Michelangelo, Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Velázquez. No, this isn’t a list of the artists I need to brush up on (no pun intended) for an art history class. It’s a list of the artists whose works I’ve seen in London. In one day. In one museum. There’s one word to describe how I felt when I ventured into London’s National Gallery the other week: overwhelmed. I meandered, awestruck, through room after room of paintings of all sizes and styles, with each room providing a taste of the art from a certain area and time period. One minute I was in 18th century Italy, the next 19th century Germany. After several hours spent admiring the unrivaled talent on display all around me, I surrendered to the fact that there was no way I was going to cover the whole museum in one day. I’ve been back several times since.
I’ve previously dubbed London the land of coffee shops and double-decker buses. Over the course of seven weeks here, though, I’ve come to realize that museums are also high on the list of the city’s defining features. More interested in modern art than classical paintings? No worries. Just head to the south bank of the River Thames and check out the Tate Modern. Some of the pieces there fascinated me, such as the staircase constructed out of a gauzelike red fabric suspended from the ceiling. It’s so meticulously detailed I was almost convinced the light bulb would illuminate if someone just flipped the switch. Other pieces made me wonder if I chose the wrong major … If a plain glass mirror hung on the wall is museum-worthy art, I could no doubt throw together a few breathtaking masterpieces.
If art museums aren’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other options. The British Museum, for example, has the Rosetta Stone (the actual rock, not the language-learning software touted in infomercials) and pieces of the Parthenon among its many displays. Throughout history, the British have acquired artifacts from all over the world. Unfortunately for London’s museums, however, some of the countries from which these slices of history were taken are now clamoring to get them back.
From Charles Dickens to Sherlock Holmes, London has a museum for just about everyone and everything. And the best part about London’s numerous museums is that most have free admission.
At the start of every week, my British co-workers at my internship ask what new part of London I explored that weekend. The answer often includes a museum. I’m always surprised when they respond that they haven’t been there in years. I guess in a city that’s permeated with so much history and culture, it’s easy to take the marvels around you for granted once you’ve been there for awhile. London’s like that.