The UK art galleries open now – and the best exhibitions to see

Museums, galleries and other art spaces have started to reopen. Where can you go, and what can you see?

Which UK art galleries are open now best shows exhibitions 2020
Tate Modern will re-open with Kara Walker's Fons Americanus in the Turbine Hall Credit: Tate

Britain’s art galleries and museums are reopening at last, after the government’s latest batch of guidelines set out the terms for their safe operation during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Smaller commercial galleries have already re-opened in England, as they’re classed as “non-essential retail” and were thus able to welcome visitors (and customers) back, as other shops were, from June 15.

Northern Irish galleries have been allowed to open since July 3, and Scottish institutions were able to reopen from July 15. Their Welsh counterparts, however, are reopening from August onwards. 

When will each of the major venues re-open, what will they be showing when they do – and what’s worth seeing?

Holburne Museum

Open since July 5

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the Bath museum has re-opened with the critically acclaimed exhibition Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years, which closed soon after opening. It's run has been extended to January, with forthcoming exhibitions on Canaletto and Thomas Lawrence postponed until 2021.

Read Alastair Sooke's interview with Grayson Perry

Read Alastair Smart's review of Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years

Compton Verney

Open since July 7

The Warwickshire art gallery has re-opened with the exhibition Lucas Cranach: Artist and Innovator, which closed a week after launch in March. Presenting newly restored paintings and prints by the versatile German Renaissance master, alongside pieces by later and present-day artists such as Raqib Shaw and Picasso, who were inspired by his work, its run has been extended until January 3.

Read Robert Weinberg’s review of Lucas Cranach: Artist and Innovator

Room 32, at the National Gallery, will finally re-open after refurbishment Credit: National Gallery

National Gallery

Open since July 8

Britain’s flagship institution is the first of the major players to re-open its doors. As Alastair Sooke learned in his behind-the-scenes tour, it features one-way routes, social distancing and a refurbished room devoted to Italian Baroque. The exhibitions Titian: Love, Desire, Death and Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age have resumed.

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Titian: Love, Desire, Death

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age

Foundling Museum

Open since July 8

London’s museum of the Foundling Hospital, formed in 1739 for abandoned children, has re-opened with Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media. The exhibition, which explores the wildly inventive ways in which artists have sought to hide, flaunt or spoof the pregnant form in their paintings, was on course to be the museum’s most successful ever when it closed in March. It will now run until August 23.

Royal Academy of Arts

Open since July 9

One of Britain’s most venerable institutions opened to “Friends of the RA” on July 9, and will welcome everyone else on July 15. Service has resumed, between limited opening hours, with the exhibition Picasso and Paper, which will last until August 2. After that, a new show will replace Picasso and the hours will expand.

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Picasso and Paper

Houghton Hall

Open since July 12

A new exhibition of 24 sculptures by the British artist Anish Kapoor will go on show throughout the grounds and historic interiors of Houghton Hall, Norfolk. These include some of Kapoor’s major works in mirror and stone, including Sky Mirror (2018), along with a series of carved marble sculptures dating from 2001–3, as well as drawings and smaller works.

Read Cal Revely-Calder’s review of Anish Kapoor

Barbican Art Gallery

Open since July 13

London’s favourite Brutalist venue re-opened its gallery with Masculinities: Liberation through Photography, extending the run until August 23. Its smaller space, The Curve, will re-open on August 11 with a new show, A Countervailing Theory, the first UK commission by the Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola.

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Masculinities

The Barbican Art Gallery will re-open its Masculinities show Credit: Barbican

Whitechapel Gallery

Open since July 14

The east London gallery reopened with an extended run of its spring exhibition programme. Top of your list should be Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium, which makes the case that contrary to naysayers, painting is alive and well among contemporary artists such as Cecily Brown and Michael Armitage. You can also see Carlos Bunga’s commission, Something Necessary and Useful, and In the Eye of Bambi, which presents highlights from the La Caixa contemporary-art collection in Spain.

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Radical Figures

The Photographers’ Gallery

Open since July 14

The Soho gallery dedicated to photographic work will extend the run of both this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize shortlist – look out for Mark Neville’s stunning portraits of life in rural Brittany – and Against The Light, a show of reflective images by the Czech photographer Jan Svoboda.

National Museums Liverpool: World Museum & Walker Art Gallery

Open since July 15

The two venues on William Brown Street have re-opened with a pre-booked timed-entry system. A Linda McCartney retrospective, with more than 200 photographs, will be on show from August 8 at the Walker, featuring images from the music scene of the 1960s, family life and a never-before-seen selection of photographs taken in Liverpool and the Wirral. 

Estorick Collection

Open since July 15

The London museum devoted to modern Italian art has extended the run of Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life, featuring examples of Crali’s acclaimed aeropaintings from the 1920s to 1980s.

Read: The soaring talent of Tullio Crali – the futurist painter who defied the Nazis

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Open since July 16

A vital stop on the Sussex art trail, Ditchling reopens with a new exhibition of work by John Newling. Works from the British artist’s 40-year career will feature alongside three new commissions including a site-specific sculpture for Ditchling’s village green and a musical performance. Dear Nature – 81 letters that Newling wrote to nature over 81 days – will also be on display.

Somerset House

Open since July 16

The London venue has re-opened part of its site, including the free exhibition Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, which will extend its run throughout the summer.

Turner Contemporary

Open since July 22

Margate’s flagship gallery will return with two shows, We Will Walk: Art and Resistance in the American South, and Barbara Walker: Place, Space and Who. The former looks at a range of art produced in the pressure-cooker of the Civil Rights years; the latter is a meditation on the lives of five women from the African diaspora living near the gallery.

Royal Collection

Open since July 23

Windsor Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace and The Queen’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh will all reopen with timed ticketing and pre-booking essential. The exhibition George IV: Art & Spectacle (Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace) has been extended until November 1; Japan: Courts and Culture, originally due to open in June, is now expected to open in Spring 2022. Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent (Queen’s Gallery, Holyroodhouse) will present the Royal Collection’s holdings of South Asian paintings and manuscripts.


Open since July 24

Firstsite in Colchester reopened with four exhibitions: Afro Futures_UK will explore how black experience, technology and historic narratives can inspire new ways of thinking; Tell Me The Story of All These Things brings together work by Tracey Emin, Cornelia Parker and Gillian Wearing CBE for a new exhibition collaboratively curated with members of local communities to reflect the lives and issues faced by local people; Sonia Coode-Adams will be exhibiting  watercolour landscapes of the garden at Feeringbury Manor, created by the artist during lockdown and  Colchester and Ipswich Art Societies: Borders features pieces depicting the river Stour from over 120 local artists.

Tate Modern will also re-open its blockbuster Warhol show Credit: AFP/Tate


Open since July 27

Not only Tate Modern and Tate Britain but the Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives spaces will all re-open on the same day. Modern will return to the giant Andy Warhol show and Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus. Britain will return with the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition and Steve McQueen’s installation Year 3. St Ives will re-open the Naum Gabo show, while Liverpool will offer new work by the Greek-British artist Mikhail Karikis.

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Andy Warhol

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Kara Walker: Fons Americanus

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Aubrey Beardsley

Read Serena Davies’s review of Steve McQueen: Year 3

Read Alastair Sooke’s review of Naum Gabo

Horniman Museum

Open since July 30

As well as the galleries of natural history, world cultures and musical instruments, the Permian Monsters exhibition will also reopen, with an extended run until January 3. However, some attractions will remain closed initially, including the Aquarium and Butterfly House, and some interactive exhibits have been removed or covered up.

Design Museum

Open since July 31

London’s Design Museum will begin the first phase of its post-lockdown reopening with the temporary exhibition Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers, which was originally due to open on April 1.

Hayward Gallery

Open since Aug 1

The South Bank gallery has reopened with Among the Trees, a group exhibition exploring our relationship with trees and forests. From September, a new free outdoor exhibition, Everyday Heroes, across the Southbank Centre’s 11-acre site will celebrats key workers and ordinary people who have risen to the occasion during the crisis, in art and poetry.

Serpentine Galleries

August 4/September 29

The Serpentine’s spaces will open in two parts. First, in August, you can again see the intriguing videos and sculptures of the Chinese artist Cao Fei in Blueprints, at the Serpentine Gallery itself. The show will be on until September 13. Over in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, the exhibition Cambio, by the design duo Formafantasma, will resume on September 29 and run into next year. It’s a multimedia investigation, with an ecological bent, into the workings of the timber industry.

Read Cal Revely-Calder’s review of Cao Fei: Blueprints

Nottingham Contemporary

Open since August 4

All three of the current exhibitions will re-open, so you can see works by Denzil Forrester, Diane Simpson and Sung Tieu. The highlight is Simpson’s sculptures, which are minimalist tributes to craft, precision and intelligent design.

National History Museum

Open since August 5

South Kensington has began to emerge from its slumber as the NHM re-opens. Timed tickets will be essential and face coverings will be encouraged. In October, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year show and annual Ice Rink will return, with the first major new exhibition set to be Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature, a Harry Potter tie-in.


Open since August 6

One day later, the NMH’s near neighbour followed suit. The Victoria and Albert Museum opened its ground-floor collections on August 6, and will open its first- and second-floor galleries on August 27. The latter date is also when the exhibitions Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk and Filthy Lucre will return; both will remain until October.

Read Gaby Wood’s review of Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk


August 10

In addition to the permanent collections, the Young Rembrandt exhibition has had its run extended until November. The Museum will also show a new free exhibition, Scene Through Wood: a Century of Wood Engraving which includes 100 works by artists from the 19th century to the present.

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

August 13

Newcastle’s premier gallery will initially return with Abel Rodríguez’s solo show: extraordinarily intricate paintings of the rainforests in his native Colombia. Across the rest of summer and the autumn, the former flour mill by the Tyne will gradually open up further.

Science Museum

August 19

Albertopolis will see its third major re-opening when the Science Museum returns. Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, the world’s largest medical galleries, will return, having closed in March only four months after throwing open their doors. Among the other attractions will be the temporary exhibition Driverless: Who’s in Control?, now extended to January 2021, and a forthcoming celebration of the Hubble Space Telescope’s 30th birthday.

Rembrandt's Let the Little Children Come to Me will be on show again at the Ashmolean Credit: REX/EPA

Ashmolean Museum

Mid-August (expected)

The Oxford museum will offer another chance to explore the Dutch master’s first decade as an artist. It features 34 of Rembrandt’s paintings, including the newly-discovered Let the Little Children Come to Me (1627–8), on display to the public for the first time.

Read Nick Trend’s review of Young Rembrandt

The Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery

August 20/early September (both expected)

Both galleries aim to open by the end of the summer, and will confirm their exhibition schedules soon.

MK Gallery

September 11

The contemporary gallery in central Milton Keynes will open in early September; their scheduling plans will be announced soon.

Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art 

September 18

The south London gallery, reliably intriguing, will re-open with new solo exhibitions. One highlight will be And Then: Xerographs and Photographs, a show of New York work by the late Hollis Frampton; another will be The Greatest Song A Songbird Ever Sang, by Sophie Barber, a series of tender, surreal paintings based on life on the Sussex coast.

New Art Centre

September 19

An exhibition of new pieces in stone and alabaster by the artist and author Edmund de Waal will grace the New Art Centre in Wiltshire. Among the works are benches carved from Hornton stone, from a quarry near Tew in Oxfordshire, the same seam as the stone that Henry Moore used for his Madonna and Child in St Matthew’s Church, Northampton. They are benches, carved and polished so that there are different textures to discover.

Chisenhale Gallery

September 26 

The east London non-profit will show Becoming Alluvium, a solo exhibition by the Vietnamese artist Thao Nguyen Phan. Highly rated at its last stop in Barcelona’s Fundació Joan Miró, it’s an installation of lacquer-and-silk paintings and video works; the subject is life on the Mekong, the river that runs from China, through Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and into Vietnam.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

October 1

The house and museum of Regency architect Sir John Soane in Lincoln’s Inn, London, will re-open with the exhibition Langlands & Bell: Degrees of Truth, which has been extended to January 3 2021. Initially, visitors are welcome on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 11am to 4pm, with free timed tickets that must be booked online in advance.

Wellcome Collection

Autumn (expected)

The museum and library near Euston will re-open later this year; more details will follow in due course.


Many other institutions, including the British Museum, the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery and Dulwich Picture Gallery, are yet to announce dates.

The National Portrait Gallery remains closed until spring 2023 for renovation.