Little-known institutions bring you a better London
Why is it that we turn off our minds when we visit London as tourists?
A city of profound intellectual pursuits, the British capital offers exciting mental rewards if we simply take the time to find them. Far removed from the changing of the guard and Picadilly Circus are at least the following:
The next time you visit any major London museum, ask the attendants for that week’s schedule of free lectures. From the British Museum to the Tate Modern, nearly every major London museum schedules talks by eminent experts on topics ranging from art to archaeology. You’ll hear an awesome presentation by Britain’s foremost scholars, and you’ll also have the chance to meet impressive London residents who make up the audience for these talks.
Similar free lectures are presented each week at college halls of London University, open to adults of all ages and not simply to students. Go to the various campus halls off Gower Street near Russell Square, look around both outdoors and inside, and you’ll soon spot bulletin boards listing that week’s presentations.
Finally, Gresham College is a unique London institution that was established more than 400 years ago in the will of Sir Thomas Gresham. The institution’s sole purpose is to present free lectures on varied subjects, which are delivered by eminent figures. Gresham College is found in the Holborn district of central London, in Barnard’s Inn Hall, just a short walk from the Chancery Lane tube station. These lectures take place 140 nights per year.
If I had the space, I would list a great many other such institutions of this intellectual city. There are, for example, the many “fringe theatres” that present counterculture, pioneering plays on subjects meant to awaken controversy. The plays, presented in small theaters all over London (but not in the playhouse-packed West End); charge much less for tickets than the large productions; and they are listed each week in the magazine “What’s On in London,” found wherever such publications are on sale. These productions may displease or even shock you, but they will be sure to awaken your mind.
London is a great deal more than such made-for-tourists events as Changing of the Guard. London is a city that, properly approached, can result in real adventures of the mind. Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer’s blog at frommers.com.
The British Museum.