The best free exhibitions in London – get your culture fix and keep your money for coffee

Want to have a fun day out but also save those pennies? These free London art exhibitions are perfect
Max Göran, Exhibition View
Photography credit: Jonas Balsevičius, all images courtesy of Cell Project Space

We're speeding towards Christmas, and London is, as ever, absolutely packed with things to do — whether that’s exhibitions, events, theatre or music.

But of course, it can all get a bit pricey. So if you want to have a great weekend seeing some of London’s best culture, but also want to save a few quid, look no further than this guide to the best art shows to see in the city, which are all absolutely free.

Hunterian Museum

Hufton and Crow

Not one for the squeamish: the Hunterian Museum reopened in May after a six-year hiatus and a £4.6m redevelopment. A museum of anatomical specimens, that is appropriately located in the building of the Royal College of Surgeons, expect to see body parts, bones and organs in glass jars and cabinets. “There are skulls, lips, teeth, tongues, throats, stomachs, intestines, testes, penises, and ovaries in varying states of health,” said The Standard. “Those are just the human bits.”

Named after the 18th century surgeon and anatomist William Hunter, the museum’s major update includes some much-needed contextualisation, so while gawping at the growths floating in ethanol and skulls shot through with Syphilis, museum-goers now get an explanation of Hunter’s not-always-ethical methods, and of some of his ideas that would not be deemed acceptable today.

Hunterian Museum;

Gareth Mason: Seeing Things

Gareth Mason, Seeing Things
Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Credit Tom Carter

Acclaimed British potter Gareth Mason has spent his three-decade career playing with texture and colour to create ceramic sculptures that challenge the traditional aesthetics of his craft. Shimmering blues and silvers cover giant twisted urns with tiny bronze handles: Mason’s works delight and surprise.

Carpenters Workshop Gallery, to December 22;

Francesca DiMattio: Wedgwood

Francesca DiMattio
Courtesy of the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery

Francesca DiMattio’s sculptures and paintings use space, structure and shape to play with ideas around femininity and domesticity. In Wedgwood, an immersive exhibition of new works, the American artist continues this exploration in flooring, wallpaper, reconstructed furniture and sculptures.

Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, to December 23;

NASA x Outernet London screening


NASA and Outernet London have joined forces to present a series of mind-blowing images every half an hour, every day. The collaboration sees footage of the galaxy from NASA and other space agencies presented on Outernet’s ginormous, 4-storey high, 16K wrap-around screens, making for astonishing and transportative viewing.

The Now Building, every half an hour, to December 31;

Rhea Dillon: An Alterable Terrain

An Unholy Trinity (the) Imaginary, Symbolic and Real, 2022.
Courtesy the artist and Soft Opening, London. Photography: Theo Christelis

Art Now is Tate Britain’s long-running exhibition series spotlighting rising stars in the art scene; this time, it’s Rhea Dillon’s turn to shine. The interdisciplinary artist and Central Saint Martins alum explores British and Caribbean identities using new and old sculptures which are being presented as “a conceptual fragmentation of a Black woman’s body”.

Tate Britain, to January 1, 2024;

Georgian Illuminations

Unknown Artist, A View of the Temple of Concord, created in the Green Park, to celebrate the glorious Peace of 1814
Collection of Melanie Doderer-Winkler

It’s always a good idea to visit Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Lincoln’s Inn Georgian home of illustrious architect John Soane (1753-1837) which is rammed full of his collections of paintings, sculptures, books and furniture. While you’re there, stop by this new fascinating exhibition of huge centuries-old linen transparencies (paintings on cloth). They depict the large-scale light shows which were popular during the Georgian era.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, to January 4, 2024;

Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015

View of the exhibition
© Georg Baselitz 2023. Photo: Hugo Glendinning 2023.

Over the course of his six-decade career, Georg Baselitz (b. 1938, Saxony, Germany) has been heralded for his figurative paintings and his sculptural works. At the Serpentine, both inky drawings and large-scale sculptures that have been selected by Baselitz are on show, creating the illusion of a “forest” of timber figures.

Serpentine, to January 7, 2024;

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum: The Pavilion

Film still from POLYHEDRA (2016) Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Lelong & Co. and Goodman Gallery

Bloomberg’s East London offices sit directly above the Roman Temple of Mithras, which dates back to around AD 240. When the news corporation moved into the space in 2017, it promised to transform the ancient site and make it accessible to the public. Now exhibitions are also held in the remarkable space.

In Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s The Pavilion, archival animations and hand-painted furnishings are arranged in a wooden construction designed with Dutch artist Remco Osório Lobato. The structure evokes a cabinet of curiosities to consider the role that museum spaces play in the way visitors receive ideas.

London Mithraeum, Bloomberg SPACE, to January 13, 2024;

Co Westerik: Centenary

Co Westerik, Contact, 2014
© Westerik Foundation. Courtesy the Artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London

Dutch visual artist Co Westerik (1924-2018) spent his career using painting as a means of exploring human beings’ inner lives. Centenary will bring together a selection of his unsettling, thought-provoking and intimate works.

Sadie Coles HQ, Davies Street, to January 13, 2024;

Solomon Garçon, Arms

Solomon Garçon, Neo, 2022
Solomon Garçon, neo, 2022
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Voltaire

London-born artist Solomon Garçon plays with scale, materiality and sound in this cross-disciplinary show. Expect “cadaverous” sculptures, installations made of chairs, and haunting soundscapes, which are all used by Garçon to reflect on the experimental qualities of digital and underground spaces, and the tension between covering and revealing, storing and sharing.

Studio Voltaire, to January 14, 2024;

In the shade of the sun

Dina Mimi, The melancholy of this useless afternoon chapter II, 2023. Installation view at The Mosaic Rooms
Photography: Andy Stagg

Four new-generation Palestinian artists – Mona Benyamin, Xaytun Ennasr, Dina Mimi and Makimakkuk – present film, installation, music and gaming works to contemplate Palestine, history, politics and aesthetics. Curated by The Mosaic Rooms working alongside artist platform Bilna’es – an Arabic word that translates as ‘in the negative’ – expect a new sonic performance from Ramallah-based musician Makimakkuk, and an accompanying text from curator Adam HajYahia.

The Mosaic Rooms, to January 14, 2024;

AI: Who’s Looking After Me?

On display: Cat Royale by Blast Theory
Blast Theory

This fascinating and very topical exhibition takes a questioning and playful look at the ways Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already shaping so many areas of our lives from our healthcare and justice systems to how we look after our pets. Showcased at the Science Gallery London, it is being presented in collaboration with FutureEverything and features 12 artistic collaborations from artists James Bridle, Blast Theory, Air Giants, Wesley Goatley, Mimi Onuoha and more, working alongside King’s College researchers, hospital patients and young people in London. Entering the exhibition, visitors will first encounter Sprout, an inflatable, huggable robot that responds to human behaviour using AI.

Science Gallery, to January 20, 2024;

Springing to Life: Drawings by Leon Kossoff

Installation view
Springing to Life: Drawings by Leon Kossoff

British figurative painter Leon Kossoff (1926-2019), whose contemporaries include Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Keith Critchlow, spent his six-decade career depicting human-focused scenes: he painted cities, industrial scenes, gatherings and portraits, which can now be found hanging in the Tate, MoMA and The Met. Springing to Life presents a collection of his drawings in pencil, charcoal, pastel and crayon.

Annely Juda Fine Art, to January 20, 2024;

Lee Miller: You Will Not Lunch In Charlotte Street Today

Lee Miller, David E. Scherman dressed for war, 1942, Dean Street, London copyright Lee Miller Archives

A fashion model turned photographer, Lee Miller (1907-1977) is best-known today for working for Vogue during the Second World War, covering the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris and even the uncovering of the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps. Her story is now being turned into a film, directed by celebrated cinematophrapher Ellen Kuras (who worked on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and starring Kate Winslet.

In association with the Lee Miller Archives, and in celebration of the upcoming drama, You Will Not Lunch In Charlotte Street Today is a collection of Miller’s work that was taken in the Thirties and Forties.

TJ Boulting, to December 22 and then January 2-20;

Anna Mendelssohn: Speak, Poetess

Anna Mendelssohn, Untitled (“we are either in the lap of history or not”) c. late 1970s or early 1980s.
Courtesy the Anna Mendelssohn Estate

The life of British writer and poet Anna Mendelssohn (who went by Grace Lake) was defined by her political radicalism: she dropped out of university in 1968 to engage in the student political uprising in Paris and would be sentenced to ten years in prison in 1972 for her involvement in a series of bombings in England that had been planned by British left-wing terrorist group The Angry Brigade.

Speak, Poetess will be the first time her writings are on show at a major institution. The works look at the impact of war, fascism and incarceration on language, history and society.

Whitechapel Gallery, to January 21, 2024:

Vincenzo De Cotiis: Archaeology of Consciousness

Vincenzo de Cotiis, Untitled 43
Courtesy Vincenzo de Cotiis, Image Joachim Wichmann

Architect and artist Vincenzo De Cotiis has been inspired by Roman ingenuity and Renaissance idealism to create this new body of work, a series of arches made of rare marble, recycled fiberglass, and Murano glass.

Ladbroke Hall, to January 28;

The genius of nature: botanical drawings by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues

Thistle and Dragonfly, Jacques Le Moyne
© The Trustees of the British Museum

French artist and cartographer Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1533-1588) travelled the world as part of naval officer and colonialist Jean Ribault's expedition team. He documented the Native American lives and culture that they discovered in what is Florida today, and made illustrations of the crew’s sea routes.

He was also a master of botanical drawings, and 50 of his simple but captivating watercolours of plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables (which were created for Lady Mary Sidney) are now on display in London – the city he fled to after the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of the Huguenots. He ended his life as a highly regarded member of Elizabethan society.

This is a rare chance to revel in these beautiful works of nature by one of the most gifted botanical draftsmen of his age.

British Museum, to January 28, 2024;

Russell Young: Dreamland

Hendrix Wild Thing Triptych (Wild White) 2023
Russell Young

Young has built a career exploring cultural icons, the nature of fame, and the souring of the American Dream (though the Yorkshire lad's own American dream, since he lives and works on the Californian coast, has long-since come true). The new show, at the new Maddox Gallery space on Berkeley Street gallery in Mayfair builds on his previous exhibition, and showcases a new body of work, featuring large-scale silkscreen paintings using images taken by the photographers Terry O’Neill and Gered Mankowitz.

Maddox Gallery, Berkley Street, to February 7, 2024,

Genetic Automata

Still from: A Lament for Power, Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, 2020
© The artists commissioned by Art Exchange

In Genetic Automata, artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy explore race and identity in four collaborative video works: A Terrible Fiction (2019), A Lament for Power (2020), Dust to Data (2021) and _GOD_MODE_ (2023), the duo’s latest film, a co-commission between Wellcome Collection, Black Cultural Archives (BCA), and Wellcome Connecting Science, which delves into the history of eugenics.

Much of the duo’s work uses 3D computer graphics to create their ambitious films, which touch on a wide range of topics including science, politics, history, education and class.

Wellcome Collection, to February 11, 2024;

Radical Landscapes

Chris Killip, Helen and her Hula-hoop, Seacoal Camp, Lynemouth, Northumberland,1984 ©
Chris Killip Photography Trust/Magnum Photos, courtesy Martin Parr Foundation

This new exhibition created in collaboration with Tate Liverpool brings together the works of more than 60 artists, all in some way responding to the show’s subheading ‘Art inspired by the land’. The pieces, which include works by artists including JMW Turner and Derek Jarman, investigate the concept of landscape and land from every possible angle.

William Morris Gallery, to February 18;

Artists making books: poetry to politics

Farkhondeh Shahroudi - © The Trustees of the British Museum

In this small display, the British Museum has brought together work of artists and poets from around the world and across history, to look at words as an extension of how they express themselves creatively.

British Museum, to February 18, 2024;

Maha Ahmed: Where Worlds Meet

Maha Ahmed, Where two worlds come to meet, 2022 ©Maha Ahmed
Courtesy of Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery

Taking inspiration from both classical Japanese paintings and Persian and Mughal manuscripts, Pakistan-born, Dubai-based artist Maha Ahmed reflects on isolation and wonder in her elegant and serene paintings. Where Worlds Meet will be the first contemporary exhibition in Leighton House’s newly designed drawings gallery.

Leighton House, to February 25, 2024;

Josefin Arnell, Max Göran: brave and pathetic is better than drowning in shame

Photography credit: Jonas Balsevičius, all images courtesy of Cell Project Space
Photography credit: Jonas Balsevičius, all images courtesy of Cell Project Space

Film director Josefin Arnell and visual artist Max Göran have a longstanding collaborative practice HellFun. But this new exhibition, which uses humour and absurdity to ask questions about class structures, fantasies, freedom, agency and cycles of violence, is the first time they present their work as solo artists, together, in the UK.

Spread across two floors, the show is a rambunctious series, which includes moving image installations, a “showdown between the horse beyond reach, and the emancipating, CO2-emitting automobile”, and “daytime party murder scene”.

Cell Project Space, to February 25;

Arctic Adventure

Arctic Adventure photo experience at Fujifilm The House of Photography

This interactive photography exhibition from Fujifilm will include several wintery-themed installations that have been created to make exciting backdrops for photoshoots: there will be a ‘yeti’s den’ with a huge pair of feet included, a colour-changing iridescent light wall, a recreation of the Northern Lights, a snow wall, and a mysterious kaleidoscope mirror ice feature.

Fujifilm’s House of Photography, to February 25, 2024, WC2E 9LH;

Martin Parr: sports & spectatorship

Bristol. Playing bowls. 1995-1999
©Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Over the course of Martin Parr’s five-decade career, he has become known for producing quirky, humorous and sharply perceptive depictions of everyday life. In sports & spectatorship, his works are focused on various sports and their respective fans. The photographs, which have been selected from across his stellar career, cover everything from football, golf, horse racing, tennis and rugby.

Rocket Gallery, to February 29, 2024;

Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Saru River

Ainu Stories Contemporary Lives by the Saru River
The Cipsanke boat festival in Nibutani. Image: Ogawa Masaki

The Ainu people are an ethnic group native to the north of Japan and its surrounding islands. In this special collaborative exhibition with the people of Biratori, Japan House presents a glimpse into their contemporary lives through a series of intimate video interviews.

Japan House, to April 21;