Just a quick trip for meetings, but I managed to snag a few hours to play tourist in what might be the most culturally vast (for many Americans) city in the world. There’s a trove packed into a relatively small geographic space.
I’m not writing a guidebook but simply providing a glimpse of a some interesting attractions.
I started with dinner with a friend at Fuller’s Red Lion Pub, where we enjoyed the house pie (cubes of steak in a rich sauce cooked in a dough container with a dough lid on top – it looks a bit like a round African thatched hut) and a beer (Oliver’s Island ale – it tasted flat, even though we could see the bubbles). The pub is just a stone’s throw from Parliament, off the Westminster Bridge on the north side of the Thames.
Very close by, between Parliament and 10 Downing Street, are the Churchill War Rooms, part of the Imperial War Museum. This warren of underground rooms served as the headquarters for the British government’s conduct of World War II. People lived and worked in a sunless environment that apparently did not feature the best air quality (the ventilation wasn’t great, so naturally fetid underground air coupled with tobacco smoke made things interesting). Map rooms, communications systems, bedrooms, dining areas – it’s all there and genuinely fascinating.
On the art front, the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House is a gem. It isn’t large, but it has a splendid collection of impressionist and other paintings by many of the masters. It will only take you a couple of hours to see everything but it offers rich rewards.
I also made a very quick visit to the British Museum. It doesn’t do much for me because it is mostly what I no doubt wrongly think of as archeological. Yes, there’s art, but a lot is ancient and not paintings, and thus isn’t my favorite. That said, in the print room, I found this brochure left lying on a counter by a previous visitor, which somehow struck me as the right comment for an artistic setting.