Image credit: Franz Wender via Unsplash

A Weekend with a National Art Pass in London

Belphoebe New

In London, you’re surrounded by opportunities to explore and immerse yourself within arts and culture. If you’ve come to the capital this weekend with a thirst for knowledge and hunger for London’s vast cultural variety, it might be worth taking along a National Art Pass, which will allow you to gain access to many of London’s cultural institutions and greatest exhibitions either for free or for a significantly discounted price. We’ve explored the possibilities of a weekend wandering around London with a National Art Pass in hand, from some of the capital’s most exciting and in demand exhibitions through to some fascinating venues hidden on the fringes.

Saturday Morning   

For the start of your culturally charged weekend, you’ve probably found yourself right in the middle of Central London. Get off at Charing Cross and walk through the magnificent pillars of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, where you can see their current headline exhibition Australia’s Impressionists (until 26 March, 50% off with the National Art Pass), showcasing dreamy sunny landscapes that are a world away from the current London gloom. Just a few minutes’ walk away is its sister museum, the National Portrait Gallery, where you can catch the current brilliant exhibition celebrating one of the world’s most famous artists: Picasso Portraits (until 5 February, 50% off).

If you’ve ventured more towards South Kensington, the hub of museum activity in London, the Victoria and Albert museum is a must-visit on a trip to London, and their current exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear (until 12 March, 50% off) charts the evolution of underwear design through the ages with some eccentric and gorgeously embellished exhibits.                      

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Saturday Afternoon

On a break from your exhibition hunting, stop off at St Paul’s Cathedral (50% off). One of the most instantly recognisable buildings on London’s skyline, the interior has just as many wonderful features, including majestic baroque architecture and an impressive domed roof that you can climb up to for an incredible, bird’s eye view of the cathedral. Across the Millennium Bridge you’ll find the equally eye-catching Tate Modern, with its imposing architecture and multifarious selection of outlandish art. Current exhibitions include Elton John’s extensive collection of electrifying modernist photography The Radical Eye (until 7 May, 50% off), and a huge landmark exhibition showcasing the diverse works of American abstract artist Robert Rauschenberg (until 2 April, 50% off).

Also in this area is the Museum of London, a fantastic introduction to London’s colourful and vibrant history. Their excitingly titled current exhibition Fire! Fire! (17 April, 50% off) explores how the effects of the Great Fire of London spread amongst the population, including artefacts and stories that take us back to this pivotal moment in London’s history. Finally, a few minutes away you’ll find the Barbican Centre, a stunning example of brutalist architecture and one of the city’s most recognisable cultural hubs. Marvel at the selection of beautiful, extravagant gowns in their current Vulgar: Fashion Redefined exhibition (until 5 Feb, reduced price entry with the National Art Pass).

Photo credit: Retroactive II 1963. Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

Sunday Morning

On Sunday, venture slightly off the tourist trail and explore some of the smaller yet just as engaging exhibitions your National Art Pass can get you into. If you head slightly North to King’s Cross you’ll stumble upon the House of Illustration (50% off with a National Art Pass), London’s most in-depth exploration of illustration from around the world. Currently you can see Roald Dahl collaborator Quentin Blake’s magical illustrations for a Beatrix Potter novel The Tale of Kitty in Boots (until 26 February) and Laura Carlin: Ceramincs (until 5 February). If you’re more inclined to the camera than the pen, Oxford Street’s Photographer’s Gallery has a diverse programme dedicated to photography in all its forms, at the moment they are showcasing Feminist Avant Garde (until 29 January, reduced price) photography from the 1970s and an installation on the representation of women in the media by Simon Fujiwara (until 29 January, reduced price).

Photo credit: Cindy Sherman Untitled (Lucy), 1975/2001 © Cindy Sherman Courtesy of Metro Pictures, New York / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Sunday Afternoon         

Lazy Sunday afternoons are all about walks through majestic stately homes and gardens. End the day with a Wintery walk around one of London’s most stunning royal venues Kensington Palace (free entry). Inside you’ll find a wealth of royal history and will be able to explore the Queen’s State Apartments and the lush greenery of the Palace Gardens. If your weekend hasn’t included enough hidden gems, stop off at the stunningly beautiful Leighton House, the former residence of Victorian artist Frederick Leighton and a truly unique architectural wonder with elaborate oriental decoration, intricate mosaics and paintings covering every inch of the walls. Their current exhibition focuses on one of Leighton’s most famous and iconic works, the vibrant Flaming June (2 April, 50% off).

Moving to the South East, Greenwich is also a lovely place to spend a Sunday afternoon, with a village atmosphere that feels many miles away from Central London’s hustle and bustle. Climbing up the hill you’ll be able to see stunning views across London as well as visit the Royal Observatory (50% off entrance fee) one of London’s most important but often overlooked historical sites, which was built to satisfy Charles II’s interest in astronomy and includes fascinating astronomy tools and facts. Make sure to visit the National Maritime Museum’s current exhibition on the scandalous 17th century celebrity Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity (until 17 April, 50% off) telling the story of a defiant woman in a man’s world.

The National Art Pass by Art Fund offers free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. The scheme supports the work of Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art. Find out more here.

This article was written in partnership with the Art Fund, who have provided the London Calling team with a National Art Pass to explore their affiliated venues and events. All opinions are based on our experiences.

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