When we were in London for February half term we took the children on a whistlestop trip to the National Gallery. I wasn’t sure whether it would be suitable for kids but it ended up being a really lovely place to spend time and a great way to avoid bad weather too!
What is the National Gallery?
The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square in Central London. It was founded in 1824 and houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. Unlike comparable museums and art galleries in continental Europe, who usually nationalise royal art collections, the gallery started when the government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein. From there, other art works have been purchased and the gallery has had many private donations too.
The National Gallery collections belongs to the government on behalf of the British public, and entry is free of charge although some exhibitions have an entrance fee. Even with free tickets they’re operating a times National Gallery booking system to manage visitor numbers so make sure you book a time slot to visit in advance of your trip.
Tours of the National Gallery
If you would like to have guided tours of the National Gallery rather than exploring yourself, they offer free 60 minute taster tours of the collection each day as well as so many different longer tours at various times and dates, often with a specific theme. At the moment audio tours and audio guides have been suspended due to the pandemic.
The National Gallery have virtual tours on their website and you can see the full art collection online too. This is great for planning what you want to see when you visit. They also have a download printable art routes map so that you have a route to follow during your time at the gallery.
The Smartify app
In the gallery you can use the free Smartify app to explore the whole collection with your smartphone. You simply hold your phone towards a painting and you’re given detailed information about the work. It also lets you save paintings you have scanned into a personal digital collection.
What can you see at the National Gallery?
One of the main attractions of this London art gallery is the building. It’s incredible. There is so much to look at as well as the artwork with domed ceilings, archways and halls. It’s a joy to walk around. There’s the main building and the newer addition of the Sainsbury Wing.
But, obviously people go to the National Gallery for the art. The gallery is home to so many amazing pieces of art from around the world. From The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci and Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli to The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger and Lady Standing at a Virginal by Johannes Vermeer. There is just so much to see.
You have to wonder though, what would the children love to see? At the end of our time at the National Gallery, the children had seen works by many famous artists that they already knew from school and other days out and holidays we’ve been on – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.
Our children are different. One loves to read everything they see, taking in the name, artist and description of every single piece of artwork. The other just likes to look at the paintings, moving from one to the next. Both were happy in the National Gallery and I wish we’d had longer to spend there.
The National Gallery has plenty of seating. Many rooms have benches or sofas in them to rest and admire the artwork from. This is great for children. Whilst his sister was reading all the information about all the paintings, Little Man sat with me, taking in the magnificent rooms, the artwork and the opulence of the place.
We found the National Gallery to be a great place to visit as a family. There were plenty of toilets, cloakrooms, a cafe, a shop to buy our obligatory magnet and plenty of staff on hand to tell us about paintings or point us in the direction of things we’d like to see.
Temporary exhibitions at the National Gallery
Thanks to a lovely staff member, we were pointed in the direction of a painting that was on loan to the National Gallery when we visited for a short time only. Gainsborough’s Blue Boy is on display at the National Gallery 100 years after it was last shown in London and it leaves again in May. We also loved seeing The Red Boy by Sir Thomas Lawrence for the first time, a new addition to the gallery. Seeing things that are limited or new always really adds to any experience.
There is so much to see at the National Gallery and it’s a really peaceful place to spend time as well as being child friendly. Each room is vast, with plenty of space to admire the artwork and I think you would need days in the gallery to fully appreciate everything there is to see. It’s a great addition to a family break in London, especially with its central position.
You can find out more about the National Gallery and book National Gallery tickets over on the National Gallery website. You can also see a floor plan and map of the National Gallery London here.