The V&A’s permanent collection includes more than two million objects, spanning over 5,000 years of creative history. Whether you’re interested in architecture or art, fashion, textiles or design, there are many inspiring exhibits to see here. Is Photography more your thing? Maybe you want to look at jewellery and ceramics or memorabilia from legendary live performances? You’ll find all this and more at the astonishing Victoria and Albert Museum.

In June 2022, Her Majesty the Queen will become the first British Monarch to celebrate 70 years on the throne. From Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th June 2022, people across the country will celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. To see if your train is running, as well as the best events to attend, check out our travel guide for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Weekend.

What’s in this guide?

  • What to see at the V&A
  • Museum history and facts
  • Restaurants, bars and cafés at the V&A
  • Opening times and ticket prices

Getting to the V&A Museum

London is a sprawling city, but it’s easy to get around thanks to its vast public transport network. This includes many National Rail services, underground trains (tubes) and busses, with stations and stops everywhere.

To get to the Victoria and Albert Museum, you’ll want to take the tube to South Kensington station, which is on the District (green) and Circle (yellow) lines. From there, it’s just a couple of minutes walk to the museum.

Gloucester Road tube station is also close to the Victoria and Albert Museum. This station is also served by the Picadilly (blue) line.

Taking a National Rail service into London? If you want to head straight to the V&A, the closest train station is London Victoria, served by Southern and Southeastern trains. It’s around a 35-minute walk from London Victoria to the museum or just a couple of minutes on the tube.

What to see at the Victoria and Albert Museum

As a museum dedicated to design and creativity, it’s no surprise that the V&A is home to an incredible variety of objects. Take a tour through the highlights or delve deeper into the collections. Wherever your interests lie, there’s sure to be something that captures your imagination here.

Paintings

The V&A paintings collection includes many oil and watercolour works from Britain and Europe, including highlights from Turner and Raphael. There are also over 2,000 miniatures, many of which make up the national collection.

The paintings collection has been a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum since the early days when it was called the Museum of Ornamental Art. In 1857, John Sheepshanks donated his more-than 500 personal paintings to the museum; his first gallery opened in 1857 and remains the oldest part of the V&A today.

Don’t miss the Raphael Cartoons when you visit, widely considered one of the greatest treasures from the Renaissance. The paintings comprise seven designs for a tapestry painted by the admired Italian painter Raphael. They were commissioned for the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and represent the lives of Saints Peter and Paul.

Furniture

The V&A is home to an impressive furniture collection – not something you see in museums every day. The diverse furniture spans more than six centuries of British and international creativity, including intricate Japanese pieces from the 1800s and stunning examples of modern design.

Photography

Whether you consider yourself a photography fan or not, everyone can enjoy the captivating display at the V&A. The museum started acquiring photographs in 1852; today, the collection is among the largest and most significant in the world.

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s first director, Henry Cole, enjoyed photography as a hobby. He was responsible for starting the collection in the year that the South Kensington Museum building was established.

Fashion

Many people go to the V&A exclusively for its famous fashion collection, the largest and most comprehensive in the world. Explore gowns, dresses, eveningwear and daywear from centuries gone by.

Highlights in the fashion gallery include a striking pink evening dress designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga in 1964 Paris and a pair of woven shoes from Ancient Egypt.

The museum also boasts an impressive hat collection, where you can see striking designs from around the world. See traditional headwear from across the globe when you delve into this colourful exhibit at the V&A.

Whether you’re a glasses wearer or not, the unique collection is sure to impress. See handmade and modern eyewear and learn about the evolution of eyewear from medical accessories to style statements.

The V&A is also home to a stunning collection of wedding outfits. The gallery spans five centuries and showcases game-changing designers. There are many pieces to see in this exhibit, from pure white wedding dresses to an intricate kimono and centuries-old wedding ring.

Theatre & Performance

From drama, dance and musical theatre to opera, puppetry, set design and popular music, the Theatre & Performance Collection leaves nothing to be desired. It started in the 1920s when a private collector donated her extensive personal collection to the museum. Since then, the archives of many performance companies, directors and collectors have been given to the V&A collection.

Highlights in the Theatre & Performance galleries include a 1960s Gibson guitar, 19th-century performance posters and costumes worn by Mick Jagger, Elton John and Fred Astaire.

Victoria and Albert Museum history and facts

The V&A Museum has changed a lot since its beginning; it was initially established as a Museum of Manufacturers in 1852. The buildings we know today were constructed as part of Queen Victoria & Prince Albert’s Bicentenary. Let’s dive into the history of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Great Exhibition

The 1851 Great Exhibition was the first international event of its kind, an incredible display of objects from all four corners of the world. From steam engines to exotic goods, everything was displayed in a temporary glass structure erected in Hyde Park.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert oversaw the grand opening. Around six million people are estimated to have seen the exhibition – that’s a third of the British population! Famous visitors include Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.

The Museum of Manufacturers

The success of the Great Exhibition led to a selection of new objects being purchased to launch the new Museum of Manufacturers, which opened in 1852. The museum occupied Marlborough House in Pall Mall, a royal building made available by Prince Albert.

The Museum of Manufacturers was directed by Henry Cole, also in charge of the Government School of Design at Somerset House. He moved this collection to Malborough House to become part of the Museum of Manufactures.

A school for good design

Cole wanted his museum to be a kind of “schoolroom for everyone”, teaching the public the importance of good design. Displays of impressive furniture, ceramics, textiles, glass and metalwork were showcased alongside ‘bad’ designs, intended to spark the public’s imagination and make them demand more from national manufacturers.

Supposedly ‘bad’ and successful designs were laid out side-by-side, with plaques explaining the judgement.

The new museum in South Kensington

By 1584, the Museum of Manufacturers was getting too big for its home at Marlborough House. Cole talked to Prince Albert about a permanent museum in London’s new cultural quarter, which Albert developed in Brompton. Today, we know Brompton as South Kensington, thanks to Cole, who suggested the name change to make the area sound more appealing.

The Prince wanted to turn the whole area into a hub for exhibitions, schools and academic institutions. The run-down Brompton Park House was the space chosen for the new museum. Funds were short, and the first building was a temporary structure made from iron. The iron museum was widely criticized, and it earned the nickname the ‘Brompton Boilers’.

As the museum’s collections grew, more space was needed to house and display the items. Captain Francais Forke was brought on to supervise new additions, including the Sheepshanks Gallery. This new gallery and the Boilers were ready for reopening as the South Kensington Museum in 1857.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The museum grew at an astonishing rate over the following decades, becoming more like the building we know today by 1899. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone in her last public ceremony.

The name was changed to the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Queen originally wanted it to be named the Albert Museum but changed her mind at the request of the Duke of Devonshire.

Cafés, restaurants and shops at the V&A

The V&A is home to many excellent facilities to make your visit easy. From three unique shops to the world’s first museum café and beautiful gardens, save a little time to make the most of your experience.

The first museum café

In the 1800s, when the V&A first opened, Londoners would need to take a horse and carriage out of the city to reach the area known as Brompton. There they could enjoy the exhibitions late into the evening, thanks to the world’s first gas-lit galleries. Director Henry Cole also introduced the world’s first museum refreshment rooms, meaning visitors could stay for even longer!

The original Refreshment Room was built in 1856. These changed over the years, moving around the museum and modernizing their offering.

Today, the Victoria and Albert Museum boasts two cafés: the Main Café and the Garden Café, serving a range of hot and cold meals, cakes, pastries, tea and coffee.

Unique shopping

The V&A shops include the museum’s Main Shop, Fashion Shop and Exhibition Road Quarter Shop, all open during regular museum hours. You can also browse online before or after your visit, giving you longer to choose the perfect gifts.

The museum shops are known for their impressive books collections, including beautiful coffee table books covering all aspects of creativity and design. You can also shop for fine and costume jewellery, prints and luxurious fashion accessories.

Victoria and Albert Museum opening hours and tickets

The V&A is open every Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:45. The only days the museum is closed are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Visiting the museum is free, just like it’s always been! But you might want to book your free timeslot online to guarantee entry.

Travelling to London by train?

London is a well-connected city by rail and is easy to reach from all over the UK and certain parts of Europe via the Eurostar. Travel from Manchester to London in 2 hours and 3 minutes, or Edinburgh to London in just 4 hours. Routes through the Channel Tunnel from Europe include Paris to London in 2 hours and 17 minutes or Amsterdam to London in 4 hours and 42 minutes.

Want to find out more about travelling to London by train? Check out our dedicated page to trains to London.