How many times have you gone to a museum to catch an exhibition, only to fritter away an hour (and a good few bank notes) at the gift shop instead? Hey, don’t blame yourself, blame the irresistible spread of greeting cards, jewellery and homeware at the V&A shop, or the Design Museum’s devilishly enticing stationery selection.
Best of all, you can kid yourself that you’re having a culturally enriching afternoon when really, you’re making a dent in your Christmas shopping. Win-win, eh? From kid-friendly Science Museum silliness to beautiful books at The British Library, no excuse is necessary to visit these superb gallery and museum gift shops.
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London’s best gallery and museum gift shops
The V&A’s gift shop is a mega space full of art, design, homeware and jewellery inspired by the history of decorative arts. The museum itself has 2.3 million objects, so there’s a lot to draw inspiration from. You can find coffee table book companions to the museum’s exhibitions, as well as an impressive selection of modern, photographic and landscape prints. The V&A being the V&A, there are also great tote bags, an array of art books, scarves and floaty fashion pieces, unique accessories and quirky stationery. It’s almost much of a destination as the museum itself.
Owing to the eccentric nature of items displayed in the British Museum, the Grenville Room, the institution's main gift shop, is probably the most outlandish of all on this list. Here you can cop Greek and Roman replica sculptures: the head of Aphrodite for a small fortune or the foot of Hermes for much less. The shop, like the museum, is grand, bound by cabinets filled with faux leather books and British and Venetian jewelry. It’s filled with impressive bric-a-brac that relays a sense of worldly intrigue. Exotic cow bone curios hand carved in China sit alongside a Rosetta Stone mousemat.
As you might expect, the Design Museum’s shop is filled with items that are as beautiful as they are functional. Think Braun-made calculators, Moleskine notepads, conceptual lamps that seem on first glance to lack a third dimension and ‘teenage engineering pocket operators’ which let you make music on the go, seemingly on a calculator. Find books on the helvetica typeface used on the NY subway system, on California’s worldwide design influence, and on how graphic design can basically do anything and everything.
This gift shop, housed in the OTT setting at the Natural History Museum, is a healthy mix of kid-oriented fun and more sophisticated items. There’s wooly polar explorer garb for real grown ups, and for adults hoping to become adolescents for a day, wearable dinosaur tails by TellTale. But the pull of this shop lies in all the very, very cool stuff for kids, like pocket microscopes, dinosaur merch and ace precious minerals. The NHM manages to blend fun pop culture and serious science magnificently; a ‘Darwin is my homeboy’ T-shirt hangs next to an edition of ‘On the Origin of Species’, and it just works.
The Science Museum’s bright and commodious gift shop is made for inquisitive little minds. Stock on the shelves will please those who want to build and programme their own robots, spy on their siblings with clever reflective glasses or get to grips with coding bots so that they can join the ranks of the coders of tomorrow. There are also cutesy bits and pieces for the younger ones, plus a nice selection of books and tech for the adults. Oh, and drones. Lots of drones.
Like the boundless library itself, this shop is stocked with books aplenty, from your Ben Judah to Bronte via Murakami. On these esteemed shelves, you’ll find books on reading, writing and living with books, books that hope to cure your problems with more books, and books about writing books. They’ve also got some gnarly tote bags, some very special lined and maths paper plates and a genuinely neat little homewares section.
This divisive brutalist destination has one hell of a gift shop, set across two spacious floors. You can learn all you need to know about brutalism with plenty of books on the subject, and ace accessories inspired by the movement, like a chunky concrete desk planter. Each exhibition launch brings a new set of prints, postcards and hardback books on a new subject. Plus an array of artworks, art-inspired socks and ‘I’m more interesting than you think’-looking homeware. Don’t miss the postcards, either. Send em’ to your mates for culture points.
If you’re looking for a present for your well-to-do aunt or uncle, the Royal Academy gift shop is a fail-safe spot to hit up. It’s packed with classy goods, which, along with small keepsakes, includes unusual homeware, jewellery and exclusive prints. Beyond the items inspired by current exhibitions, you’ll find a wide range of products dedicated to the biggest names in fine art whose works have been tastefully applied to silk scarves, socks, notepads and totes. If surface level stuff’s not your bag, make a beeline for the bookshelves. Here you’ll find titles on art history and specialist subjects that you can really sink your teeth into.
If, after a sobering visit to the Imperial War Museum’s thought-provoking galleries, you’re inspired to learn more, head to the gift shop. It’s full of fascinating books on the history of war. There are more light hearted items here too. Bulldog salt and pepper shakers and homeware inspired by now-iconic propaganda slogans: a ‘While There is Tea, There is Hope’ mug, a ‘Victory is in the Kitchen’ teatowel. You can also get your mitts on models of planes and tanks, posters, prints and retro toys. Game of cat’s cradle, anyone?
Lovers of art won’t be able to resist a trip to the Tate Modern’s glass-fronted gift shop. There are shelves full of art print postcards: pop ’em in a tiny frame and boom, you’ve got your own ‘painting’ to hang. The shop stocks prints of all sizes, colours and themes, framed and unframed; paper and art materials for experts, kids and the newly-inspired; brilliant books, walls of postcards and vintage Tate posters. The homeware is definitely worth a browse too for joys like a Frida Kahlo travel cup, a set of David Shrigley dominoes and a makeup bag emblazoned with a Martin Parr close-up of a toothy smile covered in smudged lipstick.
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