Things To Do & Avoid Doing In London During A Wet Olympic Games

Curious about what those stuck in London over the summer but keen to avoid the Olympics might do, I decided to visit a few museums to check out various free tourist attractions. I started with the John Soame Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on Thursday afternoon (5 July 2012). I used to visit this museum dedicated to the life and work of architect and collector John Soame a lot when I was in my late-teens and early-twenties. Back in the day you could just walk in but now you’re greeted by a door-person and have to hand in any luggage that is much more than handbag size. There was a small queue when I arrived but it only took a couple of minutes to get in. By the time you read this a new circulation system involving a separate entrance and exit will have been introduced – but I missed it by a whisker (one day)  and until 6 July 2012 you went in and came out through the same door. The museum occupies the large townhouse that John Soame lived in when he was alive. The biggest attractions for me are works by Piranesi and Hogarth but the whole building is packed with weird shit – making it one of the best free visits in London.
On Thursday afternoon I also went to the British Museum in Great Russell Street, since it is just a short walk from the John Soame Museum. I wanted to see the old British Library reading room which I used to use regularly when i was researching my early books. Unfortunately this part of the British Museum was closed – but luckily it isn’t difficult to get into the British Library at it’s new location at St Pancras. As a child my favourite bit of the British Museum was the extensive ancient Egyptian collections on parts of the ground and first floor. These were so packed with tourists it was difficult to enjoy the displays.  Aside from the crowds there was also the distraction of constant flash photography – it beats me why people are endless snapping photographs of a well documented collection! I’d say avoid the The British Museum, it is way too crowded to enjoy.
On Friday I went to the Museum of London at London Wall. This takes visitors through 2000 years of London history and provides hours of fun. I hadn’t been to this museum for a couple of years. The displays start with the landscape of London before London was built: including such curious facts as The Thames being a tributary of The Rhine when The British Isles was joined to the European mainland; and that a giant glacier shifted the river south and created the Thames Valley as we have it today. Roman London and the ruination of the ancient city follows before we move on into the Saxon and medieval eras. There are groovy displays on The Black Death and The Great Fire Of London… and even a  recreation of The Vauxhall Pleasure Garden! There is also plenty of Victoriana for those that dig that kinda stuff but to my eyes the history of the past 60 or so years is considerably more far-out! The Museum of London was busy but not overcrowded – and I’d say is definitely worth a visit.
On Saturday afternoon I went to Tate Modern on Bankside and it was very difficult to enjoy anything in the main galleries due to the crowds. I’d say make an effort to avoid most of Tate Modern unless you’re looking to pick up a new boyfriend or girlfriend – in which case visit between 6pm and 1opm on a Friday or Saturday for their late-night opening (which they really ought to advertise as a speed dating service). The best part of Tate Modern – and the only part I found empty-  was the Level 2 Project Space (for ’emerging’ international art), and you can get into that from Bankside without going into the main part of the building.
On Sunday afternoon I went to The Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road – which I had previously only visited once when I was about eight years-old. It wasn’t too crowded and the circulation was pretty good. Mostly the museum is dedicated to a history of warfare (and the cold war) from the past 100 years and an Anglo-American perspective. Can’t say I’m very interested in tanks, guns, war planes, military uniforms etc. But there is also an extensive display about how World War II impacted on the lives of one working class south London family. So for the social history it encompasses I’d say The Imperial War Museum is probably worth a visit-  as long as you can put up with a few nerds walking around in combat jackets and fatigue trousers (at least one of the tossers I clocked matching this description appeared to be a very sad Laibach fan; but then I guess everyone who likes pop acts such as Laibach is very sad).
I have left aside the glaringly obvious here – which would include avoid visiting Westfield Shopping Centre, Oxford Street and similar locations. It should go without saying that public transport should be avoided as far as possible too – travel in London during the 2012 Olympics should be made on foot or by bicycle.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by kperry on 2012-07-08 21:02:30 +0000

always great to vist museums. We have the Toronto Indy happening today , so a vist to the Museum is a great way to avoid the tourists, the heat, and incessant playing of bad music

Comment by Lucy Johnson on 2012-07-08 21:46:11 +0000

I will definitely put the Museum of London on my ‘to do’ list.

Comment by Arrogant Lucy on 2012-07-08 21:57:25 +0000

The last time I visited the Museum of London they had some curious leather pieces of underwear from hundreds of years ago, which I thought were early fetish items, but probably just normal underwear made out of the most practically available material at the time.

Comment by kperry on 2012-07-08 22:16:23 +0000

Oh dear am sure gonna have to change that gravatar picture… relegate that one to my museum basement for burning

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-07-08 23:23:19 +0000

And you’ve reminded me that I’ve never actually joined Gravatar and maybe I should…. I guess if I was on that site I’d just use my standard picture…. Could have done some less tourist places here like maybe Raven Row as alternative to going to The Tate but in the end decided that would have made the blog too long…. But for sure museums can be fun!
@ Lucy Johnson – If you’ve never been you should definitely check out The Museum of London… It’s a groove sensation!
@ Arrogant Lucy – Judging by how some underwear I’d put in the wrong place and forgotten about disintegrated after I’d left it a couple of years and then re-found it (elastication totally gone etc.) any smalls that are going to survive hundreds of years would need to be made out of something like leather….

Comment by Stu Murphy on 2012-07-09 00:19:48 +0000

I love the British Museum. Many things of interest, notably the Rosetta Stone. I could spend hours in there every time I’m down.

Comment by Stephanie Dee on 2012-07-09 01:10:12 +0000

I’m looking forward to being able to go to the museums again, this blog post reminded me of their wonderfulness!

Comment by Jennifer Cuddy on 2012-07-09 01:31:36 +0000

yeah, I can’t come to London this summer because of the Olympics. Too pricey!

Comment by Vincent Dawn on 2012-07-09 12:16:40 +0000

The Victoria and Albert Museum is full of unusual, weird shit. Like samurai costumes. Or it was when I last visited there in the late 90’s…

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-07-09 13:56:36 +0000

I haven’t been in the V&A for a year or so but it is full of weird shit… it is usually fairly busy but not as crowded as the nearby Science Museum and Natural History Museum… This was just a small sample and I didn’t do stuff on the west side of the city like the Victoria and Albert coz the Olympics is in the east… But then I also didn’t do – for example – The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, which is closer to the Olympic site than any I did cover (and I haven’t been in that museum for about 10 years)…. BTW One thing you won’t find in the V&A are the Duke of Wellington’s ceremonial swords coz George “Taters” Chatham (who often worked on burglaries with my relative Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones) broke in and nicked them in 1948!

Comment by Jason Fessel on 2012-07-09 14:31:38 +0000

too bad word is out on the JS museum. I’ve never been inside the Imperial War museum but used to visit my Grandmother in a care home overlooking it. Isn’t it housed, appropriately, in the reconstructed Bedlam building?

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-07-09 21:46:26 +0000

Around 1984 I used to live about 5 minutes walk from The Imperial War Museum but I never went in…. just didn’t appeal to me… At that time I used to go very often to the Museum of Mankind while also visiting all the commercial galleries around the corner in Cork Street… And that was the British Museum Dept of Ethnography in Burlington Gardens but it is back in the main British Museum now and doesn’t have that name…
Yes The Imperial War Museum is the housed in a part of the Bedlam Hospital from the period between 1815 and 1930. When Bedlam was moved to the south-east London suburbs in 1930 the empty hospital and its grounds were bought by Lord Rothermere and presented to the London County Council for use as a park; the central part of the building was retained and became the home of The Imperial War Museum in 1936. Almost as appropriately the original 13th century Bedlam stood on Bishopsgate where we’ve not got Liverpool Street Station. And it moved around the fringes of The City before going to south of the river in 1815.

Comment by Claire Barnes on 2012-07-09 23:12:36 +0000

What about a museum of museums?

Comment by Kira O’Reilly on 2012-07-09 23:47:36 +0000

Good tip about Tate Modern speed dating hours.

Comment by Alex Dipple on 2012-07-10 00:23:30 +0000

The British Museum is particularly good because it has mummified cats in it. I may take my cat Florence as a stern reminder of her looming mortality.

Comment by Jack Herman on 2012-07-10 14:01:24 +0000

What about a guide to London parks just in case the sun shines during the 2012 Olympics?

Comment by Sharon Monks on 2012-07-10 14:54:41 +0000

I’ve searched and none of these museums seem to exist in London, Ontario. Nor indeed to the 2012 Olympic games appear to be taking place in this part of Canada. What are people who will be spending the summer in North America supposed to do?

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-07-10 18:43:56 +0000

I think you’d do better to ask some of those who live in Canada and comment on this blog – such as Michael Roth – about this rather than me…. I’ve only ever been to Canada once and that was about 17 years ago and I went to British Columbia not Ontario.
@ Claire Barnes – There appears to have been a possibly hoax Museum of Museums in a former Argos distribution centre in Trafford (Manchester), but I’m not sure if it exists now or indeed if it ever really existed. There are also various online Museum of Museums sites you can check out if you want.
@ Jack Herman – you don’t need a guide to London parks; just get an A-Z street atlas and make your way to the green bits!

Comment by Deadeye Dick on 2012-07-10 19:38:41 +0000

I’m going to the sex Olympics which is also in east London…..

Comment by Eskimo Nell on 2012-07-11 12:42:51 +0000

The Sex Olympics has been ongoing and taking place everywhere since the human race began…..

Comment by Hwa Birkner on 2012-07-11 21:44:40 +0000

Let’s exploit women for spoiled little white kids.

Comment by Autodespair on 2012-07-12 15:06:49 +0000

if you fancy going in the other direction, you can use one of the advertising “brand exclusion zones” set up around Olympic venues as a walking guide, which also (hopefully) double sup as a sort magic ritual… i can recommend the ExCel centre / Isle of Dogs maps, a very satisfying loop:

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-07-12 16:37:17 +0000

That sounds like my kinda sport!

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