After you’ve seen the Must-Sees
IT WOULD TAKE HALF A YEAR or half a lifetime to fully explore all the museums and permanent exhibitions that London has on offer. Of course, everyone must visit the British Museum, the V&A, the National Gallery and such. Here is a British Heritage selection of great visits that draw fewer crowds and reveal the rich cross-section of London’s history and art.
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1 CABINET WAR ROOMS, WHITEHALL
In this underground bunker beneath the Westminster ministries, Winston Churchill and the War Cabinet lived, worked and led the nation through the Battle of Britain. Just yards from the Houses of Parliament, the bunker is an evocative and deservedly popular visit.
2 WALLACE COLLECTION, MANCHESTER SQUARE
Bequeathed to the nation in 1897, one of Europe’s finest collections of paintings and decorative arts has been housed intact in Hertford House, its objects never leaving the collection as a condition of the bequest. From Canaletto to Joshua Reynolds, with free admission.
3 MUSEUM OF LONDON DOCKLANDS, WEST INDIA QUAY
Head into East London on the Docklands Light Railroad (DLR) to alight at Canary Wharf. Just west at West India Quay, the relatively new Docklands museum unpacks the working life of London’s river across the centuries. It’s a terrific slice of London history.
4 SHERLOCK HOLMES MUSEUM, BAKER STREET
Just for fun, pay a call on one of London’s most famous characters. At 221b Baker Street, the famous Holmes just stepped out, but you can see his quarters and study his cases. You’ll expect to see Mrs. Hudson and Doctor Watson arrive any moment.
5 NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, CHARING CROSS ROAD
Tucked in back of the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square, many folk overlook the National Portrait Gallery. The famous and infamous from centuries of British history are gathered here, many represented by their most familiar and famous portraits by Europe’s finest, most fashionable artists of their day.
6 SIR JOHN SOANE’s MUSEUM, LINCOLN’S INN FIELD
The wonderful eclectic art and antiquities collection of the early 19th-century architect, bequeathed to the nation, lies in its odd, original context. Don’t miss the Sarcophagus of Seti, or the eight canvasses of William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress.
7 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HOUSE, CRAVEN STREET
In London? The multitalented statesman lived almost 16 years just off Northumberland Place between 1757-75, mediating the growing divide between Colonies and England. Today, the only one of Ben Franklin’s homes still standing is an outstanding museum to his life and work.
8 LONDON TRANSPORT MUSEUM, COVENT GARDEN
Omnibuses and Underground carriages, steam trains and hansom cabs: nothing tells the story of London’s growth quite like its public transportation. Following a £22 million refurbishment, the LT Museum is a model showcase for a fascinating look at London social history.
9 APSLEY HOUSE, HYDE PARK CORNER
The life and times of the Duke of Wellington, at his home with the address “No. 1 London.” The hero of Waterloo and grandsire of Tory politics for a generation, Wellington’s stride across history makes a great visit, just in back of the Wellington Arch. The duke’s terrific art collection is on display as well.
10 DOCTOR JOHNSON’s HOUSE, GOUGH SQUARE
Just down an alley off the Strand, the longtime home of Samuel Johnson is one of the best literary visits in town. Unpack the unusual life of this most unusual man of letters and compiler of the first English language dictionary. Then take lunch at the Cheshire Cheese.
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