Are you resolved to seeing more London art exhibitions in 2016? With blockbuster tickets nudging the £20 mark, museum memberships are an increasingly smart buy. We road-tested the schemes that offer you more culture, more often, for less. Take your pick below and check out our guide to free art in London to make 2016 your most artistic year yet.
The price from £70
The perks Peace of mind that you won’t have to pay (or queue) to get into exhibitions at Tates Britain and Modern comes as standard with membership – and in 2016 you’ll more than get your money back with a programme that includes Mona Hatoum, Georgia O’Keeffe and Robert Rauschenberg. You’ll also get to hang out in the great members rooms, perhaps flicking through your complimentary copy of Tate Etc. magazine or admiring your membership pack designed by Turner Prizewinner Martin Creed. Best of all, you'll be first in line when the New Tate Modern opens this June.
Art Fund National Art Pass
The price from £62, £31 under-26s (£70/£40 with print)
The perks The daddy of passes gets you free entry to more than 230 museums, galleries and historic houses nationwide, 50 percent off exhibitions at major spaces such as the Tate, British Museum and the National Gallery, a guide book that lists all participating venues, plus the Fund’s Art Quarterly magazine. Additional cultural feel-good factor comes with the awareness that your money is added to the Art Fund’s purchasing pot and used to buy works for worthy collections.
Royal Academy of Arts
The price from £97, £45 16-25 year-olds
The perks Becoming a Friend of the Royal Academy of Arts looks pricier than other schemes but basic RA memberships means you can bring a family guest with you to every show (most entry-level memberships are strictly for singles). You’ll also enjoy all-day access to the Keeper’s House café, restaurant and cocktail bar, a dedicated programme of events and the much-respected RA Magazine. Top perk, though, has to be extended opening hours and the Friends’ Previews of blockbusters that this year include ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’ (from January 30) and a major survey of abstract expressionism in September.
The price from £64, £35 under-26s
The perks If you consume culture with kids in tow, this is the card for you. Unlimited entry to V&A shows with up to four under-18s in the family, as well as previews, tours and events. Flash your fancy members’ card, designed by British fashion duo Agi & Sam, and entry to the V&A’s 2016 blockbusters, including ‘Botticelli Reimagined’ (opening on March 5), is assured.
The price from £50
The perks As well as free access to all Barbican exhibitions, this cross-cultural cashback card gives discounts on cinema and performing arts tickets, priority booking, plus access to the recently relaunched members’ bar for you and a guest.
The price from £65
The perks Being able to sink a few with a mate while soaking up views over the Thames from the sixth floor members’ bar is one of the benefits of the Southbank Centre’s card. You’ll also receive discounts in the restaurants, cafés and shops, priority booking and access to a programme of previews, talks, social events and behind-the-scenes tours.
The price from £50
The perks While it’s taken the National Gallery 190 years to launch a membership scheme, the doughty institution has hit the ground running with a dedicated members’ website showing behind-the-scenes activities at the museum. You’ll also get to experience crowd-busting private views and exclusive events.
The price from £55
The perks The hefty 50 percent discount on Design Museum talks is as much an incentive to shell out for this card as free, unlimited entry to Design Museum exhibitions. You’ll also be among the first to be in on the museum’s exciting move to Kensington later this year.
The price from £30, £10, concs. Time Out Cardholders can sign up for just £15.
The perks From £3 cinema tickets on Tuesdays to the 25 percent discount on ICA limited-edition prints in the shop, cutting-edge culture comes with an agreeably cut price with membership to the ICA. You'll even get money off at the café-bar.
The price £60, £42 under-26s
The perks Apart from unlimited entry to the big shows and discounts in the shops, restaurants and cafés, the main draw must be the members’ evenings, where you get to wander the British Museum without being elbowed by back-packed tourists. Or you can take advantage of the free wifi, camp out for the day in the new members’ room overlooking the Great Court and kid yourself you’ve got your very own office in Bloomsbury.