Natural History Museum – The Darwin Centre
The Darwin Centre opened in September and, as well as being a research centre and exhibition space, is one of the capital’s newest event venues. The exhibition, dedicated to Charles Darwin and his revolutionary theory of natural selection, is housed inside the Cocoon, a soaring white curved structure resembling a giant butterfly chrysalis.
Events can be held in the entrance hall, with the eight-storey Cocoon providing the backdrop. In summer, the hall (hosting up to 350 delegates) opens on to a landscaped courtyard, which has a patio and lawn.
Elsewhere, the Tree Gallery has views over the Central Hall and its diplodocus dinosaur, and can be used for events for up to 60 people. To mark 200 years since Darwin’s birth and 150 years since he published On the Origin of Species, the museum fitted a new piece of artwork to the gallery ceiling – Tree.
Tree is a lengthways cross-section of a 200-year-old oak by Tania Kovats and was inspired by a diagram Darwin made resembling the spreading branches of a tree (see middle picture right).
Evening events can be held in the Earth Hall, while the Flett Theatre is available during the day.
tel: 44 20 7942 5434
Another London institution, the British Museum has good meeting facilities for daytime and evening use – three seminar rooms (up to 90 delegates is the largest) and two lecture theatres.
The BP and Stevenson theatres were designed by Norman Foster and were inaugurated in 2000 by Nelson Mandela. Both feature grey metallic walls and leather chairs, with the eye immediately drawn to a deep red lacquered stage at the front.
BP can seat just over 320 people, while Stevenson holds about 140. All venues are well equipped with audiovisual equipment and catering done onsite. The East and West foyers lead on to the theatres and can be used as a networking area or exhibition space.
It’s worth hiring a guide for an in-depth look at one of the museum’s collections, be it Egyptian sculpture or Greek vases. You could also incorporate an extended lunch break for delegates to take in the exhibits.
Only the museum’s Global Partners, companies which donate a set sum of money each year, can hold events in its galleries.
tel: 44 20 7323 8136
London’s waxwork museum is the place for blockbuster evening events. Madame Tussauds makes for a stunning, if a little kitsch, party venue with plenty of photo opportunities.
Once the doors close on the day’s visitors, it can be transformed into a glamorous red-carpet venue. Guests start with a whirl on the Spirit of London ride, which takes you through the history of the city, from The Plague to the Swinging Sixties.
Welcome drinks can be served in the A-List Party room (for up to 250 people), where guests can get up close and personal with their favourite celebs – be it Brangelina or the Beckhams. For larger events, the adjacent Premiere Night room can also be used, adding capacity for 100 people.
The World Stage ballroom can be used for large functions, such as awards dinners for up to 350 people or networking events for 550. Lighting and audiovisual equipment is already in place, including a large projector screen, and if there is a particular celebrity you’d like to join the party, such as Richard Branson or the Queen, this can often be arranged (although you may have to settle for their wax form).
tel: 44 844 824 6263
Tate Britain and Tate Modern
London’s two Tate galleries are looked after by one events team, with groups often visiting both venues during an evening – for example, starting with a conference at Tate Britain and hopping on a boat to the Tate Modern for dinner or drinks. Tate Britain traces the British art story from 1500 to the present day, while the Tate Modern focuses on international modern works.
At Tate Britain, the Sackler Octagon in the centre of the Duveens sculpture galleries can be used for dinners of up to 120 people. It’s a classical space with Palladian columns and can be transformed with lights. Gallery Nine can be used in the evening for banquets, parties or conferences, with masterpieces by British greats such as Stubbs and Hogarth providing an inspiring backdrop. It can hold up to 350 for a reception.
The Manton foyer is a more contemporary space with a capacity of up to 300, and events can be combined with evening tours of the latest special exhibition.
There is also the Duffield meeting room for up to 40 people, which can be used in the day, as well as the Clore auditorium with seating for up to 190.
For daytime conferences, Tate Modern has the 240-seat Starr auditorium, painted entirely in red. The East room has sweeping views of the Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, and is ideal for product launches.
For a truly artistic evening, the Realisms gallery can hold up to 80 people for a dinner, with works by Chagall and Derain providing a talking point.
tel: 44 20 7887 8799
The London Dungeon is a fun, off-the-wall option for evening events, catering for parties of 75 to 220.
It’s a highly interactive experience, with live actors taking you through the history of London and picking out the most gruesome stories to scare you with.
Visit Tooley Street’s makeshift operating room, where doctors carry out secret autopsies on stolen bodies, then take part in a mock trial where you’ll have to beg for your life (this can be a good opportunity to get your own back on an annoying colleague).
A macabre figure also picks out someone from the group to demonstrate torture techniques on.
Not for the faint-hearted, the Extremis: Drop Ride to Doom adds a thrill to the evening, with ghosts waiting in the shadows – try not to get lost in the mirror maze and watch out for the rats.
Drinks and dinner are served in the Torture Chamber – although the beheaded bodies and disembowelled torsos may put you off your food. The London Dungeon is located next to London Bridge station, on the South Bank.
tel: 44 20 7487 0224
For more venue ideas visit www.uniquevenuesoflondon.co.uk