Exhibitions can be truly inspiring, but what about the buildings themselves? In the UK there’s a great variety of museums and galleries to explore, and many of them are spectacular pieces of art in their own right.
From the quirky family home of a former Tate Gallery curator in Cambridge to a stunning concrete structure in Yorkshire, these nine UK galleries and museums are as beautiful as the exhibitions inside them.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton
The humble county of Somerset is up there with the best of them according to Hauser & Wirth, the multinational art moguls with posts in New York, London and Los Angeles. Surrounded by wildflowers and fields, this converted barn maintains its higgledy-piggledy layout and features an on-site restaurant, making for a wholesome day out.
Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
After a huge two-year refurb completed in 2018, Kettle’s Yard has never looked better. It was originally the home of Jim Ede (1895–1990), a former curator at the Tate Gallery, London. Now the Cambridge gallery offers cosy living spaces lined with Ede’s impressive personal collection, alongside changing exhibitions of contemporary work.
The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire
At the opposite end of the architecture scale, this stunning £35-million structure in Yorkshire is a vision in clean lines, angles and concrete. Launched in 2011, the award-winning gallery gets its name from Barbara Hepworth, the Wakefield-born sculptor. What’s more, The Hepworth Wakefield is just a 15-minute drive to Yorkshire Sculpture Park – another gem in Yorkshire’s arty crown.
Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
Don’t be fooled by the Victorian red-brick facade of Whitworth Art Gallery: inside it’s all streamlined modern interiors. The Manchester gallery benefited from a £15-million redevelopment which blurred the lines between exterior and interior; its hero piece is a glass-walled cafe which stretches into the park and seems to levitate among the trees.
Gallery at Home, Usk
On a mission to be stylish yet accessible, Gallery at Home is a welcoming, minimal space that could be on the cover of a lifestyle magazine. Based in Usk, the converted cow shed offers exhibitions by artists from around the world, and glorious views over the Welsh mountains.
The Watermill, Aberfeldy
The big cities of Scotland have some stellar museums and galleries, but it’s worth seeking out the wee town of Aberfeldy for this converted water-powered mill, which dates back to 1825. Pass the log-burning stove in the ground floor cafe, browse travel books on the second floor and then peruse the local artwork and ceramics upstairs.
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
Rifle through an exquisite collection of curios – from Egyptian artefacts to architectural models – in the sprawling Sir John Soane’s Museum, the former home of architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837). The labyrinthine building is made up of three houses, one of which dates back to the 17th century. It’s a wonderful example of British eccentricity, with narrow hallways and winding stairways punctuated with grand domed ceilings.
Salts Mill, Saltaire
Another beautiful building repurposed, Salts Mill is based in a former textile mill in Saltaire, a Victorian model village and Unesco World Heritage Site in West Yorkshire. Artist David Hockney was born nearby, and the old mill is now home to his largest permanent collection, as well a gallery space with changing shows. Finish the day in the excellent espresso bar, where cups are branded with Hockney’s doodles of his beloved sausage dogs.
Francis Gallery, Bath
Korean aesthetics meet the elegance of Bath’s Georgian architecture in the Francis Gallery. It’s the first bricks-and-mortar project by Rosa Park, editor of Cereal magazine, and showcases the work of emerging European artists. The pared-back space is filled – sparingly – with meticulously-curated exhibitions.
You might also like:
London's National Portrait Gallery is closing – here's where you can still see the art
This English art gallery got a rainbow makeover
A trip to the theatre or museum can help you live longer