England: A Quick Guide to London’s Museums

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With London being just a half hour train ride from Reading, I’ve spent several weekends exploring the city. There’s so much to see and do that I probably won’t even get to half of it before it’s time for me to return home! I love wandering up and down the streets, admiring the architecture and hearing snatches of conversation, but my favorite part of London is the plethora of (free!) museums. Think of any topic and there’s most likely a museum dedicated to it. So far, I’ve explored just 5 of over 200 museums.

The first place I visited in London was the British Museum, a massive museum filled with artifacts from all over the world. You could easily spend 4 hours here. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of stamina and only spent about 2 hours in the galleries. I really recommend researching large museums like this one beforehand so you can see the highlights and anything else that interests you! I made it a point to see the Ancient Egyptian exhibition, which houses the Rosetta Stone, and the Ancient Greece exhibition, which holds real sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. I also stumbled upon a really neat little collection of antique clocks and watches.

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The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are tied for my favorite museum so far. The National Gallery houses paintings from the 1300s all the way to the 1900s. Seeing my favorite Van Gogh painting, A Wheatfield with Cypresses, was a surreal experience and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get just a bit misty-eyed. The National Gallery also contains paintings from Cézanne, Raphael, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and many other well-known artists. The National Portrait Gallery is exactly what its name suggests: galleries full of portraits, mostly of famous Brits. My favorite part of the museum were the bright portraits in the 20th century gallery. I visited both museums on a Saturday afternoon and they were only crowded around the more well-known paintings, but the crowds will surge during peak tourist season. Both museums can be seen in about 3 hours and are located in Trafalgar Square.

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Probably the most unique museum I visited was the Tate Modern. Located on the edge of the Thames beside Shakespeare’s globe, this giant brown building contains paintings, installations, and media from 20th century artists. I got lost on my way there (oops) and didn’t see the entire museum, but it should take roughly 2 hours. The Tate had a substantial collection of Rothko’s giant, colorful paintings as well as Matisse’s The Snail and Delaunay’s Endless Rhythym.

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The Victoria & Albert Museum, also known as the V&A, is another giant museum that you can easily spend 4 hours enjoying the thousands of artifacts from all over the globe. It’s so large that I decided to split the museum into two separate trips and just browsed the first floor. I was stunned by the collection of the Raphael Cartoons, measuring about 9 feet by 15 feet, as well as the extensive collection of post-classical sculpture. (Fun fact, the V&A has the largest collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside of Italy.)

All five of these museums are easily accessible by the Tube and, even better, they’re free. I’ve barely scratched the surface of London’s many, many museums, but I hope I’ve given you some helpful information. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the city and this country. ‘Till next time. Cheers!

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