Imagine for the last five years you’ve been building a palace in Central London that overlooks the Thames. It’s finally near completion and you’re getting excited. You can start thinking about the interiors, leaving the kids in the East Wing, and interviewing a flurry of butlers. Then… you go and get decapitated for planning to overthrow the government.
Urgh. So annoying.
This is the (somewhat abridged) story of Lord Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and how his London palace became public property.
Somerset House is one of the finest buildings in London; its sublime proportions and 18th Century neoclassical architecture are only outdone by its tranquility. Standing at its centre, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the eye of London’s daily bustling storm.
In the North Wing, The Courtauld Gallery houses paintings by 19th/20th Century masters including Cézanne, Manet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. The West Wing and The East Wing host ever-changing gallery spaces, frequently exhibiting the works of resident artists supported by the Somerset House Studios programme.
If your batteries need recharging, there are two charming cafe spaces that serve delicious tinctures of brain resuscitation (aka tea and coffee). Over in The New Wing (lost yet?) sits one of London’s finest restaurants, Spring, where you’ll find seasonal dishes rustled up by lauded chef Skye Gyngell. Finally, head to the South Wing, if not purely to say you were inside the Seaman’s Hall, but also because you might fancy getting high-class pissed at the Terrace Bar, complete with Thames-infused panorama.
So what’s on at Somerset House now? Well, their blockbuster exhibition The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain is a gothic romp through the creative rebellion of the last 50 years in the face of financial crises, political horrors and social issues (on until 19th February 2023). And of course as the festive season approaches, the courtyard also plays host to one of the most perennially popular ice skating rinks in London, complete with DJs, hot chocolate trucks and pop up fondue restaurants…
…making it totally acceptable to go just for the après-skate.
NOTE: Somerset House is open daily, except for Christmas Day. Many exhibitions are free to visit, but some are ticketed. You can find out more, and book ahead, HERE.
Somerset House | Strand, London WC2R 1LA
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