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There’s only so much chocolate, panto, tinsel and inanity you can take over the festive period. At some point, the bloated brain cells protest and demand sustenance – and that doesn’t mean brussel sprouts. Here’s where you can go in London to blow the cobwebs out the breadbasket and get some culture at Christmas.

Leonardo: Experience A Masterpiece at the National Gallery


Whitechapel Gallery

Anna Maria Maiolino: Making Love Revolutionary – With simple materials like clay, paper and ink, Maiolino (b.1942, Italy) constructs a world rooted in human conditions such as longing, fragility and resistance.

Until 12 Jan, 11am-6pm, £9.50, details



Cabarets & Clubs in Modern Art – From London to Paris, Mexico City, Tehran, and Ibadan, see works of art, many rarely seen in the UK, as well as recreations of avant-garde spaces.

Until 19 Jan, £15, details


British Museum

Inspired by the East – how the Islamic world influenced western art for centuries.

Until 26 Jan, 10.30am-5.30pm, £14, details


National Gallery

Leonardo: Experience A Masterpiece – an immersive experience that helps you explore The Virgin Of The Rocks through four distinct spaces.

Until 26 Jan, 10am-4.50pm, from £16, details


National Portrait Gallery

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters – the first ever exhibition to focus on the untold story of the 12 women of the Pre-Raphaelite movement – models, artists, makers, partners and poets.

Until 26 Jan, 10am-4.45pm, £18, details


Tate Modern

Olafur Eliasson In Real Life – a series of installations from the Danish-Icelandic arts that heighten the senses and play with pattern and light.

Until 5 Jan, various times, £18, details


Tate Britain

William Blake – the painter, printmaker, poet and radical created some of the most iconic images in British art. Includes over 300 works.

Until 2 February, various times, £18, details


24/7 at Somerset House



Science Museum

The Art of Innovation: From Enlightenment to Dark Matter – studies the interactions between scientific progress and social change and how tools go beyond the human senses.

Until 26 Jan, 10am-6pm, FREE, details


Science Gallery

On Edge: Living in an Age of Anxiety – explores different personal experiences of anxiety and how the world around us can cause worry and why we’ve evolved to be on edge.

Until 19 Jan, 10am-6pm, FREE, details


Somerset House

24/7: A Wake-Up Call for our Non-Stop World – a multi-sensory journey from the cold light of the moon to the fading warmth of sunset.

Until 23 Feb, various times, £14, details



Cars: Accelerating the Modern World – explores the impact of one of the most influential innovations in the world, and how it has shaped cities, style, environment and economies.

Until 19 April, 10am-4pm, £18, details


Museum of London

Beasts of London – explores the role animals have played in shaping the capital through the centuries, narrated by the beasts themselves with voices of Kate Moss, Nish Kumar, Joe Pasquale and more.

Until 5 Jan, 10.15am-4.15pm, £9, details


Imperial War Museum

Rebel Sounds – discover artists who have risked their lives in time of conflict for the music they loved.

Until 5 Jan, 10am-6pm, FREE, details


Wellcome Collection

Play Well – explores how play transforms both childhood and social bonds using displays of historic toys and games.

Until 8 March, 10am-6pm, FREE, details



Royal Observatory

Moons Beyond Counting – A new 30-minute show at the Peter Harrison Observatory explores the moons within the solar system.

Until 29 Jan, 2.45pm, £9, details


Natural History Museum

Orbit: A Journey Around Earth In Real Time – in ultra high def, our home planet as see by astronauts on board the International Space Station. Also see Museum of the Moon, an artwork by Luke Jerram.

Until 5 Jan, continuous, FREE, details

Read more: Essential guide to festive shows in East London

3 of the biggest screen releases

Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – mystery surrounds JJ Abrams’ mega release. Opens Dec 19
  2. Cats – the much-mocked trailer spooked prospective fans of this stage-to-screen adaptation. Opens Dec 20.
  3. Little Women – it’s been done before but ever better? The critics are drooling over Greta Gerwig’s take. Opens Dec 27

Coming in 2020


Canary Wharf

Winter Lights – The award-winning and spectacular series of 25 installations returns for a sixth year, bringing a warm glow to the dull January nights. Some are old favourites, others are new.

16-25 January, 4pm-10pm, FREE, details