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The ultimate art addicts guide of things to do this festive season

11 must-see art events on in London’s West End

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Explore exceptional contemporary art, sculptures and historic gems, paired with the perfect accompaniment to your journey for a must-have cultural caper this Christmas.

Itinerary Info

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Contemporary art, Renaissance paintings, culture, art-inspired things to do in London this Christmas

Getting around

Close to Green Park, Piccadilly Circus, Bond Street, Oxford Street, St James's Park tube stations. Nearby bus routes include 6, 9, 14, 19, 22, 38, N9, N19, N22, N38, N94. Nearby Santander bicycles and bicycle parking available.

This December, there’s plenty of art and culture to explore as London emerges from lockdown.

From the likes of free art exhibitions at Sadie Coles HQ, Stern Pissarro Gallery and The Sladmore Gallery, to must-see exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts and National Gallery, there’s something for everyone to enjoy if you’re looking to drench yourselves in culture this festive season.

Plus, for those looking for a festive treat for the little ones, get ready for the family-friendly Santa’s grotto at the National Gallery and pantomime productions at the Garrick Theatre.

Whatever you decide, we’re sure we’ve got just what you’re looking for to keep the yourselves and the kids entertained for the whole festive holiday in London’s cultural epicentre.

Here’s our quick guide so you can plan a cracking art-inspired Christmas adventure.

Meet Father Christmas at the ultimate art lovers festive experience at the National Gallery

Got little ones with a passion for paintings?

Meet Father Christmas and his elves, enjoy a tasty treat, and take home a great gift from one of London’s leading art galleries, the National Gallery. The man in the big red suit is set to stop off at the Gallery from the 12th-13th December and 17th-23rd December 2020.

Guests will also get the chance to explore a painter’s winter wonderland as you gaze into Hendrick Avercamp's 'Winter Scene'. Journey with the National Gallery to learn more about the characters as they play, show-off, laugh and fall over, all overlooked by a giant pink castle. Plus, step into the painting with the Gallery’s life-size seasonal scene offering the perfect picture opportunity.

Get tickets from as little as £10, which also enable visitors to explore the National Gallery collection.

Learn more about this festive treat for little art lovers.

See Eddie Peake’s public art takeover in Piccadilly Circus courtesy of CIRCA 2020

Immerse yourself in free public art in the heart of Piccadilly Circus with the third artist CIRCA has commissioned to take over the Piccadilly Lights throughout December.

Every evening at precisely 20:20 GMT throughout December, Eddie Peake will display his works, A Dream Of A Real Memory on the iconic London landmark. A Dream Of A Real Memory is a devised drama featuring three characters set within a green screen cyclorama.

See abstract movement and dance employed as metaphoric means to engage ideas of tension and power dynamics embedded in relationships between people, or in individuals’ internal pursuit of their own self-identity. The footage of the sixty-two-minute video work, screened in daily two-minute episodes over 31 days, is reversed, beginning at "the end” of the performance, showing the performers' tired bodies and messy makeup, and ending at “the beginning” of the performance.

Learn more about the display.

See prestigious Impressionist paintings at Stern Pissarro Gallery

Whether you’re looking to explore one of London’s leading art galleries or passing by on your way to a spot of Christmas shopping, don’t miss this opportunity to see works from one of the most prestigious artist families throughout art history for free at Stern Pissarro Gallery.

See Orovida Pissarro’s Winter (The Skaters), Georges Manzana Pissarro’s Vue de la Fenêtre de l'Artiste Menton Carei sous la Neige, and H. Claude Pissarro’s Neige à Grandcamp, together portraying a snowscape-inspired window display. Plus, once inside see a rare feature piece by Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro.

Camille Pissarro was a Danish-French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter, and is widely acknowledged as a father figure not only to the Impressionists but to all four of the major Post-Impressionists, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin, and van Gogh.

Each piece on display at the gallery has been chosen to represent the collection from one of the largest families of artists in the world, which spans five generations of artists revealing an extraordinary diversity of talents and styles represented by these artists.

Learn more about the exhibit.

See Alex Da Corte: Helter Shelter or: The Red Show! or... at Sadie Coles HQ

Explore a colourful contemporary art seconds away from Carnaby Street with Alex Da Corte’s solo exhibition, Helter Shelter or: The Red Show! or… at Sadie Coles HQ.

Running until 13th January 2021, this must-see free art exhibition is Da Corte’s first exhibition at Sadie Coles featuring a new body of large-scale paintings and sculpture.

Rendered in a crisp graphic aesthetic, the works explore the artist’s enduring interest in high-brow and low-brow popular culture, in particular pre-digital animation. The works in the series draw upon sources as wide-ranging as Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, to theorisations of seeing in art history and cinema.

Learn more about the exhibition.

Pet-friendly experience at The Sladmore Gallery and Franco’s

Explore the free exhibition Cats, Dogs and Other Best Friends: A Selection of Animal Sculpture at the Sladmore Gallery, paired with pet friendly dining at Franco’s restaurant.

Running until 22nd December 2020, the exhibition will display works from some of the best sculptures of the 19th century, such as Barye, and the 20th century, such as Degas or Bugatti, alongside a selection of sculptures from contemporary artists.

Inspired by a selection of works spanning three centuries of sculpture, each piece depicts a renewed appreciation for the simplicity animals bring to our modern lives in times of upheaval. From the faithfully realistic to the impressionists, the contemporary to the independent, both humans and their animal companions are welcome to explore this must-see exhibition.

Plus, if you do pop-by, why not pay a visit to pet-friendly restaurant only seconds away?

Franco’s is situated just a short walk away and welcomes diners with or without their faithful companions. Serving continental and English breakfasts, followed by Italian-inspired lunch and dinner menus, there’s something to make everyone’s taste buds dance with delight.

Learn more about the exhibition and Franco’s.

Virtually tour the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2020 at Mall Galleries

While many won’t be able to visit an art gallery in person this season, the shows goes on, online, at Mall Galleries.

Running until 20th January 2021, browse the 128th Royal Institute of Oil Painters annual exhibition online for free and shop contemporary masterpieces at affordable prices from the comfort of your home.

The exhibition showcases the work of many exciting young painters alongside the work of more established names. As ever, there are several prizes and awards on offer, worth over £5,000.

Unique to this year, the show includes several special works on the theme of ‘Reflections’, interpreted in a variety of ways by both members of the Institute and artists selected from open submission.

Learn more about the exhibition.

Three must-see exhibitions at the National Gallery

As the National Gallery reopens this December, get ready to explore all the exhibitions you’ve missed so far throughout 2020.

For those with a penchant for Renaissance paintings, explore Titian’s sensuous interpretation of Classical myths, considered to be some of the greatest works of European art history. Displaying until 17th January 2021 and offering tickets from as little as £12, the exhibition reunites all six paintings in the series, from Boston, Madrid, and London, for the first time in over four centuries. Learn more.

Perhaps you’re looking to explore one of the most talked about art shows of 2020? Follow in Artemisia’s footsteps across Europe with this must-see monographic exhibition telling the tale of an exceptional female artist from a time when women were not easily accepted. Displaying until 24th January 2021 and offering tickets from £20, it’s the first major exhibition of Artemisia’s work in the UK and marks the first ever show by a female artist on this scale at the National Gallery. Learn more.

Or, is sin something you can relate too? Permeating in life since the earliest days, the story of sin’s relation to art has never been told – until now. See sin in art at the first major exhibition of its kind in the UK at the National Gallery. Running until 3rd January 2021, the exhibition explores the complex theological ideas and depictions of ‘sinful’ everyday behaviour that blur the boundaries between religious and secular art. Starring Tracey Emin and Ron Mueck, get tickets online for free. Learn more.

Two shows not to be missed at the Royal Academy of Arts

Of all the cultural institutions nearby Piccadilly Circus, the Royal Academy of Arts is undeniably one of the best.

See the gallery’s newest exhibition bringing together, for the first time, the work of acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin RA (b.1963) and the Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), two internationally renowned artists born 100 years apart.

On view until 28th February 2021, The Loneliness of the Soul will showcase 25 works by Emin, including her signature neons and sculptures, hanging out alongside 19 oil paintings and watercolours by the incredible expressionist painter, Edvard Munch. Get tickets from £17. Learn more.

Plus, explore exceptional contemporary art at London's most joyous festival of art, the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. On view until 3rd January 2021, the exhibition offers a unique window into what is happening in the contemporary art world right now.

Showcasing works from the world’s megastars hanging out alongside talented upcoming names, themes of this year’s show include identity, immigration, contested borders, climate change, pro-democracy protest and landscape in the form of installation, painting, film, photography and sculpture. Tickets start from just £18 per adult and are free for under 16s. Learn more.

Plus, for those those looking to drench themselves in culture…

See Nutcracker Delights by English National Ballet at the London Coliseum

Give your loved ones a gift that’ll last a lifetime this festive season with an enchanting socially distanced performance from the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum.

Running from 17th December 2020 – 3rd January 2021, see dancers from the English National Ballet bring the Nutcracker to life with exquisite dancing, beautiful sets and Tchaikovsky’s popular score played live, with tickets from £20 per person.

Set on a sparkling Christmas Eve in a frost-dusted Edwardian London, Clara receives an enchanted Nutcracker as a gift. Together, they discover a magical world where she battles with the Mouse King and meets a handsome stranger.

From the sound of the orchestra tuning up, to the final bows and cheers, a trip to English National Ballet at the London Coliseum is an unforgettable Christmas treat.

Learn more about the show and book tickets.

Book a Beadles Tour of the Burlington Arcade

The Beadles are back at the Burlington Arcade and welcoming visitors with a full-on festive display. See frosted foliage, sparkling fairy lights and a special Moet Hennessy swing, alongside real Christmas trees filled with red, white and gold embellishments.

Plus, this festive season, discover the art of being a Beadle with a bespoke shopping experience lead by one of Burlington’s Beadles. Meet the famed beadles who continue to wear Regency inspired uniforms, and are the country’s oldest and smallest police force, while enjoying a bespoke tailor-made tour of the Arcade.

On each tour, guests will be plunged into the 200+ years’ worth of history, uncovering hidden gems of the arcade. From the likes of the Victorian stoves in the basement, to the secret underground passageway where shop boys would scurry with packaged goods for customers awaiting in their carriage, prohibited from carrying their purchases.

Learn more about the tour and book yours.

See Potted Panto at the Garrick Theatre

Perfect for those with a passion for pantomime, don’t miss Potted Panto as it returns for the tenth time this Christmas with a socially distanced run at the Garrick Theatre.

See seven iconic pantomime productions packed into one 70-minute show, brought to you by double Olivier nominees Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. In a madcap ride through the biggest stories and best-loved characters from the wonderful world of pantomime, the dastardly double act dash from rubbing Aladdin’s lamp to roaming the golden streets of Dick Whittington’s London and making sure that Cinderella gets to the Ball.

It’s all unmissable fun, whether you’re six or 106, with tickets from £20 per person. Plus, make the most of group bookings with unmissable discounts too.

Learn more and book tickets.

Featured Venues

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Royal Academy of Arts

Gallery

The Royal Academy of Arts is a world-renowned art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. For over 250 years, the RA has existed to champion art and artists and offers a place where art is made, exhibited and debated. Enjoy their expanded campus with free displays, new spots to eat, drink and shop, and much more.

Read more about Royal Academy of Arts
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Mall Galleries

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The national focal point for contemporary figurative art, and home to the Federation of British Artists, a major visual arts charity established in 1961. The Federation (FBA) comprises nine of the UK’s leading art societies, specialising in oil, portrait, marine, wildlife, watercolour, pastel, printmaking and sculpture. Many of the Mall Galleries exhibitions focus on contemporary representational art, each of them offering art for sale at affordable prices.

Read more about Mall Galleries
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London Coliseum

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The London Coliseum is a multi-arts venue that welcomes everyone. With 2,359 seats it is the West End’s largest theatre. Designed by theatrical architect Frank Matcham, it opened in 1904 with the ambition of being the ‘people’s palace of entertainment’. Today the London Coliseum is home to English National Opera (ENO) and stages a wide variety of ENO operas, musicals, ballets and concerts. The theatre also offers guided tours throughout the year.

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Franco's

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For over 75 years Franco’s has consistently provided a friendly, warm, welcoming sanctuary for everybody living, working and visiting St. James’s and Jermyn Street. The quality of food, hospitality and service has meant that Franco’s has remained a firm favourite with so many who return time and time again.

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Sadie Coles HQ, Soho

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Sadie Coles HQ is a London-based contemporary art gallery representing established and emerging international artists. The gallery opened in London in 1997 with an exhibition of new works by American painter John Currin, alongside a seminal show by British artist Sarah Lucas, presented offsite. At present, Sadie Coles HQ represents an intergenerational roster of 52 artists from across the globe.

Read more about Sadie Coles HQ, Soho