Here in London we are incredibly fortunate that entry to most major museums and galleries is free, giving both locals and visitors access to a huge range of artistic and cultural treasures. Special exhibitions, though, can be pricey; this is where careful planning comes in.

Most venues offer annual membership packages with free entry to exhibitions all year plus a goody bag of other benefits. We’ve compared some of the major art galleries and museums, so you can decide which London museum membership or gallery membership is for you.

Exhibition At The Tate Museum London
Photo by Amanda David

Tate Membership

Annual fee
Single membership: £72.00 / Member plus guest: £114.00join here

The two London Tates are home to some of the hottest exhibitions in London, and tickets can be difficult to get hold of without priority booking. Recent highlights include the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Rooms, Van Gogh, Keith Haring, William Blake and Andy Warhol.

The main Members Room at the Tate Modern has a terrace with panoramic views of the river and St Paul’s (Tate St Ives is pretty impressive too) and is a stylish retreat from the throngs. Members get a 10% discount in the shops and restaurants, priority booking plus exclusive members-only events and opening hours.

Summary: You get two major London galleries on the banks of the Thames (plus Liverpool & St Ives) with collections of both contemporary and traditional art, both with big-hitting collections and exhibitions BUT it is one of the more expensive options.

Hayward Gallery exhibition at the Southbank Centre
Hayward Gallery exhibition at the Southbank Centre | Photo by Amanda David

Southbank Centre Membership

Annual fee
Single membership: £69.00 / Joint Membership: £130.00join here

Moments from Waterloo station, the Southbank Centre is home to the Hayward Gallery which has held some must-see exhibitions in its time, including Bridget Riley, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin.

Members get free entry to exhibitions at the Hayward, priority booking for gigs and concerts and a range of discounts including 20% discount in the shops, 10% in their bars, cafes and at Foyles, 20% off in local Southbank restaurants Giraffe, Skylon and Ping Pong plus deals from the food market vendors. A good workspace option, their Members Room also has sweeping views along the Thames.

Summary: Buzzy location, great discounts, a reliably interesting mix of exhibitions BUT – and this is a potential game changer – they don’t have an option for a member to bring different guests throughout the year, just joint membership with one named individual.

Suggested Activity
Sign Up For Revolut Banking And Get £10 Credit
From easy money management, to travel perks and investments, Revolut banking is super easy to use, and you can open your account in a flash! Free £10 credit for London Cheapo readers.
V&A in the evening
New entrance to the Henry Cole wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum from Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, England, UK | Photo by iStock.com/purpleimages

V&A Membership

Annual fee
Single membership: £70.00 / Member plus guest: £100.00join here

The V&A regularly holds hugely popular exhibitions that are often sold out – the Christian Dior exhibition alone was seen by over half a million people – and is unrivalled if you are into fashion or textiles.

Member benefits include free entry to exhibitions, priority booking, members-only previews & events and a RIBA award-winning Members Room. A 10% discount in the shop applies all year round, with additional offers during members week.

Summary: More conveniently located for West Londoners, ideal for fashionistas and home to some stunning exhibitions in recent years BUT not the place for contemporary art.

180 Studios Membership

Annual fee
Single membership: £36.00 / Member plus guest: £60.00join here

The Cultural Centre at 180 The Strand supports emerging new talent and hosts cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions including immersive works and digital art.

Members get free entry to all exhibitions, priority booking and discounts on events including music, performance and talk programmes.

Summary: Fairly centrally located, by far the cheapest option and hosts some fascinating exhibitions that would be worth revisiting BUT don’t expect established household names.

The Barbican and Pond in London
Get your regular Brutalist fix at the Barbican. | Photo by istock.com/Jchambers

Barbican Membership

Annual fee
Single membership: £59.00 / Membership Plus: £114.00join here

This Brutalist beauty is predominantly a performing arts centre but includes a gallery space; if your artistic interests spill over into photography, architecture and design, this may be the one for you.

Members get free entry to all exhibitions, priority booking and invitations to exclusive events such as workshops, film screenings and access to rehearsals. Unusually, single membership lets you take a guest into the Member’s Lounge – or three guests for Membership Plus. Discounts include 20% off selected tickets, 15% off full-price items in the shop and food at Bonfire, and £6.00 cocktails in the Martini Bar on Mondays from 5pm. They also have a range of partner discounts including 15% off Bloom & Wild and 20% off HonestBrew craft beers.

Summary: It’s one of the less expensive options, has a good range of discounts – and there’s that plus one for Member’s Lounge – BUT it’s not the most socially central location and the exhibitions tend not to be widely-known artists.

Comparison of London Museum Membership

GalleryMembership:
Single/Plus Guest
Entry/ Exhibition
Price
Gift Shop DiscountMembers Room/ BarPreviews & EventsPriority BookingAccess to Other Galleries
Tate£72/£114*Free10%YesYesYesYes – 4 Tates
Southbank Centre£69/£130***Free10-20%YesYesYesNo
V&A£70/£100Free10-20%YesYesYesV&A Dundee
180 The Strand£36/£60Free**NoNoYesYesNo
Barbican£59/£114Free15%YesYesYesNo

* Discounted price for new members when bought with direct debit. Full price applies for renewals.
** Ticket face value is free, small booking fee may be payable
*** Joint membership only

Tate Modern Entrance Hall
The Tate Modern building is such an interesting space, worth a visit even if modern art doesn’t do it for you | Photo by Dan Fone

Are annual memberships worth it?

Exhibition prices average around £18.00 per person, so If you go to more than three or four exhibitions a year, an annual membership should save you money.

Should I get single or plus guest membership?

Currently single? Adding a guest gives you free access to cool dating venues and events all year. Arty mates? If the ticket’s on you, they should at least get drinks or lunch, right? Alternatively, if you prefer to wander around exhibitions uninterrupted, or in your lunch hour, then single membership will be the cheaper option.

All of this comes with a couple of benefits that don’t fit in a table. The museums and galleries are able to offer free entry to the community and to buy important works of art partly because of the support they get from members. Similarly, even once you have recouped your initial investment, you are much more likely to go to an exhibition (or go back to one you like) if you don’t have to pay at the door. That feels like a very civilised win-win.

Written by:
BIO: Freelance writer, flâneuse and former blogger at London Girl About Town, Amanda is dedicated to sharing the latest on London's restaurants, bars, hidden quirks and general wonderfulness.
Filed under: Things to Do

Get all the info on what's on in London direct to your inbox every month

Recommended hotels located nearby