Visitor's Guide To The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 5000 years of decorative arts from Europe, Asia, North America and Africa.
Many visitors have little idea what visual delights lie behind the name of the museum. The regal stone building is literally a rambling treasure trove of art from across the centuries and around the world. The museum's speciality is 'decorative arts and design', where you will find everything from ancient roman ceramics to the latest 21st century fashion designs.
On this page we will guide you through how to tackle a visit to this large museum, including what exhibitions are there (both permanent and temporary) along with the tour options open to you. You'll also learn the practicalities of how to get to the museum, where to park, ticket prices and opening times and we've included a few ideas for places to eat in and around the museum along with places to stay in the area.
What to expect at the museum and what makes it special
You may be asking yourself what led to the Victoria and Albert museum specializing in decorative arts and design. The answer lies in the origin of the building. The museum was established in 1852 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This time was the age of the industrial revolution and a time when manufacturing on a large scale was taking off. The earliest exhibitions were therefore focused around manufacturing, and the museum has evolved from this early theme to the present day.
As you enter the Victoria and Albert you will be left in no doubt that you are embarking on an inspiring world of creativity. There is a colourful glass feature cascading from the large domed ceiling of the main hall, and the area is thronging with eccentric characters of all ages.
The vast variety of art and design on show mean that it is worth finding a way to hone your visit that best suits you. Maybe you will decide to pick just one floor of the museum to explore, or maybe you will choose to take one of the guided tours. Perhaps you will choose to forget about checking your watch and get lost in the rambling spaces. Or, if all else fails and you're feeling overwhelmed, you could simply decide to kick back and relax in one of the museum's open spaces (see below for more details).
One of the museum's unique qualities is the way in which the artefacts are displayed. Rather than the usual stark white rooms, the areas here are contextualised - each reflecting the style of art and design that is housed within it. In the South Asian area, for example, there are low steps and Asian styled columns. Throughout the museum the exhibitions are organised by continent, meaning that you can wander from America to Europe in seconds.
Temporary exhibitions: There are constantly changing exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert. These could cover anything from The Cult of Beauty to Contemporary African Photography. The exhibitions change on a regular basis and it is often necessary to buy a ticket for these types of shows. To find out more about the special exhibitions that are taking place during your visit and whether you will need to buy a ticket, see the Official Victoria and Albert museum website Current Exhibitions page.
If you are coming to the museum for the purpose of seeing a specific exhibition it is a good idea to book your ticket in advance. Particularly at weekends or when an exhibition is nearing the end of its run, tickets can sell out. To avoid disappointment it is worth booking at least a couple of days in advance.
Permanent exhibitions: The V&A is a museum celebrating history and artefacts from around the world and throughout history. This means that whether you are a history enthusiast, a fashion lover or someone who just interested in experiencing colourful decorative art and design, you will enjoy getting lost amongst the permanent exhibitions. There is so much to see at the Victoria and Albert museum that it is often difficult to know where to start. The official V&A website can be useful - simply head to the Home Page of the Official V&A museum website and click on the tab called 'What's In the V&A'. Once you click on the tab you will find the exhibitions split into categories. You can either search by subject (for example, 'Architecture' or 'Drawings') or you can search by periods in history (for example, 'Gothic' or 'Baroque'). This will help you to plan your visit and pick out the parts of the museum that will be suited to your tastes.
If you are on a tight schedule, a guided tour can be a another way to see the museum. It will help you to see the highlights of the museum and learn interesting extra details from experts. The tour guides are, in fact, trained volunteers, so they tend to be knowledgeable and they are there because they love the museum and want you to love it too. To find out more, check out the Official Victoria and Albert Tours Page.
The Victoria and Albert are well-known for the special events that they hold throughout the year, many of which are free. Past events have included the likes of late night Fridays with DJS and talks and children's' activities during the summer holidays. To check out whether there are any special events taking place during your visit check out the 'What's On' section on the Official V&A Website.
How to get to there
The nearest tube station to the museum is the South Kensington underground. On exiting the tube station you will find yourself on a street called Onslow Square. Head up the street towards Thurloe Street. When you arrive at Thurloe Street, turn right. Keep walking up Thurloe Street until it turns into Thurloe Place. Keep walking along Thurloe Place until you see the large Victoria and Albert Museum on your left. The walk will take you less than five minutes.
Tube: South Kensington (Green Line / District Line, Yellow Line / Circle Line and Blue Line / Piccadilly Line)
The Victoria and Albert Museum is open at the following times:
Wednesday - Sunday: 10:00 - 17:45
Only selected galleries remain open after: Friday: 17:30
General admission to the museum is free. However, some of the permanent exhibitions require tickets for entry (see above for more information).
Places to eat in and around the museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum sits in an affluent and pleasant area of London. This means that surrounding the museum you will find a wide variety of places where you can go to grab a coffee, have a snack or enjoy a sit-down meal. There are also two cafes inside the museum:
The V&A Café
The V&A Café sits across three rooms of the museum - the Morris, Gamble and Pointer Rooms. The location is stunning - the rooms have ornate high ceilings, tiled floors and large round glistening lights throughout. The food served is informal - you can order salads, hot dishes, pastries, cakes and drinks from a counter and sit where you wish in the area.
V&A Café Opening Times:
Wednesday - Sunday: 10:00 - 17:00
The Garden Café
This is an outdoor café area that is open during the summer months (exact dates will vary depending on the weather). It offers the opportunity to sit in the V&A's large terrace area, flanked by the regal and imposing surrounding buildings. The café serves light snacks and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
Garden Café Opening Times:
Wednesday - Sunday: 10:00 - 17:00
Address and contact details
Victoria and Albert Museum
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7942 2000
Website: Official Victoria and Albert Museum website
The V&A does not have its own car park. Unfortunately there are few car parking options in the area surrounding the museum. In general, when it comes to getting around London, it is better to use public transport where possible. Parking in central London can be scarce and driving through London there is often lots of traffic.
The Victoria and Albert museums is constantly offering imaginative exhibitions and special events. Whether you come for one hour or one day you will be entertained. You could dash between the rooms soaking up the generous helpings of art and design or you could bask in the sunshine in the garden area. If you are in search of a chance to immerse yourself in culture in the capital, in a magnificent British Victorian building the V&A is the perfect place to start.