Hi everyone! Throughout my stay in London I’ve had the luxury of time and the pleasure of visiting many museums, and here are some of my top 7 picks! This city is a place so rich in culture and content, not to mention they’re particularly good at documenting it, so no matter what your interest is—cinema, retro culture, art and design, science or natural history—you’ll definitely find something that interests you. If you’re not a museum lover, these museums might just surprise you too!
Natural History Museum Size: 4/5 Famous for: Life and Earth Science, and natural specimens Admission: Free
So hyped over learning more about history AND enjoying great architecture at the same time! Some of my nicest photos were captured here at this museum. I’ve heard a lot about its Romanesque architecture even before I came to London; and you’ll need a full day for this one, given its humongous size. The highlights, I’d say, would probably be the dinosaurs and the mammals’ collection. I quote, ‘The collection includes 157 taxa, 115 consists of original material and 69 are type specimens.’ I even got to see the first fossil ever found from my favourite dino species, the T-rex.
Surprisingly, the first gallery my friends and I flocked to wasn’t the dinosaurs. It was human biology. Yes. They make science so easy and interesting to understand, and there were kids all around on their field trips. I wonder if I had grown up studying in London, would I be smarter. hahaha. There was also an exhibit on volcanoes, outer space and the Earth, which was really interesting considering it was like a geography crash course on Earthquakes and Earth minerals.
If you’re more interested in living things, go to the Large Mammals Hall first, and you’ll be captivated by the sight of a large blue whale model suspended from the ceiling. There’s a certain kind of wonder when I saw it. This section features extinct mammoths and other mammals like giraffes, hippos and horses. Alternatively, if you happen to be interested in plants, insects, or minerals, don’t worry, the museum has everything for everyone.
Design Museum Size: 2/5 Famous for: Product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design Admission: Free with the exception of some exhibitions
Unlike other big museums I’ve visited, this one doesn’t give me stress or tire my legs at all. It’s just the right size, with easy to understand information and descriptions. The exhibits mainly are separated into 3 sections: Designer, Maker, and User. I was from Design school so I totally understand the importance of user-friendly designs, and this museum pretty much emphasises on that. Just this year, Design museum was named “European Museum of the Year.”
There was this section devoted to the graphic design of London’s transport system (the tube) and road signs. I thought that was pretty interesting because you’ll notice a font consistency when you walk around the streets of London. There’s this “London font”, the same font they use for all their signs and stuff. Omg, totally catering to my inner OCD. It also shows the design process of some new trains—how certain features of the old trains (ie. height of the train) must be kept, and how certain features can be improved. A broad range of design disciplines is covered, from architecture and engineering, to the digital world, fashion and graphics. You’ll probably only need an hour or so to view this free permanent collection, so you decide whether it’s worth going down.
Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising Size: 1/5 Famous for: Retro culture, packaging and branding history Admission: £9.00
This is one of the most underrated museums! I went there on a University field trip and had a workshop on branding done there. If not for that, I’ll probably never know about it. Located in Lancaster Rd, it’s not as accessible to get to as compared to the other museums, which are near tube stations. This museum is the best for hipsters in my opinion. I LOVE IT. In fact, I loved it so much I purchased a 1950s scrapbook from the museum shop—I never purchase anything from museum shops unnecessarily.
This museum focuses a lot on consumer culture, and it documents the packaging design of many lifestyle products, showing visitors how a brand evolves with time…I saw familiar brands like Ovaltine, Dettol, Nestle’s Carnation Condensed Milk, basically everyday items we use!! It’s so interesting to see an unfamiliar packaging on a familiar brand. The evolution of packaging design reflects the changing demands of consumers at different time periods; it tells us something about what they look for in a product, and how visuals are constantly shaped to cater to appeal to our attention.
The retro culture in the museum is so strong, it gives me so much historical nostalgia. Album covers, vintage TVs and radios, typewriters, old newspapers…all these gave me insight into the society in Britain during the 1920s, 40s, 50s and so on. The famous scandal involving Princess Diana, Queen depicted on vinyl records, papers on the royal wedding…the list goes on.
Victoria and Albert Museum Size: 5/5 Famous for: Decorative arts and design, materials and textiles Admission: Free
If you’re in South Kensington and visiting Natural History Museum, there’s no harm coming into V&A to take a look. It markets itself as an art and design museum, but there is so much more than that. They have art and design pieces dating back to 5000 years ago, which brings us to lots of stuff like the 1960s fashion, photography, embroidery, furniture…etc. There was even a section decided to metals, and glass, and other materials as well. There was this particular section filled with gates, doors and benches made from the material.
And then I finally went to the top floor, where I saw more graphics, communication design and product design stuff! There were really cool furniture design as well as design for social media, design for the digital age and more. This museum also has a pretty good cafe beside a large open area where you could sit on the grass and chill. The weather was nice that day, so we ordered a salad and did exactly that.
British Museum Size: 5/5 Famous for: Collections from all around the world- Eygptian mummies, Renaissance and medieval objects Admission: Free
The British Museum is the first museum I’ve been to out of this list—and I also visited it on my very first day in London, so it was very fresh! To be honest, I came without expecting anything and I didn’t even know what was inside. It was SO HUGE, I arrived at 1pm and stayed till it’s closing time @ 5.30pm, and yet it was not enough to cover everything. The museum houses over 8 million objects, has 8 different levels (from Level -2 to Level 5); and it is so exhausting to walk through it. Just make sure you get a map, some water and wear comfortable shoes!!
Perhaps my favourite gallery in the museum in the Enlightenment gallery. In the past, people studied all sorts of things to understand how the world works, and the knowledge gained during this era has greatly changed the way we viewed the world and shaped culture. In this gallery, they classified the various topics of study into various sections, and it was so interesting to see a comprehensive collection and renderings of nature, stones, etc…people in the past are just so so patient and smart, I could never imagine putting that much effort and detail into a field of study!
This is the Department of Greece and Rome. Also one of my favourite!! I was like feeling some high classical Greek vibes here, plus the sculptures are so amazing! These sculptures date back to 4000 years ago, from 3200BC all the way to the 4th century AD. It’s almost like a time travel, I promise you, and if you’re feeling playful you can even wear a nude coloured top (like me) and recreate the poses of the Greek Gods hahah.
Many of the must-see artefacts of the gallery belong in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, so if you’re tight on time, please don’t skip this section. It’s located in Room 4, Level 0. They have over 100,000 pieces of Egyptian Art, and most of the sculptures were really huge, like towering over me. And if you’re interested in more ancient Egypt, you can visit Rooms 60-66 on Level 3, where they talk more about the Egyptian death and afterlife, a huge part of their culture! This is where the mummies are housed, it talks about the procedure the bodies have to go through after death and more.
British Museum is so much more than that—they have the department of Asia, Africa, America, Oceania, the Middle East and Europe—it’s pretty much a museum of the world, for the world.
National Gallery Size: 4/5 Famous for: Portraits and paintings from mid 13th century-1900, fine art Admission: Free
Located just next to Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is worth dropping by when you are in the area. It was a hot day, and I was in London for a day trip, so my friends and I decided to escape into the museum. As we have limited time, I went there with a purpose: to see the works of famous artists like Monet and Van Gogh. You can catch their works in the 18th to early 20th-century collection. Many famous works such as van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, Turner’s Fighting Temeraire and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are all housed in this museum. If you have the time, I strongly recommended joining a tour where they would explain the story behind the paintings. Most of the paintings there has a narrative behind it, a narrative that tells us something about life, death, passion and beauty.
There are stunning paintings depicting seduction and forbidden love; and also paintings of the English countryside and nature. This one below is one of my favourites, ‘The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow’ by Norbert Goeneutte. It depicts a snowy winter in Paris, capturing the buildings and the people, and the elegance of the city. I particularly love traditionally-painted townscapes, they all look so dreamy.
Tate Modern Size: 3/5 Famous for: International modern and contemporary art Admission: Free with the exception of some exhibits
For us, Tate Modern was a regrettably quick experience and was kind of rushed, but I still decided to put Tate into this list because I saw pretty inspiring photography, installations and fine art. The gallery holds the national collection of British art from 1900 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art. Most of the stuff there is pretty abstract. There were media networks exploring the impacts of mass media and digital technology on contemporary art as well. I really prefer contemporary art to classical art nowadays, I prefer cubism to realism; maybe because realistic, historical paintings don’t intrigue me anymore. With contemporary art, boundaries are endless. The impossible might become the next possible.
So there it is! My list. Next post will be on my favourite spots in London in general. Lots of love!