London: Our favorite free art museums and galleries

Posted in: London Sights

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National Portrait Gallery
A stroll through the National Portrait Gallery won't cost you a penny. Photo: HerryLawford

Eating and drinking in London may not be as easily affordable as in some other European cities, but the city is one of the world’s most generous when it comes to art. Yes, Cheapos, you can gorge on free art in London until your cultured minds can take no more.

From the big name galleries to smaller art initiatives, entry fees have been waived across the capital so even if you’re sticking to cheap eats, you can still do high-end luxury when it comes to art.

London’s Free National Museums

All London’s national museums offer free entry, so whether you’re opting for a quick dose of artistic inspiration while taking cover from the rain, or you plan to spend all day admiring some of the world’s best loved paintings, you won’t need to spend a penny. Do be warned that some of the temporary exhibitions charge an entry fee and that you may well need to book in advance, but the permanent collections are always free.

National Gallery London

The National Gallery is free to enter and is a good place to start. Photo: Keven R Boyd

A good place to start is at the National Gallery. Located in a beautiful building overlooking Trafalgar Square (tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross), the gallery houses an impressive collection of more than 2,300 Western European paintings from the 13th to early 20th centuries. Here you can admire a historic Botticelli or a forward-thinking Van Gogh, taking in everything from Michelangelo and Rembrandt, to Monet, Velazquez and Goya as you go. If you’re looking to delve beyond the paintings, check out the National Gallery’s extensive series of free lunch time and “10-minute” talks, which run throughout the year.

Just around the corner, don’t forget to stop by at the National Portrait Gallery. Here you can peruse the largest collection of portraits in the world, from Tudor and Elizabethan portraits, through to contemporary works such as the newly unveiled painting of Kate Middleton.

A trip to London just wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of the famous Tate collections. The Tate Britain in Millbank (tube: Pimlico or Westminster) is a celebration of British art, with paintings ranging from the 1500s to the present day. Expect to see works by the likes of Turner (the museum also runs the famous annual Turner Prize), as well as William Blake and more modern pieces by Tracey Emin.

In turn, the Tate Modern is found across the river and housed in the austere-looking former Bankside Power Station (tube: Southwark, Bankside or London Bridge). As the name suggests, the museum focuses on an impressive collection of contemporary art, both British and international, from the 1900s to the present day.

Saatchi Gallery London

Go contemporary at the Saatchi Gallery. Photo: Istorija

For something a bit more offbeat, head to London’s Saatchi Gallery, where Cheapos can peruse the full collection of innovative, unseen contemporary art without parting with a penny. The museum is located on King’s Road, in the well-heeled borough of Chelsea (tube: Sloane Square), and aims to bring new and unsung artists into the limelight in the UK.

A trip to Hyde Park can also be given an artistic touch, by popping into the beautiful Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens (tube: Lancaster Gate, South Kensington or Knightsbridge). This modern and contemporary art space also showcases fantastical feats of architecture when a different architect is challenged to design the Serpentine Pavilion each summer. Please note the museum is closed for refurbishment until June 8, 2013 and plans are currently under way to open a new space called the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid, later in the year. Watch this space…

Away from the traditional galleries

London’s artistic offering does not just have to be enjoyed inside the more formal, traditional art galleries. For something a bit different, check out the exciting exhibition schedule at East London’s Rich Mix (overground: Shoreditch High Street, tube: Old Street/Liverpool Street), where you can come across anything from hard hitting cultural commentary, to photography shows and dance installations.

Alternatively, if your trip to London coincides with the first Thursday of the month, then make it your mission to attend the Whitechapel Gallery’s First Thursdays, which sees over 170 East London galleries and museums stay open until 9 p.m. with special exhibitions, talks and events. Get informed by joining a walking tour led by an artist or curator or visit the top five exhibitions on the free art bus. Read more in our previous post about the event.

Or why not support London’s rising artistic talents by visiting a degree show? University College London’s Slade School of Fine Art is one of the most highly acclaimed art schools in the world, and throughout May and June each year the doors are opened to the public for the undergraduate and postgraduate degree shows. It’s free and well worth a look – you never know, you may just bump into a star of the future.

About the author

Nina Derham

About the author: Nina is a freelance travel writer who will leave no stone unturned in her quest to discover the very best on offer in a destination. She recently relocated to London after spending over four years in Madrid and is currently enjoying rediscovering her home town.

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2 thoughts on “London: Our favorite free art museums and galleries”

  1. Hi Nina,

    I found your article about visiting museums in London pretty interesting, and thought I might contribute something useful.

    I’ve launched a universal audio guide app that covers 20+ museums so far, and that includes the highlights from the British Museum and the Tate Britain. It’s free, quite comprehensive, and works without internet. In other words – something made for tourists in mind. Perhaps you might want to check it out at http://www.peripl.us?

    Apologies if you’re an iPhone user… we’re still working feverishly on the iOS version!

    Cheers,
    Gary Low

    App download link: http://bit.ly/mailerplaystore

    Reply

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