning out your day!). You might think Friday evening would be a lowkey time to visit a museum. Wrong. The museum was absolutely packed. While going to a museum full of history doesn’t seem like a lit Friday night, it’s smart! In February, the weather was still pretty iffy and this was before daylight savings. I would recommend saving museums for the evening when you can’t do as many outdoor activities.
I was less impressed by the exhibits at the British Museum but the overall architecture of the museum made up for that. The Great Court is gorgeous! Be sure to take some photos of the beautiful, iconic ceiling. I thought the coolest piece in the museum was the Rosetta Stone but the crowd surrounding it made it hard to enjoy. Just beware of crowds at any time of day since this is such a popular destination. There is a brief security line before entering so you may have to wait a bit. Another reason why later entry may be preferred.
Whew! That’s a lot of museums for only a week in London. I actually have one more museum to share with you guys but that’s for a different post. It is so fun to relive these memories by writing about them.
Anyway, I’ll be back for another post in a few days. Tomorrow (April 18th) is my birthday and I’m turning 23! Since I have a weekday birthday this year (wahhhh) Jared took me to Vancouver B.C. over the weekend. We had a lot of fun and can’t wait to go again now that we’ve learned a few things :) I’ll share some photos and tips so you can learn from some of our mistakes, haha. Stay tuned! Hope you all have a great week!