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An Art Lover's Guide to London in 24 Hours

Picture of Georgina Wilson-Powell
Updated: 22 March 2017

London is an art-lovers paradise, but when you’ve only got 24 hours where do you start? Mix some big hitters with the smaller galleries and use the late night events to stretch how much you can see in a day.

Must-visit museums

Tate Modern

As of last year, the Tate Modern doubled in space with its additional tower block style wing, the Boiler House. It’s still the best place in London to catch the big blockbuster modern art exhibitions but there’s more than enough to see in the free permanent collections if you’re short on time or money. This summer catch exhibitions about the effect of Communism on Russian art as well as art in the age of Black Power and the first solo exhibition of Pablo Picasso.

Insider tip: There are free daily tours taking in different themes every day. Most start at 11am and last for 45 minutes.

Design Museum

Now relocated over in Kensington and with a lot more space, the Design Museum has fast become one of London’s most popular museums. This summer, it has the blockbuster exhibition Imagine Moscow which looks into the Russian utopia that was never realised.

Insider tip: The top floor holds the museum’s permanent exhibition, which is alwsys free, and once a month it stays open late to 8pm.

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Must visit galleries

National Portrait Gallery

Trafalgar Square’s National Portrait Gallery allows visitors a glimpse into the British psyche and soul, with portraits stretching back hundreds of years right up to the modern day’s sweethearts – here you’ll find the famous portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge hanging in a room with Judi Dench, as well as portraits of English kings and queens. It was the first portrait gallery in the world when it opened in 1856. There are also rotating exhibitions, this summer the gallery takes on the links between gender and personality.

Insider tip: Don’t miss the Late Shift, every Thursday and Friday nights the gallery runs a bar with workshops and live music.

Barbican

London’s brutalist fortress, the Barbican has some of its most interesting exhibitions that take in contemporary art, photography and architecture. Take in the Japanese House, a study of Japanese modern architecture which includes a full-scale replica of a house by Ryue Nishizawa or discover cutting edge workshops and lectures. There’s also a cinema here and a couple of lovely restaurants.

Insider tip: Under 25s can join Young Barbican for free and get discounted exhibition and cinema tickets, some as little as a fiver.

Photography Gallery

London’s largest gallery dedicated to photography, simply called The Photography Gallery, shouldn’t be missed. It’s bang in the middle of Soho, tucked behind Oxford Street and has exhibitions running of the early work of famous British photographer Martin Parr, the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize and an exhibition inspired by Jaws.

Insider tip: The gallery’s bookshop often hosts signings and intimate events with its featured artists and photographers.

Art cafes

The CLF Art Cafe

Artists don’t just hang out in zone 1 in London. Head south to Peckham to this vibrant, off the wall cafe space in the Bussey Building. There’s theatre, events, music nights and workshops all happening and it’s a great entry into the south London arts scene.

Insider tip: Don’t miss Frank’s Bar on the roof of the Bussey Building, it’s one of south London’s best summer bars.

The Keeper’s Garden

Discover the Keeper’s Garden in the Royal Academy of Arts, a little urban oasis designed by renowned landscaper Tom Stuart-Smith, it’s perfect for a cuppa after a tour.

Insider tip: You can buy work by the Royal Academicians in the Keeper’s Garden.

Design shops

SCP East

SCP East is a haven for modern British design. Tom Dixon can be found in here as can Max Lamb and Matthew Hilton. Simple designs, neutral palettes, brushed concrete – if you’ve seen a design trend on Instagram, chances are the best things in that trend are in here.

Insider tip: Follow up your visit with Gallery Fumi, one of London’s most cutting edge furniture galleries on Hoxton Square. Both the unconventional and traditional craftsmanship are celebrated here.

Darkroom

Part design store, part art gallery and concept space, Darkroom in Holborn is a pantheon to playful design. From Bauhaus letter jewellery to art prints and textiles and homewares, wear your artsy heart on your sleeve.

Insider tip: While you’re in Holborn pop into October Gallery, which has hosted boundary-breaking contemporary art since the 1970s.

Street art tours

Discover the graffiti-laden East End of London, with a street art tour that takes in some of the area’s most famous art. Shoreditch Street Art Tours is one of the best and the guys keep up to date with the freshest work. They’ll also teach you about the history of the area through its modern day artists.

Insider tip: The company also host night street art tours for keen photographers.