tourist guide to
                      london for visitors

Art Galleries

There's a fantastic amount of art in London and it's virtually all free. For this reason we recommend you don't glut on it - dip in and out.    Brits have been all round the world for centuries collecting artworks, and we were the first country to make the art gallery and the museum into popular resources. Apart from the excellent collections of Italian and Dutch art, and a good crop of impressionists, there's a lot of British art on display from the sculptures of Henry Moore to the paintings of Constable and Bacon - and the excellent Colourists such as Peploe and Smith whose masterworks at the beginning of the century rival the impressionists. The trend for 'shock art' such as the 'Sensation' exhibition is not really representative of the nation's best, but of its drive to find new avenues of commercialising art.   To see behind the scenes visit Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses where millions of pounds change hands, usually for old, conservative canvasses which don't receive as much publicity.

The Tate Modern - the world's biggest modern art gallery, in a beautiful building overlooking St Paul's Cathedral - it really is worth the visit (admission is free) just for the building alone, we're not impressed by the art. The large installations in the turbine hall have varied from the mind-boggling (the sun) to the boring (the crack).
The Courtauld is the other end of the scale, small and perfectly formed, with the St Petersberg Hermitage galleries on the other side of the quadrangle. The fountain display in the huge courtyard is excellent, and especially when illuminated at night.

installation at Tate Modern
installation at Tate BritainThe shortlist:



Tate Modern
Situated on the South Bank of the Thames, joined to the North bank by a special pedestrian bridge (that proved too wobbly and was closed within hours of its ceremonial opening and only re-opened two years later) this former power station has been superbly converted into the world's biggest collection of Modern Art. And it's free. The two huge floors cover the complete century - there's a whole room devoted to Rothko. The layout and juxtaposition are certainly worth the hype, though the starkness and modernity of the building have their critics. A lot of the work is of the 'so what' school (piles of bricks, meaningless splodges of paint) especially the 3rd floor - the first of the two huge free floors, and we are quite disappointed with the latest layout. The fifth is much better and scores points for mentioning modern art's huge debt to African art. In between is a non-permanent exhibition space. It gets extremely crowded at weekends. Open daily 10.00-18.00, Friday & Saturday til 22.00. There's a fun pointillist catamaran that take you downriver to the Tate Britain, which is also very worth visiting - passing many London riverside sights on the way.





Tube: Blackfriars (Circle), Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee, Bakerloo), London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee), Southwark (Jubilee). Rail: London Bridge, Waterloo, Blackfriars. Bus: Special bus from Trafalgar Square/Tate Britain. Best way to get there: Walk from Tower or Westminster Bridge along the South Bank (weather permitting).


National Gallery Vast gallery on the north side of Trafalgar Square, with an impressive collection of Western European art from the middle ages to the early 20thC. As it's free we recommend you make a number of trips, doing it in at least two stages (it's only 200 yards away from the Leicester Square, and in the heart of theatreland).

Do the East Wing, North Wing and the Sainsbury/West Wings in separate trips, or you may find yourself becoming oblivious to the quality of the exhibits. We prefer it to the Louvre or the De Gaulle in Lille because it doesn't push boring 18thC landscapes in your face, nor flaunt patriotic canvases. We particularly like the Sainsbury Wing, a modern extension where the lighting makes the medieval work shine out - featuring the beautiful Wilton Diptych. Fantastic bistro style restaurant.  Daily 10am-6pm Fridays 10am-9pm  




Tube: Charing Cross (Northern, Bakerloo) Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly) Embankment (Northern, Circle, District, Bakerloo). Bus: Trafalgar Square/Charing Cross Road bus stops. Train: Charing Cross.

Tate Britain Tate Britain
New space carved out of the old Tate Gallery (once the site of a model prison) at Millbank, on the north side of the Thames, overlooking the HQ of Britain's Intelligence Services next to Victoria Bridge. We weren't impressed when it first opened its doors, but they've retrenched, re-ordered and re-hung to come in a very close second to the National. They've certainly got it right - the quality of the modern stuff is better than the Tate Modern, the pre-Raphaelites and neo-classicists impressive, the Tudors rival the Portrait Gallery. Gone are the stuffy 18thC landscapes and in is the full and often surprising range of what it called 'Victorian Sensuality'.

What's also good, apart from the large free galleries, with innovative grouping of works by 'association' as well as chronology, is that the exhibitions are of such high quality - some of the best in Britain. Two galleries near the entrance remain hung in the 'old' Tate style - don't let that put you off, the further in you go the better it gets. This is curating at its best.

The 'Turner Prize exhibit' is never worth seeing - some of the worst 'Art' in Britain, and designed to shock - it lowers the tone somewhat - as far as we can see it's just an excuse to give a large sum of money to which ever gallery owner has the most tractable pet. Don't judge the Tate Britain by this rubbish.
A river bus links this to the Modern so you can see both in a day, should you wish. Better is to walk between the two Tates, crossing over Lambeth Bridge as you'll pass the very best of London on the way. This is one of our favourite walks. Open daily 10.00-18.00.


Tube: Pimlico (Victoria) Westminster (Circle, Jubilee)

National Portrait Gallery Very large collection of portraits - including a superb set of Kings, Queens and other famous historical figures. The Tudor portraits gallery is one of our favourite galleries, quite unlike anything else, anywhere! Right next door to the National Gallery (vide supra). The ground and top floors are the best - the endless collection of Victorian Prime Ministers in between is quite boring. For a great half hour R & R in the centre of London, visit the Tudor Gallery (15 minutes) and then have coffee at the restaurant, the views from the top floor across London are worth the trip. Diarist Bridget Jones (who lives just round the corner from our office) says it's worth it just for the sight of Nelson's buns. We're not quite sure what she means. Open daily 10.00-18.00, to 21.00 Thursday & Friday.

Tube: Charing Cross (Northern, Bakerloo) Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly) Embankment (Northern, Circle, District, Bakerloo). Bus: Trafalgar Square/Charing Cross Road bus stops. Train: Charing Cross.

Royal Academy Schizophrenic exhibition space,displaying major international art, that's home a couple of times a year to the efforts of untalented wannabees (eg the 'Sensation' exhibition). The quality of the exhibitions vacillates between the staid and the undeserved. Great building, off Piccadilly, opposite Fortnums. Ticket prices vary. Sometimes opens 24 hours to cope with demand.
Widely advertised across London, the gallery is trying a difficult balancing act: on the one hand it's created the infamous 'Sensation' exhibition, which was banned when it went on to New York (virgin Mary made out of elephant dung, bisected sheep), and was more famous for being famous than the quality of the work (we only felt one work in the whole exhibition to be worthy of international acclaim and that was strictly not a work or art at all). On the other hand it is an Academy, with members, and the inheritor of a long tradition, to have the letters RA after your name still counts for something. It can assemble a collection of works from galleries round the world, and display them in a new light, the result of it's academic pedigree. Basically judge it by the current major exhibition, avoid the Summer show and you'll get the best out of it.
Anyone can enter a painting to the summer selling exhibition, which is renowned for the eclectic and often questionable nature of the exhibits.  Open daily 10.00-18.00, to 22.00 on Friday.

Tube: Piccadilly (Bakerloo) Green Park (Piccadilly, Jubilee, Victoria). Bus: Green Park.

Somerset House Galleries Somerset House a large impressive neo-classical building overlooking the South Bank alongside Waterloo Bridge has been refurbished and refitted to house new galleries, restaurants, coffee bars etc. The front quadrangle with its 'son et lumiere' fountain display (usually minus the son) - illuminated at night and the terrace cafe are excellent places to hang out. Major pop groups perform in the courtyard and in summer this is really groovey, man. At other times they do outdoor concerts with authentic instruments, like Handel's water music, with the fountain display on - worth catching. Around Christmas the courtyard is converted to a huge free ice-skating rink (long queues sadly).
For some years it's housed the Courtauld Gallery: small but perfectly formed - rather like the cream skimmed off the top of a larger collection, with a good collection of Impressionists and Medieval art. It also has an excellent gallery of contemporary work, viewable by prior arrangement only. Free on Monday 10:00-14:00, otherwise small charge.

Tube: Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northernn), Covent Garden (Piccadilly), Holborn (Central), Temple (Circle & District), Waterloo (Jubilee). Train: Charing Cross or Waterloo Bus: Aldwych.

The new expanded space also houses the Gilbert collection of Decorative art: silver, mosaics and snuff boxes as well as Russian Icons. Of its type it's a world leader, but a bit stuffy for the general visitor. Website
Also onsite is the Hermitage gallery featuring five hundred items from the collection of the Empress Catherine the Great from St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum. Very few of the exhibits have ever been seen outside Russia. Again rather stuffy. Of the three galleries we prefer the Courtauld.
Great outdoors restaurant overlooking the Thames next to Waterloo Bridge, and historical rooms associated with London's maritime past. All galleries open 10.00-18.00, courtyard to 23.00, unless there's a concert.

Tube: Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northernn), Covent Garden (Piccadilly), Holborn (Central), Temple (Circle & District), Waterloo (Jubilee). Train: Charing Cross or Waterloo Bus: Aldwych.

Wallis Collection



Wallace Collection We love this oasis of pre-1900 art, nestled in the secluded Manchester Square off Oxford Street, in a beautiful building once belonging to the Wallace Family. A great place to pop into when you finally realise that the shopping on Oxford street is not really that good! World's best collection of 18th C French porcelain, furniture and paintings - strong on the 19thc orientalists. Franz Hals' 'Laughing Cavelier' is its most famous work. It's worth the visit for the house alone. Not often visited, and left out of many guidebooks! Great restaurant, though you might be more tempted by the cheaper rivals in nearby St Christopher's place. Open daily 10am-5pm.







Tube: Bond Street (Central, Jubilee) or Baker Street (Circle, Metropolitan, Bakerloo). Bus: Oxford St (Selfridges).

Hayward Gallery Part of the South Bank Arts Centre, the only building which really doesn't work of this collection of post-war modenrist classic architecture. . Exhibitions of contemporary art - some wonderful, some dreadful. This is a gallery which has never really got its act together, though we've seen wonderful exhibitions there. Whether you should visit depends on the current display - don't go on spec. Open daily 10.00-18.00, Tuesday & Wednesday to 20.00.

Tube: Waterloo (Jubilee, Bakerloo, Northern) Train: Waterloo Bus: Waterloo Bridge


                      Guildhall Gallery - Orientalism and
                      Pre-RaphaelitesWhitechapel Gallery Out of the centre at 80-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1, this small gallery has hosted some amazing exhibitions. Check what's on before you go as their quality varies considerably. Held a large retrospective of Lucian Freud that was a sell-out, but other less popular artists leave the gallery empty, and quite rightly so. Convenient if you are visiting the East End (Petticoat Lane Market, Brick Lane). Our favourite art critic Brian Sewell of the Standard (the only critic we trust) says that it was at its peak in the eighties and has done 'buggerall of value since'. Read the reviews before going. Website
Tube: Aldgate East (Metropolitan) Liverpool St (Central - bit of a hike) Train: Liverpool St. Bus: Whitechapel High St

Guildhall Gallery Situated in the impressive Guildhall building off Gresham St in the City, this gallery has a huge collection of paintings and drawings but only a fraction are on display (usually the best ones!). Some pre-Raphaelites, Millais, Tissots and almost the entire collection of Sir Matthew Smith, one of the country's most under-rated artists (click here for examples) who along with Peploe brought back the influence of the Provencal artists to found the school of 'Colourism'. Upstairs are Victorian gems, downstairs London themed paintings (many of the best European artists painted London scenes). The good thing is that admission is now free and there are free tours on Fridays.  Also, in the basement are the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre of London, (not much of them, but impressive nonetheless). Not a huge gallery but well worth a visit if you're nearby. Website  
Tube: Moorgate (Northern), Bank (Northern, Central), St Pauls (Central) Mansion House (Circle & District)

Serpentine Gallery Situated in Kensington Gardens, this gallery houses exhibitions of new British talent. Less pretentious than expected, some of their shows are very beautiful, if not exactly art. Website  
Tube: Queensway (Central) or South Kensington (Piccadilly/Circle) Bus: Kensington Gore.

Dulwich, gallery with
                      nice village attached Dulwich Picture Gallery Situated in the picturesque Dulwich Village, this gallery houses exhibitions of pre-1900 talent. Also various temporary exhibitions of note. Nice buildings, this is the equal of many urban galleries outside of London, and is very active in its programme. If you wanted to sample a posh English village, with a famous public (ie private) school attached then this is only 10 minsutes from London Bridge station. From here you can walk via the park to the Horniman Museum (or take the P4 bus which connects the two) Website  
Train: North or West Dulwich (Main line trains) from Charing Cross, Waterloo or London Bridge

Saatchi Galleries Just re-opened in the former Chelsea Barracks, retaining their geographical link to those who can afford to speculate on 'works of art'. Ultra-Modern gallery of contemporary, privately managed by the Saatchi brothers, who made millions out of advertising. We think their taste in art is somewhat lacking. They've skewed the UK art market through their huge spending power, and tilted it towards the excessive and silly. In short, this is the wardrobe in which the emperor stores his new clothes. Others tend to enthuse, but more for reasons of fashion and exclusivity.Website  
Tube: Sloane Square( District, Circle) Bus: 11 from Trafalgar Sq, 211 from Westminster tube Waterloo, RV1

Photographers' Gallery Just off Oxford St, and seemingly perpetually closed for works, this houses exhibitions of photography, as the name might suggest. Worth popping into if you're passing. Website  
Tube: Leicester Square (Northern) Covent Garden(Piccadilly ) Bus: Charing Cross Road/Leicester Square

Queen's Gallery Situated in part of Buckingham Palace. Open for exhibitions from the royal collection - mainly pre 20th C - the Queen has a known aversion to modern art (in her tour of the Tate Modern she barely concealed a sneer from the cameras.) If you hate everything post-Renoir this is for you. There's also an emphasis on the craft aspects of precious things rather than the art, lots of gilt and ancestors. But the Queen - and her relatives,  have some very impressive pictures, from Breughel to Millais. Website 
Tube: Green Park (Piccadilly, Jubilee, Victoria) Victoria (Victoria, Circle Train: Victoria. Bus: Buckingham Palace Road

ICA Exhibitions of art frankly even worse than the Saatchi Brothers'. Part of a complex that caters to those who think being an artist means wearing black and smoking excessively while wearing studied, glum expressions. Not recommended unless you are 17 and very impressionable. Great building on The Mall, though. Website  
Tube: Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northern) Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly/Bakerloo) Bus: Trafalgar Square

Barbican Gallery Houses exhibitions from the sublime to the ridiculous, with no overall policy: from the best of the world's Photography, to models from Star Wars. Depending on what's showing, can be worth the trip. Part of the Barbican Arts complex. If you visit, be sure to pop into the conservatory, an oasis of green on the top of the building, though staffing problems means it's only guaranteed to be open at weekends and bank holidays. Website  
Tube: Barbican (Circle) Moorgate(Northern) St Paul's (Central) Bus: Moorgate, St Pauls

County Hall - Dali Exhibition The statues on the riverbank outside give a good idea of what's inside this permanent collection of Dali's works in the former County Hall building, next to Westminster Bridge. About 400 works on show and very well described, though we consider the admission charge a bit steep.  Website

Tube: Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northern) Westminster (Circle, Jubilee) Waterloo ( Northern, Bakerloo) Bus: Westminster Bridge, South Bank Centre Train: Waterloo

And lastly there's a huge commercial exhibition of paintings for sale along Green and Hyde Parks' north edge on Piccadilly and Bayswater Road every Sunday. The quality varies from garish to really quite good.

Our favourite galleries outside of London are the Walker Collection & Lady Lever galleries in Liverpool (the ONLY reason to visit Liverpool in our opinion - don't believe the tourist office hype!) - with some amazing Segantinis and a brilliant collection of Pre-Raphaelites and 'classical realists' like Alma-Tadema. We have been known to spend 2 hours on a train just to visit these galleries. If you're interested send us an email! Guidebook to what
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