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

Stained glass window Miracle window from Canterbury Cathedral at British Museum Becket exhibition
Miracle Window from Canterbury Cathedral

Barbican Art Gallery

Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty until 22 August

Art Brut in Jean Dubuffet’s world meant art outside the accepted norm for fine art. What we would now call Street Art or Folk Art. Dubuffet celebrated the work of artists away from the mainstream and adopted a strikingly different practice himself. He used all manner of unconventional materials to produce images of incredible beauty, looked at from a distance his works using butterfly wings look like landforms only close up do you look and think that is a butterfly. Stunning and now I realise that my shell pictures are works of art and not just a way using up the shells that inevitably follow us home from visits to the beach.

  • Barbican Art Gallery, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
  • Reopens 17 May
  • Open: Daily 10am – 7pm
  • Admission: £18 concessions available, Art fund cardholders half price

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.

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

British Museum

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint until 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 until 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

More! Oliver Twist, Dickens and Stories of the City 30 June – 17 October

More! will tell the tale of how Charles Dickens came to create Oliver Twist. Inspiration came from the streets around Doughty Street and Dickens many long walks through the capital.

  • 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

Design Museum

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street until 24 October

If you had told me a decade ago that I would view wearing trainers with a frock as normal and indeed would do so most days, I would have told you that you were mad. Yet here I am doing just that. Sneakers Unboxed explores how what at school were called plimsolls have morphed into the most fashionable and ubiquitous of shoes.

Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life until 5 September

I confess that I had never heard of Charlotte Perriand until I visited Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life. Turns out that I might not heard of her but I am very familiar with her work. The tubular chairs and chaise lounge that I have always thought were designed by Le Corbusier turn out to have been designed by Charlotte. In some respects the show is like visiting IKEA because in every room you see the type of chic modern classics that you can buy in the Swedish superstore, except the ones on display here are the designs that inspired the copies. This is by far the best exhibition I have seen at the Design Museum since it opened in its new home.

  • Design Museum, High Street Kensington
  • Open:
  • Admission: Charlotte Perriand £18, Sneakers Unboxed £12.50
  • Members go free

Garden Museum

Constance Spry and the Fashion for Flowers until 26 September 2021

Constance Spry changed the way that flowers were arranged, even the kind of flowers were arranged. Wild flowers, seasonal flowers naturally arranged were her thing. The Royal Horticultural Society library has been plundered for this exhibition of photographs of her work.

  • Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, SE1 7LB
  • Reopens: 17 May
  • Open: Daily 10.30am – 5pm
  • Admission: £12 concessions available, Art Fund card half price

Guildhall Art Gallery

Noël Coward: Art and Style until 23 December

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
  • Reopening June 2
  • 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

  • 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 until 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.

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

National Army Museum

  • 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 until 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
  • 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.

Pitzhanger Manor

Julian Opie until 24 October 2021

Julian Opie creates instantly recognisable almost graphic works. His latest work will be displayed at Pitzhanger not only in the gallery but also outside in Walpole Park.

  • 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

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

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 until 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 until 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 until 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.

  • 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.

Paula Rego until 24th October

There is nothing docile about a Paula Rego painting.  Her work spares no detail in depicting the full physical messiness of being a woman.  Bad things happen and she paints them.  Good, gender things happen and she paints them.  Everything is shown in a way that feels folkloric but never kitch. Paula Rego at Tate Britain lovingly chronicles her career in all its emotional glory.

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. 

Heather Phillipson: Rupture No 1: Blowtorching the Bitten Peach until 23 January 2022

The stately Duveen Hall at Tate Britain has been transformed into a red cave of unexpected discoveries. Vast papier mâchē creations nestle next to salvaged machines and it all bright bright red. Rupture No 1 is free and features in every route round Tate Britain.

  • Tate Britain, Millbank SW1P 4RG
  • reopen 17 May
  • Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
  • Turner’s Modern World: Adults £22
  • Paula Rego: Adults £18
  • Heather Phillipson free
  • Booking essential even for members
  • Members go free, art fund card holders discount

Tate Modern

The Making of Rodin until 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 until 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 until 2 January 2022

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 until 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  until 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.

Wallace Collection

If I could live in a museum it would be the Wallace Collection, during lockdown they’ve had a bit of spruce up, the chandeliers have been cleaned and a new lick of paint applied. Cultural Wednesday Towers is in sad need of new paint, maybe I could move into the Wallace?

Rubens: Reunited the Great Landscapes until 15 August 2021

Rubens bought Het Steen as a rural retreat to spend summer away from the hustle and bustle of Antwerp. He made two great paintings of Het Steen: The Rainbow Landscape which lives at the Wallace Collection and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning which lives at the National Gallery. Although both paintings live in London they have not been seen side by side since they left Flanders until now. Both paintings were created by Rubens for his own pleasure rather than for a client, seeing them side by side will be a treat.

Whitechapel Gallery

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy until 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

London Art Gallery Exhibitions

180 Strand

Ryoki Ikeda until 1 August

You don’t see this Ryoki Ikeda exhibitions so much as experience it. Bright lights flash, music pounds through your body, but the next moment you alone in pitch dark silence. Don’t go if you are of a nervous disposition. At times I was scared witless but when I emerged into the daylight my overall feeling was of elation.

  • 180 Strand, WC2R 1EA
  • Open: Thursday – Sunday 10am-6pm
  • Admission: Adults £15, students, under 18 and key workers free

The Art of Banksy until 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

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

Royal Style in the Making until 2 January 2022

Diana Princess of Wales Wedding dress on display at Kensington Palace
Diana, Princess of Wales Wedding Dress

Fabulous frocks are what we expect from Royal women. Royal Style in the Making will look at the relationship between fashion designer and client. Most exciting of all Diana Princess of Wales’s wedding dress will be on display.

  • 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 until 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. All that culturing makes you thirsty just as well that there are some delightful Museum Cafes. 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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18 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 7, 2021 / 12:12 pm

    I really must get to London! What a fabulous list chocked full of delights. It is the V&A I most want to visit though – handbags and Alice! Heaven. #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 11, 2021 / 9:56 am

      I can’t wait to get back inside the V&A it is my happy place

  5. 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

  6. 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?

  7. May 11, 2021 / 2:06 pm

    SO many places I want to visit. Our summer is sorted! Very happy to be able to plan some exciting museum visits! #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 14, 2021 / 11:25 am

      Who needs to leave London when there is so much going on!

  8. May 12, 2021 / 10:21 am

    How happy are you?! Look at all the options – you’re going to be busy this month! Happy that your cultural institutions are opening doors once more – it’s been sooo nice to step back inside a museum or two here in Copenhagen. #CulturedKids

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 12, 2021 / 10:22 am

      So excited, maybe we’ll be able to travel to Copenhagen soon as well

  9. May 12, 2021 / 9:27 pm

    What a list! So. Much. Choice! I am giddy with excitement about museums and galleries reopening next week and this is the perfect overview. I have several booked in already (and managed to see a few before museums closed) but there’s still more from this list I need to make time for. Thanks for joining in with #CulturedKids

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 12, 2021 / 9:29 pm

      I always get excited about new exhibitions … this time I’m hyper!

  10. May 14, 2021 / 1:52 pm

    I just can’t wait for everything to reopen! Shame I didn’t get to bag any infinity room tickets. Let’s hope I get lucky for September #CulturedKids

  11. May 26, 2021 / 9:25 pm

    After famine comes FEAST! There’s almost too much choice, but I’ve been enjoying watching you trying to fit them all in over on social media. My favourite so far has been Zanele Muholi at Tate Modern – beautiful, emotive, compassionate works. Thanks so much for joining in with #CulturedKids

  12. June 10, 2021 / 10:58 am

    London is buzzing once again and we couldn’t be any happier ! Our kids loved Heather Phillipsn’s installation at Tate Britain but Zanele Muholi’s Tate Modern proved too much for 2 X 8 years olds, the grown-ups enjoyed the brutal visual challenging messages though ! We are working slowly our way through this fabulous list Catherine, as always the most fabulous highlights, London #CulturedKids and parents at its best! X

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