People visit London for a long list of reasons.
There are theatres, restaurants, West End hotels’ special offers, countless shopping opportunities, and (of course!) the seemingly never-ending list of museums. One of the best parts about the numerous museums in London is that the majority of them are free for the public to enjoy, making London such a culturally enriching place without burning a hole in your pocket. Each is also equipped with food and drinks for every fancy.
The National History Museum
Pulling in a rough count of 4, 400, 000 visitors yearly, the Natural History Museum is one of the top museums of London. It offers a series of specimens from different parts of the natural world. It sits on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, alongside the Science Museum and the V&A. It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and is an incredible building to ogle at – and that is before you see all the incredible things inside. From the moment you come face to face with the enormous dinosaur skeleton on entering the museum (soon to be replaced by a blue whale in acknowledgement of social responsibility), and throughout the expansive exhibitions, you will be hard-pressed to find yourself anything but awe-inspired and overwhelmed.
Though nobody goes to the Natural History Museum for the food, being well-fed is certainly a necessity if you are going to make the most of your day without hanger kicking in. The T-rex Grill, positioned in the Green Zone of the museum is a great place to grab burgers, steaks, pizzas and desserts. The Kitchen, in the Red Zone, is a slightly less hearty option than The T-rex Grill, but is no less delicious in its spread, with fresh ingredients, delicious salads and wholesome sandwiches alongside an impressive array of cakes. The Coffee House in the Red Zone and Central Cafe in the Blue Zone are great spots for a coffee, a break and a cake.
The Science Museum
The Science Museum on Exhibition Road is just a short walk from The Natural History Museum and easily accessible from The Piccadilly London West End. If the Natural History Museum covers all things in the natural world, then the Science Museum covers all things of the “unnatural” world – the world made by man. It is a startling tribute to human invention, ingenuity and creativity, displaying the world through the tint of technology and its influence on human life on earth.
The museum is information-dense, and though it is all extremely fascinating, it is hard to absorb that kind of information on an empty stomach. Luckily, there are plenty of great spots to refuel so that you make the most of your trip. The museum is littered with cafes and picnic areas, but if you are looking for something a bit more filling than a fresh salad or packed sandwich, then head to The Diner in the Wellcome Wing.
The British Museum
Bloomsbury’s British Museum is one of the most visited museums in London, for all that it offers as well as due to its controversial refusal to return certain objects to their original countries. If we think of the Natural History Museum as our go-to for humanity as a biological and social species, the Science Museum for humanity as intellectual beings, then we can look at the British Museum as the quintessential spot for human history, art and culture. There are eight million pieces in the permanent collection – and then the many more than rotate in new exhibitions and displays. It is an enormous mixing pot of the relics, items and historically significant items of the British Empire.
You can’t very well marvel at millions of artefacts when your stomach is grumbling, but the British Museum has three solid options for you. For a light-lunch dining experience, the Court Cafe has got all the sandwich fillers you could want. For a casual but filling hand-tossed pizza, you can head to the Pizzeria. If you are looking for a fully immersive, sit-down, table-service dining experience, then the Great Court Restaurant is an excellent spot to sit beneath the majestic Great Court roof and feast on seasonal menus, or tuck into afternoon tea.
V&A Museum of Childhood
This branch of the V&A Museum in Bethnal Green specialises in objects by and for children. It is an eye-opener into the significance of socio-political, cultural affects adult society has on children’s toys, as well as a fun and entertaining day out for the whole family. Adults and children can both enjoy the experience from totally different perspectives and yet enjoy the rooms simultaneously. The exhibitions are interactive and educational – making learning about history an accessible activity for children, without making them feel like they are at school.
Benugo Cafe is in the centre of the museum, easy to find and exciting to find, given the delicious food they have to offer. It is at the heart of the museum, so you feel the buzzing atmosphere from your table while people flit around you, enjoying the museum and the exhibits on offer. There are also picnic areas – outside ones too, weather permitting – if you would prefer to bring your own snacks and drinks. There are children’s offers at Benugo, like half portions and healthy lunch boxes, as well as organic baby food for sale.
To get to the V&A Museum from the Piccadilly London West End, just hop on the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road and ride for 6 stops until you get off at Bethnal Green. Easy!
The Museum of London
The museums previously listed have been those which offer insight and information into the human race and humanity at large, though admittedly with a British focus for most. The Museum of London takes the specialisation a step further, offering intense and informative documentation of the City of London, from prehistoric times to today. It is located on the London Wall and is a great display of London through the ages, and how it got to be the metropolitan hub it is today.
If there is one thing you will never be short of in London, it is a good place to grab some food, and the Museum of London is no different. If you want to take your own food, there are picnic areas for you to enjoy. Otherwise, you could get a cold lunch, salad, sandwich or cake from Benugo Entrance Hall Cafe, or you can go all out and dabble with London Wall Bar & Kitchen, trying one of their classic British food or a delicious cocktail.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A Museum completes the trifecta on Exhibition Road and is the leading museum of art and design in the world. It is free to visit and explore, but some of the most loved exhibitions over the years have been those that are there for a short time at a cost. There are talks, exhibitions, displays and many other opportunities to learn about the world of design and art and its influence over time and throughout history. From Beatrix Potter to statements on political discourse, this museum is an all-encompassing palace of enrichment.
After visiting the FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate exhibition currently on at the V&A, you are bound to be peckish. As part of your historical fix, you can enjoy your food at the Garden Cafe knowing you are eating in the world’s oldest museum restaurant. The rooms are intricately designed and beautiful, and the new Courtyard Cafe is just as lovely. Furthering the experience of food and culture, you can also enjoy the replication of Victorian afternoon tea, created by food historian Natasha Marks, on Fridays.
The National Gallery
This iconic building on Trafalgar Square is an art museum that is known all over the world – which isn’t surprising, considering it has been open and collecting artwork since 1824. It is currently home to more than 2300 paintings which date from the mid-13th century to 1900. Walking through this gallery, lined with European masterpieces from years gone by, is a truly remarkable and uplifting experience. The National Gallery is a prime showcase of the value of curation and preservation.
The options for food in the National Gallery are not simply sustenance stops, but an experience in and of themselves. The National Dining Rooms are world-renowned, offering either a light lunch of modern British cuisine or a traditional British afternoon tea. The National Dining Rooms have been closed throughout September for refurbishment, so they will be back with a refurbished flair from November, ready to be enjoyed amidst artistic perusal. The National Cafe offers a simple but delicious menu of all-day-dining options – it is often where theatre-goers choose to go before a stint on the West End. The National Espresso Bar is the perfect caffeine pit stop. All the catering in the National Gallery are run by Peyton and Byrne, a catering company run by ‘The Great British Menu’ judge, Oliver Peyton – so visiting this museum and dining too is about as British as it gets!
Yet another museum in Kensington, the Design Museum displays and explores the nuances of product, industrial, graphic, fashion, and architectural design. It is a contemporary landmark of culture and continues to grow, expand and create new exhibitions and learning opportunities. It uses questions of the past and answers of the present to project commentary on the future. It has several free exhibitions, as well as sell-out temporary exhibitions that are always well-worth the money.
The Design Museum Kitchen is perfect as a pre-exploration stop, a mid-exploration pit-stop, or even a post-exploration unwinding. No matter why you choose to go, you won’t be disappointed by the food or the stunning views of Holland Park and the famous parabolic roof. The food is locally sourced, freshly prepared and has taken a vow to maintain sustainability and using seasonal products.
There are two Tate museums in London and two more in other parts of the United Kingdom. All of them are incredible art museums worth a visit. The Tate Modern, based in in the former Bankside Power Station, showcases an incredible display of international contemporary art. For those interested in learning about the modern landscape of the world of art, then look no further than Tate Modern.
If your interests lie more in historical art, then Tate Britain is a better option for you – though, if you have the time during your stay (both Tate Modern and Tate Britain are just under 2 miles away and easily reached by foot or public transportation from The Piccadilly London West End!), they are both worth visiting.
Tate Britain, in contrast, showcases British art from all the way back to 1500 – until the present day.
Both of these Tate museums are large and sprinkled with different dining options. The most notable, however, are the following in each museum. Level 9 at Tate Modern is a modern European restaurant offering premium dining in a contemporary architectural space. Its regularly changing menu is always cooked to perfection with unforgettable presentation and mouth-wateringly delicious food. The Rex Whistler Restaurant in Tate Britain is the kind of white-tablecloth, fine wining and dining venue that makes your whole trip more special. Even the walls are brandishing artistry worthy of its own historical section of the museum.
There you have it – the ultimate list of top museums in London, for every preference and interest, as well as the dining opportunities within them. No matter where you are from, there is really something for everyone. Head to any of these prime educational, enriching spots spread across the city of London for an experience you will always think of fondly.