They’re the city’s most recognisable representatives, but don’t overlook them just because they’re the postcard perennials. These are the London attractions everyone should visit, and if even the most cynical Londoners don’t enjoy them, we’ll eat our bearskin cap.
Museums, parks and days out in London
In galleries lined with the prized possessions of kings and the everyday trinkets of peasants, the British Museum reveals stories of life, death and glory. Get a picture of how Native American cultures lived centuries ago, seek out the sport of a lion hunt in carvings circa 645BC and explore rituals of death and remembrance reflected in the decorated casket of the ancient Egyptian mummy of Katebet.
The IWM’s brand new First World War Galleries examine the politics and legacy of the 1914-1918 conflict, but also day-to-day life in the trenches. In photographs, artefacts like tins of food, and a collection of letters (many from fighters who never came back), the museum tells a powerful and moving story.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ceramics collection is the most extensive in the world. Grayson Perry might have revived an appreciation of the artform (see his handiwork here, alongside ornate pieces of the Medici age) but the collection shows how greatly valued ceramics have always been, from figurines crafted in Paris to soup tureens made in Chelsea.
For everyone from T-Rex-obsessed toddlers to budding paleontologists, the Natural History Museum remains the ultimate destination for matters pre-historic. A walk around the dinosaurs gallery, with its life-size models and skeletons, allows you to appreciate the sheer scale of these creatures, while the four animatronic displays reveal more about how they lived.
The Science Museum’s stunning new second floor gallery provides a chance to explore the imagination and creativity of invention as captured in photography and art. See a visiting exhibition or installation then kick back and discuss it over a coffee in the café.
Because it’s free to visit, even if you have just ten minutes you can nip into the National Gallery and see one great masterpiece on your way to somewhere else. Try Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’. Laden with symbolism, the painting also features the ‘anamorphic perspective’ technique popular in Early Renaissance art; the seemingly smudged image in the foreground becomes a human skull when viewed sideways on.
Can’t decide between the Picassos at Tate Modern and the Constables at Tate Britain? Do both! The Tate Boat (decorated with Damien Hirst dots) runs along the Thames between Tate Britain by Vauxhall Bridge and the Tate Modern on Bankside every 40 minutes during gallery opening hours, seven days a week (except Dec 24-26).
The Peter Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich Park is the only place in London where you can take your eyes on a tour of the universe. In these days of HD and 3D TV, the Planetarium has raised its game, with state-of-the-art projection technology and spectacular films revealing the latest scientific discoveries. Shows include Space Safari, which is suitable for children under eight.
Children can be seen and heard at this lively Covent Garden temple of travel. There are hands-on exhibits and visitors can clamber on board a tube train or experience what it’s like to sit behind the wheel of a bus. Sadly you can’t take one for a spin, but standing still certainly evokes the experience of London traffic.
The Magna Carta, works of Shakespeare and Dickens, copies of The Beano – they all have a home at the British Library. However, you can also see original manuscripts handwritten by some of the world’s greatest musical talents. See early drafts by John Lennon of ‘In My Life’, ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ written on a piece of Lufthansa-headed paper.
Venue says: Join us for an early dinner and take advantage of 2 Courses & a Drink for just £15, http://www.benscanteen.com/offers/
The former Willie Gunn wine bar site in Earlsfield has been taken over by the nice chaps behind Ben’s Canteen in Battersea, making this the second branch. The two adjoining rooms have been given a bright and jolly makeover, with lots of bright white surfaces and Keiller’s marmalade jars on the tables to make it feel a little homely. The menu covers the usual breakfast, sandwich and burger dishes that you might expect of a smart caff, though with a few more unusual dishes such as a variation on the North African shakshuka (baked eggs topped with a tomato and pepper stew, plus spinach in this case). The dishes are done well, from the pert potato chips to the invitingly soft sweet potato chips. On our visit, our coffees were served tepid, the result of an inexperienced coffee barista. We sent them back, but the replacements were only marginally warmer; more training on the espresso machine was required. Be warned too that the location and prices means that this caff attracts more than its share of pram-pushing mothers of the blond, affluent, and overly confident variety. On our midweek lunch visit we could barely hear ourselves think over the resulting racket, and it wasn’t just the toddlers who were in full voice. Maybe it's better to visit in the evenings.