Nestled within the heart of London’s bustling financial district lies a world of artistic wonder just waiting to be explored. The City of London has a thriving hub for art and culture like no other in the UK, you just need to know where to look. From contemporary showcases to time-honored institutions, we’ve explored some of the very best that the City has to offer, question is which one do you visit first?
Just across the Thames from the Tate Modern, via the Millennium Bridge, and in the shadow of historic St Paul’s Cathedral, Gallery 101 is situated in the very heart of the City. Situated in the Salvation Army’s International Headquarters, this best kept secret is often missed by people busy to see other sights of London but, should absolutely be on their lists of places to visit. Not only does Gallery 101 provide a great space for unique and interesting exhibitions, such as the current Silver Reflections calligraphy exhibition, it is also free for anyone to display their work, just as long as it adheres to the Salvation Army values. This community space offers a chance for people to let others enjoy their work, although it must be noted an application doesn’t guarantee acceptance.
Free to enter, you can spend a quiet few minutes exploring the gallery, an oasis of calm in a rather bustling area of London. After you’ve soaked it in you can walk across the room and a visit Café 101, the modern café that shares the space with Gallery 101. With a selection of affordable hot and cold food, it’s a great way to mull over what you’ve just seen with a cup of coffee and a quick sandwich.
With plenty of new exhibitions throughout the year you won’t be needing an excuse to return soon and see what novel exhibition is next on display.
Guildhall Art Gallery
Situated in the heart of the City the Guildhall Art Gallery has some of the finest public artwork to be found in the Square Mile. From such pieces as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘La ghirlandata’ to John Singleton Copley’s ‘Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782’ the gallery is steeped in heritage. First built in 1885 to showcase the City of London Corporation’s growing art collection, it has had a tumultuous history. From hosting influential exhibitions in the 19th century, to almost being completely destroyed by a fire during an air raid in 1941, to the remains of a Roman amphitheatre being discovered in a redevelopment in 1988, to the where it now stands today.
Not only does the gallery have free admission for its art collections linking every aspect of London and the Square Mile, but descend into the basement and you’ll find yourself in a one-of-a-kind Roman amphitheatre. On top of all that, on the second Saturday of every month they run family events, ranging from arts and craft inspired by the Victorian paintings to tales of gladiatorial fights and Roman conquest in the Roman amphitheatre. All family activities are free but booking is advised as spots tend to go fast.
Perfect for a quiet five-minute walk around or a longer stay with the little ones, the Guildhall Art Gallery endeavours to ensure you have a terrific experience.
BEERS London Gallery
Located just a six-minute walk from Farringdon station and surrounded by historic London landmarks such as the Smithfield Market and St Bartholomew the Great church, there is art and history soaking into the very walls of the BEERS London Gallery. Landing in the Square Mile in 2021, BEERS London has been a leading gallery of radical contemporary art for the City. It has consistently been pushing the limit with its forward-thinking exhibition programmes that aims to showcase early to mid-career artist. Ranging from sculptures, photography, film and other forms of media, BEERS London constantly delivers internationally diverse representations from across the globe to ensure that its contemporary art scene delivers an assorted range of art.
Their current exhibition ‘Manu García: Juego’ aims to embody movement with its broad-brush strokes and implementation of bright, distinct colours. While the name of the exhibition is Spanish for ‘play’, the artwork has a distinctly discombobulating feeling, with the unique portrayal of the human image alongside often exaggerated size human body pieces making for a thought-provoking exhibition.
With a great space for artists to showcase their work and within walking distance of St Paul’s Cathedral, BEER London Gallery provides an impressive selection of talented artists for the public to enjoy.
Barbican Art Gallery
The Barbican has always been attracting modern and contemporary artists from across the globe and they look like they’re not going to be stopping anytime soon. Their newest exhibition called ‘RE/SISTERS: A Lens on Gender and Ecology’ is an introspective investigation into the connection between gender and ecology and the relation between the continued destruction of the planet and the oppression of woman. The exhibition brings together 50 international woman and gender non-conforming artists to drive home this link through thought provoking photography and film. Tickets are £16 but there are concessions for students and over-65s.
The Barbican also has a number of free exhibitions such as the ‘Julianknxx: Chorus in Rememory of Flight’, a multi-screen film installation by solo poet, artist and filmmaker Julianknxx. He has travelled through Europe discovering and collaborating with politicians, dancers, activists and leading figures from their Black Communities to bring together a collection of experiences that aim to show the feeling of resisting the eradication of difference.
The Barbican Art Gallery and exhibition space provides the ideal place for artists to bring moving and stimulating exhibitions that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the City.
Stolen Space Gallery
Stolen Space gallery intrigued us from the first minute to the very last, here’s why. Located less than a five-minute walk from Aldgate East tube station the gallery has a long list of contemporary artists with a broad and varied range of styles to keep your attention and constantly make you wonder what will be around the next corner. Since 2005 the gallery has hosted a genre of artwork called ‘Underground Art’, and has hosted a range of artists all motivated by societies subcultures that there are few rules and anything is possible. Not only does it host an internationally recognised range of artists but, is also available as an event space to allow for a unique and interesting venue for a host of occasions.
One of their current exhibitions, ‘Search History’ by artist Paul Stephenson, is running throughout October and looks at engaging the viewer through artistic collaboration throughout history. Also, with ‘Search History’ is an exhibition by artist Sofia Enriquez called ‘Niña’ which explores the way in which we confront our memories and some personal challenges and experiences from Sofia Enriquez’s childhood, all through an artistic process. Overall, the sheer uniqueness of the artwork on display and the questions it makes you confront has made it a strong contender for best gallery in the City.
Founded in 1901 the Whitechapel gallery not only connects the local community through art and entertaining events but is also an internationally recognised institute for aspiring artists to come together and share their work. Inside the historic building is enough space for nine exhibitions, an auditorium, an restaurant, a specialised bookshop and various spaces for people to come and study.
While the gallery has hosted artists from around the world, such as from Brazil and China, it also has strong connections to local artists, many who reflect the nature of the area and its long heritage of migrants. The gallery is free to enter however, some exhibitions will require tickets so be sure to check the website for more information.
Their current exhibition, ‘It All Starts With a Thread’ explores the sensation of connectivity and interconnectedness both as a method and a metaphor and was done by the 2023 cohort of Whitechapel Gallery and LSBU’s MA in Curating Art and Public Programmes. Not only does the exhibition include pieces of art with threads being a main theme but it also has a number of performances and workshops to further explain and intrigue any interested art enthusiasts. The Whitechapel gallery does what few galleries can hope to achieve, not only does it display world class art but it makes itself an integral part of the community in which it aims to educate and entertain.