Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is one of the very few attractions in London that is both centuries old and completely modern.
Madame Tussaud learned her unusual craft of modeling figures in wax by creating death masks of those executed by guillotine in 18th and 19th century France. Among her ‘clients’ were Louis XVI and Marie Antionette. That mixture of precise art and macabre display is reflected in the modern museum – but with a much greater sense of fun!
The museum displays a large collection of famous figures from world history along with the latest Hollywood celebrities. The collection traces its origins to Madame Tussaud’s inheritance of her tutor Dr. Curtius’ collection. In 1802, she moved from Paris to London and the museum began in 1835.
But far from being an historical relic, the collection has been continually updated and there are several very different subsets for tourists of all interests.
The Chamber of Horrors continues the grisly tradition of displaying murders, bloody warlords and others – but, though realistic enough to scare sensitive children, the emphasis is on amusing visitors.
The Garden Party features politicians both old and modern, movie celebrities, sports stars and others.
The Spirit of London is a taxi-ride ala Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, but here it’s through 400 years of English history. One highlight of the ride is a portion showing the sights and sounds of London at the time and place of Jack the Ripper, including the old carver himself.
The Grand Hall also has figures from British history, with a variety of famous (and not so famous) examples of Royalty and Head of State.
One of the most popular tourist attractions, the museum is typically crowded with visitors. Over two million visits annually. Everyone wants to take a photograph with anyone from The Hulk to Brad Pitt, from Jack the Ripper to Princess Diana or Winston Churchill.
The figures are almost all done with extraordinary fidelity. The lifelike figures are one of the reasons for the frightening effect in the Chamber of Horrors, which also shows a variety of modes of torture and execution. No expense has been spared to hire the finest modeling craftsmen to bring the figures to life.
Housed in the same building, and admitted on the same ticket, is the London Planetarium, recently renamed The Auditorium. Though shows have been reduced in number and length, visitors can still get an impressive view of the sky as seen from London’s latitude and longitude. The current show lasts only ten minutes and with the renaming it’s uncertain how long the owners – who also own Madame Tussaud’s – will continue it. So, catch it while you can.
The attractions are easily accessible via the tube (the London Underground subway system). Exit at the Baker Street tube stop, near Regent’s Park. Expect to wait in line outside and dodge elbows inside, where there is still often a wait of 20 minutes or more. It tends to be a little less crowded in the very early or late hours.