For history lovers, London is almost an embarrassment of riches in terms of places to go, sights to see and epochs to explore. It boasts museums galore however we want to tell you about some of the more obscure ones. Royalists always plan to visit Buckingham Palace however there are a few other sites where one’s thirst for knowledge about royal life can be quenched. Another side of London is her rich musical history and there are thrilling places to go, especially if you’re a rock ‘n’ roller.
Weird and wonderful London museums
You could visit any old standard museum and still find a world of fascinating exhibits. Or, you could go off plan and find one of the more unusual ones whose unforgettable exhibits will have you lying awake at night, thinking about them.
- The Cartoon Museum – Even if you’re not a cartoon lover, you’ll find something here to pique your interest. The cleverness of cartoonists, both in their drawing styles and quirky humour, is obvious in the displays. Look through modern British political and social cartoons or travel back to Victorian times when cartoons depicted common struggles among the lower classes and today, act as historical chronicles.
- The Old Operating Theatre Museum – Quite confronting but infinitely fascinating, The Operating Theatre is the oldest in Europe. Situated in the roof space of a baroque church, it gives visitors an insight into the medical ‘technology’ of the day. Right up until 1846, surgeons did not have the benefit of anaesthetic so even amputations had to be done under alcohol or opiates. You can take tours of the museum and learn just how lucky you are to live in the current era!
- Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising – Get a glimpse of advertising and consumer culture through the centuries, starting way back in the 1800s. Established by consumer historian Robert Opie, the displays feature more than 12,000 items including laundry detergents, food packaging, toys, games, advertisements and more.
- The Geffrye Museum of the Home – Imagine being able to walk through British family homes through the ages. At the Geffrye Museum, you can. The 11 period rooms display the décor, furniture and living style of the British from 1600 through to the end of the 1900s. Each room gives visitors information on the types of occupations of the day, who would live there, whether hired help was on hand and many other intriguing morsels of information. You can even venture into the museum’s award-winning period gardens which illustrate how home gardens have evolved over the last four hundred years.
- Hunterian Museum – Curated by the Royal College of Surgeons, the Hunterian Museum may not be for the squeamish. For instance, one of the recent talks held there is ‘Anatomy of a Hanging’ in which Surgeon Richard Pusey looked at the torture and execution of Guy Fawkes and explained the anatomical process of hanging. The exhibits focus on medical and dental themes relating to the history of medicine, model anatomy, diseases, cures and treatments. In 2008, Winston Churchill’s actual dentures were on display at the museum.
Tracking down royal history in London
If you’re a royalist, you’ll find yourself in tourist heaven in London because you can drop by Buckingham Palace, among others, or you can cast your eyes on the dazzling Crown Jewels.
- Tower of London – Learn about the legend of the ravens (“If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall”), how prisoners were tortured at the Tower and what kind of exotic, wild creatures were held captive by England’s kings and queens there. Don’t miss the chance to see the priceless Crown Jewels featuring the world’s most extraordinary diamonds. Some pieces are still regularly worn by the Queen today. The Tower of London gives visitors insight into some of the most glorious objects coveted by the royal family, as well as some of the most powerful examples of what would befall a person who was anything but a loyal subject.
- The Queen’s Gallery – Feast your eyes upon some of the world’s most exquisite works of art, from the Royal Collection. Located at the west front of Buckingham Palace, the exhibits change on a regular basis as the artworks are rotated.
- Kensington Palace – One of the favourite tourist attractions of royal watchers is Kensington Palace where visitors can walk through the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments (King William III and Queen Mary II) and see where they slept, took their meals and entertained friends and distinguished guests. You can also see the late Princess Diana’s iconic high fashion dresses in the Fashion Rules Exhibition which also features Princess Margaret’s 1950s fashions.
- The Royal Mews – This is where you’ll see the royals’ state vehicles that are used for coronations, royal weddings, the State Opening of Parliament and state visits. The priceless Gold State Coach is a sight to behold with its fully gilded exterior and stunning painted panels. A 45-minute guided tour includes fascinating information about how the Mews serves the Queen, how the coaches are maintained and what’s expected of the Queen’s horses.
Walk the beaten path to some of London’s most iconic music sites
London boasts a huge concentration of rock ‘n’ roll landmarks. The city has proudly preserved sites that have important significance to the history of music over the decades, and also harks back centuries to some of the world’s greatest musical talents.
- Handel & Hendrix – The homes of composer, George Frideric Handel and guitar prodigy, Jimi Hendrix are separated by two hundred years and a single wall. Tourists are welcome to visit both homes to explore the different eras and wildly opposing musical styles of each of the famous musicians. Situated in Mayfair, Handel & Hendrix is an incredible trip back in time and fans of either will lap up the atmosphere.
- Abbey Road – The pedestrian crossing that was immortalised in the album cover for The Beatles’ Abbey Road record still draws fans of the band today. It’s a Beatles-lover’s mecca and if you take a photo there, you can upload it to the Abbey Road Crossing website to go in the archives. Sure, it won’t be as historic as the one snapped by Iain Macmillan in 1969, but it’s a small way that you can take part in a zeitgeist that has filtered its way through the decades and still remains relevant.
- 23 Heddon Street – David Bowie fans continue to make the pilgrimage to 23 Heddon Street in London because it was the site where the cover shot of his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars was taken. Since his passing, it has become something of a shrine to Bowie and his fans consider it every bit as momentous as the Abbey Road crossing is for Beatles fans.
- London Rock Walks – Combine your exercise with a tour that will show you the sights of London’s rock and roll history. Choose from a Rolling Stones London tour, Beatles tours and others. You can visit the pub where Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix used to jam, the place where the Rolling Stones recorded their first album and the see where The Beatles played their first London gig. The walks are conducted by tour guides who are walking encyclopedias of the old music scene in London.
Before you visit London, plan to visit some lesser known historic sites. Not only will you have to stand in fewer queues, but you’ll also come away with a deeper knowledge on topics you may not even have known you wanted to find out about! Discovery is the essence of travel.