The Ten Best Smaller Museums and Galleries
by Olivia Greenway (April 2012)
It’s very easy to be overwhelmed when you visit London – there is so much to see and do. One of the biggest mistakes visitors make is to try to cram too much in. Two main attractions a day should be plenty. Careful planning before your visit pays dividends later. Instead of having to eat in expensive tourist trap cafes, the museums themselves often have reasonably priced food; or do a bit of research and find something in the local area a bit off the tourist drag. Some of these museums are completely free and all of them hold a surprise or two.
Showing below are all 10 records in "The Ten Best Smaller Museums and Galleries"
Hertford House, Manchester Square, London
A short walk from Bond Street tube station, the 25 galleries of the Wallace Collection are housed in a smart 18th century townhouse, previously owned by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace. His wife left the house to the nation in 1897. It’s a spectacular building with an equally impressive collection of French, British and Oriental objects. Most famous, perhaps, is Hals’ ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ but there are works by Titian, Rembrandt and Canaletto. A lovely airy café and decent bookshop make this a good diversion from Oxford Street shopping. Free admission. Open daily. Good disabled access.
13 Lincolns Inn Fields, London
A mere five minutes from Holborn tube, this is the home of one of London’s most famous 19th century architects, who designed the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. He collected architectural artifacts and paintings. Leaving his house to the nation, there is a tragic personal tale attached to this act. He lost his first son to tuberculosis, the surviving son Soane disowned. The house has been left much as it was in his time: look out for the sarcophagus of Seti 1, over 3,000 years old in the crypt; wonderful Hogarth paintings ‘The Rake’s Progress’ in the ingenious Picture Room; and the ‘Alas Poor Fanny” grave for his wife’s lapdog. Free admission. Closed Monday.
Gallery Road, Dulwich, London
Only ten minutes by train from Victoria Station, this small gallery is easily enjoyed in just one visit. Designed by Sir John Soane, it was the first public art gallery in England and has his ground-breaking roof lanterns to allow natural light to wash over the paintings. Feeling much like a house rather than a gallery, there are several small rooms, joined by archways. The gallery has one of the most important collections of European old masters in the world. Here one can find Rembrandt’s ‘Girl at a window’ and several by Canaletto, famous for his Venetian scenes. An attractive café and pleasant gardens make this an ideal weekend trip. Small charge. Disabled access. Closed Monday.
Duke of York's HQ, Kings Road, London
A short walk from Sloane Square tube station, this vibrant contemporary gallery occupies 70,000 square feet, so has room for a very good café and restaurant, with attractive outside seating. The gallery is known for being a springboard for formerly unknown artists. There are guided daily talks of the current exhibition and regular art workshops for children. If you find contemporary art a complete mystery, then Ben Street, from the National Gallery, could hold the answer. He runs a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Contemporary Art’ course at the Saatchi on consecutive Saturdays. Admission is free and the gallery is open every day. Disabled access.
80/82 Whitechapel High Street, London
A few minutes’ walk from Algate East tube station, the Whitechapel Art Gallery was established in 1901. A not-for-profit educational organization, it has pioneered cutting edge art since its inception. In 1939, Picasso’s Guernica, now in the Sofia, Madrid was displayed here on its only visit to the UK; similarly, in 1982, an unknown Frida Kahlo exhibited here. 1971 saw David Hockney’s first show. Again, in 1992, the nation was introduced to Lucien Freud. As well as a café, there is a well-regarded dining room run under the auspices of Angela Hartnett. Free admission and good disabled access. Closed Monday.
Somerset House, Strand, London
Situated near the Embankment tube station, the gallery is located in Somerset House, a marvellous 18th century building, that used to have its feet lapped by the River Thames before the Victorian Embankment was built. The gallery underwent substantial refurbishment in 2011 and is now able to show its particularly outstanding collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist works to better effect. The collection of the ‘French Fauves’ (or wild Beasts) – Matisse, Derain and Dufy - is the most important in Britain. The contemporary café has indoor and outdoor seating. There is good disabled access with a lift. Open daily. Small charge. Free admission on Mondays until 2pm(except public holidays.)
9a St Thomas Street, Southwark, London
Situated up some stairs in the herb garret of a former church, opposite Guy’s Hospital, the museum is a short walk from London Bridge tube station. It’s the oldest theatre in the United Kingdom. St Thomas’s Hospital had been on the site since before the 13th century. Herbs were used to make medicines here before it was used as a theatre. Not for the squeamish, until 1847, operations here were performed without anaesthetic. Surgeons were known for their speed; an amputation needed to be quick. There is a large fanlight but no heating or ventilation. Limited disabled access. Open every day, modest admission charge.
136 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, London
The museum is a 15-minute walk from Old Street tube station, in east London. Situated in former almshouses, it’s a fascinating museum of English home interiors, from 1600 to the present day. There are 11 period rooms, covering 400 years from 1600. Most museums display the extraordinary; the Geffrye has everyday items that many of the owners would have normally thrown away. They are always happy to receive interesting donations. The walled gardens, open from spring to autumn, have period garden rooms, from before the 17th century to the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the 20th century. There is an attractive first floor contemporary café overlooking the gardens and a small shop. Disabled access. Free admission. Closed Monday.
St Thomas Hospital, 2 Lambeth Palace Road, London
A short walk from either Waterloo or Westminster tube stations, the Florence Nightingale Museum is relatively new, having been opened in 1989 and celebrates the life of one of our most well known nursing professionals. Her journey from privileged middle class childhood to her work in the Crimea to campaigner for better conditions in army hospitals is all charted here. The first organized training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School was set up at St Thomas’s hospital, with funds sent in by the public in appreciation of her work in the Crimea. Through her efforts, nursing became a respected profession for women for the first time. Open daily. Small admission charge. Good disabled access. Family ticket available
Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London
The Cabinet War rooms, where Churchill ran his government, are hidden deep beneath the busy pavements above and became the secret headquarters where Churchill and his staff fought against The Fuhrer. Meetings were held here during The Blitz, sometimes late into the night. The map room has been left as it was in 1945. In the museum one can also find out more about Churchill, the man, with a passion for cigars and painting. In addition, there is an attractive underground café. Open daily. Disabled access. £16.50 entrance charge includes voluntary donation to Imperial War Museums’ upkeep, of £2.
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