If you like art in all its forms, London is one of the greatest cities in the world to explore. With exhibitions of classic and contemporary art, sculpture, graffiti, photography and illustration, there are dozens of places to see art in London, housed in everything from magnificent historical buildings to converted power stations, listed pavilions and dazzling newly built spaces.
And best of all, most art galleries in London are free to get into. To help you explore the city and immerse yourself in culture, we’ve put together a list of the best places to experience London’s incredible art scene.
Best Contemporary art galleries in London
Camden Arts Centre
Camden Arts Centre © Mark Blower
In 1965 a former library was converted into a gallery to promote contemporary art. The exhibitions feature emerging artists, international artists debuting in London, significant historic figures who have inspired contemporary practice, and group shows relevant to current debate.
Arkwright Road, NW3 6DG
A chic, sleek contemporary art gallery in Mayfair, Pace has shown everything from established artists like Julian Schnabel to right up to date digital art by Japanese collective teamLab. The first Pace gallery opened in Boston in 1960, and set a high standard for promoting vibrant, vanguard-leading work from around the world.
6 Burlington Gardens, W1S 3ET
White Cube © Ben Westoby
Art galleries don’t come much more cutting edge than White Cube, which was set up by Jay Jopling, a key figure in the famous Brit Art movement of the 90s. The gallery made its name by curating works from art megastars Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Marc Quinn before they hit the big time; so you can be sure the stuff on show now is worth making a note of!
144 – 152 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ
South London Gallery
This area of South London is its very own artistic hub, home to colleges, galleries and numerous artists and studios. The South London Gallery, in a superb Victorian building between Peckham and Camberwell, opened in 1891, and its mission was to bring art to the people, as it still does to this day. As well as changing exhibitions of contemporary art, there is a great cafe that serves Peckham’s best coffee, and an beautiful garden designed by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, with support from horticulturists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. It is a must visit.
65-67 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH
This gallery is in an 8,000-square-foot former furniture factory situated between Hoxton and Islington in north east London. Victoria Miro can be relied upon to exhibit the very best and most extraordinary in contemporary art. For example, currently it is showing work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama whose iconic pumpkin sculptures are a sight to behold.
16 Wharf Road, 7RW
Serpentine Pavilion 2017, Designed by Francis Kéré, Design Render, Exterior © Kéré Architecture
These two contemporary galleries are situated in the picturesque Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park. The Serpentine Gallery, opened in 1970, is in a former tea pavilion, and has shown work by such luminaries as Andy Warhol, Anish Kapoor, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. In 2013, The Serpentine Sackler Gallery was opened in a former gunpowder store, five minutes from the Serpentine Gallery.
Kensington Gardens, W2 3XA
The Saatchi Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art for London, gets over 1.5 million visitors every year, drawn to the former army barracks on the King’s Road, to see its mix of blockbuster exhibitions, new artists, and controversy-stirring displays. It’s a massive museum and its emphasis is on making art accessible and inspiring to the public.
Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, SW3 4RY
Whitechapel Gallery © Guy Montagu-Pollock
Calling itself ‘the artists’ gallery for everybody’, it was established in 1901 to give the people in the East End of London the chance to enjoy art. Over the years it has had exhibitions by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo, as well as contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Paul Noble, Thomas Struth, Sarah Lucas and Mark Wallinger.
77-82 Whitechapel High St, E1 7QX
Best Art Galleries In London For Sculpture
Sculpture trail at Pangolin
One of the few galleries in the capital wholly dedicated to sculpture, with works by the likes of Bruce Beasley, Lynn Chadwick, Ann Christopher, Geoffrey Clarke, and Terence Coventry. As well as pieces inside the gallery, there is also an enthralling sculpture trail around Kings Place and along the nearby canal, which you can follow here.
Kings Place, 90 York Way, N1 9AG
Best Art Galleries In London For Photography
The Photographer’s Gallery
Founded in 1971, the gallery is devoted entirely to photography, covering everything from artworks to photojournalism. Housed in what used to be a textile warehouse off Oxford Street, which was recently completely refurbished, you can buy prints of some of the pictures, and the gallery also has a very good café.
16 – 18 Ramillies St, W1F 7LW
Day pass: £5, or free for the last hour from 17:00 daily. The gallery also runs free Thursday lates, from 17-20:00!
Best Art Galleries In London For Illustration
House of Illustration
House of Illustration
Founded by Sir Quentin Blake (famous for his illustrations for Roald Dahl books) and opened in July 2014 at the heart of the King’s Cross regeneration area, this is the UK’s only public gallery devoted to illustration, a fascinating new space with a creative programme of exhibitions, talks and events. The programme looks at everything from animation, picture books, political cartoons, scientific drawings to fashion design.
2 Granary Square, N1C 4BH
Most Unusual Art Galleries In London
The Cartoon Gallery
Tucked away near the British Museum, this delightful little gallery provides a history of the grand tradition of British cartoons from the 18th century to the present day and features everything from political satire to kids’ comics.
35 Little Russell Street, WC1A 2HH
Price:£7 (£3 students)
The Outsider Gallery
Outsider Gallery London
This gallery in North London celebrates work by artists with mental health issues, and looks at how art and music has tremendous therapeutic and healing value for those struggling with their mental health. It’s a terrific idea, not least because the quality of the work on display is incredibly vibrant and inspiring. The gallery is by appointment but well worth making the effort.
Clarendon Road, N8 ODJ
The Crypt Gallery
The Crypt Gallery
The Crypt Gallery in St Pancras Parish Church in King’s Cross was used for burials from 1822 to 1854, and is still the resting place for 557 people; it also acted as an air raid shelter during the two World Wars. It opened as a contemporary gallery in 2002, and is one of the most extraordinary and atmospheric art spaces in London. Visiting The Crypt Gallery is both thought-provoking and exhilarating.
Dukes Road, NW1 2BA
This innovative, offbeat gallery showcases emerging contemporary artists, and is worth visiting not just for the intriguing artwork on display, but for a piece of history. It is located in the oldest public space in London: a former gunmaker’s workshop, built in 1712 in the heart of the West End.
79 Beak Street, W1F 9SU
Best Art Galleries In London For Graffiti
Far be it for us to condone or even promote graffiti (the very thought of it!), but there’s no denying this is a street art form that is now taken very seriously indeed thanks to the likes of Banksy. The Graffik Gallery, in West London, showcases established and emerging urban street art. It also holds much in demand graffiti workshops, where you can release your inner vandal creative spirit.
284 Portobello Road, W10 5TE
Best Art Galleries In Hoxton
Founded in 1992, the Hales gallery has been an influential force in the art hub that is the East End, and has helped launch the careers of Brit-artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, Mike Nelson and Sarah Jones.
7 Bethnal Green Rd, E1 6LA
This fantastic creative space in the East End, on the site of what used to be in a leather factory, has regular exhibitions featuring emerging and established artists.
39-47 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA
The gallery’s aim is simply: to promote great and innovative artists in all media. Since 1984 it has done just that, featuring artists including Wolfgang Tillmans, Rebecca Warren, Gillian Wearing and Anne Hardy.
21 Herald Street E2 6JT
Cell Project Space
A very cool gallery that is accessed through an industrial yard in Bethnal Green, via an entryway brimming with sub-tropical plants. An independent gallery founded in 1999, it has an packed programme of exhibitions, projects, talks, screenings, and events.
258 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9DAC
Art In London Beyond The Galleries
Courtauld Gallery, London
The Courtauld gallery in Somerset House is worth visiting not only to look around the historical Tudor palace itself, but also to see some among its astonishing art collection, world-famous masterpieces such as Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. The gallery has a fine collection of works by Monet, Degas, Gaugin, Cranach, Rubens, Modigliani, Picasso, and the largest collection of Cézannes in the UK.
Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 1LA
Price: £7 (free for students)
The National Gallery
Nearly 6 million people visited the National Gallery in 2015 – and small wonder. Right in the heart of London, overlooking Trafalgar Square, room upon room contain masterworks by the likes of Cézanne, Monet, Gainsborough, Rubens, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Constable. It’s a quite extraordinary collection, and there’s so much to see, you might want to follow this guide to 30 must see paintings to guide you through.
Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
4,700,000 visitors went to Tate Modern in 2015, an enormous gallery on the edge of the River Thames in a converted power station. The awe-inspiring Turbine Hall (which has hosted works by Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread and Ai Weiwei) leads to mutiple floor of contemporary art, with eight areas divided into different themes. As well as the art, there are events and screenings, a fantastic bookshop, and a restaurant and cafe, the latter with a fabulous balcony view over the city.
Bankside, SE1 9TG
Tate Britain, which opened its doors in 1897, has a quite incredible collection of art on display in its beautiful riverside building, including paintings by William Blake, John Constable, Whistler and Millais (his iconic painting of Ophelia). It also has the largest number of Turner paintings in the world. A truly wonderful location, and a really first class selection If you want to visit both Tates on the same day, you can take a boat ride from one museum to the other, a much recommended trip in itself.
Millbank, SW1P 4RG
Must-See London Exhibitions In 2017
Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Science Museum
Now in its 53nd year, this unmissable exhibition looks at everything from elephants in their natural habitat to urban foxes peering over fences, and is a sheer delight from start to finish.
Date: until 10th September
Hockney – Tate Britain
A retrospective of the legendary British artist, celebrating the enormously popular and influential painter with an exhibition of his key works from across six decades.
Date: Until end of May
American Dream – British Museum
A look at the turbulent and exciting past six decades of American history through the eyes of artists, starting with the pop art explosion right through to the present day.
Date: 9th March to 18th June
Electricity – The Wellcome Collection
It’s something we all take for granted, but imagine life without it. This exhibition, subtitled ‘the spark of life’, traces this strange force’s origins, its uses, and how it has transformed the planet.
Date: until 25th June
From Selfie To Self-Expression – Saatchi Gallery
The very first international exhibition about that very modern concept, the selfie, looking at how it can, in fact, be traced back to the Old Masters. And, seeing as this exhibition is all about selfies, well, it’s only natural you can take part – and send your own selfies in as part of an exhibition competition.
Date: until end of May