The UK’s Top 10 Museums and Art Galleries Outside of London

Franz Lang / © Culture Trip
Franz Lang / © Culture Trip
London is a city filled with brilliant museums and art galleries, but what can often be overlooked is the host of fantastic museums and galleries in the UK outside of the nation’s capital. This list is by no means comprehensive, but is a showcase of some the UK’s most eye-catching cultural institutions that are worth a visit.

Imperial War Museum North, Manchester

Cyclist riding past the Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, UK
© Paul Rushton / Alamy Stock Photo

Imperial War Museum North opened in 2002 as one of five branches of the UK’s Imperial War Museum, and is a product of the culture-led urban renewal project in the previously industrial Trafford Park area of Manchester, which also saw the opening of MediaCityUK and yet another cultural centre worth checking out, the Lowry. The striking building was designed by the internationally renowned architect, Daniel Libeskind, and was intended to reflect upon the ‘shards’ of the globe, shattered by war. The permanent collection considers conflicts that Britain and the Commonwealth have been involved since the First World War. Travelling to the top of the ‘air shard’ also provides an impressive view over the area.

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The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield

Art Gallery, Museum
Hepworth Wakefield Yorkshire
The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire was built as a tribute to the artist Barbara Hepworth | © PennPix/Matt Pennington/StockimoNews/Alamy Live News

The Hepworth Wakefield was opened as a tribute to the artist Barbara Hepworth, who was born in the city. The collection includes works by Hepworth and many of her contemporaries, such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Anthony Caro, as well as an exciting programme of temporary exhibitions. The building itself is worth seeing. The purplish-grey brutalist concrete form was designed by David Chipperfield, the architect also responsible for the Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent, and the Neues Museum in Berlin. It has created quite a stir in the city. Having been described as one of the ‘top 50 art galleries in the world’ by The Times newspaper, the Hepworth Wakefield is not one to miss.

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Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
The Ashmolean Museum houses Oxford’s extensive collection of antiquities and art through the ages | © Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
The jewel in the crown of the prestigious University of Oxford, the Ashmolean has an extensive collection from all over the word which dates from antiquity to today; there is a little something for everyone here. It first opened in 1683, making it the oldest public museum in the UK. Highlights include the pre-Raphaelite collection, the Alfred Jewel and drawings by Michelangelo, da Vinci and Raphael. Whilst in Oxford, it is also worth checking out the Pitt Rivers Museum for a great example of a 19-century ‘cabinet of curiosities’ style museum.
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Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham

Museum, Art Gallery
Exterior of the Nottingham Contemporary
Nottingham Contemporary is a venue as well as a centre for art | © Tracey Whitefoot / Alamy Stock Photo

Occupying a prime position in the historic Lace Market in Nottingham’s city centre, Nottingham Contemporary is one of the UK’s largest centres for contemporary art. The bold, warehouse-like architecture is a nod to the lace factories and warehouses that once occupied the area. The large, open and airy interior makes for an uplifting gallery environment that is perfect for hosting its range of contemporary art exhibitions. It’s not just a gallery – Nottingham Contemporary has established itself as a venue for live dance and music that also come highly recommended.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

Art Gallery, Building, Museum
Interior of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is Scotland’s most popular museum | © Craig Leggat / Alamy Stock Photo
Located on the banks of the River Kelvin, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is Scotland’s most popular museum, and indeed the UK’s most visited museum outside of London. It houses a wide range of Scottish art, as well as examples of natural history and arms and armour. A collection highlight is Salvador Dalí’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross. The beautiful Spanish Baroque-inspired red brick façade is a typical example of Victorian museum architecture. It is also a part of local legends, which suggest that the museum was accidentally built back-to-front – go along and see what you think!
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Tate Liverpool, Liverpool

Museum, Art Gallery
Liverpool Tate
Tate Liverpool occupies a prime position on the city’s waterfront | © BRIAN ANTHONY / Alamy Stock Photo

Presiding over Liverpool’s waterfront, Tate Liverpool is one of the star attractions in the regenerated Albert Dock area of the city. The converted warehouse is now home to one of the largest collections of modern and contemporary art outside of London; a collection which includes the likes of Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Louise Bourgeois. Every two years the city also hosts the Liverpool Biennial, the UK’s largest international art fair. During the biennial, the whole city becomes a gallery as it hosts a range of commissions and events. The next Liverpool Biennial will take place in the summer of 2016.

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Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, West Yorkshire

Museum, Park, Art Gallery
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Yorkshire Sculpture Park is perhaps the premiere outdoor exhibit in the UK | © mvlampila / Alamy Stock Photo

Winner of the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2014, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is situated within the grounds of the Bretton Hall estate, an 18th-century country house. The views over this picturesque part of Yorkshire countryside alone make it worth a visit, but what makes it really spectacular is the modern and contemporary sculptures which now occupy the grounds. Dubbed the UK’s ‘gallery without walls’, Yorkshire Sculpture Park offers a changing outdoor exhibition programme that makes use of the beautiful landscape. The open-air exhibits are complimented by exhibitions that take place within some of the site’s indoor gallery spaces, so when the inevitably brisk British weather gets you, there is always somewhere a bit warmer to retreat.

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BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gateshead

The Baltic centre for contemporary arts in Gateshead, Tyneside, UK.
The BALTIC Centre is home to contemporary art in the North East of England | © Ashley Cooper / Alamy Stock Photo

Since the arrival of Antony Gormley’s famous Angel of the North sculpture in Gateshead, the town has seen a fair bit of urban regeneration. After what appeared to be a somewhat shaky start, the BALTIC Centre, housed in a former industrial building on the south bank of the River Tyne, is now paving the way for contemporary art in the north east of England. It is an unusual space in that it has no permanent collection, meaning that its programme of temporary exhibitions is always fresh and exciting. In the past, it has presented exhibitions of artists such as Daniel Buren, Cornelia Parker and Damien Hirst, and in 2011 it set a new precedent as the first ever venue outside of the Tate family to host the UK’s Turner Prize competition.

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Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

Museum, Art Gallery
The Whitworth Art Gallery reopened in 2015 after extensive restoration
© Russell Hart / Alamy Stock Photo

Having re-opened in February 2015 after almost 18 months of gallery refurbishment and the building of an extension, the Whitworth Art Gallery is proving itself an asset to the modern and contemporary art scene in the north of England. The newly refurbished space provides a subtly effective gallery environment that reflects its collections both inside and out. The beautiful red-brick exterior of the original gallery reminisces on its Victorian roots, whilst the uber-cool glass and steel of the new extension brings the gallery up to date with its contemporary ambitions. Inside, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its refreshingly original approach to the presentation of modern and contemporary art collections and its engaging programme of temporary exhibitions. The new Whitworth Art Gallery looks to be on to a winning combination that will leave you truly inspired.

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Tate St Ives, Cornwall

St Ives Tate Gallery, St Ives, Cornwall.
Tate St Ives is positioned right on the beach | © Peter Barritt / Alamy Stock Photo

The beautiful seaside town of St Ives became a popular destination for practicing artists during the 20th century, with artists such as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo all calling the town home at some point in their lives. Many artists are still attracted to the town today, and so it is hardly surprising that there are a number of art galleries in St Ives. Perhaps the most famous amongst them is Tate St Ives, which overlooks Porthmeor Beach. The gallery has a focus on the artists who have been inspired by St Ives, but does also include other exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. Why not go see the town that moved so many artists for yourself?

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These recommendations were updated on December 19, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.