Guide to Best London Exhibitions 2021 and Museum Reopening

London’s public galleries and museums are preparing to reopen. Let me guide you through London Museum Reopening the best London Exhibitions 2021, who is opening, when and what will be on show. Assume that you need to book, even if entry is free. Click on the blue words to be taken to the museum booking sites.

If you are not ready to venture back inside museums and galleries yet take a look at my guide to Alfresco Art for outside socially distanced art.

Table of Contents

Best London Exhibitions 2021

Man looking at paintings masterpieces from Buckingham Palace
Masterpieces of Buckingham Palace

British Library

Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights until 1 August 2021

Boy do I have a rich stash of stories to tell about things that happened to women in the workplace back in the last century that would make your hair stand on end.  Hopefully the worse of them would no longer be tolerated, things have moved on but there is still a long way to go.  This is the issue tackled by Unfinished Business at the British Library it looks at how much things have changed but how much further there is still to go.  Exhibits range from the first edition of Mary Wollstenecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women to a No More Page 3 T-shirt worn by Caroline Lucas MP for a debate on media sexism in 2013.

Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written World until 6 June

Manuscripts dating back as far as the tenth century and ranging across North Africa and Europe trace the lives and traditions of the Jewish community. Also chronicled is the relationship with the Jewish community and those around them, the sharing of traditions, friendship and persecution.

  • British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB
  • Reading room reopen 17 April, exhibitions reopen 17 May
  • Tickets need to be booked for reading room, members room and exhibition.
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm
  • Admission: Unfinished Business: Adults £15 Hebrew Manuscripts £6
  • members go free

British Museum

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint 20 May – 22 August

The story of the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral 850 years ago is one of the cornerstones of English history. It is a story that has it all royalty, fame, envy and envy. The centrepiece of this show is to be one of the Miracle Windows from Canterbury Cathedral … my mind is boggled at how you move an 800 year old stained glass window and I can’t wait to see it.

Nero: the man behind the myth 27 May – 24 October

We all know about Emperor Nero, he was the one that fiddled whilst Rome burned. Readers of my vintage will remember him from I, Claudius as a beautiful but deeply flawed character. What was the real man like? Nero: the man behind the myth will be the first major Uk exhibition devoted to Nero and promises to answer that question.

  • British Museum, Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
  • Reopens 17 May
  • Open: Daily 10am -5pm (8.30pm on Friday)
  • Thomas Becket: Adults £22 concessions available and children under 16 free
  • Nero: £25 concessions available and children under 16 free
  • Members go free and there are discounts for Art Fund cardholders
  • Booking is essential for visiting the museum and special exhibitions

Charles Dickens Museum

Technicolour Dickens until 16 June

Charles Dickens lived at the time when the mass production of images became possible for the first time. To mark 150 years since his death all manner of images have been gathered of him. From line drawings and paintings to colourised photographs. Charles Dickens was a great writer but he was pretty good at embracing all the modern new fangled means of publicity at his disposal too!

  • Charles Dickens Museum, 48-49 Doughty Street WC1N 2LX 
  • Reopens 19 May
  • Open: Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
  • Admission: Adults £9.50 concessions available
  • Art fund card holders free
  • Pre-booked timed ticket essential

Guildhall Art Gallery

Noël Coward: Art and Style coming soon

100 years ago Noël Coward had his West End debut at the tender age of 19, the plays and songs that he went on to create had a huge influence on art and culture beyond the stage. This exhibition looks at the glittering world which he inhabited and influenced.

  • Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard, EC2V 5AE
  • no reopening news yet
  • Open: Friday – Sunday 10.30am – 5pm
  • Admission: Free

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum is always thought provoking and interesting.  An enormous Ai Weiwei installation ‘The History of Bombs’ is adorning the central atrium 5 September 2021

Refugees: Forced to Flee until 13 June 2021

Refugees come under the spotlight in a series of three exhibitions that are on until the end of May 2021.  Refugees may dominate the headlines but they are nothing new people have fled their homes in the face of war and natural disaster for centuries, this series of timely exhibitions takes an unflinching look at a thorny issue.

  • Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road SE1 6HZ
  • Reopens 19 May
  • Booking essential
  • Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
  • Admission: Free

Museum of London

Dub London: Baseline of a City until 5 September

Dub London explores the dub reggae music and its importance to music and London. Events like the Notting Hill carnival are celebrated and the influence of the music of the religion and politics of the city are also examined.

  • Museum of London, EC2Y 5HN
  • Reopen 19 May
  • Open: 11.30am – 3.30pm Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm weekends
  • Admission: Free
  • Booking essential

Museum of London Docklands

Havering Hoard until 22 August

In 2018 a Bronze Age Hoard was discovered in by the Thames in Havering, it is largest ever found in the capital.  453 objects all tangled together, nobody knows how they came to be in Havering, it is a mystery waiting to be unravelled.  You can take a look at the swords, axe heads and assorted metal working kit at the Museum of London Docklands where it is on display until it moves into its new home at the Havering Museum.

National Gallery

Conversations with God Jan Matejko’s Copernicus 21 May – 22 August 2021

Jan Matejko is Poland’s most beloved artist and Copernicus maybe the most famous ever. This painting on loan from Poland unites two of the countries most famous figures. It was painted at a time when Poland as a country didn’t exist but was rather split between the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empires and keen for autonomy. Metejko was making a not so subtle point about Polish nationhood with the topic and the setting of painting.

Sensing the Unseen  Step into Gossaerts Adoration until 13 June 2021

Just in time for Christmas the National Gallery has an interactive immersive exploration of Gossaerts Adoration.  We are promised sound, video and in depth exploration of this 500 year old depiction of the Three Kings.  The exhibition will be in Room 1, right next to the shop, and free.

  • National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
  • Reopening 17 May
  • Open: Daily 11am – 4pm
  • Conversations with God Jan Matejko’s Copernicus: free
  • Gossaerts Adoration: Free

National Army Museum

Germany Foe – Friend until 1 July 2021

In 1945 Germany was a defeated foe in the 75 years that followed more than a million British soldiers served in Germany.  When they left Germany was one of our staunchest allies.  This exhibition looks at the lives of the British soldiers in Germany and the changing nature of their role.

  • National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HT
  • Reopening 19 May
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10.30am – 3.30pm
  • Admission: Free

National Maritime Museum

Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits 28 May – 31 October 2021

 Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Royal portraits. 150 portraits of British Royals will be on show tracing the way that the monarchy has used portraits to add lustre to its image.

  • National Maritime Museum, Park Row, Greenwich SE10 9NF
  • Grounds reopen 12 April, Museum reopen 17 May
  • Open daily: 10.30am – 4pm
  • Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits from £10
  • Admission: Free
  • Booking is essential for both the paid Tudors and free museum entry

Natural History Museum

Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature until August 2021

Find out how real animals have inspired mythical beasts and legends and celebrate how real life explorers have discovered new plants and animals. Book ahead, this has been postponed from the Spring and looks to be extremely popular.

Painted Hall, Greenwich

Gaia 30 May – 1 July

The Painted Hall at Greenwich is pretty spectacular ordinarily but with Luke Jerram’s Gaia it is incredible. Gaia is an exact scale model of the earth. Seeing it is the nearest that I will ever get to space travel. Book now to visit in June, tickets are bound to go fast!

  • Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich SE10 9NN
  • Reopens: Hall reopens 17 May, Gaia opens 30 May
  • Open: Daily 10am – 5pm
  • Admission: Adults £13.50, children free tickets last for a year
  • Pre-booking essential

Pitzhanger Manor

Soane Restored 27 May 2021 – 5 June 2022

Pitzhanger Manor underwent a three year refurbishment before it reopened in 2019. Restoring a dilapidated building is tricky at the best of times but when it is the work of one of the countries finest architects peeling back the layers demands very special skills. Soane Restored will focus on the involved in bringing back to life the interior paintwork, the exterior stonework and Soane’s innovative use of glass as an architectural tool.

  • Pitzhanger Manor, Mattock Lane, Ealing W5 5EQ
  • Reopen 27 May
  • Open: Thursday – Sunday 11am – 7pm
  • Admission: Adults £7.70, under 18 free
  • Ealing residents free on Wednesday and Sunday, Art Pass holders get a discount

Queens Gallery

Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace until 31 January 2022

Buckingham Palace houses one of the greatest art collections in the world.  The Queen has got the decorators in next year and so the paintings from the Picture Gallery are moving next door to the Queen’s Gallery where we can all see it.  Expect Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Jan Steen, Van Dyck and Canaletto among others.

  • Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace SW1A 1AA
  • reopen 17 May
  • Open: Thursday – Monday 10.30pm – 4.45pm
  • Admission: Adults £16
  • Booking essential
  • Have your ticket stamped and it becomes an annual pass

Royal Academy

Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch 18 May – 1 August

Tracey Emin has been fascinated by Edvard Munch since she was a teenager.  She has chosen works by Munch to hang alongside her most recent paintings.  Both artists are masters at exploring the dark reaches of the soul, the perfect show for now when we are all having time to reflect and soul search.

Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict 22 May — 19 September

Michael Armitage is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Kenyan origin who works in both Nairobi and London. This exhibition will feature six of his large works on lubugo bark cloth alongside the work of six other East African artists.

David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 23 May – 26 September

Where were you last Spring? David Hockney was in Normandy with his iPad. Inspired by the burgeoning blossoms he created over 100 new works celebrating Spring. Once we are allowed back into Galleries this will be a popular show, probably best to book now.

  • Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD
  • Open: 10am – 6pm
  • Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch:  Adults £19
  • Michael Armitage: £15
  • David Hockney: Adults £19
  • Booking essential even for members
  • Members go free, art fund cardholders discount

Tate Britain

Visits to the permanent collection of Tate Britain will need to be booked. Free form wandering round the galleries is not possible, rather three routes have been planned to ensure that distancing is maintained. You can choose from Rothko to Turner, British Art 1540 -1930 and British Art 1930 to now.

Turner’s Modern World until 12 September 2021

Turner's Modern World at Tate Britain
Turner’s Modern World at Tate Britain

We are all familiar with the Impressionists but way before them J M W Turner was using swirls of paint to create an impression of the world.  He lived at the peak of the industrial revolution.  Everywhere he looked the world was changing; sailing boats become steam ships, the railway started to criss cross the countryside and factories were opening up. 

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in League with the Night until 31 May 2021

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye specialises in portraits of imaginary people, how fantastic is that. They spring from her imagination and experience. In imagining people she challenges our perception of identity and representation.

  • Tate Britain, Millbank SW1P 4RG
  • reopen 17 May
  • Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
  • Turner’s Modern World: Adults £22
  • Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Adults £13
  • Booking essential even for members
  • Members go free, art fund card holders discount

Tate Modern

Zanele Muholi until 31 May

Zanele Muholi is a photographer who describes themselves as visual activist. They document and celebrate South Africa’s Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities. With over 260 photographs this is a major retrospective taking in most of their career to date.

The Making of Rodin 18 May – 21 November

Rodin is known for his sculptures in bronze and marble, think of The Kiss. Before he started to chip away at the marble or make moulds for his bronzes Rodin would make endless plaster models getting the composition of a piece just right. The Making of Rodin is the first exhibition to focus on Rodin’s work in plaster.

Yayoi Kusama: Mirror Infinity Rooms 18 May – 12 June 2022

Yayoi Kusama Mirror Infinity Rooms are stunning. You step inside what on the outside looks like a plain wooden box into a dark wonderland lit with tiny lights reflected infinitely in mirrors. No real surprise that tickets are completely sold out until October. New tickets will be released in September sign up to receive notification of when here. Membership of the Tate will get you to the front of the queue.

Postal Museum

Wish You Were Here: 151 Years of the British Postcard

Railways and the postal system lead to the birth of the postcard in 1870. People could get to the new seaside resorts and had the means to send letters home. The rise of the postcard is explored in a new exhibition that is included in Postal Museum entry. Also included is a ride on the Mail Rail, which is the best train ride in a London Museum ever!

  • Postal Museum, WC1X 0DA
  • Reopen: 20 May
  • Open: Thursday – Sunday 10.30am – 5pm Saturday 10.30am – 6pm
  • Admission: Adults £16, concessions available, Art Pass holders half price
  • Pre-booking essential

V&A

Whilst we’ve been away the V&A has had a bit of a spring clean and Raphael Cartoon gallery has been spruced up and will ready to receive visitors in May. Opening times will be restricted, no late nights or opening on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Bags: Inside Out until 16 January 2022

The search for the perfect bag is never ending, even if you do find THE perfect one it wears out and you spend decades looking for its clone … just me?  I suspect that the queue for this exhibition devoted to bags in general but handbags in particular will long … book your tickets now.  Even now I am excited about the wonders that the exhibition shop contains.

Alice: Curious and Curiouser 22 May – 31 December 2021

No opening date yet for this much delayed exhibition. Alice in Wonderland was one of my favourite books growing up, the worlds and possibilities that it presented were glorious to me. When it eventually opens this show promises to be immersive and theatrical following the way that the book has influenced books, fashion, theatre and film. Can’t wait.

Epic Iran 29 May – 12 September 2021

Modern day Iran was home to one the great early civilisations. Epic Iran promises to explore 5,000 years of culture ranging from ancient history right up to the modern day, taking in a slice f Islamic history on the way. When I was the age my children are now I read The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron that gifted me a fascination with the lands and culture of what is now Iran. One day, I hope to visit but in the meantime I am really looking forward to Epic Iran.

Whitechapel Gallery

Nalini Malani: Can You Hear Me? Until 5 September 2021

Nine projectors beam a series of short animations on the brick walls of the Whitechapel, the themes are often dark and brutal but the overall effect is mesmerising.

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy 19 May – 29 August

Eileen Agar didn’t just pick one medium and stick to it. Painting, collage, sculpture, photography and even hats appeared in her practice. She danced with Picasso, was friends with Dora Maar, Lee Miller, Paul Nash and Man Ray and had her work included in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition. Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy promises to brings all these elements together and celebrate her bold and dynamic style.

  • Whitechapel Gallery, 77 – 82 Whitechapel Road E1 7QX
  • reopen 19 May
  • Eileen Agar: Adults £9.50
  • Nalini Malani: Free booking required
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm

Private London Art Gallery Exhibitions

The Art of Banksy 20 May – 21 November 2021

The Art of Banksy promises to be the world’s largest private collection of Banksy works and is on a world tour stopping in Covent Garden for summer 2021. Banksy has taken no part in the exhibition and the organisers revel in calling it “unauthorised”. Whilst you wait for galleries to reopen how about popping along to Chiswell Street to see Banksy’s Rat?

  • The Art of Banksy, 50 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LJ
  • Open: Sunday – Wednesday 10am – 6pm, Thursday – Friday 10am – 9pm, Saturday 9.30am – 7pm
  • Admission: £21.50 Monday – Friday, £24.50 weekend (plus booking fee), concessions available
  • Pre booking essential

Gagosian

Rachel Whiteread: Internal Objects until 6 June

Rachel Whiteread is renowned for her casts of buildings and structures for Internal Objects she has made structures from scratch. Two ghostly white shed constructions are the centrepiece of the exhibition both in a state of decay. Both are created from the artists imagination but look like found objects. Stunning.

  • Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, W1K 3QD
  • Open: Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm
  • Admission: Free, pre-booking essential

Damien Hirst: Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures 12 April – 3 July

Gagosian have handed over their Britannia Street gallery to Damien Hirst for a whole year, he can fill the space with whatever takes his fancy. His first show starts with what looks like an upmarket jewellers with cases filled with glittery jewellery, moves on the vast canvases that look like photos but are actually paintings. There is calf’s head, of course. For me Fact Paintings had nothing new or exciting, the highlight is a working Coke machine that for £1 will dispense a can of Coke signed by Damien Hirst.

  • Gagosian, Britannia Street, WC1X 9JD
  • Open: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 6pm
  • Admission: Free, pre-booking essential

White Cube

Gilbert and George: New Normal Pictures until May 8

Twenty six vast new works that have been created over the last two years when we have all been getting used to live in the new normal.

Iconic London Sights reopening

Kensington Palace with statue of Queen Victoria in the foreground
Kensington Palace

OK I confess that I struggled to find a catch all term for the headline. What I mean is that it isn’t only London’s Best exhibitions that are reopening but also much loved places like Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London that are also reopening.

Buckingham Palace Gardens

For the first time ever this year you will be able to not only visit the gardens of Buckingham Palace but also to picnic on the lawns.

  • Buckingham Palace Gardens, SW1A 1AA
  • Open: 9 July – 19
    • September Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 10am – 4.30pm
  • Admission: Adults 16.50 concessions available

Kensington Palace

  • Kensington Palace, W8 4PX
  • Reopening May 26
  • Open: Wednesday to Sunday: 10am – 6pm
  • Admission: Adults £17 concessions available
  • Members Historic Royal Palaces free and Art Fund card holders
  • Pre-booking essential even for members of Historic Royal Palaces

Hampton Court

Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King 20 May – 5 September

By far the best illustration in my history book at school was of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. A miniature city created out of wood and cloth of gold for the Kings of England and France to meet to agree peace. 2020 was 400 years since the Field of the Cloth of Gold, so this year we celebrate 401 years with a special exhibition at Hampton Court with manuscripts, clothing and paintings of the event. I confess that I hoping that there will be a small tent made from Cloth of Gold.

Tower of London

Westminster Abbey

  • Westmister Abbey, SW1P 3PA
  • Reopening 21 May
  • Open Monday, Tuesday, Friday 9.30am – 3.30pm and Saturday 9.30am – 3pm
  • Admission: Adult £18 concessions available
  • Pre booking essential

Whilst I am out and about stopping for refreshment at some of the excellent London Museum Cafés is always a pleasure. Membership or Friendship of most of the galleries and museums will get you into the exhibitions for free as often as you like, take a look at my guide to London Museum Membership for a full run down. Membership of the Art Fund will get you into many of the special exhibitions for half price.

Best London Exhibitions what to see at London Museum's and Art Galleries #London #LondonArt #Exhibitions

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7 Comments

  1. December 14, 2020 / 3:11 pm

    I have recommended your blog, and especially your “to-do lists” to many friends, Catherine. They are such a huge help in screening the myriad of exhibitions and events on offer. Ellie and I had had several of the exhibitions above on our radar, but had been unaware of Sin at the National Gallery, Ai Weiwei at the Imperial War Museum, and Fantastic Beasts at the Natural History Museum. We’ve now put all three of those on our list.

    • Catherine
      Author
      December 14, 2020 / 3:44 pm

      Thank you Stefan, that made my day!

  2. wired2theworld
    May 1, 2021 / 4:00 pm

    Wow! What a comprehensive list! I wish I had a trip planned to London so I could take advantage of all this. It’s been several years since I was last there. I might need a visit. 🙂 Two museums I always go to are the V&A (for the fashion) and the British to see the cat mummies. I think I’d like to try the Postal Museum next time. We have one here in the US, in Washington DC and it was actually fascinating.

  3. May 2, 2021 / 2:03 pm

    What a helpful resource this is! We’ve been to London twice, but haven’t been to any of the museums. In fact, I didn’t realize there were this many museums in London. Would love to visit some when we return. Thanks for sharing!

  4. May 9, 2021 / 9:45 pm

    You’re so lucky to have so much to see and do! We went to Canberra for the Bottecelli to Van Gogh exhibition. That was my latest foray…Had seen the Tate Modern was getting two Kusama works. Totally jealous!.#CulturedKids

  5. May 10, 2021 / 8:46 pm

    I am pleased to say I have already booked a couple of these in! I am so excited about London reemerging and what a great set of exhibitions we have to look forward to!

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 11, 2021 / 7:21 am

      So exciting, what have you booked?

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