MY first experience with Somerset House was in the summertime when I met friends for a Friday night drink on the River Terrace. We sat in the breeze and chatted over a few wines next to the river, on one of those glorious sunny evenings that occasionally happen in a London summer.
More recently, in the middle of a wintery snowy day, I decided to check it out properly with an afternoon of history, food and art. It was a completely different experience, but just as fun.
We started with the free tour, an excellent insight into the historical and architectural importance of the building. As we wandered and shivered through the courtyard we learnt about the relevance of the sculptures, as well as the history of the area. It was then off to the basement level to check out the light and coal wells, before taking refuge inside away from the cold.
Once inside we headed down the ‘Stamp Stairs’ – a spiraling staircase that takes you down to the remnants of the old Tudor palace previously built on the site before Somerset House. It was rebuilt in 1780 to be used as government buildings, but only opened to the public in the 1990s.
Now home to London Fashion Week, open air cinemas in the summer and ice skating rinks in the winter, it is hard to imagine it being used for anything else. And that’s not to mention the gallery spaces which are available for some amazing exhibits.
Currently fashion icon Valentino has an exhibit, but with a £12.50 entry fee and long line to get in we decided to skip it and see the photography exhibits instead. First up was the Cartier-Bresson: Expression of Colour, displaying pictures exploding with colour of people and places from all over the world.
We then moved on to the Tim Walker: Storyteller – a fashion photographer who takes weird and wacky photographs, with a few celebrities dressed in couture thrown in.
After all that walking it was, of course, time for a coffee. Luckily there are a few choices at Somerset House. There is a resident Ferdandez & Wells café, heaving with people when we poked our heads in, so we decided to head over to the south wing and visit Tim’s Kitchen. A swanky place, with matching prices, we then instead headed to Tim’s Deli. It was the perfect place to grab a warm drink and sandwich before setting off back out into the cold.
Somerset House is the kind of place you could pop into in your lunch break, or spend hours sitting and eating on the terrace in summer. It has a little something for everyone and is worth a look in, no matter how long you plan on staying for.