Sir John Soane's Museum
Lonely Planet review for Sir John Soane's Museum
This little museum is one of the most atmospheric and fascinating sights in London. The building is the beautiful, bewitching home of architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837), which he left brimming with surprising personal effects and curiosities, and the museum represents his exquisite and eccentric taste.
Soane was a country bricklayer’s son, most famous for designing the Bank of England. In his work and life, he drew on ideas picked up while on an 18th-century grand tour of Italy. He married a rich woman and used the wealth to build this house and the one next door, which was opened as an exhibition and education space in late 2007. The heritage-listed house is largely as it was when Sir John was carted out in a box, and is itself a main part of the attraction. It has a glass dome that brings light right down to the basement, a lantern room filled with statuary, rooms within rooms, and a picture gallery where paintings are stowed behind each other on folding wooden panes. This is where Soane’s choice paintings are displayed, including Riva degli Schiavoni, looking West by Canaletto, drawings by Christopher Wren and Robert Adam, and the original Rake’s Progress, William Hogarth’s set of cartoon caricatures of late-18th-century London lowlife. You’ll have to ask a guard to open the panes so that you can view all the paintings. Among Soane’s more unusual acquisitions are an Egyptian hieroglyphic sarcophagus, an imitation monk’s parlour, and slaves’ chains.
The first Tuesday evening of each month is the choice time to visit as the house is lit by candles and the atmosphere is even more magical (it is very popular and there are always long queues).