Cultural London; The best galleries, museums and shops

From Vincent van Gogh to Pablo Picasso and Egyptian mummies to Anglo-Saxon ships, London has some of the world’s best museums and galleries.

Here we round up a few of the best, and highlight some of the events and exhibits to look out for. 

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The one for: those who appreciate the wider arts: sculpture, fashion design, textiles, jewellery, ceramics, posters and pop culture ephemera.

The V&A is a grand love letter to the applied arts. Beneath its ornate roof you will find some of the world’s greatest sculpture, furniture, jewellery, design, textiles and fashion.

Wander its floors and take in everything from the wedding suit of James II to a cat suit designed by Ossie Clark and worn by Mick Jagger during a Rolling Stones tour in 1972.

Other highlights include a Cartier-designed tiara and the most famed piece of Wedgwood pottery – the Portland Vase. 

Must-see: Leonardo Da Vinci Notebooks. The V&A has five Da Vinci notebooks which provide insight into his thoughts and most complex designs.

What’s on: Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty (March 14 – July 19) A celebration of the mercurial fashion designer. The show spans his 1992 MA graduate collection to work left unfinished when he died in 2010. 

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The National Gallery

The one for: seeing works by Monet, Constable, Turner, van Gogh and countless other iconic artists.

Spend an afternoon improving your knowledge of art and culture at the National Gallery. More than 2,000 artworks hang here – including some of the best-known paintings of all time.

Among the paintings to see are The Hay Wain, John Constable’s defining image of rural England, and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

Find Italian Renaissance, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, old masters and much more. Use the National Gallery’s  30 highlight paintings list to plan your visit.

Must-see: Monet’s Water Lily Pond – this Impressionist work is one of the most famous paintings of all time. It depicts the water garden at Monet’s Giverny home. 

What’s on: Inventing Impressionism (4 March – 31 May) explores the Impressionist works that passed through the hands of art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, including pieces by Monet and Renoir.

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The British Museum

The one for: losing yourself to the past civilisations of Ancient Egypt, Saxon Britain and the Persian Empire..

When it was founded in 1793 the British Museum became the world’s first national public museum and now attracts six million visitors per year.

Find mummies, funerary masks and coffins dating back to Ancient Egypt (2686BC-AD395). Another great Egyptian relic is the Rosetta Stone – a slab of stone inscribed with a decree in the three levels of script used by Egyptians: hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek.

Also make time for the Lindow Man – the preserved remains of a prehistoric man dug up from a peat bog in the north west in the 1980s. The peat preserved his skin, hair and internal organs to give a true reflection of his age, working life and diet.

Must-see: Sutton Hoo Ship Burial. The imprint of a 27-metre-long Anglo-Saxon ship – thought to have been a burial site for a nobleman – found in Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. See the treasure excavated from the site, including a helmet, a shield, a sword, gold coins and ingots and a sceptre.

What’s on:
Defining Beauty: The body in ancient Greek art
(26 March – 5 July) An examination of how the ancient Greeks represented the human body in sculpture.

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Tate Modern

The one for: World-class modern art (from 1900). Expect Rothko, Picasso, Dali and Francis Bacon.

Tate Modern looks almost as contemporary as the art displayed within its walls. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, it’s one of the most recognisable buildings in London.

It was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and is dominated by a vast turbine that towers into the sky.

The art inside is just as arresting, though.

Expect to see Picasso’s cubist Head of a Woman alongside the expressive, graffiti-style scribbles of Cy Twombly; the modernist sculptures of Barbara Hepworth against the nightmarish portraits and figures of Francis Bacon.

Must-see: The Rothko Rooms. A series of rooms dedicated to the vast, abstract, repetitive works of Mark Rothko. See the murals commissioned by Four Seasons, Four Darks in Red 1958, and a series of black prints that gradually change in tone and texture.

What’s on: Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden (5 February – 10 May) A study of the intense paintings of Marlene Dumas, who takes inspiration from second-hand images of pop culture icons in her work. 

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Top 3 art and culture shops in London

1. Cass Art:This arts materials and supplies centre made number 99 in Time Out’s list of the best 100 shops in London. Find brushes and paints of every kind, a dizzying array of crafting kit and some great ideas for gifts for art lovers.   

2. The V&A Shop:A great place to pick up a gift for your kooky kids or other half. Everything from super-rare David Bowie album-cover prints to Constable’s depictions of rural England.  And coffee-table art books to greeting cards by up-and-coming artists.

3. Rough Trade East: Proper music fans have gravitated towards Rough Trade for decades – as well as being a shop it’s also the record label that signed The Smiths. And Rough Trade East is as cool as a record shop can be – expect knowledgeable but approachable staff, a vast collection of CDs and vinyl given the Rough Trade seal of approval and regular in-store gigs. 

Enjoy your cultural visit to London.