It’s no shock that history nerds love museums. And when said history nerd is also an Anglophile, a trip to London is not just a vacation, but a pilgrimage. Having been to London several times, there are some museums I never get tired of no matter how much time I spend there, or how little it changes from year to year. As any true history nerd can attest, some things are just too awesome to only see once.
Of all the museums in Europe, the British Museum is usually in every sightseer’s Top Five. It’s a no-brainer, and for very good reason. It’s amazing. One of my former college professors once described it as “a staggering assemblage of pillaged artifacts from all over the world.” There are too many awe-inspiring relics to even mention. One of my favorite galleries features what’s known in Britain as the Elgin Marbles and known to the rest of the world as “Pieces of the Parthenon that Greece wants back.” It’s an incredible gallery that I never tire of, no matter how much time I spend there. Truly, you can’t go wrong in the British Museum, but if you need some suggestions on where to start, check out the BBC series “History of the World in 100 Objects,” which traces the development of human society through the museum’s collection. I will leave you with one tip though. The first time I went, I completely missed the Rosetta Stone because of the crowd of people surrounding it, so if you want a decent view and are short like me, use your elbows.
Pillaged statuary in the Enlightenment Gallery
Some of the famed Elgin Marbles
Admittedly, this wasn’t originally on my list of must-see museums, since my “interest in paintings” threshold is relatively low. However, it was a rainy day in Trafalgar Square and I really needed a restroom so I thought, “why not?” The National Gallery features art from 1250-1900 by everyone from Da Vinci to Van Gogh. Like most major London museums, the building is incredibly beautiful, with architecture from the Late Georgian and Victorian periods. All in all, even if classical art isn’t high on your priority list, the National Gallery is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
A rainy day in Trafalgar Square
Natural History Museum
If you want a truly impressive, awe-inspiring look at natural history, go to New York. This is not the best natural history museum, far from it. Some of the displays are dusty and dated, and despite the amazing architectural setting, the exhibits themselves can be a bit underwhelming. So why visit, you ask? The level of nerdiness that the London Natural History Museum achieves is higher and more complex than any other. What the museum (at least to me) actually illustrates is the history of the study of natural history. Some of the earliest fossils and artifacts from this academic field are stored here and that alone makes it worth the trip. You can also see their famed dinosaur skeleton, “Dippy,” and take a picture with Charles Darwin.
Gorgeous Victorian architecture
Chucky D dropping some esoteric knowledge
Victoria & Albert Museum
If I could live in a museum, this is the one I’d choose. Sometimes called “Britain’s Attic,” the Victoria & Albert Museum is a veritable nerdgasm of decorative arts from around the world. Every inch of space is utilized to show off the impressive collection of artworks, statuary, furniture and clothing from just about every time period. The place seems to go on forever, so forming a plan of attack is probably the best way to see it, especially if your time is limited. One must-see is the Cast Courts, which is comprised of two galleries of 19th-century reproductions of major European artworks and monuments. These were initially created to make these wonders accessible to those who couldn’t travel abroad. Walking through them makes you feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland, albeit a slightly macabre Wonderland, with all the casts of tombs you’ll see. Also make sure to take a look at the Victorian Era gallery, which features actual video footage of Queen Victoria.
Victorians were nerdy too!
Queen Victoria approves this blog post