Friday, June 29, 2012

12 free things to do on a rainy day in London


Londoners jump at every opportunity to complain about the weather. The favourite conversation starter on Fridays in the workplace would be guess what? A total washout again for this weekend, surprise, surprise or some variation of the same. The one that takes the cake (from across the English channel no less) was that if you want to know when's summer in London, just stick your hand out and test the temperature of the rain.

Fortunately, even though there are good summer deals to be had, London is practically built for wet weather. Don't get me wrong, I am all for some sunshine, I don't suppose anyone in London would run out of things to do when the skies open up. Here are 12 free things to do on a rainy day in London.

1. British Museum

British Museum has come a long way since 1753 when it was first established housing the collection of Sir Hans Sloane. The museum is huge. And I really mean that.Presently, it covers over 92,000 sqm and exhibits around 50,000 items, which is a mere 1% of its total collection.

Whiel there are paid exhibitions held year round, with over 100 free public galleries, one can spend days in the building to go through every single one of them. Besides the top exhibits in British Museum, the main feature is without doubt its glass and steel roof in its Great Court.

2. Museum of London

This is one museum that is often overlooked by visitors to London mainly because its Barbican location is a bit out of the way. A pity though as it has the most comprehensive coverage of how London comes about since prehistoric times.

Recently added in 2010 on the lower ground floor is London's transition from 17th century till the present day. Check out the mock up of London's market street in this section and the interviews conducted with Londoners of their memories of the capital.

3. Tate Modern

The contemporary half of Tate (the other being Tate Britain). Where do I begin? The huge Turbine Hall in this former power station is the defacto place for large scale installation art.

Some of which include Salcedo's Shibboleth that saw a large crack on the Hall's floor, Eliasson's The Weather Project that introduced a huge sun made up of hundreds of monochromatic lamps lit up simultaneously.

You either love it or hate it. Regardless, Tate Modern remains an eye opener. Be sure to chill out at its cafe on the 6th floor for an unparalleled view of the Thames.

4. V&A Museum of Childhood

Located at Brethnal Green, V&A Museum of Childhood is off the grid for most visitors to London or even Londoners for that matter. Despite its name, I thought it is more for adults. Walking down the aisle of toys of another era, someone in their early twenties would feel oddly out of place.

Due to its open structure, you would probably spend more time in its cafeteria on its ground floor than viewing the exhibits themselves. Nevertheless, the museum is a trove of playthings from a time when the internet hasn't come into being and life was less complicated.

5. London Transport Museum

It's unfair that the London Transport Museum is deemed to play second fiddle to the nearby Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Londoners have enough of the capital's traffic woes and tourists are more interested in the Covent Garden Market itself than to spend an afternoon cooped up in a museum (and one with buses and trucks at that).

But the fact is that its transport system remains London's lifeline. Drop by the museum and you'll be surprise how much this lifeline has evolved since horse carts reigned the streets.

6. National Gallery

The National Gallery, which dominates Trafalgar Square, though not as extensive as the Louvre in Paris, one can easily spend hours in the treasure trove.

Like many museums in London, National Gallery is free to all and with the likes of Titan, Claude, Rembrandt and Van Gogh (see 30 best paintings at National Gallery), all crammed into a single building, prepare to be spoilt.

7. Selfridges

Granted that shopping isn't exactly free but window shopping is. These days, Selfridges is swamped with tourists, though less well heeled than those at Harrods. Even so, this shopping institution along Oxford Street that has been there since 1909 has something for everyone boosting a huge kitchen appliances, electronics section and book section on its lower ground floor with a food hall just above it.

Selfridges is more known for its window displays, which are attractions on their own rights during festivals (see Selfridges Christmas window displays). Less known is its mini exhibitions held in the public gallery within.

8. Harrods

Presently owned by Qatar Holdings, Harrods is synonymous with upmarket shopping in London. Started in 1824, a small shop the size of a small room with the motto "Omnia Omnibus Ubique" or "All Things for All People", Everywhere, is world renowned. No self respecting shopper can leave London without first visiting Harrods.

Other than its Food Hall, which often sees more shutterbugs than shoppers, the small memorial that Al-Fayed raised for his son and Princess Diana in the lower ground floor are the two most visited spots in the complex. As for the kids, they just adore the pet section on its top floor.

9. Wellcome Collection

When it comes to eccentricity, few beats Sir Henry Soloman Wellcome. A widely travelled man, he amassed a huge collection of bits and bobs (think chastity belts, glass eye and anti masturbation devices) loosely categorised under medicinal development in his lifetime. All that make up Wellcome Collection housed under a building just opposite Euston train station.

10. Natural History Museum

This is kids haven especially when the weather doesn't allow them to run wild outdoors. A huge Camarasaurus greets you in the main lobby the moment you enter. With hallways on either side leading to exhibits of giant reptiles, birds and mammals.

Check out the roaring T-Rex at the end of the dinosaur exhibit. With everyone whipping out their camera phone, there's always a queue building up there.

11. Tate Britain

The lesser known cousin of Tate Modern, Tate Britain though linked by a ferry from Tate Modern feels rather isolated at Millbank. Unlike the National Gallery, Tate Britain is home to primarily historical British from 16th century and a smaller British contemporary art section.

12. V&A (Victoria and Albert) Museum

Just across the road from Natural History Museum lies the V&A Museum. The museum named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria is almost bursting at its seams with almost 4.5 million of decorative and design artifacts. With marble statues spilling onto its corridors and entire halls are dedicated to decorative arts from all over the world.

Look out for the 11m high glass chandelier by Chihuly set precariously on top of the main ticket reception counter near the main entrance.

British Airways is having this curious campaign about asking Londoners to unpack their bags, stay home and support the Olympics. I'm not too sure how that will help them. Regardless, if you choose to heed them, you wouldn't be short of places to spend your time, even if it's a wet day.

What's your favourite wet weather program in London?

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