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The National Gallery, London | © xiquinhosilva
The National Gallery, London | © xiquinhosilva

London's Best Free Art Galleries & Museums

Picture of James Chesley
Updated: 31 October 2017

What better way to spend an afternoon than perusing world-class art for free? From historic to contemporary works, these London-based galleries will provide you with a productive day of cultural entertainment without breaking the bank.

The National Gallery

Situated in Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery houses the widest collection of paintings from the mid-13th century to the 1900s. Initially set up as a gallery for the British people, unlike the Louvre the charity-based gallery was not founded on nationalising a Royal Collection but instead has risen to such seismic proportions that it is now one of the most famous art galleries in the world. Masterpieces range from J.M.W. Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire to Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Other prominent artists include Leonardo Da Vinci, Holbein, Constable, and Vermeer.

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London,WC2N 5DN, UK+44 (0)20 7747 2885

Tate Britain

Part of the Tate network of galleries, Tate Britain is home to the best historically-significant and contemporary British art. First set up as the National Gallery of Britain, its name quickly changed to the Tate Gallery due to its founder Sir Henry Tate. This famous gallery is situated on the Millbank with a vast collection on J.M.W. Turner. On a side note, if you want to get to the Tate Modern from the Tate Britain quickly, you can take a speedboat from the Millbank Millennium Pier to get there.

Tate Britain, Millbank, London, UK, SW1P 4RG, +44 (0)20 7887 8888

The Wallace Collection

A five-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, there is a beautiful collection situated in Manchester Square known as the Wallace Collection. A former residency of the Seymour family, it is home not only to paintings, but also statues, furniture, earthenware, ivory and miniatures, not to mention the fabulous armoury situated on the ground floor of this townhouse. Prominent European artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Francois Boucher, Van Dyck, Rubens, and Rembrandt are all situated here. To house such beautiful paintings, the rooms themselves are styled according to how a 19th century house would look. The centre piece of this gallery is the Simon Sainsbury Gallery, situated in the north wing of the building. Notable paintings here are The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, and The Swing by J.H.Fragonard.

Hertford House, Manchester Square, London,W1U 3BN, UK, +44 (0)20 7563 9500

Tate Modern

Along London South Bank stands the magnificent Tate Modern, opened in 2000. Situated in the disused Bankside Power Station, it has been reinvented (along with the grand Turbine Hall and the majestic tower) and now stands as a beacon for modern art. The gallery itself has permanent instalments —as well as new and developing exhibitions, as modern art is forever expanding. Famous paintings such as Pablo Picasso’s Figure dans un Fauteuil and Piet Mondrian’s abstract masterpiece Composition C are showcased beautifully throughout. After an overwhelming stroll through the gallery, collect your thoughts by visiting the on-site café, restaurant, or bar. With breathtaking views, the Tate Modern is more than just an art gallery; it’s an essential part of the London skyline.

Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG, UK, +44 (0)20 7887 8888

Serpentine Galleries

There is nowhere better to view contemporary art than the Serpentine Galleries, situated in the peaceful Kensington Gardens. They combine a rural and urban setting to create a tranquil and reflective zone for some of the finest contemporary art around. From artists such as Henry Moore to Andy Warhol, many have had their artwork featured here. Comprised of both the Serpentine Gallery and the newly added Serpentine Sackler Gallery, both galleries offer spaces that hold exquisite art, cafés, restaurants and social spaces. Each year since 2000, temporary pavilions have been staged outside, so make sure to stroll through the gardens and wonder at these wonderful galleries when you are next in Kensington.

Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA, UK, +44 (0)20 7402 6075

White Cube

The White Cube’s ethos has been pushing young British artists to the fore — a brave and courageous stance that makes it the first step for new up-and-coming artists. This raw dynamic has placed well-known artists such as Tracey Emin firmly in the limelight. Therefore, if you value the new and the novel, you would be foolish to miss such an intrinsic part of the contemporary art scene in London. Originating in the Hoxton and Shoreditch area, The White Cube and the young British artists lived in unison until sadly it was demolished. Now a new space has opened up in Bermondsey which still carries that same ethos. This new space is Europe’s largest commercial gallery and exhibits some of the rawest pieces of London’s contemporary art scene.

144-152 Bermondsey St, London, SE1 3TQ, UK, +44 (0)20 7930 5373

Marian Goodman Gallery

Only set up in 2014, new addition to the art scene the Marian Goodman Gallery is a beautiful space in a townhouse in Golden Square, Westminster and was set up as an outpost of Marian Goodman‘s New York Gallery. This contemporary  gallery is a quiet space, perfect if you want to escape the massed hordes on Regent Street. Tying in exhibitions from both New York and Paris, this provides visitors with an insightful look into the new contemporary artists that hail far from these shores and among the many notable artists who have been exhibited are Jeff Wall and Cristina Iglesias. The space itself is a wonderful conversion from townhouse to art gallery. It is tucked away on Golden Square — quite a find for the underground art lover.

Marian Goodman Gallery, 5-8 Lower John St, London, W1F 9DY, UK, +44 (0)20 7099 0088

Saatchi Gallery

Saatchi‘s philosophy is to show contemporary art which you would not see at the Tate Modern. Many artists have passed through this gallery to become the trailblazers for contemporary art, such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. The ethos of this is to continue to exhibit the Damien Hirsts of tomorrow. The Duke of York’s HQ opened in 2008 and is one of Britain’s most beautiful art spaces in London, with no better way to frame these pieces of art than in the heart of Chelsea. Although Charles Saatchi does not come without his controversy, this only pushes the gallery to the forefront of the public eye. As Charles Saatchi is seen as more of a dealer than a collector, this enables the public to have an unique view at an ever-changing gallery of pieces. It allows flow and fluidity concerning what you may see at the Saatchi Gallery, which definitely gives the national galleries of Britain a run for their money.

Saatchi Gallery, Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, London, UK, +44 (0)20 7811 3070