Top 10 London hidden gems

Discover more culture in the capital as we share our favourite secret finds.


1

Leighton House Museum

Built by the highly popular Victorian Classical painter Frederic Leighton, the Leighton House Museum is a private palace of art in the heart of Kensington.

Don't let the featureless exterior of Leighton House Museum fool you. This gem of a building keeps its secrets well hidden, for inside is the most exquisite interior in London. Once home to the Victorian painter Frederic Leighton, famed for his watery nymphs, the artist transformed this Victorian detached house in Kensington into an opulent eastern paradise. The central Arab Hall is a shimmering miasma of mosaic tiles, a gold dome and an indoor fountain. Upstairs are beautiful airy rooms displaying Leighton's wondrous artefacts collected on his travels abroad and the Silk Room, a cosy studio space where he entertained guests.


2

Dulwich Picture Gallery

South London's best kept secret, the Dulwich Picture Gallery houses a stunning collection of Baroque masterpieces bequeathed to the nation by Sir Francis Bourgeois.

Designed by Sir John Soane in 1811, the Dulwich Picture Gallery was the first purpose-built gallery in the UK and today boasts a fine collection of old masters including Rembrandt, Rubens and Gainsborough. Fans of Nicholas Poussin's dark humour will certainly enjoy 'The Triumph of David' painted in 1631. Revelers dance in the street while David carries the putrid head of Goliath through Jerusalem. The gallery recently attracted headlines when the contemporary artist Doug Fishbone swapped an old master for a Chinese fake. It is a lovely gallery with a super restaurant.


3
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

A delightful Georgian property in Islington is home to a fascinating collection of paintings and drawings by the modern Italian Futurist movement.

One of the nicest ways to while away an afternoon is to visit 39a Canonbury Square, where Eric Estorick's fabulous collection of Italian Futurist paintings and drawings are on display. A writer and sociologist, Estorick became a passionate collector of Italian modernism in the 1940s after discovering Umberto Boccioni's book of Futurist Painting and Sculpture while on his honeymoon in Switzerland. Over the next forty years Estorick devoted his life to buying Italian art and these paintings, by many of the great modernists of the twentieth-century including Giacomo Balla and Amedeo Modigliani, can be seen in the collection today.


4

Guildhall Art Gallery and London's Roman Amphitheatre

From seventeenth-century portraits to Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces, London's Guildhall Art Gallery reveals hidden gems among its collection of 4,000 paintings.

Having been bombed to obliteration during the Blitz, the Guildhall Art Gallery reopened in 2014 after 50 years, revealing a little known art collection that documented London's dramatic history over 400 years. It is a fascinating and unusual display, with paintings by well-known artists like John Constable and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood exhibited together with painters once lauded, now virtually forgotten. Also on display in the basement are the extensive remains of a Roman amphitheatre uncovered during the restoration of the building.


5

William Morris Gallery

Crowned museum of the year by the Art Fund in 2013, this wonderful gallery in north-east London celebrates the artist William Morris' remarkable cultural legacy.

The William Morris Gallery is dedicated to the life and works of the great artist and designer and utopian socialist. Set in a grand house in Walthamstow where Morris was born and raised, the museum offers a fascinating study of one of the outstanding figures of the nineteenth century. Inside, history is brought to life through re-creations of Morris' shop on Oxford Street and through rooms dedicated to his ideals. The museum also holds temporary exhibitions, recent displays by Grayson Perry and Jeremy Deller reveal just how much this Victorian thinker's revolutionary visions continue to inspire artists today.


6
Sir John Soane's Museum

Sir John Soane's Museum

The Sir John Soane’s Museum is a Georgian maze telling the story of art and architecture through the ages from ancient Greece to eighteenth-century England.

Sir John Soane was one of the most brilliant architects of the Napoleonic era. Creator of monumental public buildings, most notably the bank of England, he was also an avid collector. In 1791, at the height of his fame, Soane bought a grand house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and set about transforming it into a fascinating labyrinth of art, architecture and history. The house is crammed with artefacts, including classical Greek busts, ancient Roman artefacts and, deep down in a shadowy crypt, an Egyptian sarcophagus. It is an utterly remarkable one-of-a-kind.


7

V&A Museum of Childhood

  • Greater London
  • Free to all

The Clangers, Bagpuss, china dolls and tiny steam trains, the V&A Museum of Childhood is a delightful trip down memory lane.

The V&A is famous for its outstanding collection of artefacts, but less well-known is its little East End sister, Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. Housing the museum’s toy collection that dates back to the eighteenth-century, this lovely, airy exhibition venue is great for kids and adults. There are model trains, zoetropes, and a play area, together with an excellent programme of temporary exhibitions. Past delights include David Hockney’s prints of the Brother’s Grimm tales and Olympic posters dating back to the 1920s. Coupled with a super café on the ground floor, it's well worth the visit.


8
Keats House, London

Keats House

The house where John Keats wrote some of his best-loved poems, including Ode to a Nightingale, is a pilgrimage site for visitors from all over the world.

This low pale villa in North Hampstead was the home of John Keats from 1818 to 1820 and where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door. The museum charts his tragic life and early death at the age of 25 in Rome from tuberculosis. Mementoes of the ardent young man include drawings, paintings and original letters, together with keepsakes of Fanny’s, including her engagement ring. Voted the top poetry landmark in Britain by the Poetry Society, it is the perfect excursion on a Sunday afternoon.


9

The Foundling Museum

One of London’s most popular small museums, the Foundling Museum combines a great collection of British paintings together with the social history of this once industrial city.

When the big-hearted shipbuilder Thomas Coram decided to tackle child poverty in eighteenth-century London and establish the Foundling Hospital, he was supported in his endeavours by the city’s leading artists and musicians. William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough all donated works to the hospital and the composer George Frederic Handel was a major benefactor. Today the hospital is a museum showcasing this fine collection of old masters together with items of historic interest from its past, including poignant little mementoes and documents detailing the lives of abandoned children.


10

Ben Uri Gallery and Museum

Behind a non-descript shop-front in St Johns Wood is the Ben Uri Gallery, home to an outstanding collection of paintings by émigré artists dating back 120 years.

Founded in the east end of London in 1915 by the Russian émigré artist Lazar Berson, the Ben Uri Association was originally set up to support Jewish immigrant artists. Over the past century, Ben Uri have gathered together over 1300 works of art that tell the story of migration in this country. It is a compelling tale, with many of the artists in the collection coming to this country to escape persecution and their experiences are reflected in their paintings. These are artists like Frank Auerbach, who left Germany on a Kindertransport in 1939. Other artists featured in the collection include Leon Kossoff, David Bomberg and Marc Chagall.


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