Head To London For An Artsy Getaway

From sprawling art galleries and contemporary design centres, to stylish shopping streets and creative dining options, the British capital is a wonderfully aesthetic playground, with a surprise around every corner.


“WHEN A MAN IS TIRED OF LONDON, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” These famous words uttered by English author Samuel Johnson about 250 years ago, ring true even today. From storied landmarks like the Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and Westminster Abbey to vibrant cultural institutions like The National Gallery, London, British Museum, and the Tate—there’s plenty to gladden the heart of art enthusiasts.

A woman admires paintings at the V&A.

Add to that, its constantly evolving dining landscape, historic shipping streets, and a year-round calendar of events designed to enthral. So, if you’re inspired by creativity, aesthetics, and all things beautiful, here’s what you can’t miss out on when you visit London next.

Visitors enjoy a day out in the sun in the courtyard of the V&A.

Chock-a-block with world-class museums and art galleries, London is a dream come true for the culture vulture. Begin with the venerable Victoria and Albert Museum (or V&A), known for its decorative arts and design collection. The museum building in South Kensington is impressive in itself, featuring a Victorian edifice with decorative mosaics, frescoes, and elaborate stained glass. The artistic vision continues within with its permanent collection showcasing an eye-popping 2.3 million objects spanning 5,000 years of history, and covering everything from architecture, painting, and sculpture to fashion, textiles, ceramics, and jewellery. While the museum is free to enter, some special exhibitions are ticketed, like the ongoing one on Tropical Modernism that includes examples of the architectural style’s expression in India (on till 22 September). Coming up in November is an exhibition on Mughal art and architecture that promises to be a stunner. And don’t miss Room 40, which holds the world’s largest textile and clothing collection and traces fashion through the ages. Another must-see is the David Bowie exhibit featuring photographs, album sleeve artwork, and memorabilia that traces the shifting styles of one of the most pioneering performers of our times. In fact, next year, the V&A is all set to open The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts at its new outpost, V&A East Storehouse in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. With more than 80,000 items, including photos, letters, sheet music, original costumes, and instruments, it’s sure to be a treat for music and fashion fans.

Presentation of a striped bodysuit worn by David Bowie.

Now that you’ve soaked in the splendours of the past, get ready to witness the best of contemporary design at the Design Museum on Kensington High Street (near Holland Park). Housed in a Grade II-listed modernist building, topped by a unique copper-clad, hyperbolic paraboloid roof, the museum traces the history of modern design through the works of some of the world’s best designers. Launching on 5 July, Barbie®: The Exhibition takes you on a colourful ride through the famous doll’s fashion, cars, houses, and more. And do drop by the complex’s beautifully curated shop to pick up a design-forward souvenir before you bid it adieu.

Sunlight streams through the parabolic roof of the contemporary Design Museum.

Need your modern art fix to be satiated further? Head to Hyde Park (a must-visit in itself) and make a beeline for the Serpentine Gallery nestled in Kensington Gardens. Coupled with the Zaha Hadid-designed Serpentine North (across the park’s Serpentine Lake), the two galleries have a fantastic calendar of programming through the year. Each summer, the gallery invites an architect, whose work has never been shown in the UK, to create a pavilion in Hyde Park. This year’s creation, Archipelagic Void, is by Seoul-based Korean architect Minsuk Cho and his firm Mass Studies (open till October-end this year). This summer, the gallery also unveils a new large-scale sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama—the 6-metre-tall, yellow-and-black Pumpkin (2024) is her tallest bronze pumpkin artwork to date (on display from 9 July to 3 November). Yet another testament to London’s high stature when it comes to contemporary art!

The Serpentine Pavilion presents Archipelagic Void, a creation by Minsuk Cho, Mass Studies.
A digital rendering of Pumpkin, a sculpture by Yayoi Kusama.

If all that gallery-hopping has given you some home décor inspiration, the Design Centre is a good place to start scouting. Housed under three glass domes in Chelsea Harbour by the Thames riverside, it has 130 showrooms and more than 600 of the world’s most prestigious luxury brands on offer. Let the centre’s personal shopping team take you through the various offerings—from Raynaud’s crockery designs to Jensen Beds’ sleek Norwegian-style upholstered beds, it’s a furnishing haven for décor lovers!

The pretty ‘Rhododendron’ plate by Raynaud evokes spring at the Design Centre.
Exquisite glassware at Alfies Antique Market in Marylebone.

For a more eclectic selection, the numerous interior designs shops on Pimlico Road should be your next port of call. After all, this is where all the London designers flock to, whether for fixtures like hand-made sculptural plaster cone hanging lights at Rose Uniacke Interiors or bespoke British craftsmanship at HOWE just across the street. Next door at Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler’s, you’ll find elegant antiques like ceramic lamps, gilded mirrors, and decorative objets d’art. Speaking of period pieces, the Alfies Antique Market in Marylebone is an essential stop. As London’s largest indoor antiques and vintage market, it’s spread over four floors in an Art Deco building, where you will find nearly 100 dealers offering everything from antique jewellery, vintage fashion, and fine art to textiles, ceramics, silverware, and much more. And that’s not all: if you’re truly craving it, there’s more vintage shopping on Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. Said to be the world’s largest antique market, it has more than 1,000 stalls lining the road. It may require a bit of wading through crowds, but you may just snag a vintage designer outfit or a cool antique piece to take back home. While the street market is open on most days, the antiques section is open only on Fridays and Saturdays, with Saturday being the main trading day. Pro Tip: Arrive before 11:30 AM, if you want to avoid the crowds. After all, the early bird catches the—in this case, supremely vintage—worm!

A row of must-visit interior design shops line Pimlico Road.
Visitors and shoppers throng the colourful and lively Portobello Road Market.

Looking for some special luxury brands? Then Sloane Street is the place to go! Situated in Knightsbridge, this is one of the world’s most exclusive shopping destinations, with designer flagship stores interspersed with chic town houses and beautifully decorated private gardens. You’ll find all the iconic brands here, from Burberry, Bvlgari, and Chanel to Dior, Fendi, Gucci, and many more. Knightsbridge is also home to two of the most historic stores in London—Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Founded in 1849, the former is a 5-acre behemoth with an Edwardian Baroque façade, iconic green awnings, and hand-laid mosaic flooring. By comparison, Harvey Nichols feels more intimate. Founded in 1831 as a linen shop, the current red-brick building dates to the late 1800s. Inside are five floors of a retail mecca, including several shop-in-shop concepts like the pastel-hued Jacquemus space (designed by OMA/AMO), offering an immersive experience. Sign up for their personal shopping service, sit back in one of their private suites, and let your personal stylist take care of all your retail needs.

The majestic façade of Harrods, the world’s most famous department store.
Jumeirah Carlton Towers’ rooftop swimming pool offers a stunning view through its curved glass ceiling.
The discreet, regal entrance of The Cadogan.

All that shopping is sure to have worn you out and you deserve a bit of relaxation, amidst some creative brilliance, of course. Just around the corner from Harvey Nichols is the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, London’s first tower hotel that opened in 1961. A recent £100 million renovation has seen the property transform into an elegant, sophisticated space with marble accents and Art Deco touches. Head upstairs to see the 20-metre swimming pool, London’s largest in a hotel, with a Jacuzzi and a double-height curved glass ceiling that looks out over the city. A block away is another glamorous refuge, The Cadogan, A Belmond Hotel, housed in four gorgeous Georgian town houses. The interiors, tastefully adorned with velvet, marble, and wooden elements, capture the historic London vibe perfectly. This was a favourite haunt of Irish poet Oscar Wilde, so, naturally, the interiors pay tribute to literature with over 700 books curated by John Sandoe Books (a charming neighbourhood store you must visit).

Books galore at the cosy John Sandoe Books store.
The surreal and whimsical ambience of The Glade at Sketch offers a lovely escape into a forested wonderland.

There’s no doubt the city is home to some of the world’s most famed restaurants, where design matters as much as the food on your plate. Case in point is Sketch in Mayfair, with five unique eating spaces—among them, The Glade, with its enchanting forest setting inspired by a French 1900s postcard, offers an amazing fairy-tale like dining experience. Also in Mayfair is Bibi, an Indian eatery set in a chic Georgian building. Its Jaipur-inspired interiors are decked out in pinks, mirrors, and paisley upholstery.

Charming setting of afternoon tea at the Drawing Room in Brown’s Hotel.

No trip to London is complete without enjoying a quintessentially British afternoon tea and one of the best places to experience this is at the elegant Brown’s Hotel. The Drawing Room, once frequented by Queen Victoria, retains its original 1830s wood panelling but is adorned with striking contemporary artworks. And finally, swing by 42, the new sister bar from Michelin-starred Indian restaurant  Gymkhana. It’s all Indian maximalism inside, with ruby tones, hefty chandeliers, and even ceramic leopards guarding the fireplace!

There’s a surprise around almost every corner, but that’s not surprising. As Joey from Friends said, “It’s London, baby!”

The world’s most famous street artist has been spraying around London for years! Make sure to check out Tree (Finsbury Park, 2024), Graffiti Area/Guard Dog (Shoreditch, 2003), and the cheeky political commentary of My Tap’s Been Phoned (corner of Chirp Street and East India Dock Road, 2011) to sample Banksy’s unique, viral work.

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