I miss the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition every time. Some years it’s because I’m traveling too much, and others it’s because London has entirely too many world-class museums. I’m always torn over how to allocate my weekends among so many amazing collections, and the travel photography gets lost in the shuffle. So do too many other secret museums in London. And there are a lot.
Take the Charles Dickens Museum, for example. Tucked away on an unassuming street near Russell Square, it often gets passed over in favor of its gargantuan neighbor, the British Museum. But its intimate rooms and Dickens paraphernalia warm my bookish heart and bring me closer to the soul of the city.
Not far away is Sir John Soane’s Museum, a miniature version of the British Museum with its basement full of antiquities and quirky private collection. Speaking of which, the Wallace Collection in Marylebone has one of the best assemblages of 18th century French paintings in the world.
Even Hampstead, a village of a residential neighborhood in north London, has its share of secret museums. The Freud Museum has the psychoanalyst’s famous couch on display (yes, the couch), and the Keats House is where the famous poet wrote “Ode to a Nightingale”.
Back in central London, many people visit Buckingham Palace without ever knowing that the adjacent Queen’s Gallery has exhibitions on all year. I recently went to In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion, which featured stunning 16th and 17th century portraits and textiles from the Royal Collection.
Many people also wander through Hyde Park unaware that one of the city’s best contemporary art museums, the Serpentine Gallery, is there (and expanding this year with Pritzker-Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery). Its temporary exhibitions and annual outdoor summer pavilion make it one of the best secret museums in London.
But the hidden gems aren’t just museums. Many of London’s universities and libraries regularly offer exhibitions in their halls. In the spring I came across the Strictly Science: Keeping One Step Ahead exhibition at Imperial College. It contrasted medical endeavors over the past hundred years and had a 3D printer on display.
And that’s why it’s so hard to find time to see the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition. With so many others going on at the same time, the competition is fierce. But I finally made time to see it at the Royal Geographical Society over the weekend, and I’m glad I did. The only problem is that it made me want to travel even more. So much for finding time for London’s other secret museums!