My final two days in London proper were spent exploring the museums of South Kensington and the Imperial War museum.
London is home to some of the best museums in the world, and there are so many of them! For a history and science buff like me, London is an absolute dream. After fuelling up with a delicious full-English breakfast, I caught the tube to South Kensington – first stop, the Victoria and Albert Museum.
I hadn’t been to the V&A Museum on any previous trips to London, so I took my time wandering through the exhibits. The museum was founded in 1852 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (hence the name) and is the largest museum of decorative arts and design in the world. It houses a bit of an eclectic display of costumes, pottery, glassware, silverware, medieval alters and stained glass windows, sculpture – all sorts really. One of my favourite displays was the Cast Courts.
The Cast Courts is a collection of plaster copies of famous works across Europe, including Michelangelo’s David and Trajan’s Column (which is so large it has to be displayed in two pieces). Most of the collection was created in the 19th century.
The museum also houses magnificent sculpture and clothing from across the British empire.
It was a pretty wet and miserable day, so many families were escaping the gloom inside the museums. The line for the Natural History museum extended around the block, so I headed for the fairly less-busy Science Museum instead (actually a bit of a shame – get into science kids!).
I love science museums. They’re fascinating and often quite interactive. I wish we had one here in Christchurch – while we don’t have a lot of historical artefacts to showcase in a typical museum, we could certainly have a kick-ass science museum.
The Science Museum in London has an array of cool exhibits. They have a section on space exploration, displaying satellites and rovers/moon landers (not sure if they are replicas or maybe were designed as training vehicles), trains and automobiles from the 19th and early 20th centuries, they have exhibits on geological history and crystal formation – heaps to keep you entertained for a few hours.
There are two sections that I found really interesting – a basement display of home appliances and how they evolved over the last 200 years (think early washing machines, ovens, fridges etc) and on the ground level one wall shows a collection of home life “stuff” and how they have changed over the decades. It’s funny looking at the 80s/90s displays and recognising items from your childhood. Kind of cool and nostalgic and yet depressing at the same time (I’m not THAT old am I??!).
After leaving the Science Museum, I did a bit of wandering through department stores (so nice, so expensive) and around Piccadilly circus before calling it an early night.
The next morning brought better weather and yet another full english breakfast at a hole-in-the-wall near the hostel (delicious, wish I could remember the name of it – it’s across the street from the McDonalds, nearby the Palmer’s Lodge Hostel if you’re in the area). Hunger satiated, I made my way to the Imperial War Museum, which tells the stories of people affected by war throughout the 19th century to today. It’s not exactly an “enjoyable” visit per se. It can be emotionally draining, but is very much a worthwhile experience. I started with the World War I exhibit which takes up the first floor. I wasn’t prepared for some of the graphic images on display, which were really quite shocking – the horrors of war really hits you and makes you wonder how people could treat each other the way they do. I made it half-way through the World War II and holocaust exhibit before I felt overwhelmed and had to leave. I’ll go back one day to see the parts that I’ve missed, as it’s an important story to hear. I encourage everyone to visit this incredibly moving and thought-provoking museum.
Looking for a lighter experience for the afternoon, I took the tube back to South Kensington hoping the Natural History Museum was less crowded than the day before. I was in luck!
I love London’s museums, and on this occasion I felt like I had gotten to explore quite a few and in depth. It was time to rest up and prepare for my last day in London, which was actually spent in Greenwich which I’ll share in the next post.