Seven great reasons for culture fans to visit London this autumn

The British capital’s Autumn Season of Culture features a blockbuster series of exhibitions and performers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 3:34pm


Which of the world’s museums is the most  googled? It’s London’s Science Museum.

I recently spent an hour in the museum’s permanent exhibit of information technology through the ages and I can see why. I don’t think a full day would have done it justice, let alone the whole museum, which would probably take a full week to go through properly.

But London’s Museum of Science is just one of  more than 200 museums in the British capital, one reason why London’s cultural institutions – museums, theatres, performance venues – received 18 million overseas visitors last year. And this autumn there’s a staggering number of blockbuster exhibits and performances in the city, part of  London’s Autumn Season of Culture.

In fact, the season is so full I hardly know where to start or to end. But here are some highlights, in no particular order:

The Museum of London

The big draw this season will be  "The Crime Museum Uncovered", from  October 9 to  April 10. Over the past 140 years London’s Metropolitan Police  have maintained a private “museum” of crime artefacts, used to assist and train detectives in past and future investigations. This exhibit explores the darker side of London’s underworld, from Jack the Ripper to the Great Train Robbery – but don’t be alarmed, London is now a very safe city!

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Tate Modern  

 “The World Goes Pop”,   from  September 17 to  January 24, won’t be your typical  pop art exhibit.  More than 200 works from the ’60s and ’70s will feature lesser-known artists, many from behind the Iron Curtain, Iran, Cuba, Peru, Japan and Europe, with a decidedly political and anti-consumer theme. From  November 11 to  April 3, “Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture” will be the UK’s largest ever exhibition of the artist’s work.

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The Design Museum

Bicycle culture, anyone? Everything from bikes of all stripes, safety, clothing, equipment and more will be displayed in “Cycle Revolution”  from   November 18 to June 30. The theme is where bicycling has been and where it’s going, from a design point of view.

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The National Portrait Gallery

“Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon”, which closes on  October 18, celebrates the  actress’ career with 70 seldom-seen photographs  and showings of her films.  Make sure you visit the museum’s Portrait Restaurant; it’s one of those rare places that offers gorgeous views of a city  and gorgeous food.

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 The Barbican

The big event this season, if you haven’t already heard, is Benedict Cumberbatch starring in Hamlet. Most seats, not surprisingly, are sold out, but for each performance  30  seats at £10 (HK$122)  are available on the day of each performance. Just be prepared to queue up overnight (or over a couple of nights; bring your sleeping bag) to nab them. If you don’t feel like camping out, there’s much more going on, including performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London Symphony Orchestra. Another upcoming highlight: a terrific exhibit heralding the careers of designers   Charles and Ray Eames at the Barbican Art Gallery.

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The Science Museum

Anyone interested in the extraterrestrial will want to visit “Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age”,  on view  until  March 13. Visitors can view a lunar lander, rockets, landing modules, and a MIR space station shower among scores of other full-size and model  artefacts from the Russian space program.

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The Royal Academy of Arts

The first major institutional survey of Chinese artist  Ai Weiwei’s work in the UK runs from September 19   to December 13. From January 30 to April 20,  “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse”  will be on view, with over 120 works, including 35 Monets and other masterpieces by   Klee, Klimt, and Kandinsky.

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Download the London Official City Guide  from iTunes   Locate the Tutorial to plan your day in London step by step by adding locations and things you want to visit; the app will guide you from place to place with travel times and offline directions. Very handy, it’s part of the website.

 Another hugely helpful resource for London’s vibrant cultural scene is The site alerts you to upcoming events far in advance, provides reviews, and lets you plan and book. There’s a free 10-day trial or you can join for £7 (HK$85) per month.

 Although almost all of London’s museums are free, special exhibits require a separate admission, generally ranging from HK$155-195.

If you’re a frequent visitor and avid culture maven, consider signing up for memberships to your favourite museums and performance venues. That way you’ll get priority ticket reservations and admission to special exhibits that might otherwise be sold out on your visit. In addition you’ll get a discount (usually 10 per cent) in gift shops and restaurants.

 Try to avoid October 17 to  25,  and other periods when English schools go on term break; museums and other venues will be especially crowded with school groups and parents with children.

 Most importantly, plan ahead. Don’t just expect to show up and get into exhibits with timed entries or to secure prime seats (or any seats, in some cases) to top shows and concerts.

 Tribune News Service