101 things to do in London: the arts

Theatre, dance, music and art: explore London’s rich cultural scene



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The capital’s theatres and galleries host a constant stream of memorable performances and great works, showcasing both established artists and promising newcomers. Take your pick from these arty activities and prepare to be wowed.

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  • British Library

    Heloise Bergman / Time Out

    44 Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG

    Get intimate with some rare texts and ancient maps at the British Library. Its architecture, is truly inspiring both inside and out. The huge central hall gives way to hushed study rooms (you need to become a member to get inside these) and a lovely Peyton and Byrne café at the rear.

    Temporary exhibitions are held in the Paccar Gallery, and there are often free events in the mezzanine foyer.

    Read more about the British Library


    British Library
  • British Museum

    ndrew Brackenbury / Time Out

    96 Euston Rd, NW1 2DB

    Great for a restorative and educational lunch break or a longer stay. See world-historical behemoths like the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marbles and the Lewis Chessmen, or take a free half-hour tour introducing a specific area of this mighty museum.

    Afterwards, head straight to the Great Court for lunch at the self-service café. This enormous glass-canopied space is almost as inspiring as the museum’s exhibits.

    Read more about the British Museum

    British Museum
  • Bruce Castle Museum

    © Robert Waite

    Junction of Church Lane & Lordship Lane, N17 8NU

    The history of Alexandra Palace (including the origins of TV broadcasting) is just one exhibit at this museum dedicated to Haringey and its residents – the list includes madcap illustrator William Heath Robinson and Rowland Hill, inventor of the Penny Post.

    The building is a splendid sixteenth-century mansion set in 20 acres of very pleasant parkland.

    Read more about Bruce Castle Museum


    Bruce Castle Museum
  • Charles Dickens Museum

    photo: Andrea Artz

    48 Doughty St, WC1N 2LX

    The Charles Dickens Museum houses the library and headquarters of the Dickens Fellowship – and the home in which Charles Dickens lived from 1837 to 1839.

    Some rooms are arranged as they might have been when he lived here; others deal with different aspects of his life, whether as a struggling hack writer or world-famous performer of his stories. The top floor has a new exhibit about vicious Victorian country schooling.

    Read more about the Charles Dickens Museum


    Charles Dickens Museum
  • Dennis Severs’ House

    18 Folgate St, Spitalfields, E1 6BX

    Dennis Severs' House is a time-capsule attraction in which visitors are immersed in a unique form of theatre. From cellar to kitchen, and on to the formal entertaining rooms above, visitors hear whispers and footsteps and see the remains of food just eaten.

    Each of the ten rooms is the scene of a drama set between 1724 and 1914, telling the story of a fictional Huguenot family as they make their fortunes in London’s East End. The Dennis Severs’ House tour is unsuitable for children as tours are conducted in silence.

    Read more about Dennis Severs' House

    Dennis Severs’ House
  • Do both Tates in a day


    One is on the North Bank, one is on the South; one is establishment, the other is cutting-edge. The two Tate galleries have distinctive characters, but both make for an exciting trip.

    Tate Britain is the best place to see British Art outside the National Gallery, while Tate Modern grabs headlines with its iconic power-station premises and memorable super-sized Turbine Hall installations. See both in one day by using the distinctive spotty Tate-to-Tate boat.

    Also suggested by:This Strange City

    See what's on at the Tate galleries



    Do both Tates in a day
  • Do the Museum Road challenge

    © Natural History Museum

    Okay, so you could easily spend a whole day in each of the magnificent museums in South Kensington: the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the V&A.

    But thanks to Queen Victoria’s consort, Albert, who suggested the Royal Commission buy a huge swathe of land for educational and cultural use, you could also dash between all three in an afternoon. Dinosaurs? Check. Grayson Perry vase? Check. Full-size replica of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Eagle lunar lander? Check - and touchdown.

    Do the Museum Road challenge
  • Enjoy world-class opera

    © Catherine Ashmore

    The Royal Opera House, Bow St, WC2E 9DD

    Get out the taffeta and the tails. Pop the champagne corks. Go and enjoy world-class opera (and ballet) at the Royal Opera House in opulent surroundings.

    On Covent Garden’s Piazza, the building itself is quite something, and just strolling around the Floral Hall makes you feel like bursting into song. Can’t speak Italian? Don’t worry, there are surtitles projected on to a screen above the proscenium.

    Read more about the Royal Opera House


    Enjoy world-class opera
  • Grant Museum of Zoology

    The Dodo isn’t exactly live and well, but you can see one – or a dismembered skeleton of one – in the recently relocated Grant Museum.

    There are 67,000 bone and flesh exhibits here (the collection was put together for zoological study), but one of our favourites is the collection of glass animal models in fine detail made by Czech father and son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

    Read more about the Grant Museum of Zoology

    Grant Museum of Zoology
  • Handel House Museum

    © Matthew Hollow

    23 & 25 Brook St (entrance in Lancashire Court), W1K 4HB

    In 1723 German composer George Frideric Handel moved into 25 Brook Street in London in 1723 – and 245 years later, Jimi Hendrix moved in next door.

    The upper floors of both houses now form the Handel House Museum, which has some great photos of Hendrix in his prime as well as lots of Handel memorabilia and musical scores.

    Read more about the Handel House Museum


    Handel House Museum
  • Horniman Museum

    © Paula Glassman

    The overstuffed walrus in the Natural History Gallery here at the Horniman is, eccentrically perhaps, cited in many Londoners’ favourite-things lists.

    The Victorian taxidermist responsible hadn’t ever seen a walrus so didn’t know that it’s neck should have flappy folds of skin.

    When you’ve finished gawping at the rest of this fabulously eclectic museum – including anatomical specimens, anthropological ephemera and a vast array of musical instruments – don’t miss the views over London from the picnic spot in the grounds.

    Read more about the Horniman Museum

    Horniman Museum
  • Hunterian Museum

    Royal College of Surgeons, 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A 3PE

    Quite possibly the weirdest museum in London, the Hunterian is a huge specimen jar full of curios culled from the outer reaches of science. Hunt for the skeleton of a giant, and the brain of mathematician Charles Babbage, who invented the difference engine, precursor to the modern computer.

    For the grisly minded, there are hundreds of exhibits of human and animal remains in various states of disease and dissection.

    Read more about the Hunterian Museum


    Hunterian Museum
  • Imperial War Museum

    Jonathan Perugia / Time Out

    Lambeth Rd, SE1 6HZ

    Find out what it was like in a World War I trench at this excellent museum dedicated to the theatre of war. The walk-through trench is in the First World War Galleries, along with inspiring work by poets and painters of the time and other displays on the origins of the conflict.

    Save time for the Second World War Galleries, which explore the Blitzkrieg, the Battle of Britain and what things were like on the Home Front.

    Read more about the Imperial War Museum


    Imperial War Museum
  • Locate a secret gallery

    Photo Rob Greig

    London’s major art galleries are stunning, but look carefully, and you’ll find the work of up-and-coming artists in secret galleries all over town.

    Try the Tank Gallery, a space in an old carriage house round the back of south London’s Ladywell Tavern pub, the Crypt Gallery underneath St Pancras Church or the Old Police Station in Deptford where bustling artists’ studios sit next to unusual gallery spaces inside old cells and latrines.

    Read our guide to London's secret galleries

    Locate a secret gallery
  • London Transport Museum

    Michelle Grant

    Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB

    See the new, reimagined version of London’s iconic Routemaster bus at this appealing ode to transport in Covent Garden Piazza. Disappointingly, the rear platform of the Boris Bus has doors across it, making a mockery of the genuine article.

    Still, you can cheer yourself up by climbing in the model of a bus driver’s cab around the corner. Sit in the driver’s seat and appreciate the hefty span of that steering wheel.

    Read more about the London Transport Museum

    London Transport Museum
  • Museum of London

    © Museum of London

    150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN

    Formerly leaning heavily on the Roman end of the city’s 2,000-year history, the Museum of London has recently had an impressive glossy update: its Galleries of Modern London opened in 2010 and offer a brilliant day out for all ages.

    The incredibly imaginative displays set objects under your feet, or in little cubbyholes in the walls and sometimes on the ceiling, while touchscreens offer intriguing personal tales of historical characters.

    Our favourite displays are Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps, the walk-through Victorian pleasure garden and the model of Hackney’s Ellingfort Road by artists Tom Hunter and James McKinnon.

    Also suggested by: London Is Cool

    Read more about the Museum of London


    Museum of London
  • National Gallery workshops

    © National Gallery, London

    Families are always leaving London for more space, but what about the cultural input they’ll miss? Try the National Gallery’s two-hour art workshops for children aged five to 11 on Sundays (11am-1pm and 2-4pm), or the gallery’s imaginative family workshops, for those with children aged six to 12, on Saturdays (2-3.30pm).

    Find more museum and art workshops for kids

    National Gallery workshops
  • Old Operating Theatre Museum

    Follow the rickety wooden spiral staircase through a doorway around the corner from London Bridge. First you’ll find yourself in the Herb Garret, where pungent displays explore historical herbal medicine. Next, walk through a narrow hall, and you’ll discover Europe’s oldest operating theatre, perched rather incredibly in the roof of St Thomas’s Church.

    If you’ve got a strong stomach, watch a gory re-enactment of a pre-anaesthesia operation at 2pm every Saturday.

    Read more about the Old Operating Theatre Museum


    Old Operating Theatre Museum
  • Pollock’s Toy Museum

    © Rob Greig

    1 Scala St, W1T 2HL

    Get nostalgic for a simpler age at this tribute to the world of play in Fitzrovia. The warren of creaky and atmospheric rooms and staircases houses treasures from all over the world.

    China dolls, mechanical toys, miniature theatres, lead soldiers and model cars sit side by side with teddy bears, dolls’ houses and puppets. We can’t imagine it’ll be as much fun for future generations to stare through a glass cabinet at a Wii.

    Read more about Pollock's Toy Museum


    Pollock’s Toy Museum
  • Saatchi Gallery

    © Emma Wood

    Duke of York's HQ, King's Rd, SW3 4SQ

    See innovative up-and-coming artists in large-scale temporary exhibitions at Charles Saatchi’s gallery, just around the corner from Sloane Square.

    Afterwards, head for the charming Gallery Mess, a top-rated brasserie set beneath gorgeous vaulted ceilings with a large outdoor terrace overlooking Duke of York Square. The menu runs from breakfast through lunch and a set afternoon tea, to evening cocktails and early suppers.

    Read more about the Saatchi Gallery

    Saatchi Gallery
  • See London's public sculptures

    The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square has pushed public sculpture into the headlines. There are hundreds of great sculptures in London, but some of our favourites are the Henry Moore and the Barbara Hepworth in the grounds of Kenwood House; Michael Ayrton’s bronze Minotaur on the Barbican Highwalks; David Wynne’s gravity-defying 'Boy with a Dolphin’ by Albert Bridge; and the giant plug socket at Ganton Street in Soho.

    Find more art in London

    See London's public sculptures
  • Spend a night at the museum

    © Benedict Johnson

    Fancy spending the night with a diplodocus? The Natural History Museum offers sleepovers for kids and their parents which involve torch-lit puzzle trails, a show by leading naturalists and a microscope session. We weren’t kidding about the diplodocus – you bunk down in the Central Hall.

    Other memorable sleepovers take place at the Science Museum, British Museum and on the replica of Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hinde, in Southwark.

    Read our guide to museum sleepovers

    Spend a night at the museum
  • Tower of London

    © Nigel Iskander/newsteam/Historic Royal Palaces

    Tower Hill, EC3N 4AB

    The central structure in this Unesco World Heritage castle, the White Tower, is London’s oldest intact building, dating from 1101. Inside it, a suit of Henry VIII’s full battle armour sits astride an equally well-protected horse in the Fit for a King exhibition; you can tell from the girth and the decoration (Tudor roses and pomegranates of Aragon to celebrate his marriage to Katherine) that this suit was made for a youthful Henry.

    Elsewhere within the Tower walls, the Crown Jewels are a stunning display of power and wealth – while Traitor’s Gate and the torture-device exhibition are reminders of the darker side of Britain’s dynastic history.

    Read more about the Tower of London


    Tower of London
  • Wellcome Collection

    © Britta Jaschinski/Time Out

    183 Euston Rd, NW1 2BE

    This unique attraction on the Euston Road fluidly melds the worlds of science, history and art – and looks like a giant Damien Hirst installation. The eye-popping curios collected by nineteenth-century pharmacist and entrepreneur Sir Henry Wellcome are displayed in airy modern galleries.

    See the bladed torture chair, the Japanese sex aids, Napoleon’s toothbrush and a mummified body from Peru before heading for a pitstop at the Peyton & Byrne Café. Take a browse in the excellent bookshop before you leave.

    Read more about the Wellcome Collection

    Wellcome Collection

British Library

Heloise Bergman / Time Out

44 Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG

Get intimate with some rare texts and ancient maps at the British Library. Its architecture, is truly inspiring both inside and out. The huge central hall gives way to hushed study rooms (you need to become a member to get inside these) and a lovely Peyton and Byrne café at the rear.

Temporary exhibitions are held in the Paccar Gallery, and there are often free events in the mezzanine foyer.

Read more about the British Library


Users say

Sue Chatterton
Sue Chatterton

What a wonderful, romantic place inspired by dreams. A great menu in the stylish cafe too.

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