In a city like London, brimming with art and history, the choice of which museums to visit can be daunting. Luckily, many of the most important are conveniently concentrated in the city’s center around Trafalgar Square. Even better, most are free to the public.
The British Museum
Recently refurbished, the British Museum contains a vast collection of historical artifacts and art spanning nearly the entire existence of mankind. Among its seven million holdings are impressive collections of Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone and the disputed Elgin Marbles. There are also large collections of sculpture and prints by old masters such as Dürer and Da Vinci. Don’t miss visiting the glorious circular reading room and the soaring Lord Foster-designed Great Court.
Address: Great Russell Street, Website
Metro: Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road
Hours: Daily 10am – 5:30pm, Thursday and Friday until 8:30pm; closed January 1st, Good Friday, December 24 – 26
Admission: Free, except for special exhibitions
The National Gallery
Home to over 2,300 works, the National Gallery prides itself on having the greatest collection of Western European art in the world. Here you will find all the masters and their masterpieces, including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the artist’s ode to an optimistic period in a life haunted by madness. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks is a must-see, as this artist’s works are rare in the Western Hemisphere.
Address: Trafalgar Square, Website
Metro: Charing Cross, Leicester Square or Embankment
Hours: Daily 10am – 6pm, Wednesday until 9pm. Closed December 24 – 26 and January 1st.
Admission: Free, except for certain temporary exhibitions
National Portrait Gallery
The Tudors. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Henry the VIII and his six wives. We have read about them and watched as our imagination blended the historical intrigues of their lives into modern narratives of our soap operas. You will find all of them here, alongside portraits of more contemporary but equally dramatic figures such as Princess Di and Amy Winehouse.
Address: St Martin’s Place, Website
Metro: Charing Cross, Leicester Squre or Embankment
Hours: Daily 10am – 6pm, Thursday and Friday until 9pm (for paid exhibitions, last admission is 45 minutes before the closing time)
Admission: Free for permanent collection. Prices vary for special exhibitions.
Tate Modern, housed in a former power plant in Bankside on the south bank of the Thames, is one of London’s most popular museums. The museum houses international modern art from the year 1900 onwards. One of the collections, titled “Poetry and Dream,” – expressed through paintings, poetry and photography – weds the works of the surrealist greats with the process that inspired them. Dalí, Picasso, Miró and Bacon are just some of the names on display. Another collection is entitled “States of Flux,” bringing together cubism and futurism.
Address: Bankside, Website
Metro: Southwark or Blackfriars
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 10am – 6pm; Friday – Saturday 10am – 10pm
Admission: Free entry to the general collection, Prices vary for special exhibitions
Courtauld Galleries and the Embankment Galleries
The Courtauld’s collection houses masterworks of such luminaries as Michelangelo, Dürer, Da Vinci, Canaletto, van Gogh and Picasso. And the setting in which these precious paintings are housed is just as awe-inspiring as the art. The galleries, part of the Somerset House, a lavish palace that was once a residency of British royalty, have maintained the antiqued romance of the days of the splendor. In the winter (November through January), an ice-skating rink in the courtyard fits perfectly in this already magical place.
Opened in April 2008, the neighboring Embankment Gallery’s collection includes art, design, fashion, architecture and photography.
Address: Somerset House, Strand, Website
Metro: Charing Cross, Embankment or Temple
Hours: 10am – 6pm; December 24, 31 and January 1 open 10am – 4pm; closed on December 25 – 26
Admission: £5; £4 for foreign students and seniors; Free kids under 18 and UK students; free on Mondays before 2pm (except public holidays)
Admission: £8; students and seniors £6
Hours: 10am – 6pm; Thursdays 10am – 9pm.
Barbican Art Gallery
The Barbican Art Gallery is located in what could be called the Disneyworld of the arts, the Barbican Centre. The centre is the largest multi-arts venue in Europe, where an array of creative disciplines intermingle in an enormous space. It’s also the perfect one-stop shop for any art-hungry traveler, with regular theater and dance performances, two galleries and a rooftop tropical conservatory. The gallery itself focuses on the fields of architecture, design, fashion and photography, with works of well established artists showcased alongside those of promising newcomers. Workshops and talks often accompany the exhibitions, and are usually free with same day tickets.
Address: Barbican Centre, Silk Street, Website
Hours: Monday, Friday – Sunday 11am – 8pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 11am – 6pm, Thursday 11am – 10pm. Closed December 24 – 26.
Admission: Exhibition prices vary. Discount applies for online bookings.
The Wallace Collection
Accumulated over the years by five avid art collectors – the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess – the collection contains works by Titian, Rembrandt and Velazquez, amongst others. While the space is large and filled to the brim with at times overwhelming beauty, the twenty five galleries maintain the intimate charm of a former home.
Address: Hertford House, Manchester Square, Website
Metro: Bond Street and Baker Street
Hours: Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm; closed December 24 – 26
Located inside Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Gallery offers changing displays of furniture, paintings and other items from the vast Royal Collection. Through April 2009, the gallery features “Treasures from the Royal Collection,” which include world-famous paintings by Rembrandt and Canaletto, jewelry and dazzling pieces by Fabergé, and “Masters of Flemish Painting.”
Address: Buckingham Palace, Website
Metro: Victoria, Green Park or Hyde Park Corner
Hours: Daily 10am – 5:30pm (last admission 4:30pm); August 1st – September 27th 9:30am – 5:30pm; closed November 13, December 25 – 26, April 10, 2009, April 27 – May 22, 2009.
Admission: £8.50; £7.50 students and seniors; £4.25 kids 5 – 17, family discounts available
Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy of Arts host internationally-acclaimed loan exhibitions alongside its permanent collection. The summer exhibition attracts thousands of works by both well-known and lesser known artists.
Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, Website
Metro: Piccadilly, Green Park
Hours: 10am – 6pm (last admission 5:30pm); Friday 10am – 10pm (last admission 9:30pm), Saturday late nights until 9pm (Jan 24 – March 14)
Admission: Exhibition prices vary
The gallery bears the name and represents the tastes of Charles Saatchi, a well-known collector of contemporary art. Saatchi is known for his enthusiasm and extravagance, which has at times transformed young artists into overnight sensations. Recently moved to the Duke of York HQ, the gallery occupies 70,000 square feet of a beautiful estate.
Address: Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, Website
Metro: Sloane Square Underground
Hours: Daily 10am – 6pm; check website for updates as the venue sometimes closes for private events
Country Hall Gallery
Dalí Universe, a permanent collection of more than 500 works of the famous surrealist is on display alongside 100 lesser-known sculptures, tapestries and lithographs of his contemporary, Pablo Picasso.
Address: Riverside Building, County Hall, Website
Hours: Daily 10am – 6:30pm (last entry 5:30pm)
Admission: £12; discounts for seniors and students (special offers available for online bookings), £10; children under 12 free
Three interconnected galleries displaying works of leading living artists as well as some lesser-known talents in the world of figurative arts.
Address: 17 Carlton House Terrace, Website
Metro: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus or Embankment
Hours: Daily 10am – 5pm
Admission: £2.50; £1.50 students and seniors
First Thursdays in London
Art lovers visiting at the beginning of the month can take advantage of First Thursdays, when over 100 of London’s galleries open their doors after dark. Admission to all of the galleries is free from 7pm to 9pm. Buses take visitors on free guided tours of some of the participating venues. To book a seat on the bus visit this website. Note that there is no First Thursday in the month of January.