Category Archives: museums

49: Relish warm scones and delight in the view

There is no wonder why broke Londoners love cream teas: for a moderate price, your cup of tea comes with dainty scones topped with lashings of strawberry jam and sweet clotted cream. For someone who keeps a tight hold on the purse strings, this means a dish as fulfilling as a proper meal, often served in a posh place.

Tate modern’s 6th floor restaurant is a fine place for such a treat. Two warm sultana scones with jam and cream cost less than £5, while the rude staff is compensated by the gorgeous view on the Thames, the millennium bridge and Saint Paul’s standing on the opposite bank. In wintertime, one can enjoy a remarkable nighttime panorama, with city lights glowing in the dark.

Tube station: Southwark

44: Visit the unusual house – to say the least – of architect John Soane

Designed by Sir John Soane, the architect of the Bank of England, to house his collection of works of art, this intriguing museum is packed with quirky architectural experiments, antiquities and paintings. The house has been kept almost exactly as Soane left it when he died in 1837. No room looks like the next one and Soane even created a gothic room to host his parties. His eclectic collection includes an Egyptian sarcophagus, greek statues and paintings by Turner and Canaletto. A visit doesn’t take much time – around an hour, say, during which you’re bound to make some intriguing and fascinating discoveries.

John Soane's museum

Tube Station: Holborn

39: Scare yourself at the Hunterian Museum

The thousands of specimens of the small Hunterian museum – a.k.a. the Museum of Anatomy and Pathology, located in the Royal College of Surgeons on Lincoln’s Inn Fields – can be mind-boggling, scary or disgusting – but certainly not boring. They include the skeleton of an Irish giant (exhibited against his dying wish); photos of the first surgical procedures; animals, foetuses and human body parts preserved in orderly jars. More disturbing, perhaps, the examples of what a hernia, heart disease, genetic mutations or cancer look like, among many other inflictions. Definitely not for the faint hearted.

Hunterian museum

Nearest Tube Station: Holborn

30: Admire Turner’s paintings

Joseph M. W. Turner is with no doubt one of Great Britain’s most celebrated painters. He achieved success at a quite early age and when he died, he left to the nation a vast collection of paintings, drawings and sketches, which are now housed by Tate Britain’s Clore Gallery.

one of Turner's paintings at the Tate Britain

The 10 rooms of the Clore Gallery, which opened to the public in 1987, are entirely devoted to Turner’s work, and since they are part of the museum’s permanent collection, their admission is free of charge. They house some historical paintings the artist painted during the Napoleon wars, and numerous landscapes and marines depicting real and imaginary scenes inspired by his travels in Britain and all over Europe – Turner went to Germany, France, Italy, and he particularly loved Venice. The vibrant colours and poetic atmosphere of some of his late masterpieces are surprisingly modern. Tate Britain’s collection is a must see, but its gallery on Turner is arguably enough to make it stand in the world-class museums category.

Tate Britain is open every day form 10.00 to 18.00 and until 22.00 on the first Friday of each month

Nearest Tube station : Pimlico

24: Get the latest trends in contemporary sculpture with Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall’s temporary exhibitions

The Unilever series is an annual exhibition where an artist is invited to create a work of art for the Tate’s monumental Turbine Hall. The installations are among the most innovative sculptures of recent years – previous artists include Louise Bourgeois (2000) or Anish Kapoor (2002) – while their playful nature means that they are still accessible to the layman.

The unilever series at the Tate Modern

Last year installation, TH.2058 by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, depicted a nightmarish vision of London in 2058, filled with Sci-Fi books on colourful bunk beds, giant animal skeletons and a massive screen showing strange films.

Tate Modern's Unilever series: 2009-2010 installationThis year, Polish artist Miroslaw Balka has designed a huge box of 13 metres high and 30 metres long, filled with darkness, where visitors can enter. The pitch-dark interior is designed to alter the sense of space and create a sensation of excitement and unease.

View from the inside of the box:

Tate Modern's Unilever series: 2009-2010

The Unilever series change every year and works are displayed from approximately October to April every year. Access is free.

Nearest Tube Station: Southwark

Tate Modern Unilever Series website

20: Admire impressionist masterpieces for free at the Courtault Institute

Alongside world-class museums including the National Gallery, the British Museum or the Tate Modern, London is host to less popular museums that also display outstanding works of art. In the Courtault gallery, housed by the sumptuous Somerset House on the Strand, you won’t queue to get your ticket, nor will you struggle to get a glimpse at the paintings, as it is hardly ever crowded (as you can see on the pictures…). The building itself, with its elegant rooms and monumental staircase, is a jewel box for an equally understated collection:

room of the Courtault Institute 1

The ground floor features interesting works from the Middle Ages, but the Courtault is undoubtedly renown for the impressionist paintings of the 1st floor. Manet’s “A bar at the Folies-Bergère”, famous for its mirror reflection of the scene and the mysterious air of the waitress, is the star of the collection, followed by other masterpieces by Monet or Renoir. The much-admired Cézanne’s “Card players” and an nth view of Mount Sainte-Victoire are displayed alongside Gauguin’s paintings of Tahitian girls.

Manet's "a bar at the folies-bergères"

The top floor gathers aerial sculptures of dancers by Degas, and a collection of paintings from the 21st century, including fauvist works.

Degas' room at the Courtault Institute

The collection is completed with several Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and drawings from masters such as Da Vinci or Canaletto.

room of the Courtault Institute 3

The best part of it being that you can enter the Courtault Gallery for free every Monday before 2pm, or at any time if you’re a student. Now there’s no excuse to miss this opportunity!

Nearest Tube Station: Temple

Link to the Courtault Institute Website

13: Check out the Natural History Museum’s dinosaurs (with or without kids)

If (like me) you pretend to be a grown-up even though dinosaurs still fascinate you, if you’re a natural sciences geek, or even a Darwinist, you will certainly feel at home in the Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum is located in South Kensington, minutes away from the V&A, and like in every other national museum in London its entrance is free. The architecture of the building itself is both imposing and intriguing (although I won’t guarantee that it is of good taste). Before entering, check out the pterodactyl gargoyles on the front of the museum:

natural history museum gargoyle

The principal attraction of this huge museum (walking around it takes a couple of hours) is without contest the life-size dinosaurs reproduction. The diplodocus displayed in the main hall is particularly massive:

hall of the natural history museum

Then, the numerous rooms, filled with stuffed animals, introduce the visitor to the different forms of life on earth, see and air. The marine room with its blue whale reproduction is particularly worth a look. The stuffed elephant is also one of my favourites.

stuffed elephant, natural history museum

This museum also shows extinct species (there’s even a stuffed dodo!) and weird things that, I think, are meant to educate the audience, but end up being quite disgusting, such as this bird dissection.

bird dissection, natural history museum

Nearest Tube: South Kensington