When it comes to art, London is one of the world’s premier locations for galleries. And whether you’re visiting the UK Capital for a short amount of time on vacation or relocating here, the massive choice of galleries can make deciding which ones to visit seem a task on its own!
But never fear, because we’ve put together what we think (in our humble opinion) are six great, and not to be missed, art galleries in London:
The National Gallery & National Portrait Gallery
Okay, okay – we know that technically these are two separate galleries, but we didn’t want to take up two spots on the list! After all, we don’t think either should be missed (and they are both located in Trafalgar Square, after all, so can be visited on a single day…).
The National Gallery is THE place to visit if you want to see art in the Western European tradition from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Think hallowed names such as Stubbs, Constable, Van Gogh and Renoir… The gallery is free to visit and is open every day from 10:00 – 18:00 (21:00 on Fridays). It’s closed New Year’s Day and the 24-26 December inclusive.
The best way to visit is by using public transport. Westminster, Embankment, Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Charing Cross are the nearest tube stations. The gallery also has regular events and exhibitions (some of which charge a fee). These tend to sell out fast so be sure to book early if you wish to attend.
Also in Trafalgar Square (well, St Martin’s Place if we’re going to be exact), the National Portrait Gallery provides visitors with a walk through some of history’s most famous faces. It boasts over 200,000 portraits that date from the 16th century right through to the current day. Entry is free and it opens the same hours as The National Gallery.
The Tate Britain & Tate Modern
Guilty once again of squeezing two galleries into one recommendation… The Tate Britain is housed in a beautiful building and holds the record for the largest collection of British art anywhere on the planet.
There’s an enormous variety of art on display here, from Turner to Bacon, Warhol to Dali, Picasso to Sargent… the list goes on and on. Admission is free and each day various free activities take place, included guided tours by art experts. The gallery is located on Millbank, and is open from 10:00 – 18:00 every day. The nearest tube stations are Pimlico, Vauxhall and Westminster.
The Tate Modern is, as the name suggests, the UK flagship art gallery that displays modern art. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the gallery certainly showcases some amazing pieces, and really is worth a visit. Even the building itself is worth admiring, with all the wonderful exhibitions being housed in a renovated old power station. You’ll find the Tate Modern on Bankside, with the nearest tubes being Southwark, Blackfriars and St Paul’s.
Opening hours are 10:00 – 18:00 daily, with late opening to 22:00 on Friday and Saturday.
This gem of an art gallery was opened in 1985 by Charles Saatchi. Today it’s famous for presenting contemporary works of both international artists who have not (or only rarely) had their work exhibited in Britain, as well as those of brand new and emerging talent.
The Saatchi Gallery is free to visit (something you’d expect from a gallery created by a man who’s donated his entire gallery collection to the UK nation). Located in the delightful surroundings of Sloane Square, the nearest tube stations are Sloane Square and Victoria. The gallery is open every day from 10:00 to 18:00.
Somerset House has become something of an icon when it comes to art and culture. Home to two galleries, the Courtauld and Embankment, you can view wonderful Old Master’s paintings as well as ever-changing exhibitions in all mediums, including design, photography and fashion. And the building itself is pretty impressive too.
The galleries are open daily from 10:00 – 18:00. Nearest tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden, Charing Cross and Embankment.
The Whitechapel Gallery
As the name suggests, the Whitechapel Gallery can be found in Whitechapel. Here you can feast your eyes on various contemporary arts. Renowned the world over for being the first to showcase such names as Jackson Pollock and Frida Kahlo, you can also enjoy regular exhibitions of some of the brightest new names in art.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 – 18:00 and is free to visit. Aldgate East is the closest tube, or it’s a 15 minute walk from Tower Gateway or Liverpool Street.
The Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy of Arts is an independent charity that prides itself in exhibiting both arts of old and modern day creations. Here you can see such gems as Queen Victoria’s paintbox, paintings by Constable and the UK’s only Michelangelo sculpture.
There are two separate sites, one in Piccadilly and one in Burlington Gardens although both are to be linked together in 2015. Opening hours are 10:00 – 18:00 daily and the nearest tube stations are Piccadilly Circus, Green Park, Green Park, Oxford Circus and Bond Street.
It was a hard task to put together a list of only six of the best art galleries in London. Others of note include the Barbican Art Gallery (situated in a wonderful Grade II listed building), Pitzhanger Manor, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery, the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts), the Lisson Gallery and the Hayward Gallery.
When planning your visit to any of the above galleries, be sure to check out the opening times and the availability of any special exhibitions you might wish to see.
In some cases, exhibitions may have a limited number of tickets available. If your visit is being made specifically to see a certain exhibition, be sure to book your tickets prior to arriving to avoid disappointment. This is especially true during peak times such as the summer holidays and the Christmas period.