As the UK’s capital emerged from pandemic restrictions, the Courtauld Gallery opened after a pre-planned three-year lockdown. Based in Somerset House, just off the Strand, and part of the University of London, it’s a haven for Impressionism and other works of art.
Unlike London’s cultural big names such as the National Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern, there’s an entry fee but the rewards are plentiful, including crowd-free appreciation of a carefully curated art collection organized which includes Van Gogh, Monet and Gauguin but also the 16th century German Cranach, paintings by Botticelli and the British group Bloomsbury in a light and airy building.
A short walk away, the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden is a very different experience; a collection of vintage buses and underground memorabilia that will delight any transport-obsessed child and adult who enters the building, a converted fruit warehouse with bells to ring and vintage means of transport to climb on. (It can get very busy during school holidays in particular, and like the Courtauld there is an entrance fee.). The museum shop is one of the best places in London to pick up souvenirs, including furniture made from carpet from the new Elizabeth line.
London’s Museum of the Home also reopened in summer 2021 after a three-year closure. It is housed in a series of buildings which was once a charity house founded by Robert Geffyre, who was involved in the slave trade. Formerly called the Geffrye, the museum’s new name clarifies its purpose, a look at social history through a series of rooms – and gardens – that reference different historical periods, from a 16th-century knot garden and from a 17th century living room to a 1998 loft. , complete with a Nigella Lawson cookbook and a Philippe Starck lemon squeezer.
The museum is housed in a collection of 18th century buildings in Shoreditch, now one of London’s most attractive business and residential areas. This is a neighborhood that has seen waves of immigration and remains strong on independent food and galleries. The renovation of the museum has increased the number of temporary exhibition spaces, which are dedicated to a Sleep Festival until September 2022.
In the very charming neighborhood of Marylebone, just off Oxford Street, the Wallace Collection also has off-the-radar appeal, though one of its highlights, Fragonard’s The swing has recently been rehung and there is a special exhibition Inspiring Walt Disney: the animation of French decorative arts until October 31.
There are delicious cultural reasons to get away from central London. In the popular residential area of Islington – a short bus or tube ride from Angel – you’ll find the Estorick Collection, dedicated to Italian art, especially Futurism, which opened in 1998.
At Forest Hill, accessible by skytrain from London Bridge, the Horniman Museum covers part of the same territory as the Natural History Museum. There are stuffed animals, including a stuffed walrus, and a touch of quirkiness, but portions are manageable. Admission is free to the main museum, visits to the aquarium and butterfly house cost extra, but with its own farmers market and families who visit regularly, it has a real sense of neighborhood too.