discover some of Britain’s best – but not best known – galleries, museums and exhibitions

From the British Museum in London to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow – Britain is home to an astonishing number of world-famous galleries, museums, historic houses and gardens, many of which you may have already visited. Possibly more than once.

But we’re not here to talk about them. Because tucked away, out of the spotlight, you’ll find a whole world of cultural gems packed with world-class art, fascinating artefacts and unforgettable exhibitions, waiting to be discovered.

A National Art Pass is your ticket to many of them, giving holders free or half-price entry to hundreds of cultural attractions across the UK. This June, the National Art Pass is offering a three-month trial membership for just £15, followed by an annual membership for £39.50 – that’s half the usual price of £79.

Here’s our round-up of some of Britain’s most exciting cultural hidden gems…

Exciting exhibitions

Chris Ofili: The Song of the Caged Bird
Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
June 28 – October 5

Seeing is still not quite believing when it comes to Chris Ofili’s otherworldly triptych of tapestries. Ofili, the first black artist to win the Turner Prize in 1998 (for his vibrant, complex paintings, consisting of layers of resin, glitter and even elephant dung), presents his tapestry, The Caged Bird’s Song, in Edinburgh, where it was originally created. .

It took three years for the weavers at Dovecot Tapestry to transform Studio Ofili’s mythological watercolors into a woolen wonderland, and the fluidity of the yarn that reflects light on water is astonishing. The alluring tropical rug takes its name from a memoir written by poet and activist Maya Angelou, and has its roots in mythology, poetry and, surprisingly, football. The three large-scale panels, which have lived for many years in Clothworkers’ Hall in the City of London, will return to Scotland in June as part of the 2024 Edinburgh Festival.

Three more exhibitions not to be missed…

  • Claude Cahun: Under this mask
    An investigation into identity and the boundaries of gender.
    Abbot Hall,
    Kendal, Cumbria.
    March 23 – August 3

  • Liquid Gender: What is Truth? season
    Research into the relationship between identity and culture, where we ask ourselves: how do we know who we really are? Part of a series of four interconnected exhibitions.
    Sainsbury Centre,
    Norwich, East Anglia.
    February 17 – August 4, 2024

The historic house

Leighton House
Kensington, West London

As Flaming June, one of the most iconic works of British art, visits the UK from Puerto Rico (on display for free at the Royal Academy of Arts until January 2025), why not delve a little deeper into the life of the Victorian artist who painted it? Want to visit Frederic Leighton – and his gem of a house in Kensington, West London?

One of the most beautiful ‘secret’ museums in the world, the Leighton House museum has some of the most magical interiors you will ever see (no bragging rights) with one of the most incredible entrance halls of any house in Britain (also a promise ).

Inspired by Palermo’s 12th-century La Zisa Palace, the Arab Hall is made with peacock-blue tiles from 16th-century Damascus and comes complete with a golden dome, indoor fountain and swimming pool. And if you think the serene interiors are fit for a queen, you’re not wrong. After Queen Victoria stopped by to visit Leighton, she wrote in her diary: “He is very pleasant and friendly, and his house and studio are charmingly furnished.” That’s a bit of an understatement, ma’am.

Until October 20, the museum is hosting a Victorian fashion exhibition, Out Shopping: The Dresses of Marion and Maud Sambourne (1880-1910), a perfect double bill with Tate Britain’s current Sargent and Fashion exhibition, which runs until July 7 ( that is a 50% discount with a National Art Pass).

Beautiful museums and galleries

It bears repeating because people seem to forget, but Britain has some of the best museums in the world, with the most incredible art collections.

A stone’s throw from London’s Hyde Park corner, Apsley House, the former home of the Duke of Wellington, is filled with paintings by Titian, Caravaggio and Velázquez – next to a marble statue of Napoleon so sexy the French emperor banned people from using it to see.

But it’s not just London; there are wonderful museums and galleries all over Britain. From the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham; From the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. If you don’t live nearby, make the trip – they are all incredible. And National Art Pass members are eligible for benefits at all these museums and galleries.

Three more museums and galleries not to be missed…

  • Ketel’s garden
    The University of Cambridge’s Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery.
    Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.

  • Pallant House Gallery
    Exhibition of modern British art from 1900 to the present.
    Chichester, West Sussex.

  • Dulwich Photo Gallery
    A vibrant cultural center with leading exhibitions and a permanent collection of Baroque masterpieces.
    Dulwich, South London.

Glorious gardens

Garden Museum
Lambeth, South London

If you’re a green-fingered enthusiast, you must visit the Garden Museum – tucked away in a medieval church on the Thames, near the Houses of Parliament. No matter what time of year you visit, the exhibition is likely to be in beautiful bloom (it also has one of the best cafes in the city and is great for kids). Recent shows have included Lucian Freud, Derek Jarman and Caribbean artist Frank Walter.

Currently on display until September 29 are beautiful works by the women of the Bloomsbury group and the famous gardens they created, painted or perhaps just sat with a G&T. The four women featured in Gardening Bohemia: Bloomsbury Women Outdoors are the painter Vanessa Bell, her sister Virginia Woolf, Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West, and their friend, hostess and patron, Lady Ottoline Morrell – but the real stars are their gardens : Charleston, Monk’s House, Sissinghurst and Garsington Manor.

In the meantime, if you want to venture deeper into nature, take a tour of the breathtaking fairytale (nightmare) hedgerows that have to be seen to be believed at Powis Castle and Garden in Welshpool, Wales. The 300-year-old, 15-metre-high yew hedges look like something made by a Baratheon king to keep out white walkers, while the epic hedge of clouds at Audley End in Essex looks more like a snake that has swallowed a thousand dragon eggs. Finally, the Jupiter Artland sculpture park near Edinburgh has a swirling landscape that makes Salvador Dalí’s dreams seem mundane.

With the National Art Pass you see more for less. Sign up for a three-month trial membership for just £15 at

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