Exploring Exhibition Road's magnificent museums
No visit to London is ever complete without an amble down this thoroughfare lined with three famous museums and other Victorian institutions. If you’re staying at the swish Millennium Gloucester Hotel London Kensington, this puts you just 10 minutes from the hallowed halls of Exhibition Road.
First developed following the Great Exhibition of 1851, this broad street links the genteel surrounds of South Kensington to the verdant green spaces of Hyde Park, welcoming some 11 million visitors a year.
Today, Exhibition Road's trinity of museums are crammed with a mind-boggling maze of galleries. Here’s what you should be seeing.
Natural History Museum
Credit: Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London
Housed within a palatial Romanesque pale blue edifice, the Natural History Museum, founded in 1881, boasts an impressive collection of over 80 million artefacts, with a further 500,000 added each year.
Visitors often make a beeline for the Dinosaurs Gallery in the Blue Zone to get up close to lifelike animatronic models of prehistoric giants (especially the T. rex). The Mammal gallery in the northwest corner of the ground floor is another perennial favourite. Here, visitors will be greeted by a 28-metre-long life-size cast of a blue whale as well as fine specimens of extinct animals.
End your visit at the splendid Darwin Centre, an eight-storey modern extension shaped into a cocoon, where 22 million insect and plant specimens are displayed across 27 kilometres of shelving, alongside Archie, the museum's notorious giant squid.
Credit: Sandra Ciampone/Science Museum
There are plenty of entertaining and educational hands-on exhibits for visitors to try out on each of the Science Museum's many floors. Highlights include the Medical History Gallery in its attic with its curious collection of medical history artefacts; the Launch Pad gallery, where visitors can explore the basic principles of physics; Puffing Billy, the oldest surviving steam locomotive in the world; and the Apollo 10 command module.
Overshadowed by an illuminated blue-glass wall, the Wellcome Wing located to the rear of the museum showcases advances in contemporary medicine, science and technology. It also incorporates a 450-seat IMAX theatre that regularly screens 3D science films as well as Legend of Apollo, an advanced motion simulator that deploys technical wizardry to emulate the experience of a moon landing.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Known affectionately as the V&A for short, this illustrious 163-year-old London institution is a dazzling showcase of decorative and applied art from around the globe.
Owing to its vastness, it's easy to get lost and end up wandering aimlessly. To make the best out of your visit, ensure your itinerary entails the Italian Renaissance sculpture exhibit, one of the finest outside Italy; the photography collection of half a million images; the fashion galleries that starts with 18th-century dress and ends at modern-day polyester outfits; and finally the John Madejski Garden, a stylish Italianate masterpiece of fountains, blossoms and pruned foliage.
If the V&A seems just too overwhelming to cover on your own, there are one-hour introductory guided tours that run several times a day.
Top tips for museum hopping
During the summer, it would be wise to spread your visits over a whole weekend to ensure you don't miss any of the main highlights. And do start early to avoid the crowds.
It will take a minimum of four to five hours to see the primary attractions in each museum. There is no charge to any of the permanent galleries, although visitors are encouraged to leave a small contribution. However, do note that temporary exhibitions may incur an admission fee.
Eat: When hunger strikes, grab a quick lunch at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel London Kensington's Bugis Street Brasserie. For lighter options and a spot of tea or coffee, head to Fernandez and Wells, a nondescript cafe serving Mediterranean-inspired fare opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum. Oddono's, a small Italian ice cream parlour on neighbouring Bute Street, serves a huge range of gelato flavours. If you don't wish to wander off the premises, there are well-run eateries within each museum.
Got more time in London? Put on your walking shoes and take in the city’s vibrant South Bank district with our guide.