V&A Museum London: Gallery exhibitions, opening hours, how to get there and 2019 highlights

V&A Museum London

Planning a trip to one of London’s world class museums or art galleries? Our series of ultimate guides will tell you everything you need to know.


Why visit the V&A Museum?

William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” – and it’s a rule that the V&A Museum lives by. As the world’s leading museum of art and design, it has over 2.3 million objects from the world of decorative arts within its collection (not to mention many created by Morris himself).

Founded in 1852, the V&A Museum sits as the jewel in the crown of a stretch of museums in South Kensington. Within its walls are objects spanning the history of fashion, furniture, ceramics, performance, jewellery, photography and glass – and much more besides. It all amounts to a break-taking journey through creativity and the imagination. The museum itself is expanding all the time: in the last three years, its opened a new photography centre and a £55m renovation giving it more underground space. That’s not to mention new venues in Stratford, and, further afield, Dundee.

So ambitious is the scale of it that multiple visits are necessary, and the museum’s temporary exhibition programme is enticing enough to keep visitors coming back. It has a reputation for blockbuster shows on performers and designers – Alexander McQueen, David Bowie and Pink Floyd all saw record visitor numbers – but there’s something for every niche. Other topics have ranged from plywood to ocean liners. The museum’s current director is historian, ceramics aficiando and former MP Tristram Hunt.


If you have one hour…

One of the highlights of the V&A Museum’s permanent exhibits is its fashion display. Located opposite the museum’s glorious courtyard, it offers visitors the chance to chart how much the clothes we wear have changed – and the designers that continue to influence them.

Next door you’ll also find one of the museum’s smaller temporary exhibition spaces, so it’s worth popping in and seeing what’s on show (details of what’s on can be found on the museum’s website).


If you have three hours…

Take your pick of one of the V&A Museum’s bigger temporary exhibitions – you’ll want to have an hour or so to see everything properly. Afterwards, wander through the Asia collection, where you’ll find art and design treasures from Japan to the Middle East.

Finish with a visit to the V&A Museum’s Rapid Response Collecting room, a fascinating experiment into how museums can collect items that respond to the contemporary moment. So far it includes items as eclectic as an EU referendum campaign poster, Katy Perry-branded eyelashes and an Oculus Rift headset – all acquired for what they say about the possibilities of design and how we live now.


If you want to make a day of it…

With seven floors and several temporary exhibitions happening at the same time, you’d need a Bernard’s Watch (and a lot of coffee) to get round all of the V&A in a day. It’s a place that rewards multiple visits – but if you’re spending the day there, you can start off with an introductory tour to help you find your feet. They take place daily from 10.30am and will give you some insight into the museum’s history and some of its most valuable treasures.

Check out one of the exhibitions happening downstairs, then head to the third floor where you’ll find the museum’s extensive materials collection. It’s where you’ll find the brand new photography centre , as well as everything from jewellery to sculpture, theatre costumes and miniature paintings.

Lunch options are various, with three different cafes – but on a sunny day, the Garden Cafe is the one you’ll want to visit. It faces the museum’s serene courtyard, which is a thing of beauty in itself.

In the afternoon, take a look at the Europe collection (if the word isn’t bringing you out in a cold sweat by now). Spread over three floors, you’ll find objects from the Medieval period all the way through to the 1900s.


What are the highlights of the V&A Museum’s collection?

Dating back to 1180, the Becket Casket is one of the V&A’s most significant artefacts. It’s one of the many caskets made to house relics of Thomas Becket after his murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1870, and its elaborate facade depicts that very scene.

A cast of Michelangelo’s David has been at the museum since 1857 – when a proportional fig leaf was promptly made to cover his modesty (and calm Queen Victoria’s shock).

One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is Tippoo’s Tiger, a mechanical organ made for Tipu Sultan, a ruler in 18th century South India. The almost life-size object shows a tiger mauling a man; turn a handle and an organ is revealed. Whilst it is being played, the man’s arm moves up and down and intermittent noises are meant to sound like a dying man’s wails. Dark.

The Burghley Nef, made in the early 16th century in Paris, isn’t just a posh gravy boat – it would have been placed by the most important person at any dinner party to mark their status. Another famous object, The Great Bed of Ware, was made in 1590 in Hertfordshire where it immediately became a star local attraction. It spans over three metres in width, and can reportedly accommodate at least four couples (don’t try and get in it, though).

A Vivienne Westwood evening gown inspired by 17th century artist Jean-Antoine Watteau isn’t just a stunning object in all its emerald taffeta glory: it shows how designers plunder the past to make designs, marrying history with the contemporary to say something new

See all of the highlights in the gallery above.


Dates for your diary

The V&A Illustration Awards have been running since 1972, championing artists ranging from book designers to students. The winners are generally announced in May and have their work displayed in the museum for a few months.

Established in 2009 and running every two years, the Jameel Prize celebrates contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. The winner receives £25,000, and the finalists works are shown in an exhibition that tours internationally.


What’s new in 2019 for the museum?

A major new exhibition on Christian Dior opens in February and looks set to be one of the biggest shows of the year. There will be more for fashion fans to enjoy later in the year, with a show about mini-skirt pioneer Mary Quant opening in April and a retrospective about fashion photographer Tim Walker. Later in 2019, more big exhibitions on big topics: the pleasures and politics of food, and the history of cars.


Are there guided tours at the V&A Museum?

There are daily free tours throughout the museum on a range of different topics. From a general introduction to a guide through the LGBTQ history of the V&A’s collection, you can pick an area of interest and find out more.

Where is the V&A Museum in London?

The V&A is on Cromwell Road in South Kensington, with the Science Museum and Natural History Museum both nearby.


How to get to the V&A Museum

The nearest Underground station is South Kensington (Circle and District line), which is a five minute walk away.


What are the V&A Museum’s opening hours?

The V&A Museum is open Monday to Sunday, from 10am to 5.45pm. Every Friday, it stays open until 10pm.


Is the V&A Museum free?

It’s totally free to visit the V&A Museum, with an admission charge for some temporary exhibitions.


Published by ” Standard UK “

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