From Botticelli to Banksy, you’ll find it all in London’s amazing art vaults. Guest blogger Sarah Tenley runs down her five favourite galleries on behalf of Expedia Australia.

London’s art scene is one of the world’s best. But, if you’re just visiting the British capital and only have a few days, which galleries are the best to visit? For most travellers, picking one or two galleries is enough — and so choosing the right gallery for you will make planning the rest of your itinerary easy.

art galleries in London
The Millenium Bridge in front of the Tate Modern

The Tate Modern

Like modern art and only have a few days? After you grab a flight to London, head straight to the Tate Modern Gallery. Located in an old power plant on the banks of the Thames near the Southwark and Blackfriars stations, the Tate stands right at the Millennium Bridge and across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral, so you’ll be conveniently positioned for more riverside explorations after the art. Consider taking one of the river boats to the Tate Britain or another site along the river.

The gallery holds the national collection of artwork dating from the 1500s onward, but it’s most beloved by visitors for its more contemporary pieces by artists such as Picasso, Dali, Gaugin, Cezanne and others whose works continue to influence us. The special exhibits at the Tate Modern can also be fun. Admission to the Tate Modern Gallery is free, and it’s open daily.

Institute of Contemporary Arts

For even more up-to-date artwork than at the Tate, swing over to the Institute of Contemporary Arts, near Charing Cross station on the Mall. This refreshing art space always surprises with exhibitions, films and events showcasing artwork by living artists and collaborators from around the globe. The bookshop is also a favourite with tourists hoping to bring a unique souvenir home. After visiting, continue sightseeing by foot at Trafalgar Square or Covent Garden, or if you wish to see another gallery, go to the nearby National Gallery. The institute is closed Mondays.

Pace Gallery

This well-known New York exhibition space has two locations in London. The largest and newest space is at 6 Burlington Gardens, equidistant to Piccadilly Circus and Green Park, and the smaller original space is at 6-10 Lexington St., nearer to Piccadilly Circus. Focusing on contemporary artists living and dead, the Pace Gallery offers viewers visual arts exhibits throughout the year. Recent exhibits included sculpture by Kevin Francis Gray and items by Japanese folk-craft artists. The Pace galleries are closed Mondays.

Saatchi Gallery

One of the biggest names in art galleries, the Saatchi Gallery in London has launched many artists’ careers. While the work on display is often unfamiliar to the general public, there’s always a good chance that in a few years featured artists will become household names. Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst are only two of the celebrated artists once displayed here. A great place to go for a look at what’s happening in the British art scene, especially among young artists, the Saatchi Gallery features many foreign artists unfamiliar to the United Kingdom.

A few years ago, the gallery relocated to its present site at a former military building, the Duke of York’s Headquarters, in Chelsea, near the Sloane Square underground station. After viewing the gallery, the area is perfect for browsing the neighborhood’s upscale shops. It is open daily.

The National Gallery

If you only have time for one gallery in London and you’re hoping to see some famous paintings, your best bet is to go to the National Gallery. Its huge collection spans artwork created in the 1300s through the 1900s, with an emphasis on important Western artists.

The gallery boasts more than 2,000 works on display by artists such as Vermeer, Michelangelo, van Dyck, da Vinci, Caravaggio and Velazquez. It hosts temporary exhibits of themed paintings; past exhibit themes include “Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure” and “Michael Landy: Saints Alive.” The gallery is located on Trafalgar Square, and makes a convenient stop on almost any itinerary, as it is open daily.

About the Author: Contributing writer and world traveller Sarah Tenley loves returning to London to brush up on the art scene.

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