Cultural Wednesday’s Best London Museum Cafes

What do I love most? Museums or cafés?  Certainly no cultural visit is complete without a visit to a café.  Which are the best London Museum Cafes?  It’s not just a cup of coffee that I want but nice surroundings, a proper cup and a tempting array of cakes.  Some museums and galleries are better than others here is Cultural Wednesdays selection of the best London Museum Cafés.

Best London Museum Cafés

Hayward Gallery Café

Some of the seats in the Hayward Gallery offer panoramic views out down Waterloo Bridge and to the National Theatre. For those that don’t there is a rather fine Michael Lin floral mural to look at. Rest assured that the food and drink is every bit as good as the view.

  • Hayward Gallery, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
  • Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm (until 8pm Saturday)

Leighton House

The De Morgan cafe at Leighton House is as different to the maximalist glory of house itself. The cafe is housed in a calm wood and glazed space overlooking the garden at Leighton House. It serves tea, coffee, cake and light snacks. You don’t need to be visiting the house the visit the cafe, but the temptation would be high.

  • Leighton House,  12 Holland Park Rd, W14 8LZ
  • De Morgan Cafe open: Wednesday to Monday, 10am – 5pm

National Army Museum

Mid century furniture and mouthwatering cakes have drawn me into the Army Museum café even when I’m not paying a visit to free galleries.  We visited one half term with a gaggle of teens and assorted allergies which the cafe staff coped with with aplomb.  More details about Napoleon’s Horse and other fascinating finds can be found in my review of the Army Museum.

  • National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HT
  • National Army Museum Cafe open:  Monday -Friday  10am – 4pm, Saturday -Sunday 10am – 5pm

National Gallery

You have three options at the National Gallery. Expresso Bar by Muriel’s which offers hot drinks in paper cups and excellent cakes. For daylight and proper cups head to Muriel’s Kitchen which has the same delicious cakes and a range of light lunch offerings. Grandest of all is Ochre, table service is the order of the day here. In the evenings there is a bar, the perfect place for a cultural tipple.

  • National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
  • Expresso Bar open: Daily 10am – 5.45pm
  • Muriel’s Kitchen open: Daily 11am – 5.45pm (8.45pm on Friday)

Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy has a plethora of places to eat and drink.  Daddy of them all is the Royal Academy Café down in the basement of Burlington House, here you can sip your coffee surrounded by walls adorned with murals by Royal Academicians.  If your visit coincides with lunchtime they do a jolly good bowl of soup.

Royal Academy Cafe

Science Museum

The Science Museum was my first London museum, we came here on a Physics field trip, and it retains a special place in my heart.  There are many places to grab a coffee or a bite to eat.  My favourite the Gallery Cafè, is up on the second floor, where you will also find the Maths Gallery.  From up here you can gaze down on the lasers that fill the central atrium whilst sipping your coffee.

  • Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD
  • Gallery Café open: Daily Monday–Sunday 10am – 4pm (5pm during school holidays)
Science Museum Cafe

Serpentine Gallery

You can rely on the Serpentine Gallery to bring you the very best in contemporary art and architecture.  In the summer a pavilion takes up residence on the lawn of the Gallery that will serve you coffee during the rest of year head to the curvaceous Zaha Hadid designed Magazine restaurant next to the Serpentine North Gallery.  Situated slap bang in the middle of Hyde Park it is ideally situated to walk off any cakes that you may consume.

  • The Magazine, West Carriage Drive, Hyde Park, London W2 2AR
  • The Magazine Restaurant open: Tuesday – Sunday: 9.00am – 6.30pm

Sotheby’s

OK, so Sotheby’s isn’t strictly a museum or gallery but it is a fine place to see top quality art (for free) and has a formal restaurant open during the week.  For more casual (but not too casual, this is Mayfair) coffee and cakes there is the Story Cafe open every day with an entrance on the corner of George and Conduit Streets. This is not a place to arrive in trainers and ripped jeans your fellow lunchers will be immaculately groomed.

  • Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA
  • Sotheby’s Restaurant open: Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm
  • Story Café open: Monday to Friday 8.30 am –4.30 pm. Saturday 11am –4.30pm and Sunday noon –4.30pm

Strawberry Hill House

Horace Walpole’s ornate gothic revival house takes your breath away, take time to mull over the fantastic interiors over a cup of coffee in the café located in the Great Cloister and over looking the rather wonderful gardens.  If you are not visiting the house why not just pop in to see the garden.  Check out my post about Strawberry Hill House for a glimpse at the over the top interiors.

Cream Tea Strawberry Hill House Cafe

Tate Britain

The Djangoly cafe in the basement of Tate Britain feels like a Greek house, all white walls and curves. I’m afraid that I find the offering of coffee and cakes unappealing here, but know of nothing better within walking distance. Maybe the lack of competition shows.

  • Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
  • Djangoly Cafe open: Daily 10am – 6pm

Wellcome Collection

If you find yourself on the Euston Road with time to kill head straight to the Wellcome Collection you can browse through the excellent free collection of all things medical.  The Wellcome Café on the ground floor which is a buzzy place to grab an excellent coffee or light lunch on the Euston Road.

  • Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1
  • Wellcome Café Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm
Whitechapel Gallery cafe

Best London Museum Afternoon Teas

Tea in the afternoon and Afternoon Tea are two completely different things.  Tea and a scone is all well and good but sometimes you need the full works, the natty little stand, the delicate sandwiches and teeny tiny cakes that qualify as works of art in their own right.  Some people like champagne with their afternoon tea, I confess that I’d rather save it until later.  You don’t need to go to a grand hotel to take afternoon tea here are the best London Museum Afternoon Teas.

British Museum

Who doesn’t love the roof of the Great Court at the British Museum?  The Great Court Restaurant is just metres away from the Norman Foster roof giving you ample opportunity to gaze up.  From 3.30pm every afternoon the British Museum afternoon tea is served, £30 buys you the full works (plus a little extra if you like prosecco with your tea) but if you just want a cream tea that can be yours for £9.50.  Should afternoon tea not be your thing, lunch is served every day and the restaurant is open for dinner on Friday evenings

  • British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
  • Great Court Restaurant open: 10am – 5.30pm, Friday until 8.30pm

National Gallery

Cakes and champagne Impressionist afternoon tea at Ochre National Gallery London

Ochre at the National Gallery serves an afternoon tea inspired by the Impressionists. Sandwiches, scones and the prettiest cakes you have ever seen for £42.95 with tea.

  • National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
  • Ochre open midday until 9pm
  • Members get 20% off afternoon tea and After Impression ticket holders 10%

Victoria and Albert Museum

I know you shouldn’t have favourites but the V&A is my favourite.  I love everything about it from the entrance hall, right up to the ceramic gallery on the top floor.  Most of all I love the tea rooms.  They form the olds museum restaurant in the world.  William Morris, James Gamble and Edward Poynder designed the extravagnantly tiled rooms.  You can, of course, drink coffee or consume lunch any day of the week but if you want the full V&A afternoon tea experience than Friday afternoons are for you.  For £30 you get the full works but you do need to book first, email victoriantea@benugo.com to reserve your spot.  If you need to work up an appetite for your tea,  how about going on a V&A Treasure Hunt.

  • Victoria and Albert Museum, Exhibition Road.
  • Victoria and Albert Café Open: Daily 10am – 5pm, Friday until 9.30pm
Cafe Victoria and Albert Museum

Wallace Collection

Wander around the Wallace Collection, laugh with the Laughing Cavalier and then wonder at the ornate Sévres porcelain collection and then settle down to the Wallace Collection afternoon tea in the airy central atrium.  The Wallace Collection is just a stones throw away from the bustle of Oxford Street and yet is calm and peaceful, if you’ve left it a bit late for afternoon tea the restaurant is open for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.  If you want to know more about the Wallace Collection find my post here.

  • Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN
  • The Wallace Restaurant open: Sunday – Thursday 10am – 5pm, Friday – Saturday 10am – 11pm
Wallace Collection Cafe

Best London Museum Garden Cafés

London can get a bit hectic at times, sitting in a garden whilst sipping tea and maybe nibbling on a piece of cake is an excellent way to recharge your batteries.

Chelsea Physic Garden

Yards away from the Kings Road is London’s oldest botanical garden, crammed with 5,000 medicinal plants.  The Physic Garden cafe overlooks the gardens giving you chance to replan your own planting scheme once back home, for more about the Garden click here.

  • Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road (entrance on Swan Lane), London SW3 4HS
  • Physic Garden Café open: Winter Monday – Friday 11am – 4pm
Chelsea Physic Gaden cafe

Charles Dickens Museum

Charles Dickens is the quintessential London novelist, 48 Doughty Street is the house where he wrote The Pickwick Papers.  Down in the basement is lovely little cafe with cosy seats for days of Dickensian fog but on sunny days sitting out in the courtyard garden is a treat, there is even free wi-fi!  Click here to read about my visit to the Charles Dickens Museum.

  • Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX
  • Charles Dickens Museum café open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 4.30pm

Best London Museum Restaurants with a view

London is a beautiful city but finding places to sit and take in the view can be tricky.  Some of the best views of London whilst dining can be had from within London’s museums.

Tate Modern

Tate Modern makes the most of her long riverside frontage to have two options for taking in the panoramic views of St Pauls and the City of London.  Up on the ninth floor of the new Blavatnik Building you will find a fine dining restaurant, not the place for a quick pitstop but rather somewhere to savour the art that you have seen and the view spread out in front of you.

  • Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
  • Tate Modern Restaurant open: Daily 12pm – 3pm, Friday – Saturday 6pm – 9.30pm

Best London Museum Restaurants for Dinner

Not all London museum cafés shut their doors at going home time, some of them are open for fine dining well into the evening.  You can eat late at the Tate Modern and the Wallace Collection as well but these two are my favourite London museum restaurants for dinner.

National Gallery

Ochre restaurant National Gallery London
Ochre at the National Gallery

Ochre at the National Gallery is beautiful and the food matches its surrounding. Right on the corner of Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross Road it is perfectly placed for a dinner in town.

  • National Gallery, Trafalgar Square (use Charing Cross Road entrance in the evening)
  • Ochre open: Monday – Tuesday 12–6pm, Wednesday – Friday: 12–11pm, Saturday: 11.30am – 11pm and Sunday: 12–6pm

Garden Museum

Just south of the Thames, opposite Westminster, you can find the Garden Museum in an old church, the café that comes with it is all glass and steel, all the better to see beautiful ancient building it nestles into.  So good is the seasonal menu at the Garden Museum cafe that it has won awards, it is open as usual during the day but remains open for dinner during the week.

  • Garden Museum, 5 Lambeth Palace Road, London, SE1 7LB
  • Garden Museum Café open: Monday to Friday 8am – 5pm, Saturday 9am–3.30pm, Sunday 9am – 5pm.  Dinner is served Tuesday and Friday 6pm–10pm
Garden Museum Cafe
Garden Museum cafe

Royal Academy of Arts

Friends of the Royal Academy are treated very well, they have their very own fine dining restaurant, the Keeper’s House.  During the day it is strictly members only but once the sun goes down the hoi polloi are allowed to dine.  You enter by a small door to the left of the main entrance and descend into its beautiful dining rooms.

  • Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
    Keepers House open: Monday –Wednesday 11am – 6pm, Thursday –Saturday 11am – 11.30pm

Whitechapel Gallery

The Whitechapel Gallery was founded at the dawn of the 20th century with the aim of bringing great art to East London, it still does this and now great food too. More of proper restaurant than a museum caff Townsend, as the restaurant is called, is open for dinner three nights a week as well as the lunch time service.

  • Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX
  • Townsend open: Tuesday – Sunday: 10.30am–6pm, Wednesday – Friday until 11pm

Best London Museum Bars

What could be finer than rounding off a hard day’s culturing with a cocktail in cultural surroundings?  All that remains is to choose your tipple, will you opt for a Negroni or a Kir Royale, as you linger in the best London museum bars?

National Gallery

Ochre at the National Gallery is open in the evening (use the Charing Cross Road entrance) for fancy dinner or drinks at the bar. Quite the nicest place for a drink in the Trafalgar Square area.

  • National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
  • Ochre open: Monday – Tuesday 12–6pm, Wednesday – Friday: 12–11pm, Saturday: 11.30am – 11pm and Sunday: 12–6pm

Royal Academy of Arts

Poster Bar Royal Academy
Poster Bar Royal Academy

I know, I know the Royal Academy has already appeared twice but although all the venues are in the same building they really are very different!  The Poster Bar is best accessed via the Burlington Gardens entrance.  It is, as its name implies, a long bar with walls decorated with posters from the Acadmey’s 250 year history.  Perching on bar stools rather than reclining on a banquette type of a place (but if that is what you want head to the Keeper’s House where they also have a bar).

  • Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens
  • Poster Bar open: Monday – Saturday 8am – 7pm, Sunday 10am – 6pm

Saatchi Gallery

The Saatchi Gallery is the place to come and see Contemporary art by artists not yet on everybody’s radar, attached to the Gallery is a rather nice café bar called The Gallery Mess here you can watch the world go by a few steps away from the Kings Road.

  • Saatchi Gallery,King’s Road, London SW3 4RY
  • The Gallery Mess open: 10am-11.30pm Monday – Saturday, 10am – 7pm Sunday

Tate Modern Terrace Bar

Back to Tate Modern where you will find the Terrace Bar on the first floor of the Blavatnik Building that rears up at the back of the main Tate Modern Building.  Early in the week you drinking will have to stop by seven but as the week nears its end the hours extend.  Should you get peckish they have a pizza oven.

  • Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1
  • Tate Modern Terrace Bar open: Sunday – Wednesday 10am – 7pm, Thursday – Saturday 10am – 10pm

Which is your favourite London museum café?

Cafés in churches is another specialist topic of mine, check out my guide to London’s Church Cafés

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Best London Museum Cafes

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