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The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is undoubtedly the best museum in Europe for the completeness of its decorative and applied art collections – a must for any tourist who is in the British capital, even for a couple of days. Fourteenth (!) most visited museum in the world – this fact speaks volumes.

There is a lot to see here: on the area of 51 thousand square meters there are rare exhibits covering 5000 years of human striving for beauty – from ancient Egyptian household items to the newest samples of home design. Like all public museums in Great Britain, admission is free on any day of the year.

A little bit of history

After the highly successful World’s Fair in London in 1851, the need to share the scientific achievements of different peoples and to preserve their heritage became clear. The impressive profits of the Crown as a result of the exhibition made it possible to establish the first national school of design and a museum attached to it, called the Museum of Wares.

The honor of founding the museum belongs to Queen Victoria, and her husband, Prince Albert, contributed greatly to the formation of collections, buying up antique and modern examples of arts and crafts at his own expense. In 1899 the museum moved to a new spacious building (where it is still located today) and a little later became known as the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The museum includes 145 galleries and its collections number more than four million objects – this puts the Victoria and Albert Museum among the outstanding museums of the world.

What to see

To say that the Victoria and Albert Museum is extensive is to say nothing. To see all its permanent and temporary exhibitions, it would take more than one month of daily and long visits.

The 140 rooms are divided into six levels. In the central hall hangs one of the symbols of the museum, the whimsical chandelier of glassmaker Daley Patrick Chihuly. In addition to the British Halls (popular with children, as there are many interactive installations), whole collections represent the art of Europe in different eras (costume exhibitions, including theatrical costume, huge Raphael sketches for the Sistine Chapel tapestries, musical instruments, jewelry, furniture, glass, sculpture and even elements of architectural styles, including building facades). Equally impressive exhibits come from South Asia, the Orient, Japan and China.

There are touch screens with reference information in each hall. There is a free general tour (takes about an hour), family tours for parents with children are also free.

The architectural collection presents models of famous structures of the world, samples of building materials and original interior details – balustrades, porticoes, balconies, fixed buffets, etc. The Asia Department invites you to admire Turkish majolica fireplaces, calligraphy, rugs, kimono, tatami and other artifacts. The gems of the book department are Da Vinci’s original diaries, early editions of Sophocles and Virgil, a verdict for Joan of Arc, etc.

In the British Galleries it is worth seeing the largest bed in the world – the Ware bed measuring 3.38 m by 3.36 m. Masterpieces of the Ceramics Department are a magnificent porcelain pyramid from Delft and a glass goblet of the Edenhalls (Syria, 14th century). And the fashion department shows more than 14 thousand closet items – from dresses of the 16th century to the collections of Westwood, Dior, Chanel, Cardin, etc. And that’s just a small fraction of the V&A’s amazing exhibits.

The pride (one of many) of the museum collection is a collection of almost all famous tartans – original combinations of stripes and colors on the Scottish family kilts. And on the museum’s website, anyone can order their own tartan and officially register it with the guild.

Address and opening hours

Address: Cromwell Road, London; the nearest tube station is South Kensington.

Open 10:00 – 17:45 (daily), 10:00 – 22:00 (Fridays).

Admission: Free.

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