National Gallery – Review for families

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What is it?

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It’s England’s national museum of art. Find it in Trafalgar Square. The nearest tube stations are Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.

Best for:

5 – 8 / 9 – 12

OK for:

Babies / Toddlers & Preschool /  12 +

Cost

Free admission, though some special exhibits will cost extra.

What’s on offer

Home to a wide range of European art, some dating all the way back to the 1200’s, the National Gallery also caters its exhibits and displays to young viewers.

Not only do they provide paper and pencils at the information desk, but families can follow trails around the gallery that they’ve printed at home or create your own route at the ArtStar kiosk located in the Espresso Bar. Children’s audio tours cost extra, but can be found on Level 2 of the Sainsbury Wing at the Portico Entrance. They also provide weekend sessions for under 5s and 5 – 11s including arts, music and crafts events and workshops. 

Facilities in the National Portrait Gallery include a limited cloakroom during weekends and school holidays. You can leave buggies there at your own risk. The Pigott Education Centre hosts accessible toilets, baby changing facilities and lifts.

During holidays and weekends, the second floor of the Pigott Education Centre has a lunch room, where families are welcome to chow down on a packed lunch. Packed lunches can also be eaten on Level 0 of the centre and in the foyer outside the Sainsbury Wing Theatre.

There is a café and a restaurant, both of which have highchairs and children’s menus. There are seats available through the gallery; just ask a member of staff.

Finally, some good news for breastfeeding mums – you are permitted to baby feed or breast feed anywhere in the National Gallery.

Highlights

Novices will be amazed at the huge collection of beautiful European paintings on offer and art know-it-alls will be equally impressed yet most likely perturbed that there simply isn’t enough time to view everything for as long as they’d like. Fans have called the collections ‘the best free art in the world’ and warn that there’s so much of it you’ll have to be fairly selective in what you see, That says it all, really!

Seeing the more famous works, such as Monet paintings, should be quite exciting for anyone who has ever studied art at school. Audio guides for both adults and children are really helpful and for some TripAdvisor users, totally worth the cost. They’re a necessity for anyone without an in-depth knowledge of art.

What to watch out for

  • Bags over 43 x 66cm are barred from the building. Please check the website for full details of what you’re allowed to bring in.
  • Buggies are allowed, as are bags containing vital medical kit or baby care/nursing equipment are permitted, as long as the owner accepts that it may be searched upon exiting the gallery. This is for safety and security reasons.
  • There’s not a lot of space in the cloakroom and your belongings are liable to be searched. An alternative storage space is available at Charing Cross tube station.
  • Sometimes, the gallery can feel like a bit of a maze because it’s so big and full. Ask for a map. Get your bearings. Make decisions about the route you want to take through the museum and consider doing two trips to avoid child-boredom and rushing through the paintings. 
  • The gallery gets quite busy during half term and holidays and schools usually visit on weekday mornings. The best time to visit is early on a weekend. 
  • The official website asks visitors to expect a busy environment. Pick an information desk on site that your child knows is a safe place to return to if, in an unlikely situation, they get separated from you.
  • You’re asked not to use your mobile phone in the gallery, so no iPhone games to keep children entertained in moments of boredom.

MFM tips:

It makes sense to split the gallery into two trips, so not to overload little ones with too much art. If that’s what you decide, you might want to kill two birds with one stone and visit another nearby tourist hotspot. Here are our best ‘full day out’ suggestions…

After your morning visit to the Gallery, mix it up and take a walk from Trafalgar Square to Covent Garden for lunch. It’s also where you’ll find the London Transport Museum, which is perfect for a short, easy-going afternoon visit.

Ride the London Eye in the morning (make sure to book in advance), take a walk along the South Bank, grab some lunch or have a little picnic by the river and then make your way to the gallery.

Alternatively, visit the gallery in the morning and reward the kids with an afternoon trip to the London Dungeon or Sea Life London Aquarium. If they’re still mad about art, go along to the Tate Modern. 

Spend a long weekend afternoon perusing the gallery for an hour or so, then take a pleasant walk to the majestic Buckingham Palace. Don’t forget to stop in the next-door Green Park or St James Park for a sit down and a snack before continuing on to the palace.

What the owners say

“The National Gallery, London houses one of the greatest collections of European painting in the world. These pictures belong to the public and entrance to see them is free. The National Gallery’s permanent collection spans the period from about 1250 to 1900 and consists of Western European paintings.” 

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Visit the official National Gallery website

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