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If it’s culture you’re looking for, London has got you covered. If it's museums you want, the only question is where to start. The most popular museum would have to be the British Museum, filled with over four million exhibits including the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, whilst Norman Foster's futuristic curved glass roof over the courtyard is well worth a look. On the art front there's plenty of choice, with the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery; the Tate Modern, with a collection of and exhibitions of modern and contemporary artists, and its famous, large Turbine Hall space, which is filled with vast installations by contemporary artists; the Tate Britain, with a more restrained collection of modern art, whilst art exhibitions and others (like the recent Giorgio Armani exhibition) are held in the Royal Academy of Arts. And the best news is that the permanent collections of many museums in London are free.
The Victoria and Albert museum, housed in an interesting building, holds a large collection of crafts, ceramics, sculptures, textiles and fashion, and has trendy design orientated exhibitions, often based around fashion designers, as well as a pleasant landscaped courtyard and newly opened design store. Kids will love some of the interactive and fun sections in the Science Museum, whilst the Natural History Museum , with its shaking earthquake simulator and vast collection of dinosaur bones and interactive displays usually proves popular. The Museum of London houses interesting exhibits and exhibitions relating to the social and historical side of London, from the very first Roman settlers to the modern day: here you can also see the Lord Mayor's ceremonial coach, and some mock-up street scenes etc. from different periods of history, whilst the Design Museum is small and houses few permanent exhibits, but has several interesting exhibitions throughout the year and a commended design shop. The Wallace Collection features one of the world's best collections of French 18th-century pictures, porcelain and furniture, plus a fantastic array of 17th-century paintings all based in the large former townhouse of a wealthy Londoner.
Don't forget the Imperial War Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms , and the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood for toys and more. The London Transport Museum is popular with kids. The London Canal Museum and the Museum in Docklands have fascinating displays and mock-ups relating to the history of the London docks and trade between London and other nations. In a similar vein, Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields is a "journey through time" insofar as it encompasses 10 different rooms, each depicting a different historical perspective from 1725 through to 1919.
The British Library is one of the biggest and most comprehensive libraries in the world, with public and private/research sections, as well as exhibitions, and vast collections of new and old books and maps. The "Treasures of the British Library" exhibition houses the diary penned by Scott of the Antarctic (open at its final entry), as well as Vladimir Lenin's application for membership of the Library (albeit under the pseudonym of "Jacob Richter") and the handwritten original words of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday". For the book enthusiast, check out the Richmond-Upon-Thames Literature Festival which runs for the whole of November and features high-profile authors, TV personalities, journalists, poets and politicians.
Theatre is another big draw for London. The West End is London’s answer to Broadway and with so many theatres in such a concentrated area, the chances are that you’ll find a play to suit your tastes. Recently Hollywood stars have been flocking to the London stages to boost their credibility so grab a copy of Time Out (or check their website) to find out if your favourite actor or actress is making an appearance. Theatre tickets tend to be expensive, but good deal can be found on websites or at the half-priced TKTS booth on Leicester Square. The whole area around Picadilly Circus has many little ticket booths that cheap tickets can be purchased from and as long as they are an actual window, these can be used safely to get your hands on some very reasonably priced tickets. Don't EVER buy tickets from anyone off the street, however or you might be surprised to have your ticket rejected at the door of the theater. London also has a vibrant fringe scene, which is cheaper than the West End, so check out the listings for smaller, local theatres too - there might be a gem on! Be warned, though, Londoners are on the ball and you may have difficulty getting last minute tickets to the better-reviewed plays.
As the birthplace of the Rolling Stones and many other acts, London’s history as a musical mecca should not go unnoticed either. Wembley Stadium, home to many a stadium band, is now gone, and its replacement is only just up and running (April 07) but there are still plenty of large venues such as the O2 Arena and the Brixton Academy. There are also hundreds of smaller night venues, which are often far more affordable because they tend to be located in local pubs and clubs (comprehensive listings can be found on London Live Music Guide, Time Out). If you have an iPhone, have a look at the Culture Key app which helps you discover the latest art, theatre and other cultural events in London.
London can also be a film buff’s paradise. Art houses showing international and indie films exist harmoniously alongside the major chains screening the latest blockbusters. One important thing to know about buying tickets to the cinema is that you also get assigned a particular seat, much like at the theatre. So don’t sit wherever you want to because unless it’s listed on your ticket, it's not your seat.
While London is certainly known for its many academic and artistic pursuits, you can’t count out sports when talking about the culture of this well-rounded city. Football (soccer for the Americans out there) is a national pastime here and everyone’s got his or her favourite team. In London alone there are 11 professional teams, such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Charlton Athletic, and countless amateur leagues. Sadly, it can be near impossible to get a ticket for many matches, unless you want to buy from a tout (scalper), so DO NOT turn up at the ground expecting to get in (except for Craven Cottage, where there is good availability when Fulham are not playing either Spurs or the top four clubs in the Premiership). You can, however, book tours of the big clubs' stadia when they're not playing, if you fancy a nosey inside. Rugby is another national obsession, with former England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson revered as something of a god. London also plays host to one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments at Wimbledon every summer. Stratford, in the East End of London, will be the site for both the athletics and swimming events during the 2012 Olympics.