London has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most culturally rich and vibrant cities in Europe, if not the world. Its museums and galleries are largely free to enter and are crammed full of masterpieces, treasures and curiosities. Read on to find out about some of the institutions with the most cultural interest and importance.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
One of the three major museums in South Kensington – along with the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum – the V&A is one of the world’s greatest museums of art and design.
Founded in 1852, this grand and ornate building houses 4.5 million objects that tell the tale of decorative arts stretching back over thousands of years and from the cultures of Europe, Asia, North America and North Africa.
Treasures contained within its walls include the 17th century sculpture Neptune and Triton and Adoration of the Magi, completed in 1510 by Andrea della Robbia.
The Horniman Museum
In South London’s Forest Hill, The Horniman Museum is quietly providing one of the best and most eclectic cultural experiences in the capital. Founded in Victorian times when Fredrick John Horniman opened his house to visitors to gaze at the treasures within, it has grown to contain more than 350,000 objects today.
It specialises in anthropology, musical instruments and natural history, and contains an aquarium, a permanent exhibition of African, Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian art, and plenty of hands-on exhibits. The uniquely fascinating museum is also worth visiting for its adjoining 16 acres of landscaped gardens.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
The former home of architect Sir John Soane, this extraordinary building in Lincoln’s Inn Fields houses his collections of art and antiquities.
Soane was born in 1753, the son of a bricklayer, and died in 1837 after achieving huge professional success; his home remains almost exactly as he left it when it became a museum upon his death.
During his life he collected an astounding number of objects of great historical significance, including Greek and Roman bronzes, Greek vases, fragments of Roman mosaics and 18th century Chinese ceramics. Visitors can also admire his incredible collection of art, sculpture and architectural drawings.
The stunning neoclassical building of Somerset House stands on the Strand in the heart of London. A cultural hot spot, it is home to the Courtauld Gallery, which has a collection of artworks stretching back from the early Renaissance to the 20th century. Its unrivalled collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works includes masterpieces by Monet, Gaugin, and Van Gogh.
As well as the gallery, Somerset House also hosts open air concerts and films, family workshops and guided tours. If that weren’t enough, in the winter an outdoor ice rink takes up residence, and the same outdoor space is home to no fewer than 55 fountains in the summer months.