Obviously the answer to that question if you live in London or happen to be visiting for a long period of time is an enthusiastic, Both of them! For everyone else, if you have limited time in London and need to decide between visiting Tate Britain or Tate Modern, the information below will help you choose between the two!
Before we get started, it’s important to know that both Tate Britain and Tate Modern are free to visit. (I love that about London’s museums!) So if you were thinking of limiting yourself to visiting just one due to cost, you can breathe a little sigh of relief and put them both on your itinerary. The other thing you need to know is that these are both world-renowned art museums, and one is not better than the other. They’re just different. (And don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise!) However, their differences do mean that one will likely be more your cup of tea than the other, so keep reading for a Tate Britain vs Tate Modern matchup!
Tate Britain is Prettier
Let’s start with the minor details, shall we? The museums’ architecture and design will probably be a low-ranking factor in your decision of which to visit, but I believe it still deserves mentioning. (Especially if you’re like me and enjoy walking through a museum that looks like a work of art itself!)
With its domed rotunda, beautiful spiral staircase, and Victorian details throughout, the award for prettiest museum easily goes to Tate Britain. Originally built over the last decade of the 1800’s, Tate Britain recently(-ish) underwent an extensive renovation and the result is nothing short of impressive. The large, open galleries showcase the art within them beautifully, and it’s hard to beat the gorgeous monochrome terrazzo and columned balconies in the rotunda.
Tate Modern is Larger
This will probably only matter to those intent on getting their 10,000 steps in everyday, but of the two museums, Tate Modern is definitely the larger one. An expansion project on the Tate Modern was recently completed which essentially doubled the museum’s original size (and it was already quite large to begin with), so if it’s space you’re after, you’ll certainly find it here.
The large rooms and galleries provide plenty of space for all the unique installations housed here and keep this perma-busy museum from feeling overcrowded. (And, honestly, can you even call yourself a modern art museum if you don’t have an entire room to dedicate to your stuffed potato collection? I don’t think so.)
Tate Britain Has More Famous Art
If your goal is to feast your eyes on a large number of world-famous works of art, then the choice for you will be easy. Tate Britain is home to Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, and John Constable’s Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River) among many, many other familiar paintings and sculptures by well-known British artists.
Not sure where to start? Then join one of Tate Britain’s daily museum tours. They’re free!
Tate Modern Has the Better View
I suppose it’s a little out-of-the-ordinary to head to an art museum for anything other than the art, but in London, we never turn down the opportunity for a good view!
Before Tate Modern’s massive expansion project, the only views to be seen were from small outdoor balconies on the front of the museum overlooking the Thames. Now, there’s a full 360° viewing terrace on the 10th floor of the new Blavatnik Building and it’s open to all visitors, for free. Featuring panoramic views in every direction, you’ll be able to spot quite a few London landmarks from up here. My favorite is the Millennium Bridge stretching across the Thames to meet St Paul’s on the other side!
Tate Britain Features Traditional British Art from the 1500’s to Present
Once upon a time, Tate Britain was known as Tate Gallery and housed both traditional and modern art. These days, with the Tate Modern taking over the modern art scene in London, traditional British painting and sculpture from the 1500’s to present make up the majority of what’s on display at Tate Britain. (Although, there are still small sections of the museum with modern art, so if you’re torn on which to visit, that might help sway your opinion!)
In addition to the famous works mentioned a few paragraphs above, you’ll also be able to check out some original pieces by Dame Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. (Two of my favorites among the many sculptors who have their work displayed here.) The collections of paintings on display cover a wide range of periods and styles from J. M. W. Turner’s sketches and watercolors to Francis Bacon’s abstract religious triptychs.
Tate Britain Is for You If…
- Traditional art sets your heart aflutter (i.e., you can stand in front of someone’s portrait or an oil painting of a ship amidst rocky seas for 20 minutes and not fall asleep standing up)
- You’re not quite sure what kind of art you like best
- You simply prefer to visit art museums with a broader range of styles
- You like art you can understand
If you like Tate Britain, you’ll also enjoy visiting London’s National Gallery!
Tate Modern Features Contemporary & Modern Art from All over the World
Located in the former Bankside Power Station, Tate Modern was opened in 2000 to house Tate Gallery’s growing collection of modern art. Today, it’s over twice the size it was when it first opened and consistently ranks in the top three most visited museums in London, along with the National Gallery and the British Museum.
Whereas Tate Britain has a clear emphasis on British art, the featured collections of contemporary and modern art at Tate Modern have been created by artists from all over the world. An emphasis on the international art scene is probably one thing that makes Tate Modern so appealing to visitors to London. The other is that the art is, well, entertaining. And by entertaining, I mean it will probably delight, confuse, and inspire you all at the same time. (For instance, the first image in the set above is of an installation by Joseph Beuys called ‘Lightning With Stag In Its Glare’. If you saw more than a strange object hanging from a beam, then this museum is definitely for you.)
Spread out over several buildings and floors, the art on display at Tate Modern is generally organized by theme instead of chronologically, which makes finding the type of art you like most fairly easy. And even though Tate Britain contains a greater amount of famous works of art than Tate Modern does, there are still several pieces to see here by names you’re sure to recognize. (Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, to name just a couple.)
Tate Modern Is for You If…
- Abstract art and loads of color are your jam
- You like art that makes you think
- A mixture of paintings, photography, installations, and film is the only way you’re staying entertained in an art museum
- You like art you can’t understand (although that doesn’t stop you from pretending you do!)
Before you visit, be sure to check the official Tate Museums website below to see if any special exhibitions or events are going on during your visit. Some are free, others will require a ticket. If you decide to visit both museums and plan to do so in the same day, the quickest way to make the journey between them is the Tate Boat. It’s not cheap, but you’ll save a few bucks if you pay with your Oyster card instead of cash.
Have you been to either of these museums? Which was your favorite?
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