Somerset House was built on the site of the Palace of the Dukes of Somerset in the late eighteenth century by William Chambers.
Until the nineteenth century Somerset House reached the waters edge, but this was changed with the building of the embankment though the southern face of the building still features boat moorings.
Apart from housing part of the Inland Revenue and the register of births, deaths and marriages, Somerset House is now also home to the Courtauld Gallery, with the most impressive collection of paintings on display anywhere in London including works by Rubens, Bottecilli, Renoir, Manet and many, many more. Also housed here is the Gillbert Collection, an impressive museum of decorative art that first opened in 2000. The Hermitage Rooms regularly feature exhibitions from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
The central courtyard was, until 2001, used a car-parking facility for visitors- this is now regularly used as a venue for cultural events. This area is now known as Fountain Court features an ice-skating rink in winter months which proves so popular that tickets are often sold out well in advance!
Waterloo Bridge connects to the River Terrace which has a café and is often used to display sculpture. Admission to each museum is charged separately, although admission to Fountain Court is free of charge. Somerset House itself is open until 6pm, though the courtyard is accessible until 11pm daily.