London England Museums and More
A gentle misty rain settles over the clock hands of London's Big Ben, obscuring the late afternoon hour as pedestrians clad in business suits hurry to and from the Houses of Parliament's inner sanctum. Tourists huddle beneath umbrellas eagerly snapping images of Westminster Abbey, while red double-decker buses vie for space in the ever-hectic downtown traffic.
London, England, is a city of refined customs and daily schedules to be met and an environment of visitors seeking the history and significance of British dynamism.
An excellent start to a London visit begins in her abundance of museums. Since the museums reside in different areas of London and sightseeing options are overwhelming, organize your preferences by mapping out your sightseeing destinations around the various museums. This is a great way to see the sights, avoid running back and forth across London's busy interior, and not waste your precious vacation time.
British Museum AreaThe British Museum, located on Great Russell Street is essential. The museum's Egyptian collection is one of, if not the largest in Western Europe. Long isles of glass cubicles reveal the mysterious quality of Egypt's mummies. Adjacent rooms contain intricately adorned sarcophagus and funerary archaeology, with the main floor displaying towering stone sculptures of ancient Egypt's icons. The Rosetta Stone is also in residence. The history of its find is fascinating and the written legend accompanying it details the vital importance of finding this stone. With over 80 galleries and six million artifacts, the British Museum focuses on past and present human culture.
The Mayfair District around the British Museum features the Marble Arch, Hyde Park, the trendy Oxford Street; great for shopping and Piccadilly Circus. Hyde Park is beautiful and of fairytale quality, any time of year. If you need a few minutes, or a few hours to take in the quiet and scenery, Hyde Park is extensive and borders several different city districts.
For shopping on Oxford Street, there are myriads of shops and boutiques that run along this street such as the famous Selfridges & Co. This enormous structure runs for blocks and features men and women's designer clothing, jewelry, fragrances, music, leisure and technology, food and more. If the bright yellow and black Selfridges bags seen all over town don't draw you in, then the cool and arty window displays will astonish you with their verve.
Take the time to venture off Oxford and discover the many cobblestone side streets where small cafes and interesting shops appear out of nowhere. Piccadilly Circus is great fun, teaming with activity and surrounded by new Blade Runner looking signs, selling everything from soft drinks to technology toys. The balance of classical buildings and modern culture melds into a unique atmosphere that marks Piccadilly as a perfect site for photographs.
National Gallery AreaThe National Gallery, located on St. Martin's Place, contains Western European paintings from the Tudors, 17th, 18th and early 19th century. Botticelli's Venus and Mars, Van Gogh's Sunflowers, and a self-portrait of Rembrandt are just a few of the magnificent paintings on permanent display at the National. In addition, the museum's café serves a tasty lunch selection and of course, excellent pots of tea and scones.
The museum resides a few blocks southeast of the Mayfair district and Piccadilly Circus. This area south of Soho includes many famous London sights such as Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall Street. They lead to the Westminster District where the Houses of Parliament buildings, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben along the Thames and the Tate Museum are located.
Leicester Square is an entertaining place to sit at an outdoor café and people watch. Its proximity to the Tube garners a constant flux of action and it's a prominent meeting place where locals gather to catch up on chat. If you want to take in the latest movie, Leicester Square has the best selection in London, although the costs are premium.
Trafalgar Square lies just below the National Gallery. From the museum's front steps, there is a sweeping view of the square's centrally configured fountain, monuments and formidable lion statues that keep guard over the square. From Trafalgar Square, look for Whitehall Street and head down to Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The walk is about a mile long, but it's a great way to see London's architecture and explore the area.
Westminster Abbey and the Tate AreaWestminster Abbey, built in the 15th century (the lower west front half), is a beautiful gothic church and the resting place of Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and numerous other notables. Westminster Abbey is magnificent and its history fascinating; it's open for tours and is a must for anyone visiting London. The Houses of Parliament are open for tours and are another site that's important to visit. The Royal Gallery is exquisite, with statues and portraits of king and queens since George I.
Big Ben is best seen in the evening when the clock face is illuminated, but a photo opp is obviously a requisite for any visitor to London. If you have time, take a stroll south down Millbank along the rapidly flowing Thames and Victoria Tower Gardens. Keep walking south for a mile-and-a-half and you will run into the Tate Museum across Millbank Street.
The Tate Britain, located on Millbank, features British art from 1500 to present. A few of the popular paintings include John William Waterhouses' The Lady of Shalott and Millais' Ophelia. The Tate Britain frequently exhibits outstanding guest collections and offers various prints at a reasonable price from these collections in the Tate Museum shop.
Victoria and Albert Museum AreaThe Victoria and Albert Museum, located on Cromwell Road, is renown for its unique and diverse collection of art and design. From the large antique musical instruments room, ironworks, silver, sculptures and tapestries to the second floor clothing gallery that highlights historical fashions, such as beautiful gowns worn by Queen Victoria and more modern couture by famous designers. This museum caters to all tastes and takes a full day to appreciate. If you visit only one museum in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum is paramount.
The V and A Museum resides in the Kensington District where the Royal Albert Hall, the Science and Natural History Museum lie adjacent to the south side of Kensington Gardens. Cromwell Road separates the Kensington District from the Brompton District where Harrods, Harvey Nichols and the best upscale shopping is found in London.
After visiting the various museums in Kensington, cross Cromwell Road and go straight to Harrods. No other department store can compare with the creative and amazing design and interior Egyptianesk architecture that sets off the most eloquent designer couture, accessories and gourmet food.
This posh haven for the monetary abundant is the undisputed matriarch of fashion shopping. However, take note, the prices for items in this vogue paradise run from expensive to "I'll have to sell my house to buy it." Opposite Harrods, lies Richoux. It deserves special mention, as it is not your typical English tearoom. Richoux serves fabulous salads, entrees, scones and Devon Cream in a comfortable, yet elegant deep rich environment with sketches of French portrait art adorning the walls. Outside seating at this decidedly French influenced tearoom is a good place to relax in the evening and watch the crowd go by.
The Tower of London, located on Tower Hill next to the Thames and east of the London Bridge, is more of a historical palace, but fits into the museum category. The Tower is home to the Crown Jewels, as well as where Anne Boleyn was beheaded. In the list of touristy sites to see, the Tower is certainly among them, but it is rather expensive for a tour and the grounds and palace have been extensively rebuilt. Make sure to go online, or ask your concierge before visiting to ensure the venue is something you have to see. It's a good distance from the center of London.
The list of museums in London goes beyond an article length and the sites of the city may take visitors many trips to see them all. However, the museums highlighted above with their surrounding venues are a good start to visiting London and discovering her treasures.
Accommodations: Hotels in London run the gambit in cost and with the exchange rate of the British Pound to the US dollar, it is important to consider your accommodation necessities. If posh is not a requirement but a central local is essential, try the Mayfair area next to the Marble Arch. The area is centrally located and transportation, cabs, buses and the Tube are widely available. Also, remember most London hotel rooms are much smaller than U.S. hotel rooms and other Western European countries. For additional information on London visit LondonTown.com.
Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger, and the Oregonian. As a freelance photojournalist she has also worked with acclaimed musical entertainers, such as Santana, Billy Joel and Steven Tyler. Patrice is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Additionally, she has written several children’s short stories and is currently working on an adult fiction novel for publication. Email her at Patrice@travel-excursion.com