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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 to visit this summer

Nathan Coley, You Imagine What You Desire, 201
Photograph: Nathan Coley, You Imagine What You Desire, 2016. Courtesy Jupiter Artland. Photo by Allan Pollok-Morris
By Rosemary Waugh |
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From the endless assortment of world-class art galleries popping up across London to the temporary sculpture parks 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. Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol... all our major cities boast major art galleries. But which are places you absolutely have to visit? Here's our guide to the UK's must-visit art destinations. 

Tate St Ives by Jamie Fobert Architects Photography © Dennis Gilbert

Tate St Ives

Perched just above the beach, whatever art is inside the glass-fronted Tate St Ives has to compete for attention with the stunning outside view 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.

Sophie Ryder 'Sitting' (2007) Image courtesy of the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo © Jonty Wilde

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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.

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Image courtesy of Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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.

Image courtesy of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

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). 

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Antony Gormley 'Firmament' (2008) Image courtesy of Jupiter Artland. Photo by Allan Pollok-Morris

Jupiter Artland

Sticking with Edinburgh, just outside this gem of a city is 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 of Edinburgh, so see any of the major galleries of the Scottish capital, plus the lovely Dovecot Studios. If you’re visiting in July or August, explore the programme of the annual Edinburgh Art Festival.

Photo by Andy Crouch

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art

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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