In Arts + Entertainment

The Ten Must-See Art Galleries For Your London Itinerary

As one of the world’s major art capitals, London is packed full of galleries, museums and creative spaces. In fact, it would be near impossible to check them all off in one visit. Setting aside a few of the more obvious picks (such as Tate Modern and the Victoria and Albert Museum), we’ve rounded up ten must-see art galleries in the capital. If you’re planning a trip to London, add these to your itinerary to satisfy your art fix.

Somerset House

This grand neo-classical building plays host to a wide range of art exhibitions, installations, festivals and events. Current highlights at Somerset House include displays from the best of the World Illustration Awards, and an exhibition explores the British magazines ‘tearing it up’. In the coming summer months, the courtyard acts as the perfect setting for an evening of outdoor cinema as part of the Film4 Summer Screen series, and world-class musical acts as the sun sets.

The Photographers’ Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery at 16- 18 Ramillies Street 2012 Photo: © Dennis Gilbert/The Photographers’ Gallery

Tucked away on a much quieter street off chaotic Oxford Street is The Photographers’ Gallery. It’s all things photography, and champions a deeper understanding of the photographic form for all audiences. Exhibitions are always excellent and often quite provocative, with both established and emerging photographers taking centre stage. Entry is free before noon, and after perusing the displays, head downstairs to the bookshop for a good browse through one of the best selections of photobooks in the city.

Serpentine Galleries and Pavilion

These two galleries sit alongside The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park’s Kensington Gardens. The Serpentine Gallery was established in 1970, in a former tea pavilion, and has since exhibited the works of household names such as Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley and Wolfgang Tillmans. In 2013, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery opened as a second art space. Each year, the gallery commissions a summer pavilion by a leading international architect for the outside lawn. Each pavilion is completely unique, and coincides with Park Nights — a series of experimental encounters and talks.

The Store X / 180 The Strand

The creative hub, 180 The Strand, is home to The Store X and the offices of a group of creative companies. The space is favoured by the ultra-trendy crowd, serves as the home of London Fashion Week, and includes an impressive arts programme. Past events include art exhibitions co-hosted with Lisson Gallery, an exhibition curated by Wes Anderson to celebrate his recent film Isle of Dogs and a Cook for Syria pop-up. During a visit to central, it’s well worth checking out what’s happening.

Lisson Gallery

Richard Long, Installation image, Circle to Circle, Lisson Gallery Photo: Richard Long/Lisson Gallery

With two exhibition spaces in London’s Marylebone, Lisson Gallery is highly influential in the city’s contemporary art scene. Established in 1967 by Nicholas Logsdail, the gallery was involved in the early careers of minimal and conceptual artists such as Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt. The gallery continues to support and develop the artistic practice of more than 50 international artists, including the likes of Marina Abramović and Ai Weiwei.

Design Museum

Design Museum Photo: Gareth Gardner

Located just at the edge of Holland Park, the Design Museum covers all things design and innovation. It’s been drawing in crowds since opening in 2016, and is housed in a Grade II-listed modernist building. To begin your design education, head to the top floor where the permanent display, Designer Maker User, traces the history of contemporary design. Currently, there’s an exhibition on show dedicated to fashion-world legend Azzedine Alaïa, partly curated by the designer himself before he passed away in November last year.

The Barbican

The Barbican is worth visiting for a number of reasons: brutalist architecture, a superb cinema programme, top theatre shows and classical music, the cafeteria-style restaurant, and a range of exciting art shows. Upcoming highlights include the photography double-bill Dorothea Lange/Vanessa Winship, and later this year, an exhibition exploring intimate relationships in all forms, expressed through art. On selected days, the conservatory is open, where an oasis of greenery and exotic plants can be found right in the heart of the city.

South London Gallery

Isabelle Cornaro at the South London Gallery Photo: Andy Keate

Located south of the river in Camberwell, the South London Gallery is one of the most innovative art spaces in the capital with a great programme of contemporary exhibitions. Outside, the Orozco Garden forms a permanent sculptural artwork; it was designed and curated for the space by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. As part of the gallery, a new space is due to open in September this year, housed in the former Peckham Road Fire Station just down the road.

Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery Rachel Whiteread Commission: Tree of Life (2012) Photo: Guy Montagu-Pollock @Arcaid

Founded in 1901, the Whitechapel Gallery has certainly lived up to its aim to “bring great art to the people of the East End”. It premiered world-class artists including Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Sophie Calle, and continues to play a key role in east London’s dynamic cultural scene. There are plenty of current and upcoming exhibitions to get excited about, and on show now is an insightful exhibition exploring ‘killed negative’ images from 1930s America.

Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art

With a strong focus on arts education, Parasol Unit is a not-for-profit institution and charity. Exhibitions showcase up-and-coming international artists, and the gallery often runs immersive educational workshops for children. There’s also a peaceful outdoor garden to relax in after taking in the art on display. Located just next door is art gallery Victoria Miro, so combining both spaces in one trip is a good option.

Published 27 May, 2018