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.
TOP LONDON MUSEUM CAFÉS
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
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 of Arts, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
- RA Café open: Daily 10am – 6pm
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)
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 Chucs restaurant next to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Situated slap bang in the middle of Hyde Park it is ideally situated to walk off any cakes that you may consume.
- Serpentine Sackler Gallery, West Carriage Drive, Hyde Park, London W2 2AR
- Serpentine Sackler Chucs Restaurant open: Tuesday – Sunday: 9.00am – 6.30pm
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 mighty fine cafe. 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
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.
- Strawberry Hill House, 268 Waldegrave Road, London TW1 4ST
- Café open: daily 9.30am – 5pm
Prize for most stunning museum dining room has to go to the Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britian. Rex Whistler (I wonder how they came up with the name for restaurant) murals adorn all the walls. It is only open at lunch time but don’t go thinking that this is place to grab a quick bowl of soup, this is a starched napkin and fine china kind of a place. If you have enough friends and enough cash then it is available for private hire in the evening.
- Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
- Rex Whistler Restaurant open: Daily 12pm – 3pm
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. You have a choice of two places to grab refreshment the Wellcome Café on the ground floor which is buzzy or for a more formal lunch head upstairs to the Welcome Kitchen.
- Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1
- Wellcome Café Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm
- Wellcome Kitchen Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm, Thursdays until 10pm
BEST 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.
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, £20 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 £8.50. 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
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 [email protected] 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
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
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.
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
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.
Wandering through the National Portrait Gallery is like stepping into a lavishly illustrated British history book. Right at the very top of the gallery is the Portrait Restaurant and Bar which offers a stunning view over the roof tops to Nelson’s Column and onwards down Whitehall. Morning coffee, lavish lunch, afternoon tea, pre-theatre dinner and fine dining late into the evening are all on offer here. I love the daytime view but a night with London twinkling below it is extra special.
- National Portrait Gallery, St Martins Place, London WC2H 0HE
- Portrait Restaurant and Bar open: Sunday – Wednesday 10am – 4.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 10am – 10.30pm
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 Wellcome Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and the Wallace Collection as well but these two are my favourite London museum restaurants for dinner.
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
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
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?
ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS
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
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?
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