It’s a bumper season for exhibitions in London

There are always great exhibitions worth visiting in London, often at smaller, less well known museums.  However, sometimes blockbuster shows hit town at the same time and this is one of those times. Londoners and visitors are frantically trying to get their hands on much sought after tickets for this spring’s top shows.  I’ve been away from London for 2 months on my volunteering trip to Africa (read more here) so I was really keen to catch up.

In London right now we have  ‘David Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Manet: Portraying Life’ at  the Royal Academy and  ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ at the British Museum. Then there is ‘Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901’ at the Courtauld, ‘Light Show’ at the Hayward Gallery, ‘Lichtenstein: A Retrospective’ at the Tate Modern, ‘Michael Caine: 80th Anniversary Exhibition’ at the Museum of London, ‘Treasures of the Royal Courts’ at the V&A and many more……

I’ve been busy working my way through this impressive list so here’s my quick tour for you to enjoy.

My favourite was the Bowie show which I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did, not being sure it would live up to the hype around it. It was huge fun with brilliant staging, lots of good information and range of items to appeal to different visitors from videos to costumes to information about the context he was working in and was influencing. You are given high quality earphones that pick up the really interesting commentary and great music (of course!) as you move between rooms. The final room has a huge video wall where you can watch him singing ‘Heroes’  at Live Aid in 1985 alongside a much more recent version. The song lifts the room and is a wonderful musical experience.  The title of the show is right – David Bowie is …. He is so many things and the exhibition follows his many ch-changes and showcases his immense creativity.


The British Museum hits back with its own blockbuster looking at the lost worlds of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The exhibition takes you through the everyday lives and the extraordinary events that overtook the citizens of these two towns in AD 79.  Rooms are laid out in the plan of a house with many artifacts -even a baby’s cot – mosaics and paintings. We explore the towns, the reasons for the eruptions and the final crushing impact.  You do get an insight into the last hours of these towns and the finality of the end through the contorted figures of the dying. 



Manet’s paintings are beautifully shown at the Royal Academy. The show focuses on his portraiture, ranging from figures of the day including his wife, to scenes of everyday life. We learn through a detailed timeline, what happened in his life. There were some truly beautiful paintings here including the one on the poster, although it was strange that one of his most famous A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is hanging just a mile or so away at the Courtauld Gallery.

 Picasso’s early works are on show at the Courtauld Gallery. They hold regular special exhibitions which they house in just 2 room which gives these exhibitions real focus and they are really manageable!  Tho’   small, there are plenty of great works to see and it is amazing to know that these paintings where shown when he was just 19 years old. You can see hints of where his work will head to but the paintings at this early stage of his career are  masterpieces in their own right. I really enjoyed one of his brash self portraits full of energy and confidence.  He reinvents styles of major names such as Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. The second room is more sombre, following the death of a close friend and this work is from the beginning of the Blue Period. Sadly one of the paintings here will leave the UK at the end of the show, his Child with a Dove could not be kept in the UK. 

The Light Show at the Hayward Gallery is a completely different experience as you have to get right into the exhibits – either by entering pitch black rooms or wearing foot covers to walk into another room or by taking your shoes off completely for a different room. In one room you see light as a solid beam you can break into with your hand, in others you see a bright single light as you enter but you eye adjusts and absorbs the  colour so  it becomes paler until you leave and re-enter and it is bright again. Other pieces show the beauty of light through constantly moving LEDs or reflecting light on mirrors to give as sense of infinity. Each room shows the work of a different artist so it’s an endlessly engaging show which I really enjoyed.

Just one more to tell you about as I was less keen on the Treasures of the Royal Court and have not yet got to see the Lichtenstein as it’s been quite a job to see this lot! The Michael Caine exhibition at the Museum of London was a small, fun exploration of his long career through film, quotes and photos.  As you can see from this quote there is a sense of fun in the show and the photos are mostly iconic shots of London born Michael. The films are clips from his famous movies such as Alfie and The Italian Job alongside TV interviews from when his was a new star to more recent reflective interviews on his long career.  It was fascinating to hear how he felt being the first east London actor with a proper London accent who broke into the big league of movies – at the time posh actors were imitating London voices if the parts required!

There are plenty more shows to in London, just never enough time to see them all!

Bye for now.

What to do when it rains in London!

Yes it does rain in London and, despite the drought warnings we have been bombarded with lately, it has been raining for the last couple of weeks.  Gardeners and the people who run the water supply have been happy but the rest of us are looking forward to the sun shining again.  Luckily there are loads of things to do in London when the rain comes down and here I’ve listed just a few as a full list would go on for pages!

In bad weather (and good days too!) I usually head for a museum or art gallery – they are free, warm and dry and house some of the greatest treasures in the world. You can see the amazing Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles or gaze at the paintings by everyone from Rembrandt through Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet, to Jake and Dinos Chapman by dropping into the British Museum, The National Gallery and the Tate Modern.  If you are strong enough to face the queues, you can marvel at the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.

British Museum
National Gallery
Tate Modern


Natural History Museum

Travel by the underground and you’ll be sheltered from the weather and you can get around London easily and quickly. For those of you who love shopping, either head for a large department store such as Selfridges or Harrods and you’ll be there for hours, or disappear in one of the huge Westfield shopping centres in Shepherds Bush and Stratford and you can easily lose a whole day.

Westfield Shepherds Bush

On a wet evening, you can’t beat a good play or film. London’s ‘theatreland’ will delight you with the stars (at the moment we have Danny Devito and Cate Blanchett on the stage and recently had Keira Knightley and Kevin Spacey), with great musicals like Billy Elliot and Phantom and newer ones like Sweeney Todd. The National Theatre will give you meatier fare, the off West End theatres like the Donmar Warehouse give you a smaller more intimate experience and don’t forget to check out the ballet and opera too!

National Theatre

Last but by no means least are the thousands of pubs and restaurants which provide shelter from the rain and some of the top cuisines in the world and certainly the most variety.You have everything from Heston Blumenthal’s amazing Michelin starred Dinner,  Gordon Ramsay’s own top restaurant and Koffman and Ducasse through to cheap and cheerful pub food with lots of fish and chips on their menus. You can find just about any cuisine in the world and London’s food scene is immensely rich and varied so look beyond the chain restaurants and find something special and memorable. 

Hopefully these ideas will keep you dry when you visit London and you could be surprised by beautiful sunshine instead, in which case you’ll be able to find open air versions of almost everything on this list!

Bye for now.
Sue Hillman
Twitter: @itsyourlondon

Christmas is coming…..

Christmas is most definitely coming and it’s time to get out and attack that present list. London is looking beautiful with all the lights and decorated shop windows, so I’ll be posting a couple of photos each week in December and you can see for yourselves. Even better, why not squeeze in a visit to London or plan to come next year? On the left is the huge Santa’s Grotto at the massive Westfield shopping centre – shopping heaven or shopping hell, up to you! On the right is a very 60s style Carnaby Street, naturally, where peace and love are the festive theme and very much in keeping with the street’s history as the centre of groovy London.



It was World Aids Day on Tuesday and London did its bit to raise awareness with gatherings, pop up shops for fund raising, church services and the most visible sign was the London Eye which turned itself red and was a really spectacular sight. We all stopped, stared, thought about the message and took our photos.

One of the big exhibitions in town at the moment is Moctezuma Aztec Ruler at the British Museum. You can see amazing artefacts from his rule and find out his story especially the momentous year following the Spanish landing through to the defeat of his empire. I loved the turquoise mask and serpent and thought the historical explanations well written. The British Museum is one of the most beautiful buildings in London both outside and inside. The photo on the left shows the classic exterior and the other is of the amazing covered court with the historic library in the curved central building. There is so much to see in the museum that it would take a whole blog to do it any justice but its newest exhibit is a few pieces from the recent Anglo Saxon find in Staffordshire. There are gold fixings from swords dating back to the 600s AD with beautiful workmanship and inlaid garnets. It’s incredible to think someone found the full hoard of over 1500 pieces laying in the ground just a few months ago. I’m returning to the British Museum next week so will report on more of its wonderful exhibits .


My restaurant of the week is Polpo, a Venetian wine bar on the edge of Soho near Carnaby Street. It’s a busy place and they don’t take advance bookings so we had a quick drink nearby before claiming our table. They have a tapas style approach and I recommend their pork belly with mushrooms and radicchio and the wonderful roast rosemary potatoes, washed down with a good strong red wine. We stayed on beyond the lunchtime rush and it was lovely as the afternoon light faded outside, it’s cosy with a casual dining area and seating at the bar on stools. It has that classic ‘distressed’ look and is hugely popular.

Bar of the week was in the Courthouse Hotel, which lives up to its name and has many of its original features including 3 former cells in the bar area which you can sit in (with the door open!) complete with the cell toilet but for decorative purposes only now. Oscar Wilde and Mick Jaggar spent some time here but before the cells became part of the bar sadly for them!

Must be off shopping for presents….

Bye for now.