In the posh Kensington area of London, just south of Hyde Park, there is a veritable Vatican of the mind with three cathedrals to human ability. Albertopolis!
Albertopolis is the area of London that contains three of the greatest museums on earth:
- The Victoria and Albert Museum
- The Natural History Museum
- and the Science Museum
Imagine The Smithsonian, The Field museum, The Henry Ford, and The Getty all on one block. Albertopolis is awesome. Old school definition literally awesome. Awe inspiring, gob smacking, double rainbow awesome.
There is a tidy division of labor between the museums of London. The National Gallery has paintings, the British Museum has mummies and historical artifacts, and the three museums of Albertopolis cleverly divide the rest. The land for Albertopolis was purchased in the 1850s with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of 1851. It remains a tribute to accomplishments in Science, Arts, Commerce, and Industry.
The Natural History Museum – This is a temple to Charles Darwin, and to other scientists who have explored the mysteries of life and earth. There are massive dinosaur and other prehistoric skeletons on display. There are a thousand Ark’s worth of taxidermied and wet preserved creatures. Some rocks and minerals, and geologic displays. Sorry to say, the newest addition, the modern seven story “Cocoon”, is a giant waste of concrete. Climb to the top to the Giant Sequoia, and look down across the nave of the great hall to the sculpture of Charles Darwin, seated as a Bishop in his cathedral, and enjoy the overwhelming joy of being in a place that is a monument to our ability to reason.
The Victoria and Albert Museum – The V&A is a museum of commerce, cleverly disguised as an art museum. I saw J.M.W. Turner paintings there, but they were there as examples of the craft of painting, not qua art. There is metalwork, jewelry, architecture, textiles, furniture and crafts. Also the V&A houses the cartoons of Raphael, which are not all that funny, but are terrific examples of big screen communication and storytelling from the 16th century.
Science Museum – The history of technology, industry, transport, agriculture, medicine and other practical results of science. Items from the Victorian Era and Industrial Revolution such as a working Babbage’s Difference Engine, and old steam locomotives and power plants are the most interesting. The mid to late 20th century stuff seems a little lame by comparison, since the Brits will pretty socialist and most of the world’s innovation came from the United States. In fact most of the 20th century exhibits were American objects: a Boeing 747 cross section, Apollo lander, Apple and IBM computers, and even Hoover vacuums (Sorry Dyson!)
I had a terrific time in London last week. I encourage you to visit London and Albertopolis. Take the family. Your kids will learn more there than in a week at school. Plan on one museum per day max. While there, be sure to visit Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and that other temple of commerce, Harrod’s. I would recommend The Capital Hotel for lodging, and Gloucester for traditional pub food and cask marque drafts.