An insider's guide to London
Ah, London – packed with museums and galleries. One guide can’t cover it all, so Sophie Roper picks some personal favourites to visit with one day in the big city.
Breakfast and a visit to the Postal Museum
When exploring London, a whole day is necessary – so you can’t skip breakfast.
I eat mine at Café Maya on Farringdon Road, a five-minute walk from the Postal Museum, where I flash my Student Art Pass like a VIP at a star-studded event. I pay an extra £2.99 for an audio guide to download on my phone, and extra for a ride on the Mail Rail train – a journey under the streets of London, through the original tunnels of the 100-year-old Post Office railway.
As well as minding the gap between the train and the platform you’ll have to mind your head unless you’re a small child or, like me, blessed with the stature of a small child. The 15-minute ride stops along the tracks to allow for cinema-style projections of the decades when the train operated professionally.
If, however, you’re unable to sit in the train, there’s a small seating area with a screen and headsets to give you the same information. This is what I like the most about the Postal Museum – it feels like that teacher at school who just really wanted you to learn, circumstances be damned.
The rest of the Mail Rail exhibit and the Postal Museum’s main exhibition are generously decorated with interactive displays, so naturally I dress up and attempt to sort large plastic envelopes into pigeonholes while the floor moves beneath my feet.
Later I dress up as a post woman, direct miniature trains and play with a switch frame (a control panel that organises the movements of the trains). I learn that ‘shunting’ isn’t as kinky as it sounds, and simply refers to the movement of a train from a main line, and then experiment with pneumatic pressure.
There’s also the opportunity to view lantern slides – an early type of image viewer – and design my own postage stamp. The Postal Museum flatters my ego with its self-centred displays, and it’s an honour to feel so involved in history.
Lunch on Leather Lane
If you’re looking for a place for lunch near the Postal Museum and you happen to visit on a weekday, there’s the Leather Lane food market, where you can find various food stalls like the ever-Instagrammable Grill My Cheese; because as we all know, if you don’t Instagram it, it didn’t happen.
Personally, I choose to head over to the British Museum (15 minutes away on the bus) and have a coffee to orientate myself in the maze of the building.
If you end up going to the British Museum – and I cannot stress this enough – please, please, please get a map. You may think you can arrive with a planned itinerary and a sense of time; but to this thought all I can do is shake my head with pity and sigh softly, “oh you sweet summer child.” I myself was intending to visit the Ancient Greece area of the museum but somehow ended up on the wrong floor twice and decided to go with the flow.
An afternoon in the British Museum
On the fourth level are free exhibitions which change throughout the year, but at the time of writing are centred around the use of postcards in art and Rembrandt.
A National Art Pass or Student Art Pass gets you 50% off the cost of the paid exhibitions – and luckily for me, at the time of my visit one of the main exhibitions happens to be focused on my favourite artist, Edvard Munch. But even if you choose not to visit the exhibitions there’s so much to see in the 95 rooms showing artefacts from around the globe.
A particular favourite is the section dedicated to the history of clocks which showcases intricate pocket watches and grand, swinging pendulum clocks, as well as ornate and unusual clocks made of solid gold and designed to replicate everything from ships to a cow being milked.
After this I am sidetracked again by ancient chess sets and old books, but even without its contents the building itself is magnificent with its domed glass roof, pillared entranceways and grand staircases.
From epic to intimate
In direct contrast to the British Museum, my last museum of the day is very small.
The personal residence of Victorian writers Thomas and Jane Carlyle, Carlyle’s House in Chelsea is a National Trust property with a fantastic sense of character and a very intimate feel. It’s not interactive like the Postal Museum, or on the scale of the British Museum, but you can still lose yourself in its grandness.
I was fortunate enough to volunteer here in my first year at university, but I still like to return despite knowing it so well and I recommend its character to everyone.
My favourite part is the study at the top of the house, which feels like a time capsule. Anyone with an interest in creativity or writing will be pleased to see it.
Finally, if you’re lucky enough to be exploring London on a non-rainy day, I suggest you cross the river to Battersea Park to watch the sunset and build up an appetite for dinner.
Sophie Roper is an amateur psychologist and full-time nerd with a passion for travel and writing. She uses Instagram as a digital scrapbook and you can follow her at @fe.scarlett to see more of her adventures around London and the world.
Sophie is a winner of our 2019 student writing competition.