The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London is enormous.
The V&A is so huge in fact, that to try and look at every room in the museum in any detail, you’d be there for at least week. If you’re on a tight schedule or are only visiting for the first time, here’s a guide of how to ‘do’ the museum in just two hours.
It’s worth pointing out that the V&A has nothing to do with Queen Victoria or her beloved husband Albert, but is the national museum of art and design.
To entice you there, it’s free and it’s helpfully located right by South Kensington tube station, just a few stops from the West End.
Tip 1 – get sorted, get a plan
You don’t want to be carrying your bags and coats round with you. If you come in the main front entrance, there’s a cloakroom on the right.
Decide where you’re going to go. Get a free map and take a moment to sit down and get your bearings. The museum layout is quite complicated and there is often building work going on, blocking off that vital staircase or corridor, so be patient. Also, take time to look at the screens in the front hall which display details of the free talks during the day.
To help with your bearings, remember that most of the museum is centered around a square garden in the middle of the building.
Tip 2 – first port of call
I suggest heading to the British Galleries first. They are close to the entrance (up and to your left when you walk in) and give a great overview of the history of British design. Recently redeveloped they are lively and well-presented. You can play interactive games as you go and email your own designs to yourself. The galleries are huge though, so don’t linger too long here.
Tip 3 – wow, that’s beautiful
No visit to the V&A is complete without seeing the monumental sculpture rooms. There are some huge pieces in here, including a cast of Trajan’s column from Rome (yes, all of it!) and a replica of Michelangelo’s David from Florence.
Tip 4 – see what you want to see
There is so much to see in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and so little time, so I suggest that next you choose just one or two rooms and go see them. Ignore the rest – there’s just too much. Whatever takes your fancy really – from medieval stained glass windows to 20th century design, from glittering jewelery to huge tapestries. Take your pick
Tip 5 – Eat and shop
The V&A café is just brilliant. It’s the oldest museum restaurant in the world, but visitors can choose whether they want to take refreshments in the old rooms or the ultra-modern new spaces.
The shop is also well worth a visit is great for picking up little presents, souvenirs and postcards to scholarly books or soft furnishings.
Tip 7 – see something different
The Victoria and Albert Museum has an excellent program of temporary exhibitions, some of which have an entrance charge. They are great, but often very large, so if the current display catches your eye, make sure you add another hour on to your visit time.
Tip 8 – visiting with a family
Near the entrance to the museum you’ll find a place to pick up a back pack, full of goodies and art activities for your visit. Plus there are often drop-in workshops and fun things to do. Check out a leaflet when you arrive or ask at the information desk.
If your little ones are bored, take them to the top floor of the Science Museum (located right next door) and play in the Launchpad area. Children and big kids alike will love it. The Natural History Museum is also nearby.