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London art galleries: your guide to the city of art on the cheap

Whether you’ve just embarked upon your London life, wide-eyed with your ‘things to see!’ list clutched tightly in hand, or whether you’re a virtuoso veteran of our fine capital, you may not be aware of just how blissfully easy it is to experience London’s art offering on a student budget.


With a city famed for its sheer numbers of galleries, as well as its huge variety, from the vast National Gallery looming iconicly over Trafalgar Square, to Brick Lane’s delightfully bright ‘Stolen Space’ urban independent art gallery, you can’t afford not to delve in. This article will be your trusty guide to ensuring that you fully experience the wonderful wealth of bewitching art and inspiration that your city has to offer!

First things first, if you want to experience the London art scene, you’re going to have to travel around. If you’ve already done a year or more at King’s, you know what it’s like. Refusing to wave goodbye to that minimum of £5 by topping up using your debit card, so consequently searching the sides of the sofa, bottom of the handbag (or man-purse, apologies, gents) and jean pockets, desperately trying to scrape together that exact amount of change to hop on a bus. You don’t have to go down this route to see all the galleries you want to see. When you find yourself visiting one gallery, there is sure to be another within walking distance.  For example, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are both situated conveniently in Trafalgar Square, with the Institute of Contemporary Arts within 5 minutes walking distance, with the Royal Academy of the Arts a mere 10-15 minute walk from that and so on. This is not just the case in Central; this trail of art can be found all over the East and West End too, just use our trusty friend Google Maps to look for galleries near to the one you are planning to visit. Visit multiple galleries in a day and save yourself some travel money while having a fabulous day out with your equally-cultured comrades!

Also, while this may be stating the obvious for some of you, but just in case you’re as slow to catch on as I was, don’t forget to hook up your 16-25 railcard with your student Oyster. This can save you up to 33% on all off-peak travel! (Let’s face it; you aren’t going to get up at 7.30am to visit those galleries).

While we’re stating the obvious, if you haven’t already, buy an NUS card! A very welcome majority of galleries and museums in London offer a reasonable discount on admission with a valid NUS card. From my experience, you will definitely be saving anywhere between £2 and £6 per visit. So worth it!

Now for the most exciting part. Many of the most notable art galleries in London offer free admission! You may have to pay a small charge for temporary exhibitions, but entry to the permanent collections is free to a number of galleries. The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, The V&A, The Saatchi Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, The Wallace Collection, Photographers’ Gallery, The Serpentine Gallery and many more open their doors to a world of intricate Impressionism, compelling Contemporary, phenomenal photography, immense installations and so much more, for free. Could you ask for much more of our capital’s art scene?

If the vibrant, unique, less-well-known world of exuberant discovery that is the East End art scene is more your thing, there are countless galleries, located very near one another, which you can dive into for free.  These include The Whitechapel Art Gallery, White Cube Hoxton Square, Stolen Space Brick Lane, The Approach (entrance through The Approach Tavern hosting £3 pints, what an ideal scenario), MOT Gallery, Transition Gallery, Seven Seven Contemporary Art Gallery, Carl Freedman Gallery, One in the Other Gallery (overlooking Regent’s Canal), Maureen Paley Gallery and many more.

While on the topic of free galleries, be sure to visit our sister college’s Brunei Gallery. SOAS’s Russell Square gallery boasts intriguing exhibitions from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination running from 11th October through to 14th December. A trip to a fascinating and unique gallery in the heart of London whilst supporting our University of London brethren, how wonderfully loyal and cultural!

With regards to special exhibitions which normally charge an entrance fee, be sure to investigate as to whether any websites are offering discounts, offers or vouchers. Days Out Guide ( regularly offer 2 for 1 deals on art exhibitions throughout London.  Just find a friend and get booking!

Furthermore, if you are incredibly keen to make the most of the London art world, including exhibitions, museums, galleries and historic houses which charge admittance fees, you should seriously considering purchasing a National Art Pass. Go to and grab your pass for the cheapest fee of £18.75 (the ‘under 26’ offer is for 12 months for the price of 9 in your first year when you sign up using direct debit).  With your new best friend you will receive 50% off many major exhibitions, free entry to over 200 galleries and museums and many other benefits (see the above website for further details).

On a final note before you eagerly grab your collection of money-saving cards and dash off to your galleries of choice, takeaway triple-shot cappuccino in hand like a true Londoner, here is a list of some exhibitions running through first semester which offer NUS discounts when you book online:

  • Victoriana: The Art of Revival at Guildhall Art Gallery, £3 (saving £2). 07/09/13 – 08/12/13.
  • Australia at Royal Academy of Arts, £9 (saving £5). 21/09/13 – 08/12/13.
  • Whistler in London: Battersea Bridge and The Thames at Dulwich Picture Gallery, £6 (saving £5). 16/10/13 – 12/01/14.
  • The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee at Tate Modern, £14.50 (with optional £1.40 donation, saving £2). 16/10/13 – 09/03/14.
  • Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life at Tate Britain, £14.50 (with optional £1.40 donation, saving £2). 26/06/13 – 20/10/13.
  • Pearls at Victoria & Albert Museum, £7 (saving £4.20). 21/09/13 – 19/01/14.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900 at Victoria & Albert Museum, £9.20 (saving £4.20). 26/10/13 – 19/01/14.
  • Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs at London Transport Museum, £11.50 (saving £3.50). 15/02/13 – 27/10/13.
  • Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 at The National Gallery, £5.50 (saving £5.50). 09/10/13 – 12/01/14.
  • Laura Knight Portraits at The National Portrait Gallery, £5.40 (saving 90p). 11/07/13 – 13/10/13.
  • Miles Aldridge: I only want you to love me at Somerset House, £3-£4.50 (£3 on Mondays, £4.50 student ticket, saving £1.50). 10/07/13 – 29/09/13.

Please make sure to check these galleries’ websites for further information on these exhibitions and, more importantly, their upcoming free exhibitions, as there are many!

So, that concludes the guide to helping you survive the myriad streets of London’s gleaming art world. A few tips to make the most of this hugely diverse art scene, see all you wish to see, all while keeping that student-tight hold on your purse strings!  Happy gallery hopping!


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