Wallace Collection

Top choice gallery in The West End

Image by Will Jones Lonely Planet

Arguably London’s finest smaller gallery, the Wallace Collection is an enthralling glimpse into 18th-century aristocratic life. The sumptuously restored Italianate mansion houses a treasure trove of 17th- and 18th-century paintings, porcelain, artefacts and furniture collected by generations of the same family and bequeathed to the nation by the widow of Sir Richard Wallace (1818–90) on the condition it remain displayed in the same fashion.

Among the many highlights here are paintings by Rembrandt, Hals, Delacroix, Titian, Rubens, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velàzquez, Reynolds and Gainsborough in the stunning Great Gallery; look out for the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals. Beyond the dramatic chandeliers and a sweeping staircase that is considered one of the best examples of French interior architecture anywhere, there’s also an astonishing array of armour and weapons, both medieval and Renaissance European and Oriental. There are also temporary exhibitions (paid admission) and very popular themed events, sometimes involving ballroom dancing (check the website for what’s on).

Have lunch (or weekend dinner) at the excellent restaurant Wallace, which occupies the central glass-roofed courtyard.