The Best Free Art Galleries In London
Ok, so we aren’t experiencing the kind of summer weather that we would have hoped for in the UK this August, but a little bit of rain and cloud doesn’t have to keep you stuck inside at home!
Why not make the most of all that London has to offer by visiting one of the capital’s many incredible art galleries for a culture fix this weekend?
In this post we round up London’s best art galleries for you – and the really great thing is that they are all completely free to visit!
The National Gallery
With the likes of Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Monet, and Van Gogh lining its walls, it’s no wonder that millions of art lovers flock to London’s National Gallery every year. Not only is the National Gallery one of the most famous art museums in the world, it also contains some of the biggest and most diverse art collections on the planet, with paintings from the French Impressionists, the Italian Renaissance, the late medieval period and much more.
Founded in 1824, the gallery’s Trafalgar Square location was chosen because it was considered to be the “heart” of central London. However, originally, the National Gallery was in a small Pall Mall townhouse, owned by John Julius Angerstein, whose 38 paintings were the first to be added to the gallery. Today the gallery houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.
The National Gallery also hosts numerous temporary exhibits throughout the year, as well as family workshops for children, and even regular concerts. This weekend you can join the London Drawing Group where you will draw the city landscape, life drawing with 2B or not 2B Collective, or you can Drop In And Draw with former National Gallery Young Producers Amba and Yvonne.
The National Gallery is open daily 10am–6pm and Friday until 9pm
(Closed 24–26 December and 1 January)
Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN
The Serpentine Gallery is one of London’s best-loved galleries for modern and contemporary art. Its Exhibition, Architecture, Education and Public Programmers attract around 750,000 visitors a year and admission is free across its two sites, which are only 5 minutes apart, in London’s Kensington Gardens.
Although tickets are free to the attractions, events, and exhibitions at The Serpentine, they do need to be booked in advance, apart from to visit the beautiful Serpentine Pavilion, which is ticketless, but running at a reduced capacity due to the pandemic.
Each year a distinguished architect is invited to build a temporary structure which sits alongside the gallery for the summer months. Often controversial and always a talking point, the Summer Pavilion is possibly one of the most interesting exhibitions that the Serpentine offers. The 20th Serpentine Pavilion is designed by Johannesburg-based practice Counterspace, directed by Sumayya Vally. A TIME100 Next List honouree, Vally is the youngest architect ever to be commissioned for the internationally renowned architecture programme.
Exhibitions currently available at The Serpentine include Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing, James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective; a survey of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor and Back to Earth; a multi-year project featuring sixty leading artists, architects, pots, filmmakers, scientists, thinkers and designers, displaying artist-led campaigns, protocols and initiatives in response to the environmental crisis.
Serpentine South Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA
Tuesday – Sunday (Open Bank Holiday Mondays) 10am – 6pm
Serpentine North Gallery, West Carriage Drive, London, W2 2AR
Tuesday – Sunday (Open Bank Holiday Mondays) 10am – 6pm
The Pavilion, West Carriage Drive, London, W2 2AR
Open Monday – Saturday (Open Bank Holiday Mondays) 10am – 6pm
When Tate first opened its doors to the public in 1897 it had just one site, displaying a small collection of British artworks. Today it has four major sites and the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art, which includes nearly 70,000 artworks.
Visit the Tate Britain before December 31st to explore the Turner Collection, the world’s largest free display of paintings by J.M.W. Turner and Mark Rothko’s Seagram murals (1775 – 1851). Described as the ‘father of modern art’. Turner often shocked his contemporaries with his loose brushwork and vibrant colour palette while portraying the development of the modern world unlike any other artist at the time.
You can discover Turner’s incomparable talent for free in the Clore Gallery. Displaying a selection of our extensive Turner collection, the gallery includes some of his greatest masterpieces such as Self-Portrait, Peace – Burial at Sea and Norham Castle, Sunrise.
Entry remains free for everyone at The Tate, but there is a charge for some exhibitions. Advance booking is recommended, particularly for exhibitions as they may sell out, but tickets for both collection routes and exhibitions are often available on the door.
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG, UK
Open Monday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Britain’s national museum of modern and contemporary art is located within the former Bankside Power Station on the River Thames. The incredible Turbine Hall runs the length of the entire building, and you can see amazing work for free by artists such as Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, Rothko, DalÍ, Pollock, Warhol and Bourgeois. The Tate Modern, which opened in 2000, has an innovative way of displaying artwork according to themes and not chronology. 21st Century art can be seen next works from the early 20th century, as long as it is in keeping with the theme. There are 8 areas which make up the main collection displays.
Current free displays include the Start Display, which introduces you to some of the best-loved artworks in the Tate collection, The Materials and Objects display which looks at the inventive ways in which artists around the world use diverse materials and Performer and Participant, where you can discover how artists working between the 1960s and the 1990s opened up new spaces for participation.
Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG
Open Monday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
The Wallace Collection
This gallery was founded from the private collection of Sir Richard Wallace, the last in a line of five generations of a British aristocratic family. The exhibition was opened to the public in 1900, housing a variety of fine and decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th century. With over 5,000 pieces of art, this sizable collection was collected by four generations of the Hertford family.
The Wallace Collection is best known for its Sevres porcelain, its collection of French paintings and the mansion’s furniture, which is also incredibly beautiful. The Back State Room is dedicated to the splendour of the French Rococo period under King Louis XV, while the Oriental Armoury is replete with Indian arms and armour as well as artefacts from the then Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) and the Far East.
This museum also exhibits gems such as paintings by Tiziano, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Velazquez and Canaletto. You will also find an impressive collection of arms and armour, medieval and renaissance sculptures, and artwork made of gold, bronze and glass throughout its 25 galleries.
The Wallace Collection is one of the best in London, not only because of the quality of the works of art, but also because of its variety. Works of art aside, the mansion itself is a must-see and to top it all off, entrance to the gallery is free.
Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN
Open Monday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
White Chapel Gallery
The Whitechapel Gallery is a public art gallery in Whitechapel on the north side of Whitechapel High Street, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The original building, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, opened in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London.
Currently exhibiting at White Chapel is the archive exhibition ‘Phantoms of Surrealism’ which examines the pivotal role of women as both artists and as behind-the-scenes organisers within Surrealism in Britain in the 1930s. The exhibitions will run until the 12th December 2022. Artist Sheila Legge’s (1911–49) appearance as ‘The Phantom of Surrealism’ launched the ‘London International Surrealist Exhibition’, held at the New Burlington Galleries in Mayfair.
Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7QX
Open Tuesday – Sunday 11am–6pm and the Gallery will be open until 9pm only on First Thursdays.
Jay Jopling’s third White Cube art gallery in London is located on Bermondsey Street and set in a former 1970s warehouse. It is a massive 58,000 square feet which makes it the largest art gallery within Jopling’s White Cube collection as well as the largest commercial gallery in Europe!
Designed by Casper Mueller Kneer Architects, the building has three exhibition spaces, substantial warehousing, private viewing rooms, an auditorium and a bookshop. The exhibition spaces are divided into the ‘South Galleries’, the principal display area, three smaller ‘North Galleries’, and the ‘9 x 9 x 9’ gallery at the centre of the building.
The first White Cube – one of the smallest exhibition spaces in Europe – was set up in Duke Street (1993-2002), not far from the current White Cube Mason’s Yard which opened in September 2006, six years after White Cube Hoxton Square opened in April 2000.
A leading part of the East London art scene, White Cube Hoxton Square, the first of White Cube’s three London galleries, is known for displaying some of the world’s most cutting-edge art. Owner Jay Jopling is as A-list as the artists he collects. Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gilbert and George and his former wife Sam Taylor-Wood are all represented, and their works shown at the three galleries and beyond.
Occasionally, for really large exhibitions (like Gilbert & George’s Jack Freak Pictures), artworks are spread across two of the White Cube galleries at Hoxton Square, at Mason’s Yard and at the third and largest White Cube in Bermondsey – all of which are free to visit.
White Cube Bermondsey, 144 – 152 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3TQ
Open Tuesday – Saturday 10am–6pm and Sunday 12pm – 6pm
The Saatchi Gallery
The Saatchi Gallery re-opened on 9th October 2008 in the former military barracks of the Duke of York’s Headquarters. The former ad man Charles Saatchi made the transition to the art world in the 1990s, championing young artists and buying in bulk the works of Young British Artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. In – keeping with this trait, the gallery includes a dedicated space for emerging artists from the Saatchi Online website.
A free exhibition currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery is RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. The exhibition features new & recent works by emerging and established artists who continue to work on diverse projects with Jealous Print Studio & Gallery. Based in East London, Jealous has built an international reputation for championing new art and for never standing still. Featured artists include Jessica Albarn, Joakim Allgulander, Danny Augustine, Charming Baker, Adam Bridgland, Dave Buonaguidi, Anthony Burrill, Jake & Dinos Chapmanand Mark Dento.
The Gallery presents curated exhibitions on themes relevant and exciting in the context of contemporary creative culture with educational programmes that aim to reveal the possibilities of artistic expression to young minds, encourage fresh thought and stimulate innovation.
Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY
Open Wednesday – Sunday, 10am-6pm. Last entry 5.30pm
Extended Hours: Thursday 2 September until 9pm.
Please do let us know if you visit any of the London galleries in this article. We’d love to hear about your experience inn the comments below!
Art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind. As the sun colours flowers, so does art colour life.
― John Lubbock