London is famous for its overwhelming selection of splendid museums. One is simply spoiled with choice in the English capital. Here is our guide to the 10 best museums in London for art.
All places are curated from our free city guide for London, momondo places, available for iPhones. Download it now and impress your travel partner with your knowledge of London art.
South London Gallery
Peckham may be turning into one of London’s liveliest neighborhoods, but it’s low on tourist hotspots. This art gallery, established in 1891 for the edification of the locals, is an exception. Though the elegant modern annex has brought the space bang up to date, South London Gallery has kept its welcoming, community vibe, and while the collection features huge names – Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, Gillian Wearing among them – much of what’s on show is related to the local area.
The exhibitions are normally free, meaning that you can splash your cash either buying books and trinkets from the gift shop, or pause for a coffee and homemade cake in the soothingly airy café afterwards.
Where: 65–67 Peckham Road
Tel: +44 20 7703 6120
Nearest station: Peckham Rye
Victoria & Albert Museum
There are millions of pieces in the Victoria & Alberts Museum‘s magnificent collection of art and design, which was founded in 1852. Seven floors are filled with paintings, fashion, furniture, ceramics, sculptures, glass, jewelery and more, all working together to illuminate the history of the world’s cultures over the past 5,000 years.
The Gallery of Islamic Art, for example, with more than 400 exquisite objects dating from the 8th to the early 20th centuries, is one of the finest collections in the world. There’s far too much to see in one go, but a guided tour is a great way to approach this vast treasure trove.
Where: Cromwell Road
Tel: +44 20 7942 2000
Nearest station: South Kensington
The Wallace Collection
This gem of a free museum is hidden away in a majestic mansion behind Oxford Street. The Wallace Collection‘s impressive collection of largely 18th- and 19th-century paintings, furniture, ceramics, sculpture and arms was given to the nation in 1897 by Lady Wallace. Paintings by Rembrandt, Titian and Hals are among the collection, along with some glorious English and French watercolors.
The beautifully decorated rooms also give a good impression of what life was like for the aristocracy in fashionable Victorian London. Why not stop for a light lunch or afternoon tea in the brasserie in the lovely light-flooded atrium?
Where: Manchester Square
Tel: +44 20 7563 9500
Nearest station: Bond Street
While the location of the Saatchi Gallery is historic, in a magnificent former military barracks off the fashionable King’s Road, the interior is airy, light and modern – the perfect setting for the fiercely contemporary art on show.
In addition to the collection of often controversial Brit Art, you can see temporary exhibitions of modern art from around the world, many of them with a distinctly avant-garde edge. Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly and Sol Lewitt are among the artists who have exhibited here in the thirty years since it opened.
Admission is free.
Where: Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road
Tel: +44 20 7811 3070
Nearest station: Sloane Square
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dulwich is one of London’s loveliest “villages”, and Dulwich Picture Gallery is one of London’s loveliest galleries. Founded in 1811, it is also the oldest public art gallery in the world, designed with typical grace and flair by the innovative British architect Sir John Soane.
Soane’s brick building, curiously modern-looking and illuminated by overhead skylights, makes a suitably respectful setting for the paintings. Including masterpieces from more than six hundred Old Masters, including Hogarth, Rubens, Poussin, Rembrandt, Canaletto and Gainsborough.
Don’t miss the tombs of the gallery’s founders, given their own mausoleum in the body of the building. Finish the day by losing yourself in the beautifully landscaped grounds.
Where: Gallery Road
Tel: +44 20 8693 5254
Nearest station: West Dulwich
The Royal Academy of Arts
Beyond a handsome courtyard and a comfortable distance from noisy Piccadilly, the Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768 by George III and still remains a private institution run by approximately 80 academics, all of them practicing painters, sculptors, engravers, printers or architects.
Its summer exhibition, held every year since 1769, boasts the world’s largest collection of contemporary art curated from open submissions. The Academy is also the venue of some of London’s most important exhibitions, focusing on themes or artists such as Rubens, garden painters or Ai Weiwei.
There is an admission fee for special exhibitions, but the academy’s exquisite permanent collection is always free to visit.
Where: Burlington House, Piccadilly
Tel: +44 20 7300 8000
Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus
Whitechapel Gallery was established in the East End in 1901 to give ordinary working people free access to the finest art. Picasso, Pollock and Rothko are among some of the legendary names that have exhibited here. Nowadays you can see historically important work from around the world, as well as new commissions.
Frequent special events include lectures, concerts and workshops. Most exhibitions are free, but admission may be charged for one larger show every year.
Where: 77-82 Whitechapel High Street
Tel: +44 20 7522 7888
Nearest station: Aldgate East
The National Gallery
With its fantastic location at the top end of Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery, one of the world’s most famous art galleries, is impossible to miss. There is no way you can see it in its entirety in one visit, but as there is free admission to the permanent collections, it’s easy to enjoy in lots of small doses.
The gallery is home to Britain’s national collection of Western European art, and the extremely long list of pieces includes masterpieces by Vermeer, Van Gogh, Seurat, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Rubens. Audio tours and self-guided trails allow you to get the most of different aspects of the collection, whatever your particular interests or curiosities.
Where: Trafalgar Square
Tel: +44 20 7747 2885
Nearest station: Leicester Square
How could a trip to London be complete without a visit to one of the world’s most successful modern art museum, Tate Modern? In a renovated power station by the Thames, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern houses an exceptional collection of post-1900 art, including famous works by Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Magritte, Pollock and Warhol.
There’s always something going on here, from large special exhibitions to exciting displays in the gigantic Turbine Hall with its strange echoing acoustics and cathedral-like proportions. There is plenty to do for children too.
The museum is open daily, and admission is free. There is often a charge for temporary exhibitions, which run the gamut from futurist art to photography.
Tel: +44 20 7887 8888
Nearest station: Southwark
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery was established during the Victorian era as a tribute to famous British notables. Today, you can find magnificent portraits dating as far back as the Tudor period; there is a Holbein painting of Henry VIII, as well as portraits of the king’s six unfortunate wives. The collection continues to the present day and comprises paintings, sculptures and photographs.
Admission to the permanent collection is free; however, this does not always apply to the many excellent temporary exhibitions.
Where: St Martin’s Lane
Tel: +44 20 7306 0055
Nearest station: Leicester Square