12 museums in 13 days – hours and hours spent walking up and down stairs and corridors – and the result is our list of the 12 Top Museums in London – in order from Best to least favorite. Enjoy – and let us know if you agree – or disagree!
1. Museum of London – This is one huge exhibit divided up into generations of London History, and it’s astoundingly well done. I loved strolling the Victorian Shop Street and evesdropping on the Regency chatter in the Secret Garden. I suggest skipping the pre-history and start with the Romans – walking through and around the displays is simply incredibly interesting. And take a moment to do the docent guided talks and tours. Super. Plan on 3/4 of day – maybe more if you watch every video and listen to every talk.
2. Natural History Museum – Dinausaurs, Human Biology, Creepy Crawlies are steller displays – and rate a “Must See”. This museum really needs an entire day – we had to skip at least one major secton – Human Evolution. Human Biology is a remarkable collection of interactive toys and videos and games. It is a challenge to leave. And the Dinosaur Display is justifably famous. The audio-animatronic T-Rex is worthy of Disney Land, and the multi-layered effects create a dramatic and exciting stage on which information about Dinosaurs can be displayed.
3. Somerset House – The Courtauld Galley – Outstanding collection of Impressionists. It’s hard not to love a museum that boasts such an extensive and well laid out colleciton of such magnificant works of art from Degas to van-Gogh, Monet to Manet and all the artists inbetween. Well lit, well curated, interesting tid-bits of information – what’s not to love. It’s really only two floors – so 1/2 a day is enough to see everything.
4. Design Museum – The only free section is on the third floor – but it’s outstanding. It covers Industrial Design from the Designer, Maker, User perspective starting in the 1700 and in a rather jerky fashion – moving forward till today. And it’s brilliant. Engaging, entertaining, and in some cases – down right funny. Since you only see one floor – you can do this one in 1/2 a day, easy.
5. Imperial War Museum – Only the WWI and ‘Family thru the War’ sections are worth spending time at – but the WWI exhibit is truly outstanding – probably one of the best and most complete museum treatments of WWI I’ve ever seen. I even enjoyed walking thru the Trenches. So see those 2 – and leave. Budget 1/2 a day here.
6. Tate Modern – it took us a day and 1/2 to ‘do’ the Tate Modern – there’s simply so much information crammed into the audio tour. But this is modern art – and not all of it is going to be your ‘cup of tea’. So it’s easy to skip past some very interesting exhibits because you just don’t understand or can’t appreciate what the artist is trying to do. Budget a day – but be prepared not to finish if you opt for the audio tour – which is highly recommended.
7. National Gallery – The individual talks about specific paintings by a curator are not to be missed. We lucked into one about a Rembrant – and she made the painting come alive in surprising ways. Highly recommend figuring out where/when these talks will happen. 1/2 a day was long enough to get the idea – they have a lot of art! Be aware that the Rembrants have been moved to the first floor to make room for a special exhibit – we ended up circling around twice before we found them.
8. Tate British – Like the V&A, this is a mother-ship of museums and could use a bit of sprucing up. The Turner collection is huge – and honestly, if you’ve seen 10 Turners, you’ve seen them all. I did love the small collection of Henry Moore pieces – donated in most part by the artist. And there are some stunning pieces hidden in almost every room – which makes the Tate British slow going. You skip ahead at your own risk. You will miss something amazing – you have been warned.
9. RA – Royal Academy of Arts – America after the Fall. This special exhibit was a block-buster – but since there are constantly new special exhibits, and no standard exhibit – we voted to demote the museum to the #9 slot. But given how great the exhibit was, I’m willing to suggest that this is one museum where paying the extra for the ‘special’ exhibits might actually make sense. How often does one ever come face to face with Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
10. Kew Garden – comletely weather dependant of course – but the Princess of Wales Conservatory is the star attraction – and possibly one of the best of these we’ve ever seen with over 14 different climate zones and simply incredible flowers. I found the 2 carnivore sections particularly interesting. The acres and acres and acres of wandering space is also wonderful.
11. Victoria and Albert – Great Tour, Great Restaurant – rest of the museum is more ho-hum. There is a lot of wonderful things inside, but it’s hard to read the signs, and there’s little to engage you unless you have a specific interest in the topic. One clear exception, the Display on Theatre and Staging. That we can easily recommend. We also enjoyed the free hour intro tour to the Museum. It was fast, but surprisingly entertaining.
12. Science Museum – terrible let down. Could’a been great – didn’t deliver. Skip it. You have better uses for your time – even if you are here with kids. Just watching the horse guards was more fun.
Ok – there you have it – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler’s reviews of the Museums of London. I feel a bit like an ad for a financial planner – this represents our views – you might disagree completely. And past performance is no guarentee for success.
Signing off to go tour the museums of the rest of the UK – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.