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 from­


The Bri­tish Mu­seum.

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