Although you may think many children lack the attention span or love of the aesthetic to really enjoy a good gallery, you’d be surprised. Obviously don’t push your luck, but a wander through the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate & Tate Modern can be quite pleasant. Most big galleries have now cottoned on to the importance of being more child friendly and offer paper trails and activities to keep them engaged. They also have cafes with a children’s menu and, more importantly for adults, great coffee and cake.
Right next door to the National Portrait Gallery and overlooking Trafalgar Square, this great gallery houses the national collection of over 2,300 western European paintings dating from 1250 to 1900. It includes masterpieces by Titian, Turner, Monet and Van Gogh. The museum now offers free talks, workshops, and drawing events for families and young people, providing a fun interpretation of the collection and special exhibitions. Journey through time as you explore the many rooms and masterpieces. Child audio tours and paper trails available.
Quietest times to visit the National Gallery are early week-day mornings and 6pm-9pm Wednesday. There are also guided tours designed for families, check website for details.
Open: Thurs-Tue 10am-6pm, Wed 10am-9pm
Tube: Leicester Square, Charing Cross (zone 1)
Address: Trafalgar Sq, London, WC2N 5DN
Phone: 020 7747 2885
A former power station with loads of space now houses some of the most famous pieces of modern art. There are daily family trails, audio tours and a selection of free activity sheets that encourage children to look, sketch and more – just ask at the information desk. There are nice cafes on site, especially at the top with fabulous views across to St Paul’s. A boat service runs between the two Tate's (Modern & Britain) daily.
Open: Sun-Thu 10am-6pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm
Admission: free, but donations are welcome
Tube: St Paul’s, Blackfriars, London Bridge, Mansion House (all zone 1)
Address: Bankside, London, SE1 9TG
Phone: 020 7887 8888
Nearby attractions: Globe theatre, the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral
The Tate has one of the most envied art collections in the world, displaying British art from 1500 to today and hosts the annual Turner prize. Children’s audio tours available daily. Ask the information desk about these and other activities.
Open: Daily 10am-5.50pm, 1st Fri each month 10pm
Admission: free, but donations are welcome
Tube: Pimlico; BR: Vauxhall (zone 1)
Address: Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG
Phone: 020 7887 8888
A boat services run between the two Tate's (Modern & Britain)
London International Gallery of Children's Art
Founded in 1993 and currently without a home, this volunteer led charity curates exhibitions of children’s art from all over the world. Currelty working with children and young people through outreach projects, you'll find exhibitions and installations popping up around the capital and they are always on the lookout for volunteers.
Set in one of the trendiest and most artistic parts of London, Whitechapel gallery showcases a great selection of contemporary art and offers activities for both schools and families. See the Whitechapel website for details. Nearby you’ll find Brick Lane and Spitalfields markets and there is some wonderful street art around the back streets.
Admission: Tuesday - Sunday 11am - 6pm, Thursday 11am - 9p, Closed Mondays
Address: Whitechapel, 80 - 82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX
Phone: 020 7522 7888
This historic 18th century building houses the Gilbert Collection, Hermitage rooms and the Courtauld gallery. You’ll find magnificent European silverware, spectacular gold snuff-boxes and remarkable Italian mosaics. The Hermitage Rooms are based on the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. The Courtauld Gallery has world-famous old masters, impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and sculptures. Its print and drawing collection includes works by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Cézanne and Turner. There’s also a great courtyard with water jets in the summer and an ice rink in the winter.
Open: Daily 10am-6pm (last entry 5.15pm)
Admission: free entry to the house, with admission charge for each of the collections. Under 18 free.
Tube: Holborn, Temple, Covent Garden, Charing Cross (zone 1)
Address: Strand, London, WC2R 1LA
Phone: 020 7845 4600
Dulwich Picture Gallery
The Dulwich Picture Gallery was originally assembled for the King of Poland in the 1790s and houses works of Poussin, Ruben, Van Dyk, Rembrandt and many more. The gallery runs popular after school classes and workshops.
Open: Tue-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun & BH 11am-5pm
Admission: Adults £4, children free.
BR: North Dulwich, West Dulwich (zone 3)
Address: Gallery Rd, London, SE21 7AD
Phone: 020 8693 5254
The Serpentine Gallery
Originally a 1934 tea pavilion, the gallery has established a reputation for presenting pioneering exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. Previous exhibitions have ranged from Mann Ray to Damian Hurst. Families can be enticed by specially designed exhibition trails and artist-led workshops. Check with gallery for latest events.
Open: Daily 7am-6pm
Tube: Knightsbridge, Lancaster Gate, South Kensington; Bus: 9,10,12,52 (zone 1)
Address: Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA
Phone: 020 7402 6075
National Portrait Gallery
The NPG contains fantastic paintings of British people – past and present, including the rich, famous and powerful, as well as many sporting legends. It also houses the BP portrait awards, which is one of our favourite annual exhibitions. Free family activity rucksack (ages 4-12) on a 1st come 1st served basis, family trails and child friendly exhibitions make this gallery great for families. You can get to the National Gallery via a tunnel.
Open: Daily 10-6pm, late closing Thursday & Friday at 9pm
Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Square (zone 1)
Address: St Martin's Place, London, WC2H 0HE
Phone: 020 7312 2463
Street Art tours
There is some great street art around the Capital. Under Waterloo station there is a tunnel and authorised graffiti area in Leake Street (map), but If you want a tour, you’ll find a wealth of street art around the East End’s Whitechapel and Brick Lane areas with Street Art London. You’ll get an up close introduction to East London’s incredible street art scene. You’ll get the opportunity to discover the work of over 40 street artists. Street art in London is incredibly dynamic and changes everyday as older pieces are gone over by other artists or buffed away by the Council. Tours are constantly changing and there is always something new to discover.
The Wallace Collection
This national museum displays art collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard's widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897. The collection is housed in one of the family's former London homes, Hertford House, and includes the laughing cavalier!
Open: Daily 10-5pm
Tube: Bond Street (zone 1)
Address: Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN
Phone: 020 7563 9500