Are you itching to explore but stuck at home? Maybe your trip to London has been cancelled, or you just need to get your brain out exploring beyond your own four walls? Let me lead you on a walking tour of London from the safety of your own home!
As I write this, London is in lockdown and we’re all stuck at home. But just a few weeks ago, I was tasked with writing a London Streets treasure hunt. The timing wasn’t the best, but I managed to get out into London as it was emptying of people, before the city properly closed-up shop, for a final hunt for treasures. It turned out to be a classically grey British day, making my photos look even gloomier! However, on Google Street View you can explore them on a sunnier, busier day and have a stroll around yourself.
Explore the streets online
Here we see Covent Garden completely abandoned in the middle of the afternoon. Usually it is chock-full of tourists and shoppers enjoying the stalls and the performers in the courtyard. For years these street performers have had to audition to perform here. It used to be for the Russell family who owned it (their family motto ‘Che Sara Sara’, which you can find on the buildings, means whatever will be, will be.) This means you only get the highest quality performers on show. You can see someone mid-show on Street View on a much more typically busy day here!
Trafalgar Square is looking very eerie in its emptiness here. Usually, it’s full of visitors heading to the National Gallery or taking photos with the lion sculptures at the bottom of Nelson’s Column. The whole square is named for Nelson’s innovative and decisive naval victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. The four bronze relief battle scenes show other conflicts from the Napoleonic Wars. This includes the Battle of the Nile, where the British Army captured the Rosetta Stone from the French. Now of course, it’s in the British Museum (as you’ll have seen if you’ve been on one of our British Museum treasure hunts!). Have a look around here!
Explore the British Museum from home!
If you’d rather head to a museum, the British Museum is the largest fully traversable indoor space on Google Maps. You can explore almost every gallery, and the entire collection has been photographed and is available for free online so we can take a closer look too!
As you enter the British Museum you arrive in the Great Court, under the incredible glass ceiling by famous architect Norman Foster. At the bottom of the Google Street view screen, you can go directly to many highlights and galleries, or you can simply click around and explore wherever you like. But allow me to lead you to some interesting spots. On one of our Fun and Games treasure hunts you can find some of the most iconic objects like the Rosetta Stone, the key that allowed us to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, or the Lewis Chessmen, intricately carved walrus-ivory figures that look so magical they appear in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
In the same gallery as the Chessmen are some of my favourite bizarre pieces: The Tring Tiles. These tiles are unique in both style and content. The unusual red and white decorative tiles are carved in a cartoon-like fashion and show tales of Jesus as a young boy. These are stories for which no canonical gospel evidence exists. Jesus kills and resurrects playmates, and performs all sorts of unusual miracles, occasionally being chastised by Mary and Joseph. Made around 1330 they give us an amusing insight into the creative world in medieval England. A world that would soon create its first proper work of literature with The Canterbury Tales.
Why not venture to more out of the way galleries too? Even if you’ve visited the British Museum before, you may never have explored outside the huge Egyptian, Greek and Roman collections.
Hidden gems you may have missed…
In the wonderful Africa galleries, you can see contemporary art pieces as well as dramatic ritual masks and delicate textile artworks. They also house the important Benin Bronzes. More than a thousand decorative panels lined the walls of the Oba’s palace. This was the capital of the Kingdom of Benin, now southern Nigeria. They were made over several hundred years from the 14th to the 18th century. The British Museum’s collection of bronzes was captured in an attack by the British Army which tragically destroyed the city and dismantled the palace. However these pieces survive and their rich and intricate detail led to a much greater appreciation for the culture and artistic skill of West African societies by the wider world.
Why not also explore the Mexico gallery to see Mayan lintels from their temples at Yaxchilan? Aztec mosaic work like this double-headed serpent in turquoise and shell. This is believed to have been given to Hernan Cortez himself by King Moctezuma II upon his arrival in the Aztec capital.
Another oft-overlooked treasure is the Great Shrine of Amaravati. Formerly a huge domed Buddhist monument, it was dates back to at least 200 BC. It is one of the most important religious sites in southern India. A rare treat to be able to see it here in the UK!
Where to next?
While we can’t invite you on a treasure hunt at the British Museum just now, we have plenty of content around here on what to do while you’re stuck at home!
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