Must-see museums and galleries in East London
Explore a gallery inside a 19th-century convent and the world’s first Vagina Museum – no two streets, or museums, are quite the same in creative and historic East London.
Over the course of its history, East London has been home to a thriving trading hub, Picasso’s oil painting Guernica on its first visit to the UK, and the designer, writer and activist William Morris.
The top museums and galleries here reflect the area’s history – from the London Docklands Museum, where you can see shoes made for smuggling opium, to the Whitechapel Gallery, with its outstanding temporary exhibitions programme, and the William Morris Gallery, based in the designer’s childhood home.
Add to the list the Nunnery Gallery, based in a 19th-century convent, 300-year-old almshouses converted into the Museum of the Home, and the world’s first Vagina Museum, and you have an eclectic mix that echoes the culture and character of this area of London.
Explore our full listings for more museums, galleries and exhibitions across London.
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The Whitechapel Gallery presents a critically acclaimed programme of temporary exhibitions inside a Grade II listed Arts and Crafts building. Some of the world’s most famous artists have been exhibited here, including Jackson Pollock in 1958, Mark Rothko in 1961 and Frida Kahlo in 1982. Events including film screenings and public debates round out the calendar, alongside a bookshop and elegant restaurant. When arriving, keep an eye out for Rachel Whiteread’s beautiful Tree of Life installation, which enhances the front of the building and was the artist’s first permanent public commission in the UK.
Based in 300-year-old almshouses in Hoxton, the Museum of the Home explores the ways we’ve thought about and experienced domestic life over the past 400 years. Drawing on a permanent collection of around 40,000 items, the Home Galleries here reveal personal stories through everyday objects – exploring how seemingly mundane items, such as a central heating thermostat, have transformed the way we live. Discover a 1630s hall or 1870s parlour set up for a séance in the Rooms Through Time galleries, and landscape designs from a Tudor knot garden to a modern green roof in the surrounding gardens. Don’t miss the fresh, seasonal menu in Molly’s Café, housed in a former Victorian pub building on site.
The only public gallery in Britain dedicated to the designer, writer, activist and key influence on the Arts and Crafts movement, the William Morris Gallery is housed in the Grade II* listed Georgian building in North East London that was Morris’s home from the age of 14 to 22. Here, an internationally significant collection reveals Morris’s life and work through displays, exhibitions and events, charting his influences, aesthetic, craftsmanship and radical socialism. Special exhibitions showcase contemporary designers as well as modern innovators, and visitors can enjoy afternoon tea on a terrace overlooking the boating lake.
Did you know that the original London Bridge was recycled into knives and forks? Peppered with fascinating facts, the permanent galleries at the Museum of London Docklands chart the way in which the docks have shaped the city we know today – from trade expansion in the 1600s and 1700s, when it took over 100 days to sail to India, to its survival through war and reinvention for the 21st century. Exhibitions and displays reflect on the role of the docks in the transatlantic slave trade, including the building the museum now occupies. Complete with a family-friendly café and shop, the museum draws on a vast collection held by the Museum of London.
Occupying the ground floor of a former 19th-century convent, complete with gothic arches and the original tiled floor, the Nunnery Gallery celebrates the work of emerging artists, with a particular focus on East London history and heritage. Strong in site-responsive work, the programme features exhibitions reflecting on these themes, accompanied by panels, workshops, film screenings and more. Surrounded by more than 100 artist studios run by Bow Arts, the building also includes a friendly café and shop. A partnership with the Own Art scheme means that visitors can also buy original artworks to take home, paid for in instalments.
Grown from a series of pop-ups, the world’s first bricks-and-mortar museum devoted to the gynaecological anatomy is currently based in Bethnal Green. Here, knowledge and awareness of gynaecological health and anatomy is promoted through temporary exhibitions, events including spoken word, workshops and talks, and a permanent exhibition, From A to V, which explores four key themes: anatomy, health, vulva diversity, and activism. Dedicated to demystifying the myths around the vagina, this small museum is intersectional, feminist and trans-inclusive in its values – with a great set of products in its shop.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.