The Royal Academy of Arts is an art museum that is housed in the magnificent Burlington House (and accessible from either Old Bond Street or the Burlington Arcade).
It is an independent institution that was founded by King George III in 1768 to promote British art, primarily through the Royal Academy’s training programmes which constitute the oldest art school in Britain. Past students include JMW Turner, Sir John Soane, William Blake, John Constable and Edwin Landseer.
It is privately funded, although the British government lets it use Burlington House rent-free.
What to see at Royal Academy of Arts
The gallery features a programme of art exhibitions that range from obscure artists to famous British and European artists including Michelangelo, Constable and Gainsborough.
To celebrate its 250th anniversary, a newly expanded campus was opened in May 2018, dubbed the New RA. A highlight is the RA Collection Gallery, a new exhibition space with highlights from the Academy’s permanent collection, which include Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo and Giampetrino’s 16th-century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
The RA’s Architecture Studio is a permanent space for the Academy’s architecture, which includes both exhibitions and talks from prominent architects.
Temporary exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts
Most of the Royal Academy’s exhibition space is used for a vibrant programme of temporary exhibitions with several exhibitions running concurrently. Although some of these exhibitions are free, many of them, including the annual Summer Exhibition, incur an admission charge.
Current and planned temporary exhibitions include:
Herzog & de Meuron
The Herzog & de Meuron exhibition (until 15 October 2023) is a major retrospective of the work of the Swiss architectural firm. The exhibition features models, drawings, photographs, and films, showcasing the firm’s wide-ranging work, which includes the Tate Modern in London to the Bird’s Nest National Stadium in Beijing. £15.
The Marina Abramović exhibition (until 1 January 2024) is a major retrospective of the work of the Serbian performance artist. The exhibition features over 50 works, including photographs, videos, and installations, that showcase Abramović’s ground-breaking exploration of the relationship between performer and audience. £25.50–27.50.
Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec
Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec is a major exhibition (25 November 2023–10 March 2024) of works on paper by some of the most famous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, including Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Claude Monet. The exhibition features over 70 works, including drawings, pastels, and watercolours, that showcase the artists’ mastery of line, colour, and light. £19–21.
Entangled Pasts, 1768–now
This exhibition (3 February–28 April 2024) explores the interconnected histories of Britain and the Caribbean from the 18th century to the present day. The exhibition features over 100 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs, from artists such as Isaac Julien, Lubaina Himid, John Singleton Copley, Joshua Reynolds and JMW Turner. The exhibition challenges traditional narratives of British history and asks visitors to consider the ways in which Britain’s colonial past continues to shape the present. £22–24.50.
Visiting Royal Academy of Arts
Royal Academy of Arts is located in Burlington House off Piccadilly. The closest tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly Circus, both a five-minute walk from the Royal Academy.
There is a wide range of exhibitions at the Royal Academy, both free and paid. The admission charge varies although most major temporary exhibitions cost between £15 and £20. Tickets for the Summer Exhibition cost £20–22. Most exhibitions are £1 cheaper with a National Art Pass.
With the exception of the upper garden area in the Keeper’s House, all areas of the Royal Academy are wheelchair accessible. Audio guides (and transcripts of audio guides) are free for disabled visitors, tours are available in British Sign Language (BSL) for deaf visitors and audio described tours are available for blind and visually-impaired visitors. There is also a programme of events put on specifically for disabled visitors.
There are several bars, cafes and restaurants in the Royal Academy of Arts complex, although the restaurant and bars inside the Keeper’s House are restricted to Friends of the RA before 4pm.
Nearby attractions include Burlington Arcade, Clarence House and well-known West End shopping streets including Jermyn Street, Savile Row, New Bond Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street.