14 Best Art Galleries in London, England
If art's your thing, then London should appear at the top of your list of places to visit in the UK. The city is replete with outstanding galleries.
From hi-tech newer venues especially designed to display publicly owned collections to majestic Victorian-era structures housing artworks owned by Britain's Royal Family, London's art galleries have something for everyone. In fact, all told, London boasts well over 1,500 permanent art collections, cementing the city's reputation as one of the world's leading cultural destinations.
To help you navigate your way around London's rich and vibrant art scene, we've put together this list of the top art galleries in London, England.
1. National Gallery
The National Gallery in London is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit on the planet for anyone wanting to explore classic art. Located overlooking Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column, this vast neoclassical structure opened its doors in 1838 and has introduced countless visitors to some of the world's top artists.
Highlights of the National Gallery's more than 2,300 artworks include numerous paintings by the Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt, as well as many fine examples from other European hotbeds of artistic endeavor over the centuries. Among the most famous works in its inventory of classic artworks are Michelangelo's The Entombment, Monet's The Water-Lily Pond, and van Gogh's Sunflowers.
Address: Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London
Official site: www.nationalgallery.org.uk
2. National Portrait Gallery
Located just around the corner from the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery in London houses an even larger collection of artwork. Among its over 4,500 paintings and drawings are portraits of some of the most important figures from British history, the oldest being a painting of King Henry VII dating from 1536.
Other notable Royal figures include Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, and Princess Diana, while cultural icons including William Shakespeare and the Brontë sisters are also represented.
Editor's Note: The National Portrait Gallery is closed for major renovations until 2023, so be sure to check their website for reopening details.
Address: St. Martin's Place, London
Official site: www.npg.org.uk
3. Tate Modern and Tate Britain
Straddling the banks of the River Thames and connected by the magnificent Millennium Bridge, a unique footbridge offering superb views over the river and city, are two of the most popular art galleries in London: Tate Modern and Tate Britain. While the original Tate Gallery opened in 1897, its collections grew to such an extent that it warranted opening a second venue.
Located on the North side of the Thames in Millbank, Tate Britain houses a large collection of important historic British paintings, including works by Turner accompanied by exhibits relating to his life. Housed in a former power station on the south bank of the Thames, Tate Modern features modern artworks from across the globe by artists including Rodin, Cézanne, and Degas, as well as Picasso and Salvador Dali.
Guided tours and a wide variety of educational programs and workshops are available at both locations.
Official site: www.tate.org.uk
4. The Serpentine Galleries
The largest of London's four Royal Parks, Hyde Park is home to no less than two world-class art galleries. Opened in 1970, the Serpentine Gallery, now known as Serpentine South Gallery, features regular visiting exhibits of leading contemporary artists and their artwork. Past exhibits have showcased works by artists including Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor, among many others.
Part of an expansion of the Serpentine Gallery that was built in 2013, the newer Serpentine North Gallery saw the addition of a second large gallery space in a spectacularly designed building just five minutes' walk from the original location.
Admission to both is free, and a superb book shop is located at the south gallery.
Location: Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, London
Official site: www.serpentinegalleries.org
5. The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
Located on the perimeter of the grounds of Buckingham Palace and one of the most accessible royal landmarks in London, The Queen's Gallery is a must-see for art lovers. It's one of the city's smaller art galleries.
Highlights include seeing around 450 examples from the Royal Collection's more than 7,000 artworks and artifacts.
Recently renovated, the old chapel the gallery is set in is extremely photogenic and makes for a great selfie. Unlike most London art galleries, an admission fee is charged but provides good value for money. Guided tours are available, and a gift shop is located on-site.
Address: Buckingham Palace, London
Official site: www.rct.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace
6. Victoria and Albert Museum
Usually referred to simply as the V&A, the Victoria and Albert Museum is located in London's posh Knightsbridge neighborhood and is one of the city's largest museums. It covers an area of 13 acres, and you can easily spend a day exploring the museum's 145 individual galleries.
Since it opened in 1852 the V&A's vast collection of art and related cultural artifacts has grown exponentially, and covers more than 5,000 years of human creative endeavors. Highlights include displays of jewelry, glassware, and ceramics, as well as textiles and fashions over the ages. There's also an impressive number of sculptures, paintings, prints, and photographs on display.
Those wanting to dig a little deeper can book bespoke guided tours related to a particular genre or period, or visit during one of the regular V&A lectures or workshops. You can also linger a little longer in one of the two on-site cafés.
Address: Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, London
Official site: www.vam.ac.uk
7. Royal Academy of Arts
Anyone with even the slightest interest in art and the artistic process should consider a visit to the Royal Academy of Arts. Established as a private academy in 1768 and led ever since by some of the country's leading artists and architects, the RAA features frequent temporary exhibits, as well as rotating displays from its permanent collection.
Among works in its permanent collection is Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo, an exquisite and important marble sculpture from 1504 that's on display in the Collection Gallery.
The RAA's annual summer exhibition is a must-see for art lovers and features new art from rising stars in the art world and provides an excellent opportunity to see more of the vast Burlington House complex in which the museum is set.
Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London
Official site: www.royalacademy.org.uk
8. Hayward Gallery
An integral part of London's iconic Southbank Center arts complex, the Hayward Gallery opened in 1968 and hosts regular exhibitions showcasing works by domestic and international artists. Designed in what's now known as the "brutalist" style of the mid-20th century, the rather austere looking building overlooks the Thames and is well worth a visit for its views alone.
Past artworks displayed have included contemporary statues by Antony Gormley, as well as paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Edvard Munch. A shop and a café are located on the premises, and the Southbank Centre is home to a wide array of other dining and entertainment options.
Address: Belvedere Road, London
Official site: www.southbankcentre.co.uk/venues/hayward-gallery
9. The Wernher Collection, Rangers House, Greenwich
The Wernher Collection is one of the many worthwhile attractions in Greenwich. Set in the elegant Ranger's House in the southwest corner of Greenwich Park, the more than 700 works on display in this Georgian mansion were once the property of a wealthy 19th-century businessman and include everything from rare medieval sculptures to important Renaissance paintings.
Other collection highlights include works by Botticelli and the Dutch Old Masters, a number of historic French tapestries, as well as an impressive antique jewelry collection. Part of the fun here is enjoying the many original furnishings and décor still evident in the 12 rooms of this opulent mansion used to display its collections.
Afterwards, be sure to venture outside and explore this often-overlooked corner of Greenwich Park. It's especially nice in spring, as you can walk through the park's pretty Rose Garden and along a delightful cherry blossomed lined pathway, both of which make for superb photo opportunities.
Address: Chesterfield Walk, London
10. Queen's House, Greenwich
Queen's House is one of the more frequently visited attractions in London's Greenwich Park. It was designed by famed architect Inigo Jones as a royal residence in the early 17th century, and there's plenty to see here for art aficionados besides its architectural grandeur.
Among its acclaimed collection is the famous Armada Portrait. This stunningly detailed depiction of Queen Elizabeth I was painted soon after the Spanish invasion was thwarted by the English fleet and weather in 1588. Interesting fact: the painting is now on permanent display here on the very spot where the first Queen Elizabeth was born, and marks a fitting tribute to a remarkable monarch.
Address: Romney Road, Greenwich, London
Official site: www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house
11. Guildhall Art Gallery
Owned and operated by the City of London, a visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery is one of the top free things to do in London for art fans.
Highlights of the gallery's impressive collection of 4,500 rare artworks are examples of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and a large number of works dedicated to depicting London's rich past.
In addition to free admission, this excellent art gallery also offers free guided tours.
Afterwards, be sure to visit the ruins of London's Roman Amphitheatre, where, nearly 2,000 years ago, crowds would have thrilled to gladiator and animal fights.
Address: Basinghall Street, London
12. Saatchi Gallery
Located in the ritzy Chelsea neighborhood of London, the Saatchi Gallery was founded in 1985 and features a large permanent collection of contemporary art, as well as numerous temporary exhibits.
Set overlooking Sloane Square in an imposing former military headquarters, the gallery has made a name for itself for showcasing up-and-coming artistic talent.
More established artists are also featured, with works by the likes of Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol often on display. A restaurant and bookshop are also located on the premises.
While admission to this popular London art gallery is free, you should reserve your tickets in advance on-line at their official website.
Address: Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, Chelsea, London
Official site: www.saatchigallery.com
13. Whitechapel Gallery
If you still haven't had your fill of modern art after visiting museums such as the Saatchi Gallery and Tate Modern, be sure to pay a visit to the Whitechapel Gallery. Opened in 1901 on Whitechapel High Street just 20 minutes' walk away from the Tower of London, the museum features a mix of both permanent and temporary exhibits of contemporary and modern art.
In addition to established names such as Pollock and Picasso, the gallery regularly features work by up-and-coming artists from Britain and abroad. Guided tours are available, along with workshops, film shows, and special late openings.
Address: 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London
Official site: www.whitechapelgallery.org
14. The Courtauld Gallery
Located in sprawling Somerset House on the busy Strand thoroughfare near Covent Garden, The Courtauld Gallery is a great place to visit for those who enjoy a quieter, less crowded art experience. And there's certainly much to warrant spending a few hours or more delving deep into its collections.
On display here are numerous examples of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings by great artists including Monet, van Gogh, Renoir, and Cézanne. You'll also get to enjoy seeing works by well-known British artists from the 17th to 19th centuries, along with pieces by Botticelli, Goya, and Rubens.
Address: Somerset House, Strand, London
Official site: http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/about