Royal Academy of Arts

Top choice gallery in The West End

Image by Will Jones Lonely Planet

Britain’s oldest society devoted to fine arts was founded in 1768 and moved to Burlington House exactly a century later. The collection contains drawings, paintings, architectural designs, photographs and sculptures by past and present academicians, such as Joshua Reynolds, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner, David Hockney and Norman Foster.

Highlights of the permanent collection are displayed in the John Madejski Fine Rooms on the 1st floor, accessible by free guided tours only. Displays change regularly.

The rooms themselves are a treat; it was in the Reynolds Room on the 1st floor, for instance, that Charles Darwin first presented his ground-breaking ideas on evolutionary biology to the Linnean Society, which is still based here.

The famous Summer Exhibition, which has showcased contemporary art for sale by unknown and established artists for 250 years, is the RA's biggest annual event.

Burlington House’s courtyard features a stone-paved piazza with choreographed lights and fountains arranged to display the astrological star chart of Joshua Reynolds, the RA first president, on the day he was born. His statue stands in the centre. The courtyard is also the venue for temporarily installed statues and outdoor works by contemporary artists.

The academy has now expanded magnificently into 6 Burlington Gardens behind the museum, which will provide more space in which to exhibit its permanent collection. There is also a new Clore Learning Centre for young people and a 260-seat lecture theatre. At present it's not possible to access Burlington Gardens directly from Burlington House.