London City Guide for Art Lovers

As Frieze week hits London, we take a look at some of the city’s arts and culture classics to compliment your art fair days, as well temporary exhibitions you won’t want to miss. Additionally, we recommend some favourite spots for food, drink and shopping that have been passed on to us by our London insiders.


Tate Modern

All things considered, Tate Modern is a relatively new museum which only opened in 2000. Yet it very quickly established itself as one of the most important centres for modern and contemporary art worldwide. In fact, an art lover’s stay in London seems almost unthinkable without a visit to Tate Modern.

From Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman, and Roy Lichtenstein’s Whaam! in the permanent collection, to the incomparable site-specific installations by world-renowned artists in the Tate’s expansive Turbine Hall (think Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project and Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds), Tate Modern is where your art cravings will be satiated.

Currently on at Tate Modern: Kara Walker’s Turbine Hall commission references the history of white supremacy and black slavery in the US through her figurative black-and-white paper cutouts and impressive sculptural works which use water as a key theme.

Simultaneously, Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition In Real Life, which runs till 5 January 2020, explores Eliasson’s engagement with society and the environment. The artist introduces natural phenomena to the gallery space, and visitors will also encounter his new waterfall sculpture on the terrace behind the gallery.

Finally, catch Nan Goldin at Tate Modern till 27 October – a visual diary portrays the life of Nan Goldin and her friends through the 1970s and 1980s.

Visit Tate Modern

Serpentine Galleries

Since opening in 1970, the Serpentine Galleries have been at the forefront of contemporary art, putting on pioneering exhibitions of both emerging and internationally recognised contemporary artists. The Serpentine has two sites: the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery (both located in London’s Kensington Gardens). With curator, critic and art historian Hans Ulrich Obrist at the helm as artistic director, the selection of artists and exhibitions at the Serpentine Galleries promises to be an exceptional taste of what the contemporary art world has to offer today. The Serpentine also offers a platform for experimental projects by some of the world’s greatest architects, with its Serpentine Pavilion. Every year, a different architect is commissioned to design the outside pavilion, creating a dynamic conversation between architecture and the nature in Kensington Gardens.

Currently on is a major Albert Oehlen exhibition which runs through 2 February 2020. At the centre of the Serpentine Gallery, an installation will be on view which marks the beginning of Oehlen’s interpretation of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Additionally, a selection of paintings from the past two decades will be exhibited.

Visit the Serpentine Galleries

Tate Britain

Tate Modern’s older brother, Tate Britain, shows British art from 1500 to the present day. True, Tate Britain may be most famous for its gigantic Turner collection and Pre-Raphaelite painting, but you’ll also find modern and contemporary masters like Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Chris Ofili.

The Tate Britain also hosts the annual Turner Prize, the most important visual arts prize for contemporary British artists. The most recent recipient of the prize is Charlotte Prodger, who works with moving image, sculpture, writing and performance exploring queer identity, landscape, language technology and time.

Current exhibitions at Tate Britain are a large-scale exhibition by Turner Prize winning artist Mark Leckey (through 5 January 2020), a major William Blake show (through 2 February 2020), and a new film by Sophia Al-Maria exploring the erasure and revision of identities and histories (through 23 February 2020). Catch the last days of Mark Nelson’s new installation, which is on view until 6 October 2019.

Visit Tate Britain

Whitechapel Gallery

The Whitechapel Gallery has been around for over a century, and has shown artists from modern masters like Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso to contemporary stars like Sophie Calle, Thomas Struth, Paul Noble, Sarah Lucas and Mark Wallinger. To put things into perspective, the only time Picasso’s Guernica ever came to the UK, in 1939, it was exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Currently on at the Whitechapel Gallery are various fascinating exhibitions: Anna Maria Maiolino’s “Making Love Revolutionary” is the artist’s first retrospective in the UK, and explores human conditions like longing, fragility and resistance (through 12 January 2020). Until 2 February 2020, visitors can experience the sound art of the Fluxus movement in the “Sense Sound/Sound Sense” exhibition. Meanwhile, guest curator Tom McCarthy presents the work of seven artists in “la Caixa” Collection of Contemporary Art which confront topics of surveillance and control (until 5 January 2020).

Visit the Whitechapel Gallery

Olafur Eliasson Art
Olafur Eliasson, Waterfall, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tate Modern
Serpentine Galleries
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, Sou Fujimoto, 2013. Courtesy Serpentine Galleries
Tate Britain
Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964 – 1999, Tate Britain. Photo: Mark Blower, courtesy of the artist

Where to Sleep

The Mandrake Hotel

The Mandrake, a luxury boutique hotel in Fitzrovia, has 34 unique bedrooms, an award-winning flower-filled terrace at the heart of the hotel, and an art collection with works by none other than Salvador Dali, Francesco Clemente and Jonas Burgert.

On top of that, the Mandrake hosts an artist in residence program, inviting emerging and established artists and performers to create original, unique and live works of art at the hotel and to engage with hotel guests – these artists include people like celebrity tattoo artist Mark Mahoney, straight from Sunset Boulevard. The Mandrake even has a perfumer-in-residence who will help guests create their own fragrance. Staying here is like staying in some kind of oriental dream world – almost too good to be true, and always something new to be discovered. Prices start around £300 a night.

Stay at The Mandrake Hotel

citizenM hotels

London’s citizenM hotels are your answer to a beautifully designed, no-nonsense, unique yet affordable hotel experience in London. Depending on what’s most convenient for you, you can stay at the Shoreditch, Bankside or Tower of London hotel. Their motto is: “We’ve sold our hotel clichés and used the money to make your stay cheaper.” The lobby is like the best kind of contemporary living room, furnished with iconic Vitra furniture and stocked with amazing art and design books curated by Amsterdam-based MENDO, one of the leading art and design bookstores in the world. You can even buy books at the hotel and take them home with you. CitizenM hotels also have meeting spaces, co-working spaces, amazing food and unlimited coffee and tea for their guests. Room prices start at a very affordable £99. A favourite among our artistically inclined friends who often pop in and out of London on business trips.

Stay at citizenM hotels

Artist Residence London

For a totally unique creative experience, stay at the small boutique hotel Artist Residence London. Each one of the 10 rooms is individually designed with original works of contemporary art and quirky, vintage-inspired furniture. Its accompanying restaurant, The Cambridge Street Kitchen, is equally filled with great contemporary art. Plus, you’re just a stone’s throw away from Tate Britain and the Saatchi Gallery. Room prices start at £215 a night.

Stay at Artist Residence London 

Mandrake Hotel
Mandrake Hotel Bar

Food and Drink


When in London, go for Ottolenghi. The Israeli chef is a culinary legend by now, his cookbooks a must-have in every food lover’s kitchen. And, the master chef has six restaurants in London now. There’s ROVI in Fitzrovia, serving a menu with vegetables at its heart; NOPI in Soho offers a seasonal menu with many of Ottolenghi’s trademark dishes; the Islington location is both a deli and a restaurant and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; come to Belgravia for a true deli experience where you can take away delicious treats but also have the option to sit at the small communal table in the back; the Spitalfields location is the largest and newest Ottolenghi deli, where you can choose between sitting at a table or at the bar; finally, the Notting Hill branch seats 10 people but is also mainly a takeaway joint.

Though Ottolenghi’s recipes tend to be filled with strong Middle Eastern influences, you will find that there is an endless, delightful experimentation going on in his restaurants which fuses flavours from many different cultures and traditions. And even people who claim not to have a sweet tooth will think twice when they see creations like “sweet and salty cheesecake with cherries and crumble” and “Middle Eastern millionaire’s shortbread”.

 Visit Ottolenghi

Black Rock

Black Rock is a whisky-lover’s dream. This subterranean Shoreditch bar is hands-down one of the best places to while away the London hours. Here, you’ll find some of the best cocktails in town and a dazzling selection of over 250 international whiskies lining the walls – all arranged by flavour (smoky, spicy, fruity, etc.). What’s more, you can literally watch the whisky flow at Black Rock: the trunk of an oak tree split in half functions as a large table, in which two channels lined with charred American and European oak are filled with 17 litres of whisky cocktails which continue to age as they’re stored there, and can be tapped straight into your glass! Snack on oysters, veggie haggis balls, a scotch egg or gravadlax while enjoying the spectacle.

Visit Black Rock

Jim’s Café

Jim’s Café in Clapton is something of a biker bar doing mouthwatering American diner food with an English twist, and using seasonal and fresh ingredients. Our local chef insider swears it’s the first really decent food-spot of the sort in the neighbourhood. Expect brunch-worthy delights like cornbread with butterscotch and bacon, avocado toast with heritage tomatoes, pickled onions and toasted hazelnuts on sourdough bread or mac ‘n cheese with cheddar, parmesan, truffle oil, and sage butter breadcrumbs. Plus, the cocktails are top-notch.

Jim's Café
Jim's Café


ICA Bookstore

Find avant-garde and unusual art-related reading material at the ICA Bookstore. The main focus here is contemporary art and culture, and you can find a great selection of small presses and independent publications as well as vintage and second-hand titles from ICA’s own publishing platform, Luminous Books. Rare magazines, DVDs, and limited-edition prints from emerging artists are also sold at ICA.

Visit ICA Bookstore


Artwords specialises in contemporary visual culture, selling the most up-to-date publications and imported books and magazines from Europe and the US. Find rare editions of books and publications here covering theory and critical analysis in fine art, architecture, art history, fashion, graphic design and photography. Artwords also has ties to artists like Banksy and Tim Noble, and often hosts readings and launch events.

Visit Artwords


Tenderbooks sells independent artist publications and unique contemporary art books, and hosts weekly readings, events and publication launches. What’s more, Tenderbooks puts on monthly exhibitions dedicated to a featured artist – often showcasing the artist’s personal library and rare materials. It’s next-door to Tenderpixel Gallery, and often collaborates with the gallery, supporting artist projects and experimental publishing.

Visit Tender Books

Relevant sources to learn more:

Tip: Rent a quality camera for a weekend and immortalize the beauty of art