One of the most efficient ways to acclimate yourself to a city’s culture is to first look at its history. The best places to go for the most complete records are of course museums. As I mentioned already, most of the museums in London are free; at least all the important ones. And because it’s London, there is a lot to see and learn. Since there was a lot on the agenda, I went to the three major museums that appealed the most to me.
The British Museum
The first place I started was the British Museum. Many people abbreviate this to the BM but, for obvious reasons, I will avoid confusion by just calling it by its full name.
The British Museum is easily located in Midtown London. Although I was a bit discombobulated coming off the tube (and having no sense of direction in London) it was easy to ask for directions and many people were more than willing to help. I didn’t know exactly what I could expect to find inside the museum; all I knew was that this was the current location of the Rosetta Stone. But there is so much more to this museum than originally met my eye!
What I really liked about the British Museum was the way they accommodated people of different time schedules. The map you get upon entry to the museum divvies up the exhibit based on the agenda of the visitors. If you only have one hour, they tell you what things you need to see and make sure you know where they are in each room and how to move efficiently from one place to the next. I was on a limited time schedule so I took their advice and hit up the most noteworthy exhibits in an orderly fashion.
As I walked from room to room, it was easy to see how someone could spend their whole day wandering the halls and investigating all the rooms. There was so much to see! The museum is deceptively called the “British” museum, but what it really is is a museum of the world. I don’t think there is a time period or a country they haven’t covered. But I suppose they had to leave something for the other museums to display.
It was a very crowded place but I would say there was at least a smudge of courtesy involved with making sure others could get good pictures of the sights. The longest “line” (though mob seems more accurate) was for the Rosetta Stone of course. But even then, people respected the kindergarten rules of turn taking, so I was able to get a decent picture, uninhibited by the heads of people in front of me.
The Natural History Museum
This museum is not a “must-see” in my opinion, therefore I won’t waste much time talking about it. We visited mostly out of sheer convenience and because the outside architecture looked so enticing. It truly is a remarkable building. However, once inside, it’s like any other family-friendly, tourist trap museum. There is some interesting factoids and a lot of hands-on exhibits for the kiddos, but nothing so special it’s worth fighting the crowds for. They do have a very impressive collection of dinosaur fossils, apparently. We didn’t waste our time waiting to see, though we did selfie with a replica! And then we promptly moved on to the V&A.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Another amazingly free museum, the Victoria and Albert museum (or V&A as it shall now be referred) is an art museum covering essentially all the art periods known to man. As well as sequential art period pieces, you can also find religious art artifacts (try saying that three times fast), architectural art, sculpture, jewelry and temporary exhibits.
My studious, art-history-loving friend is currently working on her thesis for her Masters with the Christie’s education program and the majority of her subject matter is housed here at the V&A. As we walked around and Kyra stepped into her natural habitat, I felt lucky to hear a bit more about the art that enveloped me by a true connoisseur. She also showed me her artifacts and explained how they relate to her thesis topic. If I knew anything at all about art, I would give you the gist but I fear I would not do it justice in my current novice state. But my inexperience did not stop us from enjoying ourselves and strengthening our panorama game!
All in all, visiting just a few of London’s most fabulous (and have I mentioned free?) museums was a great orientation to all this city has to offer. From the rich history to the enlightened culture, London is a great place to begin any European travel since they were at least lightly involved in most of the civilizations we see today; and they would more than love to tell you all about it!