A Nerd’s Guide to London: 4 Must-See Museums and More!

A Nerd’s Guide to London: 4 Must-See Museums and More!

The first stop on my epic 2 week backpacking trip through Europe was a city that is becoming quite familiar to me: London, England. This is the third time I have been to London in 4 years, the first being with my college marching band for the Olympics in 2012 and the second being part of a study abroad trip in summer 2014, but I have by no means seen everything worth seeing! As a self-proclaimed nerd, I would rather spend my travels wandering through museum galleries and going to theatre shows than partying it up, so I have put together what I consider to be the top sights of London for all you fellow nerds out there! Hopefully this guide to London can be helpful for my fellow nerds on their next trip to London!

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Must-See Museums

In London, it seems like every time you round the corner you stumble into another museum or gallery, and every one I have been to is extraordinary. From the amazing history contained within the British Museum to the thought-provoking pieces at Tate Modern, every museum has its own unique character and each contains an unparalleled collection of pieces. Below is a list of what I consider to be the can’t-miss museums in London for all my fellow nerds out there. From military history to modern art, this list encompasses a variety of categories and I have added a couple of tips for your visit.

The British Museum

The British Museum is everything I have ever wanted from a museum and more. No guide to London would be completely without mentioning this amazing museum. Best known for the Rosetta Stone and their extensive Egyptian collection, this museum literally has something for everyone nerd or not. While the Rosetta Stone is absolutely amazing, there is always a massive crowd around it and its encased in glass so its a bit difficult to get close enough for a good picture. Luckily, the museum did something brilliant. Across the museum atrium from the antiquities section where the original is held, there is the Enlightenment Room and in there is a replica of the Rosetta Stone that is rarely crowded and that you can even touch! Plus, the Enlightenment Room is home to an amazing collection of books and artifacts that are reminiscent of early private collections that later became museums.

In addition to the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum houses an amazing collection of Egyptian artifacts and mummies that are worth seeing, even if you are a bit squeamish. Other than those main highlights, you can plan your time at the museum based of your interests. The first time I visited 2 years ago, I spent my time in the Enlightenment Room, the Egyptian collection, and the European paintings portion because I was limited on time. This time, I budgeted a full day to visit the museum(which I recommend) and made a point of spending more time in the portions of the museum dedicated to Hindu and Islamic art, as well as making time to wander through the whole of the Greek and Roman Antiquities section.

An Amazing Egg in the Indian Artifacts Section
A recreation of an AncientGreek Temple
The Recreation of the Rosetta Stone in the Enlightenment Room
The Enlightenment Room

 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Plan on spending several hours, if not a whole day, at the museum if you intend to see every exhibit, or even consider breaking up your visit into two days as the museum is free to enter and that way you don’t tire of it.
  • Plan on walking A TON and while there are elevators, the stairs make things easier so wear comfortable shoes.
  • Bring a water bottle so you can stay hydrated. This may sound odd for advice when visiting a museum by my Camelbak Water Bottle saved me some serious money at this and other museums.
  • If you are hungry, there are two snack bars in the atrium and one of them is cheaper than the other! It serves slightly simpler food, but its just as good and will save you some cash.
  • The bookshop in the museum atrium is AH-MAZING and the dream of every book lover, but if you find a book you want that isn’t the museum guide or a feature on the museum itself, consider writing down the title and ordering it on Amazon instead. You will save money and not have to carry a rather heavy book in your suitcase for the duration of your trip.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum(V&A) was actually a pleasant surprise to me because I honestly did not expect to enjoy it that much. The V&A is the “world’s leading museum of art and design”, according to its website and it was definitely as impressive as that quote implies. Boasting an amazing collection of art from all over the world and spanning centuries in time, the V&A holds its own against other leading art museums, but it was the exhibits on design that really drew me in. One in particular showcased fashion over the last 150 years and the way the clothes and accessories were displayed made them appear as grandiose and beautiful as I would have imagined. In addition to the fashion collections(which include a place where you can dress-up in recreations of older fashions), there is an amazing collection of furniture and ceramics that makes you feel like you have stepped back into a time before IKEA when furniture, dishes, and decor were meant to make a statement, not be cheap and disposable. Even if you don’t think a museum of art and design is up your alley, consider popping over to the V&A for a few hours because it was probably the highlight of my most recent trip to London.

The most exquisite dress in the fashion exhibit
One of many ornate furniture pieces
    
     Black Swan Ballerina Tutu for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake
          
The most ornate couch I have ever seen
My Friend acting a Fool in the costume portion
Dress worm by Helen Mirren as
Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience

Tips and Tricks:

  • The Museum does not have a logical order in which you go through the exhibits so if you aren’t one for aimless wandering, make sure you look closely at your map or you may miss a room you really wanted to see.
  • While the V&A permanent exhibits are free, any temporary exhibitions will cost extra so keep that in mind if you want to visit these temporary exhibits.
  • If you are so inclined, take some time out of your visit and stop into the cafe/restaurant either for lunch or just a coffee/tea. It’s in a beautiful part of the building and the food is also delicious(albeit a little pricey).
I don’t know about you guys, but I LOVE military history, as depressing as it can be, so when I visited the Imperial War Museum(IWM), I felt very in my element. The IWM is home to exhibits specifically relating to Modern War, so conflicts from World War I up through current events. With two permanent exhibitions, one on World War I  and one on the Holocaust, and a handful of temporary exhibitions, IWM does a great job of integrating military and social history in a way that shows the true cost of warfare. The two permanent exhibitions are both impeccably crafted. The WWI exhibit provides views from the both the trenches and the home front and showing visitors what “total war” meant to 1910’s Britain and the Holocaust exhibit will move you to tears as it takes you throw the heartbreaking efficacy of Hitler’s campaign against European Jews, Gypsies, and other groups he deemed inferior. If you fancy yourself a military-buff, this is the museum for you and even if you don’t love military history, pop over for the afternoon. Its a smaller museum so it won’t take up too much time and you my learn something new!
One of the many jets on display in the Museum
A really awesome Map with cartoons from WWI
The Exterior of the Museum

Tips and Tricks

  • Check the dates on temporary exhibitions so that you don’t miss out on one your really want to see. They are all great, but they are only temporary so you have to act on the chance to see them when you can.
  • It is a smaller museum so you don’t have to budget as much time as for the British Museum or the V&A, but it is on the other side of the Thames so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
  • Wear waterproof mascara if you are intending to visit the Holocaust exhibit because it will make you cry like a baby.
I am not going to lie to you guys: for the most part, I HATE modern art. Maybe I just don’t understand it, but a lot of it just confuses me. Regardless of my feelings for modern art, I made the effort to visit Tate Modern when I was in London a few weeks ago because a friend recommended it, and there was a cool exhibit on the Guerilla Girls that I really wanted to see. Overall, I had mixed feelings about the Tate. There were some pieces that I found fascinating and beautiful, but others that I just did not understand, and I think that is the beauty of modern art: it doesn’t have to make sense to everyone. So while a red square painting onto the wall and a room full of what appear to be giant potatoes may confuse me to no end, I still enjoyed my visit to the Tate. If you are a modern art lover, definitely make your way to Tate Modern, and even if you aren’t its not a huge museum so consider spending an hour wandering the exhibits and being confused by what some people call art.
The Red Square the I don’t understand
A cool gold steampunk-esque sculpture.
Fun Facts from the Guerilla Girls exhibit
More Guerilla Girls fun facts
A really cool sculpture made of radios and other electronics
The now-infamous potato room (they were supposed to be cocoons)

Tips and Tricks

  • Its a huge building, but the exhibits are not actually that large as most of it is taken up by a central atrium. I was able to go through the majority of the museum in a little under an hour so it won’t take up a massive amount of your time.
  • It is conveniently located right next to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, so if you have tickets to a show, consider spending some time at Tate Modern before or after.
  • If you are with someone who loves modern art and you absolutely hate it, spend your visit coming up with funny captions to the exhibits.

Other highlights of London for your Inner(and Outer) Nerd

  1. The West End: I love all forms of theater and so I have made a point of seeing a show on the West End all three times I have visited London. I have personally seen Wicked, Once(which is amazing but no longer running), and Mamma Mia, all of which were absolutely amazing. Most tickets will cost you at least $40-50, but you sometimes get lucky and can get cheap tickets the morning of the show. Keep in mind that if you want to see a show like Les Miserables or Book of Mormon, those tickets are going to cost you a pretty penny regardless of when you buy them,
  2. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: As I said above, I love theater of all kinds and seeing Antony and Cleopatra in 2014 was mind-blowing. I am not the Bard’s biggest fan, but seeing one of his plays in its intended form changed my opinion and I am hoping to go back to London this summer to see the Globe’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  3. Buckingham Palace and Green Park: If you are looking for a place to take a lovely stroll through a park, Green Park is an absolutely beautiful place, and its right next to Buckingham Palace so you can pop over to see the palace in all its grandeur. I have not visited the inside of the palace, but the outside is picturesque and completely worth the visit. Plus, the Mall(or road leading up to the palace) looks really cool from the view point of the fountains in front of the palace, and its a place that holds sentimental value for me. In 2012, my college marching band was actually the first non-British group to perform on the Mall during the 2012 summer Olympic games.
  4. Westminster Abbey and Parliament: Westminster Abbey holds so much historical significance, is the place where Kings and Queens are crowned  and is the final resting place of a great many influential historical figures, such as Charles Darwin. The Abbey is only open until 1pm though so you have to get there early and be willing to wait in a decently long line in order to get in. Across the street from Westminster Abbey are the Houses of Parliament, which you can also visit if you choose to. I have never been, but I have friends who took the time to visit and said its very interesting if government and politics are your forte.
  5. Wellcome Collection: As an aspiring Historian of Medicine, I would be remiss to leave this one off my list. If you find medicine in any way interesting, make your way over the Wellcome Collection across from Euston station. The Collection is free to the public and hosts a variety of rotating exhibits on the history of medicine.
Even More to Explore(sorry for the rhyme)!
 
Obviously there is so much more than just the above(and below) lists, but I didn’t want this post to get out of hand. Here are even more awesome and nerdy things you can visit if you have time:
  • Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross Station(#HarryPotter4Lyfe)
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Natural History Museum
  • Camden Markets(Shopping=YAY)
  • Covent Garden(More Shopping)
  • Borough Market(Foooooooodddd)
  • The London Eye(touristy but awesome)
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • The Tower of London and Tower Bridge(I really should have put this up top but there is too much to say!!!)
  • Hyde Park
  • and so many more!!!
I hope you all enjoyed my Nerd’s Guide to London and I would love to hear any and all feedback through comments!
From one misguided millennial to the world, this has been my take on London.
Debbie

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