Beyond the National Gallery and Tate: Best London Art Museums

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All of the art museums in London have free entry and also host excellent exhibitions worth their ticket prices. Some may be well known locations, and others more niche, but all are beautiful and brilliant.

Tate Modern in London housed in the former Bankside Power Station. London Art Museums
Tate Modern, housed in the former Bankside Power Station, London, UK. Photo by Acabashi via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Famous Artworks in Famous and Fabulous Places

The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Academy of Arts and The Tates (Modern and Britain) are all top destinations for famous artworks and fantastic afternoons in London art museums.

The Royal Academy with the statue of it's founder Joshua Reynolds in the front, London, UK. London Art Museums
The Royal Academy of Arts with the statue of its founder Joshua Reynolds at the front, London, UK. Art UK.

Less well known is The Wallace Collection. It is in the sumptuous former townhouse Hertford House, in Manchester Square. The interiors are adorned with silk wall coverings and crammed with treasures, from suits of armour to Titians and Fragonards.

Hertford House, London, UK. London Art Museums
Hertford House, London, UK. Museum’s webiste.

You might also like to visit Dulwich Picture Gallery, the oldest public art gallery in England where you can see Baroque paintings and British portraits from Tudor times to the 19th century, as well as temporary exhibitions (they are opening one on Helen Frankenthaler in a few days!).

J. M. Gandy, Ideal View of Dulwich Picture Gallery, 1823, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK.
J. M. Gandy, Ideal View of Dulwich Picture Gallery, 1823, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK.

Design

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the world’s leading museum of art, design, and performance. From fashion to furniture there is no end of wonders to explore in its 145 galleries. London also homes The Design Museum, which is dedicated to contemporary design. If you’re looking for a smaller museum to visit there is always the colourful Fashion and Textile Museum or the tranquil Garden Museum.

The Garden Museum in St Mary's Church, Lambeth, London, UK. London Art Museums
The Garden Museum in St Mary’s Church, Lambeth, London, UK. Look Up London.

Smaller still is 575 Wandsworth Road, which was the home of Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache. It features hand-cut Moorish-influenced fretwork, illustrations of African wilderness, and a collection of a 19th century English lustreware.

 Interior view of 575 Wandsworth Road, London, UK. London Art Museums
Interior view of 575 Wandsworth Road, London, UK. The National Trust.

Artist-specific Destinations

If you want to visit the artworks in the homes of their originators or collectors why not explore The Freud Museum, the final home of Sigmund Freud, or Hogarth’s House, the London house of a famous artist and an engraver. There is also the peaceful Kelmscott House, a Georgian mansion that was the London home of William Morris, the textile designer, poet and artist.

The desk and couch of Sigmund Freud, Freud Museum, London, UK. London Art Museums
The desk and couch of Sigmund Freud, Freud Museum, London, UK. Museum’s website.

History and Heritage

The British Museum is an obvious destination if you have an interest in culture, history, and heritage. However, there are other fascinating archives and collections to go to. In Brixton, the Black Cultural Archives addresses African and Caribbean descent in Britain. Or there is also the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, focusing on Jewish and immigrant contributions to British art. If you’re interested in the early history of London, go and visit the Roman Mithraeum, a temple to the mystery god Mithras.

We Are One fundraiser at the Black Cultural Archives, Brixton, London, UK. London Art Museums
We Are One fundraiser at the Black Cultural Archives, Brixton, London, UK. Lambeth Council.

Excellent Exhibitions

The Barbican and Somerset House always have great events, such as a photography exhibition, Masculinities: Liberation through Photography. There are also more intimate galleries like BASTIAN (which has shown Picasso and Beuys), the White Cube (with shows of Damien Hirst), and the Victoria Miro (with works of Yayoi Kusama).

Installation view of Dan Flavin: For Prudence at BASTIAN, 22 November 2019-15 February 2020, London, UK. London Art Museums
Installation view of Dan Flavin: For Prudence at BASTIAN, 22 November 2019 – 15 February 2020, London, UK. Image courtesy of BASTIAN. Photo by Luke Walker.

Art Outside

London is full of fabulous green spaces, so why not combine art and park?

The Royal Museums Greenwich allow you to “discover amazing stories of the sea, space, history, and creativity” amid the expansive Greenwich Park. There is the Cutty Sark Ship, the National Maritime Museum, The Queen’s House (home to an art collection of international renown), and Royal Observatory (the home of Greenwich Mean Time as well as a planetarium).

Overview of the Greenwich Park in London, UK. London Art Museums
Overview of the Greenwich Park in London, UK. Royal Parks.

Also starting in Greenwich, you can follow The Line Walk all the way to Anish Kapoor’s sculpture, ArcelorMittal Orbit, at the Olympic Park. The Line Walk is a footpath through East London visiting a trail of 20 monumental sculptures.

Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, ArcelorMittal Orbit, 2012, London, UK.
Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, ArcelorMittal Orbit, 2012, London, UK. This is the UK’s tallest sculpture and was commissioned for the Olympic Games. Photo by you_only_live_twice via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

If you can’t make it all the way out to the edges of London and want to be more touristy in central, you can squeeze in a look at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park or enjoy the outdoor art in that area, such as Still Water by Nic Fiddian-Green, the numerous statues and memorials, or the graffiti attributed to Banksy.

Attributed to Banksy, Grafitti at Marble Arch, London, UK
Attributed to Banksy, Grafitti at Marble Arch, London, UK. Secret London.

Check out our art travel guides:

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