With London’s unmatched and unique cultural landscape, art is crucial. You can nearly always see it; it’s one of the city’s best and most active artistic scenes. In the capital, there are thought to be 1,500 permanent exhibition venues, the majority of which are free.
There are many art galleries in London for your next art expedition, whether you’re seeking modernism or old masterpieces, classical or contemporary. But selecting a gallery might be challenging when you’ve seen all of London’s most recent art exhibits.
1. Best Art Galleries in London
Hence, we’ve compiled a list of the best art galleries in London you absolutely must see. Arranged according to size, with establishments like the National Gallery & independent giants like the White Cube included.
Whether you enjoy impressionist paintings or contemporary sculpture, old masters, or current art, art galleries in London meet all your cultural needs.
The Barbican is a significant destination for art enthusiasts, thanks to its consistent commissions for the Curve Gallery and its consistently engaging exhibitions in its main exhibition space.
Whether it’s a never-ending downpour, you won’t get wet in or an intensely in-depth examination of Jean-Michel Basquiat, these concrete halls never fail to deliver and come from the best art galleries in London.
The Barbican Centre draws serious cultural lovers into a maze-like arts complex that is part of a massive concrete estate that also contains 2,000 highly desirable apartments and countless concrete pathways.
It is a superb example of brutalist architecture that has been slightly mellowed by time and a few rectangular ponds with obliging local ducks.
With almost every imaginable genre represented, the emphasis is on top-notch artistic programming.
The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), which performs 90 concerts annually and enjoys the excellent acoustics of the Barbican’s concert hall, is at the centre of the music lineup.
The Curve, a free exhibition venue for specially commissioned works & contemporary art, is located on the ground floor.
The annual BITE program, which hand-picks exciting and diverse theatrical companies from around the world, co-occurs here with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s London seasons.
Ballet and modern dance performances are available on an equally global scale. There is a cinema as well, with a sophisticated program that hosts frequent film festivals centred on distant locales or underrepresented genres.
The City of London Corporation, which receives a portion of the financial sector’s large earnings, funds and oversees the entirety of this cultural buffet.
1.2. Dulwich Art Gallery
The oldest public art gallery in the UK, Dulwich Art Gallery, is housed in this (relatively) small structure, and its galleries are filled with natural light. The excellent collection here includes pieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, and Gainsborough.
It recently expanded to include a yearly pavilion commission just to compete with the Serpentine, and its occasional exhibitions are worth a trip across town.
The oldest public art exhibition in the UK is housed in this (relatively) diminutive structure, which supports the notion that the best things come in tiny packages and come from the best art galleries in London.
To compete with the Serpentine, it has expanded with a yearly pavilion commission, and its temporary exhibitions are well worth the commute across town.
The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) produces some very cutting-edge, avant-garde exhibitions; boy, does it deliver on that promise.
In a scene inundated with controversy-seeking work, it is standing as art’s rebel institution has waned in recent years.
Pop art was created here; if you catch the proper performance, you just could see the start of the next major artistic movement.
The ICA was established in 1947 by a group of poets, artists, and critics and moved to its current site on the Mall in 1968.
It provides exhibitions, independent films, performance art, philosophical discussions, club nights with an art theme, and anything else that might go against the grain.
1.4. National Gallery
Big names are everywhere in the National Gallery. Its tranquil spaces make it impossible to avoid falling head over heels for the artwork.
Yet it won’t cost you a dime (apart from its spectacular blockbuster exhibitions of artwork by artists like Caravaggio and Michelangelo).
The National Gallery was first composed of 38 paintings that were displayed at a house along Pall Mall while an intent gallery was being built. The National Gallery was founded in 1824 as a fresh art collection for the delight and education of all.
One of the best art galleries in London, there are currently more than 2,300 pieces of art, ranging from iconic French Impressionist works to classic works from the Middle Ages.
The new museum debuted in 1838 and was situated in Trafalgar Square since it was considered to be at the city’s centre and convenient for visitors.
The National Gallery is still open to everyone today and free to enter. On the way to work, anyone can stop by and spend ten minutes admiring Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, or they can spend the entire day admiring JMW Turner’s “Bequest” or Cézanne’s “Bathers.”
The gallery offers courses, concerts, and blockbuster exhibitions that do require tickets. Still, the majority of its collection is free to view, and there are daily free talks that don’t require reservations.
These delve further into various paintings or subject matter each time.
1.5. Serpentine Gallery
The Serpentine, located in the heart of Hyde Park, hosts some of the city’s most daring temporary art exhibitions. It’s calm west London buildings have been adorned by Marina Abramovi, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons.
You get pretty much the nicest thing anywhere in Kensington when you combine that with its yearly pavilion commission.
This compact, airy gallery for modern art is a popular destination because of its seclusion to the west of Long Water in Kensington Gardens.
Together with the recently opened Sackler Gallery just across the lake, a continuous two-monthly schedule of shows featuring contemporary artists also keeps the Serpentine inside the arts headlines, as does the yearly Serpentine Pavilion and comes from the best art galleries in London.
A new pavilion is erected each spring by an internationally recognized architect and is accessible to the public from June through September. There is also a helpfully open decent, modest art bookshop.
1.6. Tate Britain
The elder, more sophisticated sibling of Tate Modern may be a touch stuffier, but Tate Britain still has a tonne of incredible art.
Tate Britain, which is housed in an imposing Portland stone structure on the riverbank, is the second-best collection of British art after the National Gallery.
It is a treasure trove of Bridget Riley, John Martin, and JMW Turner’s works, with a focus on the history of British art, and comes from the best art galleries in London.
The original Tate Gallery, established by sugar baron Sir Henry Tate, has a broader & more inclusive mandate. Tate Modern, however, receives all the attention.
With a 20-year renovation strategy called the Millbank Project that includes preserving the building’s historic elements, updating the galleries, opening new areas to the public, and creating a new café, it also hopes to reclaim some of the spotlights from its more famous sibling.
When the other Tate opened, many current pieces were moved there. Still, Stanley Spencer, Lucian Freud, and Francis Bacon were all well represented, plus Art Now installations highlight emerging British artists.
Temporary exhibits include headline-hungry blockbusters and the yearly Turner Prize show that court controversy (September-January). The gallery has a top-notch gift shop and a decent restaurant.
1.7. Tate Modern
In addition to possessing one of the best collections of modern & contemporary art in the world, Tate Modern is also a historically significant building that is worth seeing on its own.
When this location opened its doors in 2000, it was difficult to understand how void London’s contemporary art must have been, but we’re sure pleased it did.
One of the most recognizable art museums in the world and London is the Tate Modern. In addition to possessing one of the best collections of modern and contemporary art in the world, it is also a historically significant building that is worth seeing on its own.
One of the four Tate sites in the UK, Tate Modern receives an astounding 5 million visitors each year. The gallery used the former Bankside Power Station when it debuted in 2000.
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also built Battersea Power Station, created the enormous building on the banks of the Thames following World War II. Herzog & de Meuron converted it and then returned to direct a significant extension project.
This began in 2012 with the Tanks’ opening and ended in 2016 with the label Switch House addition.
Since the British Library on Euston Road, the twisting pyramid-like building was the most substantial new opening of a cultural institution, and it’s very similar to the rest of Tate Modern.
One of the best art galleries in London, and it’s worth taking a look at its incredibly attractive exterior, but you must go inside for the main attractions. Tate Modern received an additional 60% of space from The Switch House, and they made good use of it.
With an emphasis on the world, they have over 800 pieces in their collection by artists from more than 50 nations.
They’ve also taken a considerably more proactive stance on the gender topic than most art galleries, with a 50/50 balance of male and female artists in their solo exhibitions.
Together with their renowned permanent collection, which includes works by Pablo Picasso, & Barbara Hepworth, Tate Modern consistently draws large crowds with their enthralling temporary exhibitions.
1.8. The Wallace Collection
Forget about all that posh modern art with its pretentious conceptualism and performance antics. Sometimes all you need is a lovely vintage painting of a woman swinging.
At its posh mansion off Oxford Street, The Wallace Collection contains a magnificent one by Fragonard and a tonne of other lovely antique paintings.
Built in 1776, this elegant home is home to an extraordinary collection of French furniture, artwork, and decorative objects from the eighteenth century as well as an incredible collection of medieval armour and weapons. It comes from the best art galleries in London.
It has opened its doors to the public since 1990 and belonged to the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace.
Room after grand room is filled with furnishings from the Louis XIV and XV eras and Sèvres porcelain, and the galleries are hung with works by Titian, Velázquez, Fragonard, Gainsborough, and Reynolds.
The Wallace Collection frequently hosts temporary exhibitions in addition to having a permanent space where kids can try on the armour.
Children regularly have the opportunity to see the Wallace Collection & participate in activities organized by artists.
1.9. Chisenhale Art Gallery
During the past few years, Chisenhale Art Gallery has been one of London’s most avant-garde patrons of contemporary art.
Among the best art galleries in London, even though you can never predict what you’ll get, you can be sure that it will keep the old grey matter turning.
This not-for-profit organization, housed in a former 1930s veneer factory next to Victoria Park, has been establishing itself as one of London’s most avant-garde commissioners of contemporary art over the last few years.
Rachel Whiteread, Cornelia Parker, Paul Noble, and Pablo Bronstein are some artists who collaborated with the gallery.
1.10. The Photographers’ Gallery
Six Stories of only photography: The Photographers’ Gallery is a utopia for art lovers who are tired of paintings and sculptures and want a little more reality in their culture. There is nothing else in the city like it in terms of its display quality and innovative programming.
After receiving a complete makeover, the six-story location of The Photographers’ Gallery on Ramillies Street has reopened.
Initially, a dramatic, angular building with enormous floor-to-ceiling lightwells reaching toward the sky was envisioned for the new location.
After receiving a financial wake-up call, the Irish architects O’Donnell+Tuomey came back with a beautiful renovation and recladding of an old brick building, as well as what amounts to a lavish loft conversion, adding two additional stories and just one narrow sliver of those firmament-reaching windows.
However, interior space is something that hasn’t been lost at all.
Two light-filled new galleries are located on the top floors, while the ground floor & basement levels now include a bookstore, a print sales room, and a café.
Given that the property was moved to a less-than-appealing corner site in a back alley south of Oxford Street, the transition from historic structure to stylish makeover wasn’t a huge loss.
The Photographers’ Gallery has remained confident in its site, notwithstanding how different and unwelcoming their new plot on the dubious Ramilies Street may seem.
In fact, despite its ungainly, warren-like unsuitability for displaying great photography, the gallery’s prior location on Great Newport Street will also survive forever in the memory.
The new location does, however, maintain the gallery’s roots in Soho (just about) and also comes among the best art galleries in London.
1.11. The Perimeter
The stunning structure of The Perimeter Gallery was created to hold the collection of young art enthusiast Alex Petalas, who exhibits works by the artists he collects and adores there.
Writer & curator Alison Jacques exhibits works by up-and-coming artists, well-known artists, and pieces from the estates like Robert Mapplethorpe & Hannah Wilke at this opulent gallery.
It was started in 2004, and until 2007, it was based out of a Mayfair townhouse from the seventeenth century.
One of the best art galleries in London and the two exhibition spaces are located on the ground floor of the present space, which measures 3,500 square feet.
Alison Jacques has built her reputation as a champion of emerging artists who have gone on to win accolades from around the world.
Visits require reservations, but you can count on seeing well-known figures like Sarah Lucas as well as more recent artists like Prem Sahib.
1.12. Whitechapel Gallery
The Whitechapel has supported well-known artists for more than a century, introducing Londoners to figures like Jackson Pollock & Frida Kahlo. Even today, it continues to stage internationally acclaimed exhibitions and comes from the best art galleries in London.
Since its founding in 1901, the Whitechapel Art Gallery has enhanced its standing as a cutting-edge institution for contemporary art. It is renowned for showcasing the works of artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Frida Kahlo.
This East End institution had a significant remodelling and enlargement that resulted in the Grade II listed building being transformed into a vibrant, all-encompassing centre of art with a research centre, archives room, and café in 2009.
Art galleries in London provide something for everyone, from cutting-edge modern spaces created specifically to display public ownership collections to majestic Royal structures housing works of art owned by Britain’s Royal Family.
Nevertheless, London has impressive permanent art collections, enhancing its standing as one of the top cultural destinations in the world.
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