London’s major museums are some of the most visited attractions in the world but its smaller museums are also treasure troves of delight, a visit to which will take you off the well-trodden tourist paths.
Open to the public since 1929, the Leighton House Museum in Holland Park, Kensington, was built for one of the most famous painters of the Victorian age, Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) in 1864. The architect George Aitchinson was behind its elaborate Orient-inspired interiors, including a sumptuous two-storey Arab Hall, added in 1879, which looks as though it has been transplanted straight from Morocco. Visitors can explore Leighton’s painting studio, as well as the permanent collection, which includes work by Millais and Burne-Jones.
This beautiful gallery, situated in leafy Dulwich Village, south-east London, was designed by Regency architect Sir John Soane and opened in 1817, making it the oldest public art gallery in England. Its Old Masters collection includes work by Rembrandt, Poussin, Canaletto, Gainsborough and Rubens and is one of the finest in the country.
A neo-Palladian villa set amid beautiful parkland in west London, Chiswick House was built in 1729 by the Earl of Burlington. Visit the William Kent-designed interiors and extensive art collection, including eight works by Rysbrack, as well as the Italianate classical gardens, which have inspired many others, including Central Park in New York. Once home to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, she referred to it as “my earthly paradise”.
Founded by Frederick John Horniman in 1901 with the wealth that he inherited from his father’s Horniman’s Tea business, this south-east London museum houses a gloriously eclectic collection of anthropological and natural history artefacts. You can expect to see displays of huge stuffed animals, an aquarium and exhibits of unusual instruments.
Hampstead Heath in north London is one of the city’s finest and most ancient public green spaces. On its edges sits Kenwood House. First built in the 17th century, the architect Robert Adam later transformed it into a fine neoclassical villa for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield between 1764 and 1779. Now visitors come to see its art collection, resplendent with paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer.