The National Gallery in London provides the public free access to over 2300 paintings created by famous and relatively unknown emerging artists from all over the world. Walking through the various rooms, guests are greeted with unique and engaging paintings, along with special exhibits that often include works from world-renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci.
The Gallery is accessible for all types of visitors, with art-themed activities for children during the holidays, informative audio guides, educational lectures, regular film screenings, and seating for those wanting to sit and take in the artwork for as long as they wish. Additional services are available for anyone wishing to extend their stay, with three excellent places to eat and drink, and a gift shop selling prints of the Gallery’s artwork and educational books. Depending on your priorities, the National Gallery can be somewhere you visit quickly before another attraction or where you lose three hours.
- Artwork – The National Gallery houses 66 rooms of artwork, each with their own theme of place, time, or artist. No matter your level of passion or experience, there’s a good chance of finding art you’ve never seen before and you’ll never forget seeing. Painters such as, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, and Claude Monet, are represented, as well as the less famous but equally as talented artists. Audio guides provide detailed information about paintings in the Gallery, so you can move at your own pace, looking at and learning about the inspiring artwork. Comfortable seats are provided in most of the rooms, which are great for art enthusiasts wanting to spend more time appreciating certain pieces or tired children.
- Talks and Tours – When it comes to talks and tours, the National Gallery provides extensive options that cater to everyone’s needs. 10-minute talks are held Monday-Friday at 4pm and include small chunks of information about the Gallery, paintings and artists. Lunchtime talks are run throughout the year and last about 30 minutes, exploring one particular painting or a wider range. These two options are great for anyone with a busy schedule. There are also 60-minute guided tours that focus on the more prominent works in the Gallery; a selection of different audio guide tours that look at different areas, artists, and paintings; and very educational mini tours, which cover the Renaissance period, Impressionism, or the Life of Christ. All of these talks and tours are free.
- Families – The National Gallery prides itself on accommodating families. Guests with young children don’t have to worry about younger audiences being bored by the artwork; there are a lot of exciting options available to keep children entertained. Activities and workshops are held during school holidays and on Sundays for children aged 1-11. Children under 5 can enjoy the Gallery through songs, play and stories, while children between 5 and 11 are able to partake in drawing and other creative workshops. There are also family tours run during school holidays that focus on entertaining and educating all ages.
- Where to Eat – There are three possible places to eat in the Gallery, each catering to different types of meals. The Espresso Bar is a great spot to grab something light or a quick coffee. It has computers that can be used to browse the art in the Gallery, which makes it a great place to start your visit to plan out what and where you want to see. The National Café is best for lunch and afternoon tea, and the National Dining Rooms offer a fine dining atmosphere for lunch and dinner. Main meals in the National Dining Rooms cost about £18, which is a very reasonable price for London.
- Gift Shops – The National Gallery contains three gift shops that, among other things, sell prints of the Gallery’s priceless artwork, educational books, and gifts for students. The gift shop in the Sainsbury Wing allows visitors to immediately make prints of paintings they might have seen that day. These start at £17.50 for an A4 size print.
- Groups – Groups are more than welcome at the National Gallery. School group visits can be booked by calling 020 7747 2424 at least 4 weeks in advance. Rooms can also be booked for students to eat lunch. Adult group visits of 10-25 people can be booked by calling 020 7747 5915.
- What’s On – Along with the permanent collection, the National Gallery also holds temporary exhibits throughout the year. A small cost is sometimes required to see these; however, fees are usually reserved for the more famous pieces of artwork. Make sure you look at the website before visiting to see what’s happening.
- London Underground – The London Underground tube is the most cost-effective way to travel to the National Gallery. There are numerous options available. The best of these is to catch the Northern or Bakerloo line to Charing Cross Station, which is about 250 metres away. The next closest station is Piccadilly Circus, which can be reached by taking the Piccadilly or Bakerloo line. Anyone catching the District or Circle line should disembark at Embankment Station, which is about 500 metres away. Adult tickets for the tube start at £4.50, but the best option is to purchase an Oyster Card, which almost halves the cost of a ticket and can be loaded with money before traveling.
- Hop-on Hop-off Bus – The Hop-on Hop-off Bus provides cheap and reliable transport for anyone wishing to see more than one of London’s attractions. Tickets cost $42 each and allow the rider to use the bus as many times as they want during a 24-hour time period. To reach the National Gallery, disembark at Trafalgar Square stop. The Gallery is a short walk away.
- Bus – Catch bus line 24, 29 or 176 to Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery is a very short walk away. Bus line 3, 6, 12,13, 15, 23, 88, 139, 159 or 453 can also be caught to Cockspur Street. This stop is slightly farther away, but has a larger range of bus services.
- Cycle – Barclay’s Cycle Hire provides numerous bikes and docking stations around London. You simply pay the £2 fee for 24-hour access and as long as you don’t have a bike for more than 30 minutes, you won’t need to pay one cent more. The nearest docking stations for the National Gallery are: Duncannon Street, St. Martin’s Street, Orange Street, and St. Martin’s Place.
The National Gallery gained approval for construction in 1831. Trafalgar Square was chosen as its location, because it was deemed the centre of London and so all classes of society would have access to the collection. After many years of construction, The National Gallery was opened in 1838.
Sir Charles Lock Eastlake became the first Director of the National Gallery in 1855. He helped bring in almost 200 pieces of artwork during a 10-year period. Future directors continued upon his success until 1885 when funding to the Gallery was abolished and the collection stalled.
The National Art Collections Fund was created in the early 20th century to stop artwork being sold to America. The National Gallery was able to use this fund to start collecting again. It did so until World War II.
In 1940 the National Gallery’s entire collection was evacuated to a slate quarry in North Wales. They were returned to the Gallery in 1945. Since then, adding to the collection has become increasingly difficult with prices rising beyond the National Gallery’s means. Despite financial difficulties, it will reportedly never start charging for entry, with the idea that its collection should be available for everyone to see.
The National Gallery still contains an impressive collection of famous artwork and often showcases new pieces from emerging artists.