Getting the most from London's big three museums
The museum district is on most people’s list when they come to London. The big three are the Natural History Museum, (dinosaurs, animals and the human body), the Science Museum (steam engines, planes, trains and auto-mobiles) and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
All three of these museums are FREE. Though they may ask for a donation on the way in. There are however tickets for certain temporary exhibitions, so check before you head off if there is something in particular you want to see.
To get to the museums head to South Kensington station. There is an underground subway from the station itself all the way to Exhibition Row, (where all three museums are located)
During high season the museums can get VERY busy, especially the dinosaur section. As a result, you may find yourself more shuffling along in the crowd rather than strolling the learned corridors. The only way to get around this is to either go there as soon as you can in the morning or try to time your visit during one of the late night openings. These happen on the last Friday of every month and usually include some talks, a bar and occasionally a silent disco!
If you are going in the morning, then you could do a lot worse than popping into Honest Burgers (see link below) they open at 9:30 and are just between South Ken station and the Museums (so skip out on the pedestrian subway) They have a delicious brunch menu that will keep you going. You can usually just about wolf down some bubble and squeak with a fried egg in time for the museum opening at 10:00. (make sure you check out the Lamborghini garage near the station as well, test drives are by appointment only but you can ogle through the windows)
You enter the NHM through the great hall. The obvious display is the huge diplodocus skeleton, however make sure you also cast your eyes up and notice how all the architecture contains sculptures of different animal and plant species. The whole building is designed as a cathedral to science and the natural world.
Make sure you tick these beauties off the list:
- One of the only live T-Rex specimens in captivity.
- The full size whale skeleton suspended from the roof in the natural world section.
- The live leaf-cutter ants diligently carrying their cargo across a rope bridge.
- The cross section of a giant redwood, at over 1,400 years old it has all the major events of civilisation marked on it to show scale.
The NHM is the busiest so try and get that one finished with first, then head over to the Science Museum. If you are an avid engineer then it’s a fascinating place but to be honest the best part are the “Making the Modern World” and “Exploring Space” galleries. These house all the most amazing items, from moon landers to some of the first computers. Planes and rockets hang overhead while Victorian steam engines sit next to supersonic speed boats on the ground.
For family-friendly entertainment the Science Museum will enrapture kids of all ages and the Interactive Garden area is specially designed for under fives, while the ‘get involved’ Launchpad gallery will entertain the most recalcitrant teenager.
V & A
By this time, you are probably ready for a sit down, rather than endure the Formica tables and florescent lights of the Energy Café at the Science Museum try and hang on until you get to the V&A. They have the world’s oldest museum restaurant. House in beautiful rooms they serve a slightly higher calibre of lunch. After refiling with deli sandwiches, cakes and loose leaf tea head out into the museum proper. It’s a fantastic London Institution, which boasts three thousand years of artefacts from cultures across the globe. A jaw dropping collection includes everything from paintings and photographs to jewellery, ceramics, and textiles.
What to do next? Well as you come out of the V & A you are only 3 mins walk from Harrods and Harvey Nichols. So if you are feeling flush you can get a bit of shopping in.
Or if you are the active sort (and have the weather on your side) you can venture north into Hyde park. Where you can grab a couple of Boris bikes and cycle through the greenery all the way to Buckingham Palace. If you are particularly adventurous you can even jump in the Serpentine lido!
If you have ignored our advice and decide to spend the afternoon in the museum district, then you may well be looking for somewhere to eat in the evening. A great London boozer that does good food is the Hour Glass. Downstairs is a fairly legit pub and upstairs is a beautiful airy dining room. There are often private parties upstairs so it is very important to call ahead and book.
South Kensington is a fairly expensive, it would seem that every other building is a palace, so most people head back into central for the evening. However, if you want to splash the cash check out the Kensington Roof Gardens. A very posh restaurant and club. You will need to enquire in advance and make sure you are dressed up, the dress code is “no effort, no entry”.
Extra: If you are with kids why not download a museum treasure hunt from our shop.