There are two queues in the Baker Street area. One leads to the waxy riches of Madame Tussauds. The other forms outside the most famous fictional address in literature: 221b Baker Street.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is an odd beast. It's an attraction dedicated to a person who never existed, at a location different to the one described in the books. This handsome Georgian house is officially addressed at 221b Baker Street, but you'll find it between numbers 237 and 241. It's easiest to look for the queue.
"It can be a two-hour wait in the summer," one of the smartly dressed attendants tells a fellow visitor. Such is the draw of the great detective that people sometimes wait for longer here than at Madame Tussauds. But is it worth it?
A chipper constable greets us on the door and ushers us into the gift shop to purchase a ticket. This is a magnificent space, richly decorated with random Victoriana and palm fronds. The shops sells every conceivable Sherlockian nicknack, from genuine antiques of the period to tat like this.
Our jaws drop when we hear the ticket price: £15 for a small house museum. By comparison, the Charles Dickens Museum is £9. Ben Franklin House is £8. You could visit both Keats House and Carlyle's House and still have change for a cuppa. Still, we hand over our readies and look forward to exploring Holmes and Watson's inner sanctum.
The museum spreads out over four storeys. Each room is crammed with a mix of authentic furniture of the era and pastiche props. It's as though the famous duo have just popped out on a case, and we're snooping round their rooms. And very nice they are too. If you come from a place without any Victorian heritage (i.e. most of the world), then you're in for a visual treat.
There's little substance behind the style, however. The books, the author, the history — none of it is explained. Conan Doyle doesn't get a mention (as far as we could see). You'd think that maybe the phenomenally successful Cumberbatch-and-Freeman TV version would make some kind of appearance, or even the naff Warner Brothers films — but no.
Despite the name, the Sherlock Holmes Museum is very much an attraction rather than what most people would consider a museum. It is a house of curiosities with very few labels or explanations. That's a fair strategy, and helps keep the crowds moving in a limited space. But, just a reminder... you're paying £15 for this.
That said, Sherlock fans will enjoy looking out for references to the stories. A violin here, a chemistry set there. Is that a bust of Napoleon? Why have the letters VR been shot into the wall? Such details will delight the true Sherlockian. To quote the man himself: "Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details".
The highlight, if such it can be called, comes on the top floors. Here we find a procession of wax dummies representing key moments from the stories. Some of our favourites:
The final room offers the chance to inspect the Holmesian bathroom. It doesn't take a detective to see that something's afoot with the great man's fibre intake.
Our self-guided tour took little more than 15 minutes — roughly a pound for every minute we spent in the building. The experience was at times amusing and diverting. We particularly enjoyed the chance to sit beside Holmes's fireplace and peruse the papers while wearing a deerstalker — a prize selfie opportunity.
Overall, though, we left a little disappointed. This is a handsome but lightweight exhibition, that doesn't deliver value for money — especially if you've queued up to get in.
The more frugal Sherlockian is better directed to the Sherlock Holmes pub in Charing Cross. Upstairs, you can get a free view of the detective's study. Or spend your money instead on the complete Sherlock Holmes in paperback. At just £14.99 (a penny less than museum entry), this will entertain you for months, with no queue.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is at 221b Baker Street. Entry, if you hadn't already twigged, is £15 (children £10), but the gift shop is free to peruse. Open daily 9.30-6pm