Whether you have a keen eye for art or you’re looking for a rainy-day activity in London, one gallery stands out from the pack – the Tate Modern, of course!

This beautiful modern art gallery is one of four iconic Tate spaces in the UK. The organisation holds the national collection of British art and a sizeable international collection, including many iconic works.

What’s in this guide?

How to get to the Tate Modern

Before you can start exploring the famous galleries, you’ll need to make your way to the Tate Modern from wherever you are in London.

The Tate Modern is right on the southern bank of the River Thames at the foot of the Millenium Bridge, in Bankside. St. Paul’s Cathedral sits on the other side of the water, which means tourists can tick both landmarks off in one easy day.

If you plan to take a train to the gallery, you have a few station options nearby. London Blackfriars is the closest, around 5 minutes walk from the Tate Modern. Cannon Street, London Bridge and Waterloo stations are also within walking distance.

Already in London and planning to use the underground? Southwark, on the Jubilee line (grey), is the nearest tube station to the Tate Modern. Blackfriars, on the District (green) and Circle (yellow) lines, is also nearby. Or why not take the tube to St. Paul’s, on the Central line (red), and visit the iconic cathedral first?

teenagers looking at painting at tate modern

What to see at the Tate Modern

Tate Modern visitors can prepare to be impressed from the first moment. Stepping foot inside the Turbine Hall, the gallery’s iconic industrial space, is a perfect welcome. There are often large-scale installations built into the hall, so you can start enjoying art straight away.

Let’s take a look at some standout things to see at the Tate Modern.

The Turbine Hall

The vast Turbine Hall hosts changing large-scale sculptures and unique installations throughout the year and has set the stage for some of the world’s most famous works of contemporary art. This dramatic space brings the rest of the building together.

The first commissioned display in the Turbine Hall came from Louise Bourgeois, who created I Do, I Undo, I Redo specifically for the space in 2000. The work comprised steel towers and winding staircases for visitors to climb. Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project was another momentous Turbine Hall commission, which saw an enormous representation of a radiant sun hung in the space.

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash (1967)

One of Hockney’s most iconic paintings lives inside the Tate Modern – A Bigger Splash is a pastel-hued representation of a Californian swimming pool. Hockney resided in Los Angeles intermittently before choosing it as his final home in 1976.

He noted that everybody had a swimming pool because of the warm climate. They weren’t considered luxurious like in Britain. He made many paintings of pools between 1964 and 1971, showing a different type of water movement in each.

The image in A Bigger Splash comes from a photograph Hockney found in a book about swimming pools. The background comes from a drawing he made of a building in California. This is the largest of three ‘splash’ paintings, including The Splash and A Little Splash.

Henri Matisse, The Snail (1953)

The Snail is one of Matisse’s most iconic works made by cutting and ripping sheets of paper. After 1948, the artist’s health prevented him from painting – but that didn’t stop the work. The colourful shapes seen in The Snail were placed and pasted down by an assistant working under Matisse’s instruction. Its large dimensions make it one of the most eye-catching works displayed in the Tate Modern galleries.

H3: Yves Klein, IKB 79 (1959)

This striking blue painting is one of almost 200 blue monochrome works Yves Klein made in his lifetime. He started making block monochromes in 1947 to reject representation in painting and lean into creative freedom. Many of Klein’s earlier works have an uneven surface, while later monochromes – like this one – are smooth and more uniform.

Klein didn’t give titles to his blue paintings; after he died in 1962, his widow Rotraut Klein-Moquay numbered them from IKB 1 to IKB 194. This numbering didn’t reflect the order in which they were made. Since then, more examples have been discovered and added to the collection.

In 1974, Rotraut wrote to Tate that she was almost certain IKB 79 was one of four works painted in West Germany in 1959. The letters stand for International Klein Blue, which the artist registered as a trademark colour in 1957.

tate modern hall

Tate Modern history and facts

Today, the Tate Modern is one of London’s best-loved galleries and instantly recognisable buildings. But how did it get there?

Back to the start

The story started in 1897 when Henry Tate opened his first small collection of British artworks to the public. Tate made his fortune as a sugar refiner and was a great supporter of Pre-Raphaelite artists, collecting many pieces throughout his lifetime. He offered 65 paintings to the National Gallery, including John Everett Millais’ Ophelia and The Lady of Shalott by J. W. Waterhouse. These were turned down due to a lack of space.

Tate started a campaign to create a new gallery dedicated to British art, supporting the cause with a personal £80,000 donation. The Tate Britain was built and opened in 1879, housing Tate’s original 65 works and others from the National Gallery.

A new gallery for modern and contemporary art

In 1992, Tate trustees announced their new gallery – a space dedicated to modern and contemporary art from Britain and abroad. Two years later, they chose the former Bankside Power Station as the home of the new gallery.

Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron were chosen to convert the old power station into a contemporary gallery. They were to retain as much of the original character of the building as possible along the way.

Bankside Power Station

The iconic Bankside Power Station, which houses Tate Modern today, was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, built between 1947 and 1963. The space comprised the towering Turbine Hall, 35 metres high and 152 metres long, a boiler house alongside it and a single chimney at the centre.

When Tate chose the power station in 1992, it had been out of use for 11 years.

Converting the building

Design plans were revealed in 1996. The English Partnerships regeneration agency provided £12 million to build the new gallery, so Bankside Power Station was purchased, and construction could begin.

All the inside machinery was removed, and the power station was stripped back to its steel and brick shell. The Turbine Hall became the dramatic entrance hall we know today. The boiler house was converted into a series of galleries.

Tate Modern today

The gallery opened in 2000. Since then, more than 40 million visitors have passed through the Turbine Hall to see the world-class modern and contemporary artwork inside. It’s one of the top three tourist attractions in the UK – no surprise!

Bars, restaurants and shops inside the Tate Modern

Want to get more out of your trip to Tate Modern? Why not grab a coffee, some breakfast, or lunch inside? There’s a kitchen and bar for regular visitors and a members bar. Or head to the Tate Modern Terrace Shop to pick up prints of your favourite pieces for your own home.

Kitchen and bar

The Tate Modern Kitchen and Bar serves a delicious seasonal menu in a suitable stylish setting. Take away tricky choices when choosing the two or three-course set menu, then settle in and enjoy dramatic views over London’s skyline.

You could also take the weight off your feet and sip a Tate roasted coffee, a cup of tea or a chilled glass of wine.

Terrace Shop

Want to pick up a souvenir from your time at Tate Modern? The Terrace Shop has plenty to choose from. Not to mention gifts, books, designer collaborations and many prints of highlights from the collection.

Opening times and ticket prices

Good news! Visiting the Tate Modern doesn’t cost a penny, making it a perfect addition to any trip to London. Some special exhibitions require paid tickets, which can be bought online before arrival.

Even though tickets are free, you must book them online before you get there. Choose an entry time to help prevent the galleries from becoming too busy and try to get there within 15 minutes of your slot.

How much does an exhibition ticket cost?

If you want to see a special exhibition at the Tate Modern, you may need to pay. Tate Members and patrons can visit for free. Adult prices vary between £15 and £25, depending on the exhibit, while concessions cost between £11 and £22 and children cost £5.

When is the Tate Modern open?

The gallery is open from 10:00 to 18:00 daily. Remember to book a timed ticket for everyone in your group, including children of all ages.

Taking the train to London?

You can easily reach London by train from within the UK, as well as other major European cities, thanks to the many high-speed rail connections available.

If you're already in the UK and heading into London, you can get from Edinburgh to London in 4h, from Manchester to London in 2h 3m, from Glasgow to London in 4h 28m and from Liverpool to London in m. Some of the most popular international routes include Paris to London (2h 17m), Brussels to London (2h 1m) and Amsterdam to London (4h 42m).

Need more information about travelling to London by train? Check out our dedicated page to trains to London.