Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1928, a breakthrough that earned him a Nobel Prize. It’s only fitting, then, that the hospital is home to the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum. Declared an International Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry, you can see Fleming’s laboratory (restored to its 1928 condition) and explore the story of Fleming and his development of penicillin through displays and video.
Around 150,000 Jewish immigrants settled in Britain from the late 19th century until the early 20th century, and the majority built their homes and lives in London’s East End. Their history there (as well as the overall history from medieval times to the present) is chronicled at the Jewish Museum on Albert Street. The facility houses some 28,000 objects representing the history of the Jewish community in Britain and includes a Judaica collection and a social history collection covering subjects such as Nazism and the Holocaust.
London has a museum for every taste. What about a taste for London itself? That’s where the Museum of London comes in, curating details about the capital from its first settlers to modern times. Discover the London “before” London, from around 450,000 B.C. until the creation of the Roman city of Londinium around A.D. 50, the biggest city Britain would see for over 1,000 years. The permanent exhibitions also feature medieval times, the city’s growth to one of the most populous and wealthy in the world and the 2012 Olympic cauldron. Free gallery tours are available daily.
Built in the 1860s, London’s only remaining lighthouse in the Docklands is of interest not only for its historical use as a testing facility for lighthouse technology but also for its current use as the musical home of a composition destined to last for 1,000 years. Known as Longplayer, the score is a continuous 1,000-year-long piece of music performed with Tibetan singing bowls conceived for the turn of the millenium in 1999. The music will run uninterrupted (and without repetition, thanks to technology) until midnight on December 31, 2999, when the music will start anew. There’s a listening room in the lighthouse itself as well as an installation of 234 Tibetan singing bowls that were part of a live performance of part of the score, which lasted for 1,000 minutes. The lighthouse is located at Trinity Buoy Wharf, just minutes from Canning Town Underground station.
Once known as “Number 1 London,” Apsley House was the London home of the first Duke of Wellington, the victor at Waterloo. The grand Georgian home stands sentinel at Hyde Park Corner, facing south towards the busy traffic roundabout in the centre of which stands Wellington Arch. It boasts one of the finest art collections in London (with paintings by Velazquez and Rubens) as well as a wonderful collection of silver and porcelain.
Keats House is a writer’s house museum in a Hampstead house once occupied by the Romantic poet John Keats. Although he only lived there about 17 months, he composed such classics there as the ballad La Belle Dame sans Merci, the narrative poem The Eve of St. Agnes and Ode to a Nightingale. Built circa 1815, the house hosted many writers, including poet friends like John Hamilton Reynolds, Leigh Hunt and Barry Cornwall. Admission to the garden is free; limited guided tours of the house are available as part of its admission fee.
Some views of the London skyline are so spectacular that the vantage point is protected. Primrose Hill is one of those places, separated from Regent’s Park by Prince Albert Road and the London Zoo. The summit is about 206 feet above sea level and the trees are kept low so as not to obscure the view. Like its neighboring park, it was once part of a great chase (hunting land) appropriated by King Henry VIII. In addition to its unparalleled views of the skyline, an oak tree on the slope marks Shakespeare’s birthday. Originally planted in 1864, a replacement tree was planted in 1964. While you’re enjoying the view, why not download the Music for Trees mobile app, featuring compositions by students from the Royal Academy of Music interpreting the characteristics of trees in the park.
On the northern boundary of Hampstead Heath stands Kenwood House, a stately home that served as a residence for the Earls of Mansfield through the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally a brick house built by King James I’s printer, the current home is a masterpiece by renowned 18th-century Scottish architect Robert Adam, the star attraction being the Great Library. It’s also prized for its stunning artwork (most notably Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Two Circles) and 112 acres of parkland including ancient woodland, three dairy buildings, sculptures and a sham bridge.
Reportedly the largest institution of its kind in the world, the V&A Museum of Childhood is the nation’s Museum of Childhood. It holds the largest collection of dolls in the U.K., from contemporary objects like Barbie and Bratz to Bähr & Pröschild models from the 19th century. Overall, the facility boasts over 35,000 objects and 61 archival collections from 1600 to the present day, featuring Britain’s oldest rocking horse and an internationally renowned collection of over 100 dolls houses. Currently located in Bethnal Green, the museum will be moving to the Collections and Research Centre in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Linking London and Birmingham, the Grand Union Canal is grand, indeed. The main line extends 137 miles from the Thames to Birmingham, leading you out into the rolling Chiltern Hills, through rural Northamptonshire and Warwickshire and into the Birmingham suburbs. The hustle and bustle of the Paddington Arm signals the start of summer, and you can get a free, 10-minute tour of the canal courtesy of the Paddington Water Taxi. Pick it up next to Paddington Station’s canal-side entrance or at Merchant Square.