London is surely one of the world's best museum towns. Visitors staying in Central London can easily spend all their time viewing rich collections within half an hour's walk of their hotels. But a longer hike, or a ride on a river taxi or bus or Underground train, will take them to neighborhoods they might not know and museums they might never have heard of, much less seen. Here are four of my favorites, along with some ideas about where to grab something to eat while you're there.
Museum of London Docklands (Canary Wharf): This less-known and hence inexplicably quiet branch of the Museum of London presents an utterly fascinating history of the Port of London from pre-Roman times to just the other day. It covers trade (naturally), culture, politics -- everything to do with the River Thames.
There's an enormous model of London Bridge, on one side in its 15th-century state, and on the other, as it was a century later. The material on the two World Wars is moving, and much of it was new to us. We thought we'd be there for an hour; we spent three and a half and emerged hungry and thirsty. Whatever the time, you can get something to eat and drink at Canteen (English cooking) or Iberica Food and Culture (tapas, etc.), and in general Canary Wharf is crawling with (mostly chain) restaurants.
Fashion and Textile Museum (Bermondsey): A little fashion-wonky, but the exhibitions can be appealing, such as this spring's show on post-War British textiles, and going there can be part of a walk around Southwark to visit its cathedral and to look in on Borough Market. Start at London Bridge Underground station. The fine Italian restaurant Zucca is nearby but is open only at normal lunch and dinner hours, and you'll need to make a reservation. Even closer, and open all afternoon, is an excellent tapas bar run by a man who used to work for the Spanish-food importer Brindisa: José Sherry and Tapas Bar. Tapas mostly run £3 to £5 ($4.75 to $8); only a couple of them cost more.
Horniman Museum and Gardens (Forest Hill): Here, a favorite place to spend an hour is the delightfully old-fashioned natural history gallery: essentially, stuffed specimens in glass-fronted cabinets. But the rest of the museum is state of the art, including the important musical instrument collection (in fact, it is to the Horniman that the Victoria and Albert Museum's instruments have been moved, though these are not yet on display). The museum is child-friendly, which if you're not with a kid can be a trifle wearying.
Sadly, the neighborhood isn't good for dining. Still, if the weather is nice you can wander in the extensive gardens, look at the numerous sundials and get something to eat on the museum's terrace. Or you could have a well made cup of coffee and a sandwich or piece of cake on the way back to the train station, at the St. David Coffee House.
Whitechapel Gallery (Whitechapel): Here you will find often excellent, rotating contemporary art exhibitions, and there's bound to be something interesting. At meal times, by all means eat in the gallery's very good Dining Room, supervised by the well-known London chef Angela Hartnett, who is a friend of mine. The menu is Italian inflected, but covers a lot of ground and will work for a quick bite or a full meal. It is a bright, pretty room, too, with windows facing the busy street.
Or you can walk a few minutes to Brick Lane for South Asian food (you'll be taking a chance, because the quality varies wildly) or, better, to the Spitalfields Market area, where you'll find the ever reliable St. John Bread and Wine as well as a good fish and chips shop called Poppie's.
Museum of London Docklands. West India Quay, No. 1 Warehouse, Canary Wharf, London E14 4AL; +44 (0) 207 001 9844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Fashion and Textile Museum. 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF; +44 (0) 207 407 8664; email@example.com; http://www.ftmlondon.org. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. during exhibitions - check website or phone before planning a visit.
Horniman Museum and Gardens. 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ; +44 (0) 208 699 1872; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.horniman.ac.uk. Open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Whitechapel Gallery. 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX; +44 (0) 207 522 7888; email@example.com; http://www.whitechapelgallery.org. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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Canteen. The Park Pavilion, 40 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5FW; +44 (0) 845 686 1122; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.canteen.co.uk. Open Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Iberica Food and Culture. 10 Cabot Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 4QQ; +44 (0) 207 636 8650; email@example.com; http://www.ibericalondon.co.uk/ibericalondon/iberica_canary_wharf.html. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 11:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Zucca. 184 Bermondsey St London SE1 3TQ; +44 (0)207 378 6809; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.zuccalondon.com/. Open noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Tuesday to Saturday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
José Sherry and Tapas Bar. 104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UB; +44 (0) 207 403 4902; http://www.josepizarro.com/restaurants/jose/. Open Monday to Saturday noon to 10:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 5:30.
St. David Coffee House. 5 Davids Road, Forest Hill, London,SE23 3EP; +44 (0) 208 291 6646; email@example.com; http://www.stdavidcoffeehouse.co.uk. Open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 3::30 p.m.
Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room. See gallery listing for address; +44 (0) 207 522 7896; http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/dining-room. Open Tuesday to Sunday noon to 3 p.m. (4 p.m. on Sunday), Wednesday to Saturday 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
St. John Bread and Wine. 94-96 Commercial Street, London E1 6LZ; +44 (0) 203 301 8069; http://www.stjohnbreadandwine.com/. Open every day 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.; noon to 4 p.m.; 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (9 p.m. on Sunday).
Poppies Fish & Chips. 6-8 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR; +44 (0) 207 247 0892 ; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://poppiesfishandchips.co.uk. Open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 11:30 p.m., Sunday to 10:30 p.m.