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10 of the UK’s ultimate art destinations

Swap beaches for Babs Hepworth and swimming pools for sculpture parks with our guide to the UK’s top destinations for art lovers

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Rosemary Waugh
Chiara Wilkinson

If you need an excuse to visit new corners of the UK, what better than to check out some of the world-class art and culture sitting right on our doorstep? From the endless assortment of world-class art galleries popping up across London to the temporary sculpture trails that appear each summer, when it comes to seeing art in the UK the only question really worth asking is how on earth you’d find time to fit it all in.

From the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester to the Arnolfini in Bristol, all our major cities boast art institutions worth travelling for. But which are places you absolutely have to visit? Here’s our guide to the UK’s must-visit art destinations. 

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Best art destinations in the UK

Perched just above the beach, whatever art is inside the glass-fronted Tate St Ives has to compete for attention with the stunning views across the Atlantic. Luckily, the permanent collection here is more robust than an XL stick of rock. The Cornish outpost has long been a destination for artists who flock here to take advantage of the unique light. The displays include Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Bernard Leach, Naum Gabo and a very lovely yellow Rothko.

Nearest train station St Ives

While you’re in town For more beautiful natural views with your art, visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.

It’s hard to decide what’s better here: the glorious array of artworks dotted throughout the parkland or the free-grazing sheep that happily munch away while their human companions get irate over Hirst or trip over while gawping at Moore. In summer 2019, the YSP is one of four venues hosting the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International, a festival of brilliant contemporary sculpture.

Nearest train station Wakefield Westgate, then bus or taxi to the YSP.

While you’re in town Complete the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle by also seeking out the Hepworth Wakefield, Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery.


If you prefer to not mix seeing art with scraping mud or sand off your shoes, the Baltic might be a better fit. This Gateshead institution, housed in a former flour mill, boasts a stellar programme of contemporary art. Fun fact: the building’s north face is a nesting site for kittiwakes. Zoom up to the external terrace on Level 4 and even if you don’t spot a bird, you’ll at least get panoramic views of the city. 

Nearest train station Newcastle Central Station

While you’re in town Check out the schedule at the Baltic’s near-neighbour Sage, then head to Newcastle’s Cultural Quarter to browse the art, craft and design exhibitions at The Biscuit Factory.

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Based in Pollok County Park, as so many of Glasgow’s finest visitor attractions are (see also Kelvingrove Museum and The People’s Palace), the Burrell Collection is a vast assortment of more than 8,000 objects gifted to the city in 1944 by Sir William Burrell. If the permanent exhibits – spanning practically every continent and great civilisation in history – aren’t enough, there’s usually decent temporary exhibition worth checking out too.

Nearest train station Pollokshaws West station.

While you’re in town Catch a gig at the Barrowlands, stroll through the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, and help yourself to a slice of the city’s famous Paesano Pizza.

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Following a major refurbishment and extending throughout its existing gallery space into Whitworth Park itself, this beautiful gallery is now a perfect mix of old and new, taking the best of its Victorian origins and adding a modern section that beautifully reflects the variety of work on display inside. It is now truly world class.

Nearest train station Oxford Road, plus a 10 minute bus journey or 20 minute walk.

While you’re in town Explore the creative Northern Quarter and grab a craft beer before heading to a big night at Warehouse Project.

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It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the Arnolfini Café has the best brownies this side of the pearly gates. Aside from that, the ’fini is a Bristol institution, with three floors dedicated to contemporary art in all its forms – from the calmly experimental to the downright bizarre. It’s an enormous old building that used to be a tea warehouse, in an unbeatable location, smack bang on the harbourside.

Nearest train station Bristol Temple Meads, then a 20-minute walk.

While you’re in town Marvel at the mighty Clifton Suspension Bridge before heading to dinner at St Nicholas market.

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  • Galleries
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For 250 years, Britain’s first art school has been a hotbed of artistic talent. You name ’em, they were an Academician. But the RA’s also got serious pedigree when it comes to putting on big shows. Now, it’s got a big old extension, including its first free permanent collection display – and it’s just as important as it’s ever been.

Nearest train station London Charing Cross, then a 15-minute walk.

While you’re in town Picnic in Hyde Park, then head to Portobello Road for a spot of vintage shopping.

Never judge a book by its cover, or an art gallery by its brickwork. Edinburgh’s modern art gallery is split across two expansive nineteenth-century buildings surrounded by manicured gardens. Inside, all that neoclassical traditionalism gives way to a huge collection of modern and contemporary art that also stretches outside to include a small sculpture park.

Nearest train station Haymarket

While you’re in town For old masters and Scottish greats, pay a visit to the Scottish National Gallery where you can see Henry Raeburn’s ‘The Skating Minister’, also known as one of the worst artworks created in the history of art (sorry not sorry). 


Sticking with Edinburgh, just outside the city you’ll find Jupiter Artland, a cultural haven set in 100 acres of woodland and meadows. Its permanent collection of 36 site-specific sculptures includes works by Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Cornelia Parker.

Nearest train station Edinburgh Waverley, but you’ll need to take a bus or car from there.

While you’re in town It’s just outside the Scottish capital, so see pop back into town to check out any of the major galleries there, or the Dovecot Studios. If you’re visiting in July or August, explore the programme of the annual Edinburgh Art Festival.

Located on the campus of the University of East Anglia, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art might well have slipped unnoticed from your art-visiting agenda. Don’t let a fear of reliving your student days distract you from seeing this stellar collection of modern and contemporary art all housed in a building that, from a distance, looks oddly like the main stage at a festival.

Nearest train station Norwich, but you’ll then need to take a bus or taxi to the UEA campus.

While you’re in town See artworks dating back to the seventeenth century at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, where you can also learn more about Celtic warrior queen Boudica. Return home by chariot.

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