All the coolest medieval artifacts you’ve ever read about or seen in books are in London. If you’re a keen researcher and know that a museum has a particular collection, contact the museum in advance to make an appointment to view it privately or meet with one of the curators. They will make time for serious enthusiasts.
Unless stated below, admission is free. Donations (around £4/person) encouraged.
Most sites open at 10am, but phone or check online to confirm, especially around holidays.
There is typically a charge for special exhibits. If you are a student, bring your student card and proffer that for a discount. These are all offsite links.
Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG
Tel: 020 7323 8599
Tube: Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, Russell Square, Goodge Street
Check the website to confirm what is, and is not, available for viewing.
Notes: Founded in 1753, one of the great museums of the world.
Excellent collections from Roman, Greek and Persian eras onward. Roman galleries are extensive, Frankish, Byzantine and early medieval bling is to die for (Sutton Hoo collection), high medieval gallery very worthwhile (though organised by theme, not time period). See the original Rosetta Stone. Very dangerous bookshop.
Hampton, Outer London
Hours: Check for seaonal changes.
Train: From Waterloo train station, there is a direct train service every half hour to Hampton Court train station, which takes about 30 minutes. The palace is a 5 minute meander away, and is well marked.
Fee required – part of the Historic Royal Palaces group.
Notes: A marvelous experience for Tudor and Elizabethan mavins, especially the kitchens. Be sure to go on one of the free tours (book yourself in at the Information Office inside), which have extremely knowledgeable costumed guides. Definitely a full day’s trip to take in kitchens, gardens, apartments and tea room.
London Wall, EC2Y 5HN.
Tube: Barbican, St.Pauls, Moorgate, Bank. Follow the brown street signs from outside the tube station. The main entrance is poorly signposted and can be a bit hard to locate.
Basically, the museum is housed inside what looks like a large round brick turret. Look for the overpasses and entrances that lead to stairs or lifts.
Notes: An engrossing tour of London from pre-historic times through to the modern era, with an innovative layout. The medieval exhibit is rich with local finds, and will delight anyone keen on textiles, dress accessories, ceramics, glass or furniture.
Prepare to spend the better part of a day there. The much referenced Museum of London books are, of course, in the bookshop!
St Martin’s Place, WC2H OHE.
Near Trafalgar Square.
Tube: Leceister Square, Charing Cross/Embankment (the stations are about 100 m apart).
Notes: A fascinating collection of portraits of English royalty, and other movers and shakers. Worth a 1 to 2 hour visit for the Tudor and Elizabethan portraits, but not particularly interesting after Charles II and all his mistresses. Fortunately, it’s right next door to the…
Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN.
Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, Embankment, Piccadilly Circus
Notes: An enormous collection of paintings from 1260 onwards. Something for everyone.
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG.
Tube: Pimlico (Victoria Line)
Notes: The Tate Britain houses the national collection of British art from the sixteenth century to the present day, but is mostly post-1600 art. Fans of Gainsborough, Constable, Whistler, Turner, Blake, and the Pre-Raphaelites will not want to miss it however.
If you (or one of your travelling companions) thinks that good art is represented by a crack in a concrete floor or an unmade bed, there is also the Tate Modern.
Cromwell Road, South Kensington, SW7 2RL
Tube: South Kensington (Piccadilly, District, Circle lines)
Notes: World’s leading museum of decorative arts. Another somewhere to spend hours and hours and hours. The beautiful building itself is worth the trip.
Highlights for SCAadians include the textiles collection, illuminated manuscripts, the Italian gallery and the medieval and English Renaissance galleries…and a dangerous bookstore and gift shop.
The V&A’s digital catalogue is excellent; items are tagged by dozens of parameters including location in the galleries – so if you’re dying to find photos of that amazing item you saw on your holiday, you can search by gallery.
Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN
Tube: Bond Street and Baker Street.
Notes: One of the best collections of French 18th-century pictures, porcelain and furniture in the world, and a remarkable array of 17th-century paintings. Includes some lovely 16th and 17th miniature paintings and wax portraits.
For SCAdians though, nothing can beat the superb armoury – three galleries of medieval arms and armour, leading onto a smaller selection of Asian and African armour. Don’t expect to drag your fighter and/or weapons buff out of there in under several hours.
96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Tube: Euston or King’s Cross
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest libraries.
Highlights for SCAdians: manuscripts (Lindisfarne Gospels, Sherborne Missal, Luttrell Psalter, several illuminated Haggadahs, two original copies of the Magna Carta, among many others)…and The Big Daddy of dangerous bookshops – noone escapes unscathed. A major pilgrimage point for scribes and illuminators.
Treasures in Full Examine every page of rare historic works; compare different editions side-by-side; choose standard or magnified view; read supporting material by our curators and other experts.
Turning the Pages allows you to view and enlarge manuscript pages. Great viewing.
The first and still the best walking tours. Splendid walks around London, led by an entertaining and well-trained host. Average length is 2 hours. Walk is on rain or shine, so dress for the day.
An excellent way to learn about London, well worth the £8 fee.
If you’re visiting anytime from spring til autumn, book yourself a show at the Globe. Built to reproduce the open-air, 16th century theatre-in-the-round just like Shakespeare’s theatre as closely as possible, productions are both modern-dress, pseudo-period costume, and 16th c. clothing. Gift shop is a bit tatty, but has some decent books.
- The seats are narrow, and you’re close to your neighbours – not the conventional theatre seating! Bring a cushion.
- Dress for the weather – shows go on rain or shine, and if you’re close to the open area, you could get wet in a rain.
- If you’re really keen (and are moderately fit) go for the full-body experience, and buy a £5 ticket and stand through the production as a groundling. (You cannot sit during the show, and the ground is concrete, so it’s a bit hard on the legs.) Worth doing once, for a short show!
If your visit to London isn’t complete without a West End show, try the ticket booths. Whilst not truly half-price, you can usually get a good discount from these places. There are two situated in Leicester Square, and you are sure to be leafleted as you come out of the tube.
No booking, it’s on a first come, first served basis. So the earlier you are there, the more chance you have of getting good tickets to something you want. Be prepared for crowds and queues.