Europe's Secret Free Art You Didn't Even Know Was There

© Vincent Tantardini / Unsplash
Photo of India Irving
Social Media Editor3 November 2017

So you’re travelling around Europe and want to check out some art? Chances are The Louvre and other major institutions are on your list, but as you probably already know, those tickets can get real pricey real quick. Here are the best free ways to soak up some serious culture across Europe, whatever your taste in art.

Take a walk

Shoreditch | © Berit Watkin / Flickr

If you don’t fancy an indoor art tour, just take a stroll through some of Europe’s best street-art neighbourhoods. East London’s vibrant Shoreditch for example, is replete with street art from such infamous greats as Banksy and Space Invader. Berlin is also home to some super impressive urban murals, including a huge work by coveted Brasilian ‘graffiti twins’ Os Gemeos at the intersection of Schlesisches Tor and Oppelner Strasse. You’ll not only see some cool and often politically infused art, but also get to know the city you’re visiting by walking around it and of course, make room for all the food you will want to be eating later.

University shows

Brushes | © Dean Hochman / Flickr

The most hidden gems of Europe’s free art scene are probably university interim and closing shows. Art schools in practically every city and across many smaller towns as well, host exhibitions featuring the work of their talented students. Not only do these shows tend to have a fun vibe, but they also give visitors the opportunity to purchase truly affordable original artwork at absolute bargain prices. Information on when these shows take place can be found on the various college’s websites or by following them on social media. Check out the latest up-and-coming talent and maybe even discover the next Picasso, all on no budget at all.

The auction houses

Monolithic pair of painted horses | Courtesy of Duton’s

Not everyone realises that all auction houses, big and small, host previews of their sales, which are free for the public to attend. You can hit the two biggest global houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, at various locations across Europe, but many countries also have their own historical auction houses with truly worthwhile art and antiques to enjoy. From Hotel Drouot in Paris to Lauritz Christensen in Copenhagen and even more niche establishments like Duton’s in London, the first Asian auction house in all of Europe, these spots allow you not only to explore top-class art for free, but may even offer you a free coffee or glass of prosecco to go along with it.

Art galleries

'Mirror' (1971) by António Charrua | © Pedro Ribeiro Simões / Flickr

A bit of a more obvious choice though no less fruitful culturally, art galleries are another fantastic way to see art at no charge and Europe is full of them. What you may not have known is that most of these gallery’s opening parties are not actually by invitation only, so you can sneak right in for the free drinks and chic art-world crowd, all while taking in the art before most of the general public know it’s there.

No matter what your artistic taste, there is probably a gallery with your name on it in most European cities. From modern and contemporary art to specialist street art galleries and more, very few will be disappointed with the breadth of choice available.

Free museums

Venice | © shipscompass / Flickr

Of course the classic option to see art is to go to a museum and thankfully, Europe has many free options.

The National Gallery in London, for example, was founded in 1824 and contains over 2,300 paintings dating from as far back as the 13th century. It is among the most visited museums in the world, just behind the Louvre in Paris and London’s own British Museum.

There are also certain paid museums that you can get into for free on specific days. The Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso and Musée d’Orsay in Paris are free to attend on the first Sunday of every month.

Other museums offer part-free entry, where their special exhibitions are paid but their permanent collections can be visited free of charge.

What are you waiting for? Get out Google Maps and plan that art day!

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