With it’s incredibly rich artistic history, London being home at one time or another to everyone from Turner to Whistler, Rossetti to Holman-Hunt and Holbein to (yes, even) van Gogh, the UK capital’s heritage in the fine arts and, well, every other branch or facet of the arts is unquestioned. For culture vultures then, it’s simply one the world’s premier locales to discover, surprise yourself and immerse yourself in some of the greatest works and pieces (of all different kinds) anywhere in the world.
But where to start? With so much to see and do – no doubt in a short space of time (especially if you’re enjoying a time-limited stay at, say, accommodation Piccadilly London and, thus, smartly making use of hotel rewards programs like a premier hotel membership) – what should you try to squeeze in? Well, don’t worry, for here’s our rundown of all of London’s artistic treasures you ought to make a priority right now…
You simply can’t miss…
(Bankside SE1/ open: 10am-6pm Sunday-Thursday; 10am-10pm Friday-Saturday/ nearest Tube stations: Blackfriars, Mansion House and Southwark)
Now boasting a brand-new tower block-style wing, The Boiler House, the oh-so impressive, monolithic-brutalist building-based Tate Modern is bigger and better than ever. The most popular contemporary art venue in Europe, it’s unsurprisingly one of the most visited attractions in the entire UK and, once you’ve given it a good recce, it’s easy to discern why. Its permanent collections (featuring the fascinating, bewildering works of household names and the far from famous) are free and terrific on their own, but its seasonal exhibits are what tend to truly pull in the crowds and create headlines – some of them even controversial. Art’s often at its best when it challenges people and, despite its popularity and cosy atmosphere, the Tate can still manage to do that, much to its credit.
(224-238 Kensington High Street W8 6AG/ open: 10am-6pm daily/ nearest Tube stations: Earl’s Court, Gloucester Road and West Kensington)
Dynamic, compelling, smart and sophisticated and a place of beauty that contains, yes, many things of beauty, the Design Museum in the suitably salubrious environs of Kensington is one of the unmissable London attractions for those who delight in pristine forms and sleek visuals. Note that it’s top floor is where you’ll find the permanent exhibitions for which you don’t have to spend anything – and at least once every month it remains open until around 8pm.
Definitely try to make time for…
National Portrait Gallery
(St. Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE/ open: 10am-6pm Saturday-Wednesday; 10am-9pm Thursday-Friday/ nearest Tube stations: Charing Cross, Embankment and Leicester Square)
A glorious combination of art and history, this place – which way back when sort of started out as a sister venue to its big, neighbouring sister in Trafalgar Square, but long ago gloriously struck out on its own – is where portraiture of the rich, famous and indelibly important is used to tell the tale of England (and then Britain, of course) from the medieval period right up to the present. Here then you’ll find masterpieces by the likes of Holbein of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Shakespeare rubbing shoulders with busts of the Victorian giants that were Gladstone, Disraeli, Dickens and Darwin and eclectic photo-works of everyone from the Duchess of Cambridge to Dame Judi Dench. Note that late-night opening on Thursday and Friday evenings are accompanied by workshops and atmospheric live music.
(Silk Street EC2Y 8DS/ open: 9am-11pm Monday-Saturday; 11am-11pm Sunday/ nearest Tube stations: Barbican and Moorgate)
A very individual venue that, despite being blessed with almost everything under the sun when it comes to the arts, manages to find its own contemporary, rather cool vibe, this multi-attraction centre housed in a building of strikingly late 20th Century grey concrete is one of the city’s premier places to check out the very best contemporary art, photography and architecture. But that’s far from all, as it’s also home to an awesome restaurant or two, a cinema and performance spaces that host productions of everything from Shakespeare to modern drama and opera to ballet.
Have a snack in an art café…
CLF Art Café
(Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane SE15 4ST/ open: 24 hours Tuesday-Sunday/ nearest rail station: Peckham Rye)
A bit out in the sticks it may be, but if you’re staying somewhere central (like, perhaps, one of the Piccadilly London West End hotels, maybe enjoying the Park Grand London Kensington Reward scheme), this venue’s well worth the schlep; don’t doubt it. Why? Because it’s a fantastically vibrant, off-kilter haven for artistic production, constantly playing host to experimental theatre, frolicsome cabaret, immersive art-based workshops and marvellous music nights. It even features one of South London’s greatest bars, Frank’s Bar – or at least it’s home, the Bussey Building, does on the top floor.
Pop into a design shop…
(135-139 Curtain Road EC2A 3BX/ open: 9.30am-6pm Monday-Saturday; 11am-5pm Sunday/ nearest Tube stations: Liverpool Street and Old Street)
Why merely visit a design-focused London venue to look at aesthetically beautiful creations when you can step inside somewhere and actually buy some? Located not far from the Barbican area – in the living, breathing, centre of all things hip in London (that is, Shoreditch) – this shop’s wares are all about simple design, neutral palettes, brushed concrete and fantastically on-trend home décor pieces. Glorious.
(52 Lamb’s Conduit Street WC1N 3LL/ open: 11am-7pm Monday-Friday; 11am-6pm Saturday; 12noon-5pm Sunday/ nearest Tube stations: Chancery Lane, Holborn and Russell Square)
This place is a playful mix of an art gallery and an arty-design-product outlet; indeed, playful’s the word because everything to be found through its doors is about fun and light-hearted design. Here then, you’ll come across the likes of funky textiles, fancy but frivolous homeware and awesome art prints.