By Alex AllencheyJune 20, 2013
With its network of Tate museums, Victorian Gothic architecture, and world-class art galleries, for adventurers of the aesthetic persuasion, London is always calling. As you make your next travel plans, take into account our citywide guide to the best of the London's many artful offerings.
MONARCHS & MAYFAIR: Four Seasons Hotel, Buckingham Palace
For first-class lodging in England's capital, look no further than the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, which provides guests with an incomparable array of luxurious amenities and is located in Mayfair, near the heart of the city. After enjoying a meal at the hotel's Italian-inspired Amaranto restaurant—or from the comfort of your bed, if 24-hour room service is more your thing—wayfarers can start their aesthetic adventures with a leisurely stroll south to regal Buckingham Palace, where visitors can take in a changing of the guard, as well as peruse an exhibition of portraits detailing the resplendent costumes worn by British monarchs in the 16th and 17th centuries.
"THE CENTRAL PARK OF LONDON": Hyde Park, Serpentine Gallery
Hyde Park, London's version of Central Park, lies practically adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel, so if you're looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis for a moment, take a relaxing walk to the Kensington Gardens near the center of the park, where you'll find the Serpentine Gallery. A stunning cairn by Swiss artists Fischli/Weiss is currently on view in the outdoor space of the modern and contemporary focused institution run by Julia Peyton-Jones and "super curator" Hans-Ulrich Obrist, as is the newest iteration of the gallery's annual pavilion commission, which is being constructed by Sou Fujimoto, one of the world's most prominent architects.
TRAVERSE THE THAMES: Brown's Hotel, Tate Britain, London Eye
London's first hotel, Brown's, opened in 1837 and has since been redesigned by hotel guru Olga Polizzi, making it unquestionably one of the city's top stays for travellers, as recommened by our friends at Mr and Mrs Smith. For those in need of a real fine-art fix, however, the Tate Britain lies only a little more than a mile east of the 175-year-old hotel. Housing more than 600 years of British art, the institution allows visitors to transition from masterpieces like John Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows—which was recently purchased by the museum for over £20 million to keep the much-beloved work in the United Kingdom—to early 20th-century urban cityscapes by L.S. Lowry and colorful paintings by "Young British Artist" Gary Hume, both of whom currently have exhibitions on view.
From there you can take a ferry up the Thames to the London Eye, Europe's tallest Ferris wheel, which offers spectacular views of Big Ben and Parliament just on the other side of the river. (Be sure to buy tickets in advance, however, as the wait in line can run as long as the Eye is high.) Stop for a pint at the Rose & Crown, a pub so famous it once got a shout-out from William Shakespeare, before capping off your night with a delicious meal at the Anchor & Hope, one of Southbank's most renowned gastropubs.
ART AT THE HEART OF CITY CENTER: Royal Academy of the Arts, Lexington Street Galleries
If you're lucky enough to stay for multiple days at the Four Seasons, try traveling north into the city center, where you'll find a number of exceptional museums and established art galleries with exhibitions more than worth sticking around for. It would be an easy trek to Britain's oldest art school, the Royal Academy of the Arts, with members ranging from 18th-century greats like J.M.W. Turner, John Everett Millais, and John Singer Sargent to blue-chip contemporary artists such as Tracey Emin, David Hockney, and Anish Kapoor.
If you're not too overwhelmed after wandering through the Academy's 245th "Summer Exhibition," a salon-style presentation of more than 1,000 works in various media, continue onward to Lexington Street, where you'll find the London locations for both the David Zwirner and Pace galleries. A show of work by acclaimed American sculptor Donald Judd is currently on view at the former, the first exhibition of the artist's work in a London gallery in almost 15 years, while at the latter you'll encounter James Franco's exhibition "Psycho Nacirema," featuring a series of sure-to-be-sensational multimedia installations that were organized by video artist Douglas Gordon. From there you can venture a few more blocks to Piccadilly Circus—London's version of Times Square—for food and tons of rejuvenating retail therapy.
THE SHOREDITCH SCENE: creamhotel, Book Club
If you're looking for a novel way to enjoy the character of London culture without sacrificing the comforts of home, look no further than creamhotel, a hospitality company that offers short-term vacation rentals throughout the city. Not only do they outfit every accommodation with furnishings inspired by the surrounding neighborhood, but if you grow keen on an artwork on the wall during the course of your stay, you have the option of taking it home. For those London-bound art enthusiasts who aren't afraid of a little excitement, creamhotel's Shoreditch location serves as the perfect jumping off point.
After unpacking your bags at the "like you never left home" two-bedroom loft—or "better than home" for those of us who don't have dishwashers and washing machines in our apartments—head down the street for a quick bite or a full English breakfast at the Book Club, where the funky decor (and all-day ping pong games) would blend right in to even the hippest of New York neighborhoods.
SOUTH BY SOUTHEAST: Barbican Art Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery
After munching on muesli, head south to the Barbican Art Gallery, which also showcases best-in-class dance, film, and theater, to check out Geoffrey Farmer's collagist puppet-like figures and Leandro Erlich's enchanting installation that, through the use of cleverly placed mirrors, creates the illusion that visitors are actually scaling the facade of an Old English building.
Nearby Whitechapel Gallery, a major fixture in London's modern and contemporary art scene, also offers a mix of intriguing art exhibitions, including the current "Black Eyes and Lemonade," which gathers archival materials to recreate a 62-year-old show by English artist and designer Barbara Jones, who, much like Andy Warhol, integrated everyday items alongside fine art when curating.
ELIZABETHAN ENDING: Tower Bridge, New Globe Theater
Since no visit to London would be complete without indulging in the city's rich history, be sure to swing by the Tower of London, where you'll have the chance to see the Crown Jewels firsthand, as well as learn the stories of the countless famous persons who have been held prisoner in the Tower's walls. By now you'll be well within sight of the city's iconic Tower Bridge, so stroll across the river and hail a black cab on the bankside for a short drive to the New Globe Theater, an exacting recreation of Shakespeare's original stage, where you can take in a performance of the Bard's A Midsummer Night's Dream, ending the night enraptured in an authentic English experience.