Discover new and emerging artists, as well as longtime favorites at London’s art galleries. (Photo: Alamy)
Home to such world-renowned institutions as the Tate Modern and the National Gallery, as well as some of the world’s most influential living artists, London is a true art capital. To get a taste of the city’s rich art scene in microcosm, you need only take a walk around the city’s Mayfair area, where you will find dozens of innovative and inspiring galleries.
Here is a suggested walking tour that takes in the best.
The first leg of your tour requires the furthest walking distance. Fuel up with a good breakfast before leaving the London Marriott Hotel Park Lane and head 20 minutes southeast, passing the the U.S. Embassy — designed by Eero Saarinen, the Finnish-American architect famed for his neo-futuristic style, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and New York’s TWA Flight Center — to Albemarle Gallery.
The gallery is known for presenting figurative and hyper-realist painters and sculptors from the U.K. and around the world.
It’s just a two-minute hop to the elegant Skarstedt Gallery on Bennet Street. The large white walls of the gallery’s three interconnected rooms show the work of contemporary American and European artists.
The gallery, which also has two locations in New York City, opened in late 2016 with a joint exhibition of portraits from the photographer Cindy Sherman and painter David Salle.
A three-minute stroll takes you to White Cube, the current Mayfair location of a gallery that found fame in the 1990s for its association with Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and more of the group known as the “Young British Artists.” This white, cube-shaped building houses a street-level gallery as well as a naturally-lit basement gallery.
Past exhibitions at this dynamic gallery have featured large-scale installations and sculptures by Anselm Kiefer and multimedia works — created using found objects — by Gabriel Orozco.
Lunch at the Institute of Contemporary Arts
You will have likely worked up an appetite by now, so pop into the Café Bar at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) for lunch. While there, check the calendar to see what is showing in the galleries. The institute’s curation leans toward experimental, socially engaged and radical works in a variety of media.
Royal Academy of Arts
Work off lunch with a brisk 10-minute walk to the Royal Academy of Arts (RA). A London institution, the RA is privately owned and artist-led. Exhibition programming is varied, ranging from blockbuster shows featuring van Gogh and Ai Weiwei to smaller exhibitions of lesser-known artists held in the building’s Sackler Wing and the separate Burlington Gardens galleries, accessed via the Burlington Arcade.
If you are visiting in the summer, don’t miss one of the most important events on London’s cultural calendar, the RA’s Summer Exhibition, held every year since 1769.
On Burlington Gardens, just a few minutes’ walk from the RA, you will find the London outpost of the American contemporary and modern art gallery, Pace. This gallery has hosted shows by such art world heavyweights as James Turrell and Hiroshi Sugimoto, as well as those less likely, including the actor James Franco.
By this point in your walking tour, it should be right about time for the fabled English ritual of afternoon tea. Head five minutes north to Sketch and continue the day’s art theme by taking a seat in the rose-colored restaurant where drawings by the Turner Prize–nominated David Shrigley line the walls.
Surrounded by the designer stores of New Bond Street, Halcyon Gallery shows the work of many well-known names in the creative world, like Andy Warhol, and has even featured a major exhibition of Bob Dylan’s artwork. However, Halycon is also dedicated to championing those less-recognized and emerging artists, making this a great place to discover new talent.
Hauser & Wirth
Find the London outpost of the Swiss contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row, a street better known for its bespoke tailors. The gallery’s roster contains an impressive selection of names, including Louise Bourgeois and Jenny Holzer, so expect to come across some of the city’s most acclaimed exhibitions.
A Post-Tour Tipple
Finally, it’s time to toast the day with a post-tour cocktail. If you are in the mood for something a little different, it’s a few minutes’ stroll to Cahoots, a bar situated in an abandoned bomb shelter and designed in the style of a 1940s “tube” (subway) train.
Similarly eccentric is the Victorian-themed Mr. Fogg’s Tavern, styled as the imaginary home of Phileas Fogg and stuffed with maps, charts and the imaginary souvenirs of the “Around the World in 80 Days” protagonist. Best part? It lies just 15 minutes’ stumbling distance from your hotel.