Flora Watkins

Blissfully crowd-free: now’s the time to visit London’s museums

  • From Spectator Life
Image: Getty

What are the unexpected benefits to have come out of Covid? Letterbox cocktails? An irrefutable excuse for you to bail on a social occasion? An end to gouty Great-Uncle Matthew lunging for a slobbery kiss at Christmas?

Like a booster shot, most of these will wear off over time, so we should make the most of them. Similarly, a recent trip to the National Gallery prompted a flurry of bookings as soon as we got home. For the first time, it was possible to appreciate favourite paintings unencumbered by a sea of iPads held aloft by un-seeing tourists. ‘Just buy a postcard in the shop!’ snapped no-one at all. It was bliss. Peaceful. Civilised.

Of course, this isn’t sustainable. It’s a tragedy that — according to The Art Newspaper — visitor numbers to the National Gallery are down 13 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. Yet the ongoing social distancing measures afford an opportunity usually only available to people prepared to arrive at opening time on a Monday morning during term-time.

Yes, having to book does kill spontaneity. In I Capture the Castle, Topaz, the Bohemian step-mother, meets her lovers in the Egyptian room of the British Museum. Looking at their website, the first booking slot is next Wednesday. But on the upside, they’d probably have it all to themselves…

Here’s the pick of where to go, while social distancing lasts.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser at the V&A


Previous blockbuster shows — Bowie, Dior, Alexander McQueen — have not been the most pleasant ‘visitor experiences’; packed-to-the-gills and swept along in the crowd. But limited numbers mean you can tumble down the rabbit hole at your leisure at the V&A’s immersive exhibition.

www.vam.ac.uk £20; tickets are released every Tuesday at 12 noon

The Wallace Collection


Tucked away between Bond Street and Marylebone High Street, the Wallace Collection is housed in the beautiful Hertford House.

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