Fodor's Expert Review Victoria & Albert Museum

Kensington Museum/Gallery
Free Fodor's Choice
Victoria & Albert Museum, Kensington, London, England.

Known to all as the V&A, this huge museum with more than 2 million items on display in 145 galleries is devoted to the applied arts of all disciplines, all periods, and all nationalities. First opened as the South Kensington Museum in 1857, it was renamed in 1899 in honor of Queen Victoria's late husband and has since grown to become one of the country's best-loved cultural institutions, with high-profile temporary exhibitions alongside an impressive permanent collection. Many collections at the V&A are presented not by period but by category—textiles, sculpture, jewelry, and so on. It's a tricky building to navigate, so use the free map.

Nowhere is the benefit of the categorization more apparent than in the Fashion Gallery (Room 40), where formal 18th-century court dresses are displayed alongside the haute couture styles of contemporary designers. The museum has become known for high-profile temporary exhibitions exploring fashion icons such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga,... READ MORE

Known to all as the V&A, this huge museum with more than 2 million items on display in 145 galleries is devoted to the applied arts of all disciplines, all periods, and all nationalities. First opened as the South Kensington Museum in 1857, it was renamed in 1899 in honor of Queen Victoria's late husband and has since grown to become one of the country's best-loved cultural institutions, with high-profile temporary exhibitions alongside an impressive permanent collection. Many collections at the V&A are presented not by period but by category—textiles, sculpture, jewelry, and so on. It's a tricky building to navigate, so use the free map.

Nowhere is the benefit of the categorization more apparent than in the Fashion Gallery (Room 40), where formal 18th-century court dresses are displayed alongside the haute couture styles of contemporary designers. The museum has become known for high-profile temporary exhibitions exploring fashion icons such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, and Christian Dior, as well as pop legends including David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

The British Galleries (Rooms 52–58 and 118–125) survey British art and design from 1500 to 1900 and are full of rare and beautiful artifacts such as the Tudor Great Bed of Ware (immortalized in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night) and silks woven by Huguenot refugees in Spitalfields. Among the series of actual rooms that have been painstakingly reconstructed piece by piece are the glamorous rococo Norfolk House Music Room and the serenely elegant Henrietta St. Drawing Room, originally designed in 1722.

The Asian Galleries (Rooms 44–47) are full of treasures, but among the most striking items on display is a remarkable collection of ornate samurai armor in the Japanese Gallery (Room 44). Works from China, Korea, and the Islamic Middle East have their own displays. Also of note is a gallery thematically grouped around Buddhist sculpture from different regions and periods. The Europe Gallery (Rooms 1–7) brings together more than 1,100 objects created between 1600 and 1815, while the Medieval and Renaissance galleries, which document European art and culture from 300 to 1600, have the largest collection of works from the period outside of Italy. An entrance off Exhibition Road offers access through the U.K.'s first porcelain-tiled public courtyard that also serves as a venue for contemporary installations and a glass-fronted café. A photography center, houses books, photo equipment, and more than 270,000 prints formerly held by the Royal Photographic Society, joining the more than 500,000 photos already in the museum's collection. A room in the center has been named the Elton John and David Furnish Gallery after the couple donated some 7,000 photographs by 20th-century masters.

As a whirlwind introduction, you could take a free one-hour Introductory tour. Occasional public lectures during the week are delivered by bigwigs from the art and fashion worlds in addition to free lectures throughout the week given by museum staff. Whatever time you visit, the spectacular sculpture hall will be filled with artists, both amateur and professional, sketching the myriad artworks on display there. Don't be shy; bring a pad and join in.

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Museum/Gallery Historical Free Fodor's Choice Family

Quick Facts

Cromwell Rd.
London, Greater London  SW7 2RL, England

020-7942–2000

www.vam.ac.uk

Sight Details:
Rate Includes: Free (charge for some special exhibitions, from £5)

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