Art Gallery Exploration: the best free art galleries to visit in the UK

Art Gallery Exploration: the best free art galleries to visit in the UK
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Art Gallery Exploration: the best free art galleries to visit in the UK

In 2015 The Centre for Economics and Business Research on behalf of found that us Brits spend a whopping £5 billion on dating, including on food and drink, entertainment, and clothing. An average cost per date for two people is estimated to be £127, which is far more than our European counterparts. When did doing something fun with someone get so expensive?

When you’re on a budget, finding fun and interesting things to do that don’t damage your wallet too much is essential. While I’m sure that you can come up with a few ways of entertaining yourselves for free, what better way to show your potential new partner how cultured you are than viewing some masterpieces? Visiting an art gallery is an age-old pastime that is often completely free.

Statista have found that 52% of adults in England have visited an art gallery or museum in the previous twelve months. This figure has been rising steadily over the last ten years. Love it or hate it, art certainly attracts people in its droves.

Art can take many forms – paintings, sculpture, and even immersive. There’s classical art and modern art too. It has the power to make us think, to inspire us, and to entertain. If we’re lucky enough to have the money we can even buy it and keep it, maybe even watch it go up in value and make us a profit. For the rest of us, there are art galleries, where we can have the benefit of art without too much expense.

For every art gallery that exists to share the beauty of art with the masses, there is another which is there to make a profit, which is fair enough. But if you’re on a budget, and still need your arty fix, then you should seek out a free art gallery or two. These free art galleries in the UK will keep you coming back for more.

The best free art galleries in the UK

The National Gallery, London

Art Gallery Exploration: the best free art galleries to visit in the UK

The National Gallery in London is one of the most visited art galleries in England, attracting around 6 million visitors per year. It is in the heart of London in Trafalgar Square and attracts tourists and locals alike. The main galleries are all free entry, and you can hire an audio tour for a small fee. Guest exhibitions can be an extra charge, but look out on their website for the frequent free family events, music recitals, and talks. Free 60-minute talks run twice daily at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm.

There are over 2,300 individual paintings in the National Gallery. These include Constable’s The Hay Wain, Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and A Young Woman standing at a Virginal by Vermeer.

The Ferens Gallery, Hull

Where better to start getting to know the UK City of Culture 2017 than the recently refurbished Ferens Art Gallery? Located opposite the City Hall on Queen Victoria Square, the Ferens is a beautiful building containing numerous works of art, including work by British and European artists from the 14th century to modern day. It is due to host the Turner Prize in 2017.

Ferens Art Gallery host a regular programme of events, guided tours and changing exhibitions. You can also enjoy refreshments in the cafe, Venue Hull. Why not take a tour of the other free museums in Hull while you’re there?

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

Art Gallery Exploration: the best free art galleries to visit in the UK

More than a free art gallery, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is an open-air country park with some world class sculpture thrown in for good measure! Home to pieces by artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Antony Gormley, the park is exercise, fresh air, and culture combined.

There are also indoor art galleries, and a visitor centre with a café (though you can take your own picnic) and a gift shop. Entry is free but there is a car parking charge which is currently £5 for up to two hours of £8 for all day.

Tate Liverpool

Tate Liverpool is home to British and international modern and contemporary art. Located on Liverpool’s iconic Albert Dock with stunning views across the River Mersey, this free art gallery is an offshoot of the Tate Galleries in London. The family-friendly café is pretty good too!

Permanent free exhibitions include Industrial Landscape 1955 by L.S. Lowry, Aspects of Myself by Grayson Perry, and even a Picasso. One of the free exhibitions, running until 3rd September 2017 is a look at the contrast and comparisons between the works of Turner Prize winner Tracey Emin and classical artist and poet William Blake.

The Serpentine Galleries, London

The Serpentine Gallery and The Serpentine Sackler Gallery are a five-minute walk from each other within the beautiful Royal Park of Kensington Gardens in London. They are both free entry and have a range of free exhibitions, showcasing emerging and established contemporary and modern art.

The Serpentine Gallery was opened in 1970, and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in 2013. Visit during the summer and you’ll also be able to see the temporary summer pavilion, which in the past has been built by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid.

The galleries also run free talks – look out on their website, and book early as they are very popular.

Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

Ikon, a world-renowned gallery in Birmingham, offers access to temporary exhibitions for free to the general public and groups. It shows art of all types, including sound, film, mixed media, painting, sculpture, and photography. Exhibitions change frequently.

Ikon has been around since 1964 and is now housed in an old Victorian school in Brindleyplace. While some of the numerous artists whose works have been on display here may not be world famous, the art is exciting, and it will certainly provoke some conversations.

Look out for free 15-minute spotlight talks which happen every Friday at 1 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. No need to book – just turn up and get a quick art education fix!

Current exhibitions include a look at the work of French photographer Jean Painlevé, and “the most comprehensive exhibition to date” of work by British artist Oliver Beer.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

There are a few free art galleries in the stable of National Galleries Scotland, and this one which is a few minutes’ walk from Edinburgh’s iconic Princes Street is a feast for modern art lovers. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is two buildings housing the gallery’s permanent collection and guest works from the early twentieth century onwards. There’s lots to see here, including items from Matisse and Picasso.

The more modern art collection includes work by David Hockney, Andy Warhol, and Francis Bacon. Notable works include The Stairwell Project, a permanent exhibit by Turner Prize winner Richard Wright. There’s also more to see by famous sculptors including Henry Moore in the extensive grounds. Perfect for a picnic!  

National Museum, Cardiff

National Museum Cardiff is more than a free art gallery – it’s also home to exhibitions about Wales and Welsh history. It is situated in Cardiff city centre, a short walk from the central train and bus station.

Free talks run Tuesday to Sunday at 12:30 pm with a different theme each day, and show you the highlights in the galleries, which include works from Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh, and L.S. Lowry.

Until January 2018, there is a special exhibition of works from Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and more, which again, is entirely free of charge.

So whether you’re a fan of modern art or something a little more traditional, there are lots of free exhibitions where you can get a culture fix. Have you got a free art gallery near you?

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