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Traveling to London - first trip outside U.S. - sightseeing questions

Hello,

My wife and I are taking a short vacation to London in the middle of February. It will be our first trip outside the United States. I have done a lot of research using Rick Steves' guidebooks and other sources, and I have planned a tentative itinerary for each day. But I have a few questions for any of you travelers who have already experienced sightseeing in London:

  1. We plan to visit the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey (among other sights). These three sites all charge admission (unless we are attending a worship service). Should we expect to wait in line to buy tickets for these sites, if we don't buy tickets in advance? I would plan for long ticket lines in summer, but I'm not sure what to expect in February. We are most likely to visit these sites on a Friday or on a Monday, though we might visit the Tower of London on a Sunday. (I'm trying to avoid buying tickets in advance unless necessary, so that we can retain some flexibility in our schedule. Also, I have booked several things in advance already, and I prefer not to have more tickets or receipts to keep track of.)

  2. If we have time to visit either Apsley House or the Wallace Collection but not both, which one would you recommend, and why?

  3. Are we crazy if we skip the British Museum? I originally had it on our itinerary, because it seems to be widely regarded as a "must see" sight. But the more we read about the British Museum, the more we realized that it just didn't sound exciting to us, because we simply aren't very interested in the cultures of ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and so on. We are going to England because we are both very interested in British culture, and we want to focus more on quintessentially English sights in London, if that makes sense. Do you think we should give the British Museum a chance anyway?

  4. Is it realistic to visit both St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London in a single day, given that they both close around 4:30 PM, if I remember correctly? We plan to do St. Paul's in the morning (shortly after it opens), and the Tower of London after that (probably with an early lunch in between). Would this give us enough time to enjoy both sights without feeling rushed?

  5. If I use Google Maps to get transit directions, are its estimated travel times pretty accurate for travel by tube or by bus? (Note: I don't plan to rely on Google Maps exclusively. I also have a tube map and other resources.)

Thanks in advance for any replies. And please don't feel like you have to answer all five of my questions. I'll be happy and thankful if you have a good answer to just one of them!

Posted by
6841 posts
  1. Consider you can buy your tickets online when you get there using the hotel computer or any mobile device with access to wifi. But some sites like Westminster Abbey have entry times that you have to choose and online tickets Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral are cheaper when purchased online.

  2. You've done your own research, planned your priorities, so don't go to the British Museum just because it is regarded as a must see if you are not interested in what is there. It is free so you have nothing to lose except a little time if you go and confirm, "meh."

  3. This is realistic

  4. The estimated travel times are pretty accurate more or less when nothing unexpected happens

Posted by
12205 posts

The Tower of London might be worth pre-booking to skip the line, even in February. But we have only been there in April ( when we were really glad we pre-booked) and February May be different. Hopefully someone with specific knowledge will know.

The Tower and St. Paul’s could easily be covered in a day, with lunch in between. Be sure Tom isit the very moving American memorial behind the alter. And if you enjoy stair climbs with views, the St. Paul’s dome is one of our favorites.

The No. 15 bus connects the Tower and St. Paul’s and I would recommend that over the Tube. Or walk if you are so inclined. The London bus system is great and we much prefer to stay above ground. The drivers do not sell tickets; you need an Oyster card each, or a Travelcard. Or contactless payment system ( some American credit cards now have this).

If by chance you are flying into and out of Gatwick, your train tickets into and out of London at the beginning and end of your stay will qualify you for the Days Out 2-4-1 offers ( buy one ticket get one free). The three attractions you mention above are all on the list, although you cannot pre-book for this offer. Let us know if you would like more information.

Skipping the British Museum might well be appropriate with your interests, but maybe you would like the British Library?

I highly recommend the National Theatre backstage tours if they are offered during your stay.

Posted by
2624 posts

When we went to St. Paul’s last September we didn’t have to wait in any line for tickets.

Posted by
4751 posts
  1. The last two weeks of February are school half term holidays in the UK, so places will be busy. The Tower of London is likely to be busiest, so aim to get there for opening time.

  2. I haven’t visited Apsley House, but in February, it’s only open at the weekend. I like the Wallace Collection, plus it’s free!

  3. I can’t understand why so many people on this forum consider the British Museum a “must” as it’s not my cup of tea. If I want to see ancient Egyptian things, I would go to Egypt!

  4. I would start with the Tower then head to St Paul’s. You should have enough time in one day.

  5. London’s transport is run by TFL, so use their website at tfl.gov.uk.

Posted by
15 posts

Thanks very much for all the replies so far! This is very helpful.

Lola, you mentioned an offer that we could look into if we are flying into Gatwick. I guess that doesn't apply for us, as we are flying into Heathrow. Thank you for mentioning it though. Thanks also for the National Theatre recommendation; I will look into that.

Jennifer, thank you very much for the information about the school half term holidays. I had no idea of that, so we will plan accordingly. Given that information, I think I probably will buy our tickets for the Tower of London in advance. We just have to decide which day we are going, as the tickets are for a specific day, and we still have the Tower marked for possibly Sunday or possibly Monday. Also, the only reason I thought of going to St. Paul's first (if we do St. Paul's and the Tower the same day) is that it opens earlier. But maybe we should just plan to get to the Tower right when it opens, and tour St. Paul's afterwards.

Posted by
917 posts

The British Museum is spectacular. It has the Rosetta stone, original manuscripts of Beatles songs, cat mummies, the Elgin Marbles, and so many things you've heard about. I loved it, my ex-wife loved it, my kids loved it, and I will visit it again when I return. Although the British Library is now a separate building, there is much that is quintessentially British in the BM. You're not crazy if you skip it, but you might really like it.

You may want to consider the National Gallery, which has some spectacular paintings in it. Like the BM, the National Gallery is free and is just off Trafalgar Square.

For something "English" you will want to visit a pub, preferably one with character, like Dirty Dick's. http://www.dirtydicks.co.uk/

Posted by
15 posts

You may want to consider the National Gallery, which has some spectacular paintings in it. Like the BM, the National Gallery is free and is just off Trafalgar Square.

We love art museums, so the National Gallery is definitely on our itinerary. And yes, we plan to visit one or more pubs while we are there. I already have a few pubs in mind, but I will also check out the one that you linked.

Posted by
15 posts

Google map timings tend towards the optimistic. In London use the TFL website or the Citymapper app for the best results.

I started using Google Maps to plan out our transit options almost by accident, and I stuck with it because it provides such good details and has so many options. But I see now that the TFL site has pretty much everything that Google Maps has, and maybe more. So I'll take your advice and use it instead.

Posted by
38 posts

St Pauls's, Westminster Abbey, and The Tower of London (as well as a lot of other sites like the Eye, etc.) offer 2-for-the-price-of-1 admission with National Rail Travelcards, which also give you unlimited Zone 1-2 tube and bus travel...you have to jump through a few hoops (bring passport-sized photos for an ID card, buy them at rail stations only, print vouchers etc.) but if you're going to be there for ~7 days and visit some pricer sites, you can definitely save some money using them.

https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g186338-c195600/London:United-Kingdom:2.4.1.Travelcards.Step.By.Step.html

Posted by
15 posts

These lists are noth interesting ways to view the museum. The BBC series that accompanies the History of the World selection is superb if you can track it down.

The British Museum is spectacular. It has the Rosetta stone, original manuscripts of Beatles songs, cat mummies, the Elgin Marbles, and so many things you've heard about.

Please don't take this the wrong way, because I really appreciate these posts. But the information provided here reinforces my impression that the British Museum is going to be quite a bit lower on our sightseeing priority list than it would be for many people. Both of you make great points in its favor, but it just doesn't sound like it aligns so well with our particular tastes and interests. Nevertheless, your posts were helpful to me -- so thank you! (And we probably would find time to see the British Museum if we were going to be in London for a few days longer.)

Posted by
145 posts

I have to say that I was not thrilled with the British museum. I loved the V&A far more and suggest it.
Depending on how long you’re there, maybe a little time out of the city - even if only a few hours? Take the Thames Clipper down to Greenwich perhaps? It’s nice to see the city from the river and it’s not terribly priced. Even a few hours seeing somewhere not as busy is nice.

Posted by
897 posts

The problem with London (and Europe!) is you can't see it all, so you're going to have some "I didn't get to...." regrets no matter how you approach it. I first went to London in 2004. We saw a lot in 4 days (Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, Changing of Guard at Buckingham, Tate Modern, River Thames cruise, Tower of London, Harry Potter 3 when it was first in theaters, Harrod's, Piccadilly Circus, Abbey Road, Bath/Stonehenge day trip) had an ambitious itinerary, but still didn't get to do all we had planned (e.g. husband thought he lost passport, so we had to abandon plans for Imperial War Museum. Had St. Paul's, Hyde Park, ho-ho bus, etc. on the list but ended up being too tired to do them.

We hope to go back next year (15 years later mind you) and catch some of those things we missed. One of those will be the British Museum. I, like you, was like, "Why would I want to see that in London when I can see it elsewhere?" But that was before I realized it had the Rosetta Stone. So we plan to hit it this time, but maybe only for an hour or two, as we'll be with kids and that's probably all they'll last. I think you have to approach these big museums with the mindset that you "can't see it all" (or if you do, it consumes a whole sightseeing day), so you just want to hit the highlights, which Rick helps you with in his books. Plus the British Museum is free (well, "donations requested") which makes me feel better about paying 5 pounds or something and only seeing a slice of it, as opposed to a museum where I've forked out $30 and I feel the need to get my money's worth. Also on this trip we plan on making it to St. Paul's and the Imperial War Museum (for reals this time, haha), Windsor Castle, the Harry Potter Studio Tour, and a show in the West End.

So, long story short, do your best to select what you think you might like, and then have a Plan B for when Plan A doesn't work out and/or for when you come back next time. I would suggest starting each day with a Top Personal Sight; that way, if you run out of steam and don't make it to the Tier 2 sight of the day, you're not devastated.

Posted by
3418 posts

If you decide you do want to 'get out of town' for a short time, I'd suggest taking the train to Windsor (walk up 'day of' tickets are the same as advance purchase so you don't have to buy the train tickets ahead of time). It is a short, approximately 30 minute journey with one very easy change at Slough (just change platforms). Trains run about twice an hour. We would often go for 1/2 to 3/4 of a day on days when we had theatre tickets that evening. Windsor Castle is one of my absolute favorites. It's tour is even better since they rebuilt after the devastating fire. There are exhibits showing things they discovered, and about the fire and how things were saved. Even our then 9 year old son enjoyed Windsor very much. Plenty of pubs and tea rooms to enjoy, too. You can also watch the changing of the guard there, rather than fighting the crowds at Buckingham Palace.

PS- We traveled to London more than 40 times over the course of about 20 years. We had to stop our international travel about 10 years ago for family and health reasons, but I'm happy to share any info you would be interested in. I wrote an article for NC's AAA magazine about 12 years ago about my favorite places in London. If you'd like a copy, private message me and share your email address as we cannot add attachments to private messages.

Posted by
15 posts

I loved the V&A far more and suggest it.

I initially wasn't sure about taking time to see the V&A museum. But we are planning to go to Mass at the Brompton Oratory on the Sunday morning of our trip (we're Catholic). And the V&A is right next door, if I remember correctly. So we will probably at least take a quick peek inside the V&A as long as we are right there, and maybe stay longer if we are enjoying it.

Depending on how long you’re there, maybe a little time out of the city - even if only a few hours?

We do have one day trip planned outside of London.

Posted by
15 posts

If you decide you do want to 'get out of town' for a short time, I'd suggest taking the train to Windsor

I really appreciate the suggestion. It's probably not going to fit this time, but I'm hoping there will be a next time. So we will keep it in mind for then.

Posted by
2157 posts

I've been to London twice now, and hopefully many more times to come, and the British Museum is not on my list for the very reason you note--not my kind of antiquities. Vacation time is precious so I do research what a museum has to offer in order to make informed decisions, never going with the "must sees" of a guidebook unless they are mine, too. Not that you can't have happy discoveries in museums you didn't think you'd like...

Posted by
15 posts

The problem with London (and Europe!) is you can't see it all, so you're going to have some "I didn't get to...." regrets no matter how you approach it.

Hey, I already have those regrets just from planning this trip, and we haven't even left yet. :-)

Posted by
6607 posts

There is a winter school break in Europe in February and a family member never was able to get into Westminster Abbey due to the crowds in line for tickets. If your London travel dates fall in the school break time, I would purchase tickets ahead. We bought tickets ahead for St. Paul’s and there was no line in August whereas there were long lines for other sites.
St. Paul’s and the Tower of London can easily be done in one day.
Of course you don’t have to visit the British Museum. I didn’t visit it until my third time in London.
One site I would add is Churchill’s War Rooms.
Enjoy your time in London.

Posted by
97 posts

Hi, PH,
1) My husband and I were in London the week before Christmas (so I believe it was a school break) and toured both The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. Like you we wanted flexibility, mostly due to the weather, so did not pre-purchase tickets for any sights. We had very minimal (5 people at most) lines at both venues, so flexibility was achieved at no loss of time. Had the same experience when we chose to take the City Cruise tour to Greenwich on what turned out to be the best weather day of our stay. No pre-purchase, virtually no line and a minimal wait for the next tour.

3) We did the British Museum on the advice of our daughter who was with us that day and is a big fan - and frankly, I wish we'd done the National Gallery instead, though now I can say I saw the Rosetta Stone, the earliest known map, a tiny notebook of da Vinci's, and a cat mummy. I'm voting you stick with your interests.

5) Also, I used Google maps with great success for transit directions. I verified the results with the TfL website for my own peace of mind. I like to use Google Maps on wifi and switch to airplane mode as we are walking. The map info is available offline that way and gps keeps track of where we are. Watch for handwritten signs when you enter tube stops for updated information about any delays or changes in service. Getting around by transit was a dream!

Enjoy your trip!

phr

Posted by
21 posts

The British Museum wasn't my cup of tea either, so I'm not going back. I am going back to the Victoria and Albert though. I wasn't tremendously enamored of the Wallace Collection, but it was interesting enough. My favorite small museum is Sir John Soane's Museum--a small but packed, quirky gem that felt quite English to me (but what do I know as an American). Have fun!

Posted by
4546 posts

2) I prefer the Wallace Collection to Apsley House. If you visit the Wallace Collection, try to go when they offer one of their tours. Apsley House was a bit of a snoozefest for me. If you are looking to see an historic home, I think Spencer House (only open on Sunday by guided tour) is more interesting than Apsley House. I may be biased as I had a great tour guide in Spencer House, but wandered aimlessly through Apsley House. Neither of these houses would have been a ”must see” for me on a first trip.

3) It is your trip and if the British Museum doesn’t appeal to you, don’t go. However, it is free, so it is easy to pop in for an hour to see something if you find you have extra time.

Posted by
2789 posts

I didn't see the Churchill War Rooms on your list and I think they are essential if you're into British history. As much as I love the British Museum(my #3 sight after Westminster Abbey and Tower of London), I agree it doesn't line up with your priorities.

Posted by
3173 posts

Are we crazy if we skip the British Museum? I originally had it on our
itinerary, because it seems to be widely regarded as a "must see"
sight. But the more we read about the British Museum, the more we
realized that it just didn't sound exciting to us, because we simply
aren't very interested in the cultures of ancient Greece, ancient
Egypt, and so on.

No, you're absolutely fine! That people tell you that a locale is a "must see" should mean nothing to you if you have no interest in that place. There is nothing wrong with that! We all like different things.

Posted by
15 posts

I really appreciate all the replies here. Thank you so much, everyone!

For the people who recommended the Churchill War Rooms, we would like to see them, but they probably won't make the cut this time. I am interested in World War II (though my wife, not so much), but somehow I just don't find the Churchill War Rooms so appealing. I can't quite articulate why though.

London Walks does a Westminster Abbey tour where you skip the queue. This can be well worth it if you are short on time.

Yes, I have looked quite a bit at the London Walks web site, and we might do one of their walks. But their Westminster Abbey walk doesn't fit in with our schedule, unfortunately.

Posted by
4368 posts

I've been to London more times than I can remember yet I haven't been to Westminster (walked past it), St Pauls, The British Library, Changing of the Guard, Harrods, The National Portrait Gallery, The Tate Modern, Churchill War Museum, Tower of London and many more "must see's". Some of this is because living here there isn't the sense of trying to cram it all in as there's always next week, next month, next year etc other reasons are because I'm not particularly interested (changing of the guard for example). I very much enjoyed the British Museum but that's because I'm fascinated by much of what is held there however it is extremely busy. I couldn't get anywhere near the Rosetta Stone and after a while you do end up with the "another load of mummies!" as you turn a corner and see another corridor lined with ancient caskets, there's almost too much in there. I also find myself returning to places I've been to before such as the Science Museum and Natural History Museum simply because they are such fantastic museums.

The point is that you're never going to see everything and one person's "must see" is another person's "not interested", so no reason to feel guilty that something that is much touted doesn't feature on your list of things to see.

Posted by
714 posts

Hi PH -

You are not crazy to skip the British Museum. I find it overwhelming, although I did make a specific trip to see the Sutton Hoo Treasure some years ago (Emma is right, it’s astounding!) and maybe that’s the best way to use it, to see something SPECIFIC rather than wandering aimlessly round what is a huge building because ‘it’s the thing to do’.

As regards Westminster Abbey we visited early in the year and one night a week it is open late. I recommend this as the building is marvellously atmospheric inside when it is dark outside. We had dinner in the restaurant attached afterwards - very good and reasonably priced too. You’d need to check which day the Abbey is open late and possibly shuffle your itinerary to make it fit, but it does give you that extra time to fit it all in! As I recall there wasn’t a queue to get in.

Hope you have a great trip!

Ian

Posted by
4666 posts

I agree that if you are more interested in British culture and history, the National Gallery, Victoria and Albert, or Museum of London would be more interesting than the British Museum.

Posted by
5634 posts

Been traveling to London since 1972. Returned from another trip last week. Great city to explore. For first timers my recommendations are:

  1. Take advantage of the 2 for 1 deal. https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london
  2. Grab the pocket sized tube map. Most likely near a manned ticket window in an underground station. Helpful planning routes.
  3. Use the Timeout London online website. Will tell you about theatre, galleries, restaurants, events.
  4. check out London Theatre, Albert Hall and Wilton Music Hall websites to see if there might be something you’d like to attend and if tickets are available.
  5. Know that Pret A Mangers are great options for good fresh food. I love their chicken avocado sandwiches and chickensalad salads. Know that Bill’s restaurants though a chain has good food.
  6. This past trip discovered a Lebanese chain. Comptoir. Excellent!
  7. Do Not EVER jaywalk. Londoners do but until your head gets wrapped around that traffic goes the opposite way simply not smart to cross until you see the green man!
  8. Most museums open at 10am and are free.
  9. Parks are lovely to walk in.
  10. Portobello Market is a fun Saturday excursion but go by 8am to avoid the masses.
  11. The new Coal Drops Yards and Granary Square behind St Pancras is intriguing.
  12. Museum of London. Free and provides well done background of how London became London
  13. Get your Oyster card there. Refundable deposit. Makes using public transport a breeze.
  14. Know that chips are French fries, crisps are potato chips. Take away is what we refer to as to go.
  15. Flat Black or Americano will be the closest to a cup of coffee that you are used to in the states. Starbucks exists in London but I prefer Costa or Cafe Nero or the many smaller coffee roasters over the Seattle based conglomerate.
  16. Bring a coin purse as there are 1 and 2 pound coins that you get as change. I have an old leather one will a small pocket in front where I’ll fold a 5 or 10 pound note with coinage in the other pocket. Fits comfortably in my pants pocket.
  17. Use the tfl.gov.uk to plan your routes on public transport
  18. Pub grub is a fine option for lunch and a good place to use the loo ( restroom) . Don’t be alarmed to find parents, babies, children and dogs in pubs. Yes alcohol is served but traditionally they are communal meeting places.
  19. Depending on where you are flying from and time of arrival and how many flights land at the same time as yours affects your wait in the immigration line. On my recent January trip LAX to LHR I did the red eye. Arrived at 10:30am. Immigration took nearly an hour. Day before my friend had flown from the East Coast and arrived at 9:30am. Took her 10 minutes.
  20. Do not miss going to at least one theatre performance. Most enjoyable!

Enjoy!!!

Posted by
1864 posts
  1. We visited the Tower of London in late September on a Thursday and we got there about 15 minutes before opening and we were 2nd in line to buy tickets. We were like you and hadn't nailed down a specific day and didn't book ahead. We spent about 6 hours there. Westminster Abbey, I'd highly recommend London Walks for a tour. You can show up at the meeting place in advance an pay 10 euros each. There is so much history you'll probably miss if you don't take a tour.
  2. We did the British Museum and it wasn't our cup of tea. Interesting, perhaps if you have a slow evening. I'd recommend the Museum of London if you want to immerse yourself in London culture. It describes the history of London from the stone age to current.
  3. The London tube system is amazing. If you miss one train, another will be by in minutes. Whatever google maps says will be close enough.
Posted by
6717 posts

If I want to see ancient Egyptian things, I would go to Egypt!

That assumes that Egypt has as much will and resources to preserve them as a world class museum that happens to be in Europe. Remember the farcical, botched-up mishandling of the beard of King Tut which fell off at the Cairo Museum and was glued back with the wrong compound, causing much damage to this priceless artifact? At the time the Ministry of Antiquities was starved of funding (it reportedly "was operating with just 10% of the funds it had before the 2011 uprising").

For better or worse, many antiquities are best seen in museums outside whatever country they come from - it's an issue of quality and resources (and lack of civl unrest unlike found in Egypt helps a lot too). For the same reason, the Temple of Dendur can be found in The Met in NYC.

Posted by
1402 posts

Another vote for a walking tour with London Walks.
No booking in advance required, just show up at the meeting point.
I think it's about 12 pounds pp, and well worth it.
They have a great website.

http://www.walks.com/

Also, the best map I found for my phone on my last visit in November last year was CityPlanner.
I think it even had bus and tube timetables on it, can't remember.
Are you going to the theatre?
You can sometimes buy tickets directly from the theatre box offices on the day, if you don't want to plan in advance.
I did that in November.
Wishing you a wonderful FIRST trip to London!
(You'll be back!")

Posted by
15 posts

Just for clarity, the National Gallery and Victoria and Albert museums are full of stuff that has nothing to do with British life and culture.

I appreciate the information. Yes, I know I said I'm more interested in British history and culture, but I also love classic art from France, Italy, and other parts of Europe, so the National Gallery is a must-see for me. We had initially planned to skip the Victoria & Albert Museum. But my wife is interested in some of the exhibits there. And since we will already be right next door to it, we figure that we will probably go in for about an hour, and then decide if we want to stay longer, or move on to something else.

Posted by
5634 posts

The National Gallery is at Trafalgar Square. The V & A is nowhere near it.
EDIT: Re reading all your posts I see that you will visit the V & A after mass at the nearby London Oratory.

Posted by
15 posts

Another vote for a walking tour with London Walks.

We are considering the "Shakespeare's & Dickens' London" walk as an option on our schedule. We may let the weather decide for us. We may do the walk if the weather is decent, or otherwise do something indoors.

Posted by
15 posts

The National Gallery is at Trafalgar Square. The V & A is nowhere near it.

I'm aware of where they are, but I see now that my post could have given the impression that I thought they were next door to each other. :-)

I was actually referring to something I mentioned in an earlier post, that we are going to the London Oratory (a.k.a. Brompton Oratory) on the Sunday morning when we are there. And it is right next to the Victoria & Albert Museum. So while we are there, we will likely pop into the V&A and look around for a bit. (Our visit to the National Gallery will be on a different day completely.)

Posted by
18892 posts

I am a big fan of the V&A, but it's a huge place. I highly recommend that you spend a little time on the museum's website before your trip, noting which exhibits you might like to see and where they are. Otherwise, you could spend your entire hour wandering around and not see any of your top-priority sections.

Posted by
15 posts

I am a big fan of the V&A, but it's a huge place. I highly recommend that you spend a little time on the museum's website before your trip, noting which exhibits you might like to see and where they are. Otherwise, you could spend your entire hour wandering around and not see any of your top-priority sections.

Yes, that's a good point. I've intended to do exactly what you suggested. But looking at the map of the museum now, it looks even larger and more overwhelming than I expected (and I had the idea that it was very large). We will have to consider whether it is worth going at all, given that we have limited time. If we go, we'll have a plan for which levels and rooms we want to visit.

Posted by
1217 posts

Do check special exhibits at the museums you're planning. Some of them may very well be worth the extra cost. (We loved the Pink Floyd one at the V&A) And also check for evening hours at a place if you're willing to go at a fast pace. The big name museums will typically have one night a week of those and the British Library gallery, I want to say, typically has some time after dinner.

Posted by
50 posts

I don't think you're at all crazy to skip the British Museum. My adult son and I spent a week in London this past October and chose not to go to the British Museum, the V&A, the Tate Modern, or any other art museum. It's just not our thing, and there were so many other places to see! We did go to the Museum of London because we enjoy history, but frankly it wasn't as good as anticipated. We loved the Churchill War Rooms, that was a high priority experience for us and I made sure to purchase the timed tickets in advance. We also did not attend a theater performance - last time I was in London I slept through Phantom of the Opera, and realized that I just don't care for theater. Again, not our thing. We do however enjoy all things culinary, so we went on an East End food tour one day and devoted two hours to visiting Borough Market at lunchtime another day. You do what you like, it's your vacation!

Posted by
2727 posts

The Museum of London

which Emma mentions.

We often make a point of visiting the city museums for an overview of ...obviously each city. They usually can be accomplished in an hour, we enjoy them, but some are better than others. The Museum of London was one of the better ones and I'd recommend it.

The British Museum just makes me angry about the theft of items from Greece, and their refusal to return them. (Yes, Greece won me over.) I was not enthused when I was there and would recommend you put that low on your list.

If you want a specifically British gallery and you like art, try Tate Britain. A lot of tourists overlook it in favour of Tate Modern but I much prefer it. It’s a short walk from Westminster or Pimlico tube stations. At the heart of the gallery is a chronological collection of British painting. It’s lovely.

Posted by
4368 posts

....The British Museum just makes me angry about the theft of items from Greece, and their refusal to return them. (Yes, Greece won me over.) I was not enthused when I was there and would recommend you put that low on your list...."

In that case we should apply that approach to museums all over the world and return all items to their former locations.

I have no horse in this race, just playing devil's advocate. Recommending that someone doesn't visit a museum based on your views towards a single exhibit is not a fair approach.

Posted by
2727 posts

Emma, JC and Whomever...The question was:

Are we crazy if we skip the British Museum? I originally had it on our itinerary, because it seems to be widely regarded as a "must see" sight. But the more we read about the British Museum, the more we realized that it just didn't sound exciting to us, because we simply aren't very interested in the cultures of ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and so on. We are going to England because we are both very interested in British culture, and we want to focus more on quintessentially English sights in London, if that makes sense. Do you think we should give the British Museum a chance anyway?

If someone asks if I'd recommend a museum, I give my position on recommending or not. I credit the initial poster to be able to match it to their likes or dislikes and determine their own position on the subject.

As far as art theft is concerned, of course, it is and will be forever, because it is about culture and/or money, or right vs wrong, dominance vs submission, etc. (Don't get me started, long ago I was an art history major). I digress. As someone who has recently taken a tour to Greece, thanks RS, and heard over and over again what is in this particular museum that they want back and have been refused (and had seen at the BM [British Museum] previously)...then I do feel sorry about it, when clearly it is a massive amount of stolen art, not preserved art, and a massive amount from Greek history (to say nothing about the other countries in the same situation). London has so much to choose from that is British for a first time visitor I recommended the BM go low on their list...you'll note I didn't say 'don't go ever'.

So sorry I offended some of you folks, I didn't realize it was such a sensitive subject, but most of my family were the ones who left 400 years ago, so I guess it is in my DNA. (This is an attempt at a joke, but there's always some truth in a joke.) I like the UK, it feels like a third home or at least not a foreign country, and my daughter's in laws are there so I'm there pretty regularly...but we won't be hitting the BM again.

Posted by
4368 posts

So sorry I offended some of you folks

Don't worry, I'm not offended, I'm made of far sterner stuff.

Posted by
12205 posts

Emma, thank you for the Mold Cape! We have been to the British Museum more times than I can count, and so far have not made it past the Greek, Egyptian, and African Rooms. Next time we are in London (this May) we will bypass those and go straight to find the Mold Cape.

(And please, people, this is one place where an acronym should not be used in place of the name).

Posted by
8245 posts

"As with all these huge museums and galleries do a little research and find the thing that speaks to you. For me it's the Mold cape. I can stare it for hours and wonder about its story."

For me it's the Lewis Chessmen! Every one is different and so CUTE. I marvel at the 12 Century craftsman who probably carved his friends' faces into the pieces.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_chessmen

I also love the Sutton Hoo Hoard and could look at this helmet the same way Emma looks at the Mold Cape.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_Hoo_helmet

Posted by
8245 posts

Oh gosh, I love them as well! I did see a few of the Chess-men at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh last year and I think they had several shield-biters, lol!

Posted by
102 posts

PH, piling on to recommend the Museum of London, the V&A, and the British Library's museum as alternatives to the British Museum. I'm another fan of city museums, and try to get to one in whatever city I visit.

At Westminster Abbey, I would definitely recommend paying the extra £5 to see the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Gallery. It's a great space, has a magnificent view of the Abbey below, was surprisingly empty when I was there, and it has really interesting items in it (don't forget to look in the drawers). Also, use the elevator, because the mezzanine is a lot farther up than you think.

Posted by
134 posts

Start to look at Original London Walks www.walks.com, as they have many walks that skip the line and give more insight into what you will see. Also check to see what Days Out they offer as they are great ways to get out of London at a reasonable price and are very interesting.

Posted by
103 posts

If you are interested in visiting a lovely former residence, I recommend the Wallace Collection. I have been to the Apsley House and will not return (I don't think the furnishings and art were as impressive/full as I expected), whereas I have returned to the Wallace Collection a number of times. It is beautifully furnished and decorated. They have an extensive art collection. Plus, there is a lovely cafe to enjoy lunch/tea. It's always a treat to stop in.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
340 posts

PH, I think Jodi was reading my mind. I agree with all the museum suggestions, especially to use the elevator for the Westminster Abbey Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gallery. It’s fantastic, and remember to look in the drawers!!

Posted by
15 posts

At Westminster Abbey, I would definitely recommend paying the extra £5 to see the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Gallery. It's a great space, has a magnificent view of the Abbey below, was surprisingly empty when I was there, and it has really interesting items in it (don't forget to look in the drawers). Also, use the elevator, because the mezzanine is a lot farther up than you think.

. . .

PH, I think Jodi was reading my mind. I agree with all the museum suggestions, especially to use the elevator for the Westminster Abbey Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gallery. It’s fantastic, and remember to look in the drawers!!

Our time at Westminster Abbey may be limited, but if we have enough time, we will definitely consider this. Thanks for the recommendation.

Posted by
15 posts

If you are interested in visiting a lovely former residence, I recommend the Wallace Collection. I have been to the Apsley House and will not return (I don't think the furnishings and art were as impressive/full as I expected), whereas I have returned to the Wallace Collection a number of times. It is beautifully furnished and decorated. They have an extensive art collection. Plus, there is a lovely cafe to enjoy lunch/tea. It's always a treat to stop in.

Thanks very much for the recommendation. This makes me feel more confident in the decision we already made, which is to see the Wallace Collection but not Apsley House.

Posted by
1402 posts

There are two Lewis Chessmen in the Viking Museum in Roskilde in Denmark.
They, and the ones in London, are pining to be returned to Scotland , their rightful home. :)

Posted by
9 posts

Hi PH -

I won't get into where to go, or what to see*. But for getting around London I suggest you get the following app for both iPhone/iPad and Android: CityMapper

You might want to play with their website first:

www.citymapper.com

I used it last Fall . . . and saved a lot of time. And you can't beat the price.

  • - OK . . . Just had to say that I had lunch with an English friend at the Wallace. Very nice. And the photos do not lie. After the Wallace I made my way to St Pauls for Evensong (5PM). Certainly worth the time.

Enjoy your trip!