Taylor is the Head of Partnerships at ArtDrunk. Follow her on Instagram.
Central London can sometimes get a bad rap for being overrun by tourists – but I assure you, with the below highlights, I’m keeping you well away from Oxford Street, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, or any of the other places you might find TikTok famous buskers and selfie-sticks. I’m a card-carrying member of the Central London fan club (and, as it happens, a resident) – it’s international, with a mix of young people and young families, and it always seems to be bubbling over with energy on the weekends. Maybe best of all, you have two of London’s best parks to choose from – Hyde & Regent’s. As someone who works in the art world, I’m a bit spoiled living in Central London. What you’ll find below is a great starter list that balances the emerging, the blue chip, and the institutional, alongside some of my favourite restaurants, cafes, and shops. If you take any of my advice, I’m sure I’ll run into you in the neighbourhood soon!
The Royal Academy is a British institution; the courtyard is a lovely place to meet a friend for a coffee, the location is directly across from the Burlington Arcade & Piccadilly – two of London’s most iconic spots-, and the art is always worth seeing. Not to mention that some of the UK’s best artists are graduates of the Academy itself – J.M.W Turner and David Hockney come to mind. Absolutely do not miss the annual open-entry Summer Exhibition (like so many things in London, it has been a tradition since the 18th century).
Tue – Sun / 10am – 6pm
It feels nearly universally agreed upon (from my non-official research) that Michael Werner Gallery has one of the most special spaces in Mayfair. The building’s listed status meant that the interiors had to be preserved with very limited changes. And we are all the beneficiary of this stipulation, as the space is a true break from the monotony of a white cube gallery space, with its incredible rich wood panelling and vaults. Seeing art in this space is like seeing art in a historic home, and it is worth visiting no matter what’s on (though it’s almost always bound to be good – with a program that includes Peter Doig, Sigmar Poke, Peter Saul, and Issy Wood, to name a few).
Tue – Sat / 10am – 6pm
Even if there isn’t an exhibition on that you’re particularly interested in, the Barbican is always worth a trip. It’s the largest multi-arts centre in Europe – with a cinema, music venue, theatre & dance space, an incredible conservatory (not the music kind, the plant kind), and of course, art galleries. The Barbican is a part of the Barbican Estate, which was designed following World War II, opened in the early 1980s, and is an iconic example of Brutalist architecture in London. Expect Post-war & contemporary exhibitions – both from establishment names like Isamu Noguchi and Jean Dubuffet, and newer on the scene artists like Toyin Ojih Odutola and Shilpa Gupta.
Mon – Sun / 9:30am – 11pm
David Zwirner’s space, an 18th century Georgian townhouse, is one of my top picks to visit in Central London. There is no shortage of dedicated gallery space here – most of the time filled with blue chip work we’ve come to know Zwirner for. However, on their top floor, I’ve found some of my favourite smaller, thoughtful exhibitions – like Mahesh Baliga’s Drawn to Remember or Tree of Knowledge, a presentation of Hilma af Klint’s groundbreaking works on paper. They mix the program up and expertly use every inch of the townhouse to maximise the amount of art one can see in a single space. Don’t miss it.
Tue – Sat / 10am – 6pm
Huxley-Parlour has had a foothold in central London for over ten years. While the space was originally best known for showing photography, their focus expanded in 2018 and the gallery now has one of the more exciting programs in London for painting, sculpture, and other media by emerging artists. They have an exceptional eye (they gave ArtDrunk favourite, Ella Walker, her first solo show), and it should always be on your list as you hop around Mayfair galleries.
Mon – Sat / 10am – 5:30pm
Hollybush Gardens occupies a space in Clerkenwell that perfectly straddles that line between white cube and industrial. The carriage door-style doorway, brickwork, and vaulted ceiling with a gantry system for the lighting add character and an inherently London-vibe that separate them from most white-plaster-walled contemporary art spaces. It’s an excellent spot to see a diverse roster of artists working in all disciplines.
Wed – Sat / 11am – 6pm
This may not be our most original recommendation, but Gagosian’s two Mayfair locations and their recently opened shop in the historic Burlington Arcade (not to mention their vast space in Kings Cross on Britannia Street) are simply not to be missed. Their Grosvenor Hill space is tucked into a hidden corner that makes you feel like you’re in on a secret when you walk in. Their exhibitions are always impressive and news-worthy, and the sheer size of the space allows for some seriously massive (quite literally – think Richard Serra or Sterling Ruby) work.
Tue – Sat / 10am – 6pm
Thaddeus Ropac’s space in London is a must-see. Located in the former Bishop of Ely’s home on Dover Street, the Grade I listed space is genuinely special (and the size of a small museum). The four distinct gallery spaces are always curated with a winning mixture of blue-chip and the unexpected. The space feels light and is the perfect home for Ropac’s program – the gallery represents over 60 artists, many of whom are some of the most influential working today.
Tue – Sat / 10am – 6pm
Whenever a new emerging artist piques my interest, they often seem to have an upcoming show at Niru Ratnam. Opened during covid with a “minority-majority perspective,” which results in a strong focus on women artists and artists of colour, the gallery has an incredibly rich and interesting program. Their 1st floor space is a quiet and intimate respite from the bustle of it all in Soho. A great place for discovery.
Wed – Sat / 12pm – 5pm
Alison Jacques is one of those galleries I love to include in lists like this, because they are *doing the work*, and deserve to be acknowledged. With a strong focus on women artists (no matter how many galleries say they’re focusing on this, it’s rare to see a roster with more women than men), you can’t go wrong in my eyes. They pioneer overlooked and under-acknowledged artists (who, big shock, are often women), and their shows are always curated beautifully. They are one of those galleries that feel like an in-the-know spot, but have an international reputation. Plus, a block away from London Edition means there’s a great place that’s always open to grab a drink after an enriching visit.
Tue – Sat / 11am – 6pm
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Anyone who knows what’s good for them knows about Shreeji News. Also, anyone who knows me, knows about Shreeji News. This is not just my favourite place to grab a coffee in London, it’s one of my favourite places – full stop. A Chiltern Street institution that was redesigned in the last few years, Shreeji is that perfect mix of neighbourhood spot filled with locals and beacon for creatives from around the city and world. Come here for the most amazing selection of magazines covering every topic – art, fashion, interiors, gardening – you want it, they probably have it. The coffee is incredible, and if you go by early enough, you might just get a chance to have a slice of the banana chocolate cake that’s baked fresh daily.
Mon – Sun / 9am – 4pm
Walking up to Dinings, you might feel like you’re in the wrong place. But down this quiet street in an otherwise buzzing neighbourhood – and through the doors of this very unassuming space – is some of the best sushi in London. While the prices certainly don’t match the…unassuming interiors and harsh lighting, the food is 100% worth it. The miso aubergine is not to be missed.
Tue – Thu / 5:30pm – 10:15pm
Fri – Sat / 12:30pm – 3:15pm, 6pm – 10:30pm
Founded in 1900, Paul Rothe & Son is a family run deli that makes you feel like you’re back at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York City (before it was “cool”). This is the type of spot where everyone knows each other’s names. It’s located on Marylebone Lane, which is as picturesque as it is fashionable. Don’t miss their soup (and buy a jar of jam on your way out).
Mon – Fri / 8:30am – 5pm
Sat / 11:30am – 5pm
Sure, Jamavar is expensive. But you don’t want to miss it if you’re looking for an upmarket Indian restaurant in London. The butter chicken is amazing. The vibe is unintimidating and relaxed. And the location, right on Mount Street, is perfect for heading to after a day of exploring the area’s galleries.
Mon – Sun / 12pm – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 10:30pm
London has no shortage of pubs – you’ll know you’re approaching one in Mayfair when you see a crowd of men in suits standing out front at their lunch hour or from the hours of 5 – 8pm any weekday. Guinea Grill isn’t just any pub, though. It’s also a great restaurant when you’re looking for consistent but a good meat & potatoes type meal, done right. And a pint.
Mon – Sat / 11am – 11pm
Sun / 12pm – 11pm
Portland in Fitzrovia is a perfect restaurant in so many ways. The dressed down, barely-designed space (but still cozy and chic feeling) feels like the type of neighbourhood spot that no one knows about. But… imagine if that unassuming neighbourhood spot just also happens to have a Michelin Star. Now imagine that Michelin-starred restaurant is £45 for a 3-course lunch and £69 for a 3 course dinner. Go now, thank me later.
Tue – Sat / 12pm – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 9:45pm
Queens is a great go-to to while gallery-hopping in Mayfair. Whether you need to grab a coffee or bite to eat on the go, or you have time to sit with a friend inside and catch up, this should be your stop.
Mon – Wed / 7:30am – 6pm
Thu / 7:30am – 10pm
Fri / 7:30am – 6pm
Sat – Sun / 10am – 6pm
Brown’s is a British fashion institution. The luxury retailer recently opened in and operates out of a meandering townhouse on Brook Street in Mayfair that feels a bit like a sartorial labyrinth. The goods are expensive but well chosen – it’s not what you’d see at every other shop, even if it might be some of the same brands. There’s also a great restaurant, Native, with a beautiful little courtyard.
Mon – Wed / 10am – 7pm
Thu – Fri / 10am – 8pm
Sat / 10am – 7pm
Sun / 12pm – 6pm
New & Lingwood is one of those British menswear brands that feels like it’s been around forever…because it has. Perhaps best known for its shop on menswear mecca, Jermyn Street, New & Lingwood has always been a sort of British heritage brand for exceptional tailoring (though those in the know, know about their dressing gowns & pyjamas). They recently opened a shop on Chiltern Street, and they’re in good company – the street is the new go-to for contemporary, fashionable menswear. A Jermyn Street/Savile Row for the non-suit era.
Mon – Sun / 10am – 7pm
I’m a sucker for a bookstore, and this one takes the cake. Daunt is an independent bookseller in London with a few locations, but their space on Marylebone High Street is an institution. It’s an original Edwardian bookshop with stained glass skylights, oak wood galleries that look down onto shelves and shelves of tomes, and a staff that knows exactly what book you’re talking about even if you can’t seem to remember the name of the author.
Mon – Sat / 9am – 7:30pm
Sun / 11am – 6pm
I know absolutely nothing about wine, it’s worth noting. But the staff at Hedonism seem to know everything. The selection is insane – even if you don’t need a bottle, come just to walk around and look (but maybe don’t touch – a ”you break it, you buy it” policy is very dangerous in a place like this).
Mon – Sat / 10am – 9pm
Sun / 12pm – 6pm
Like so many spots in London, this place has been around forever. For context, it’s been running as an art shop since before the American Civil War. Printmakers swear by it, artists of all types venerate it, and even if you’re not an artist, you’ll walk through and be inspired.
Mon – Sat / 9:30am – 6pm