About the National Gallery
The National Gallery is one of the most visited attractions in London. With works by artists like Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Raphael and Rembrandt, it is no wonder why around six million people come here every year. Despite its name, the museum does not exhibit mainly works by British artists - these are mostly kept at Tate Britain - but houses a great collection of over 2,300 paintings in the Western European tradition of different art ages, from 1260 up to 1900. The Gallery boasts, in fact, the most varied painting collections in the world, with artworks from the late medieval period, the Italian Renaissance, the Impressionists, and much more.
Located in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is not only an essential keeper of art, but it is an example of art itself. The display of art begins before you even enter the galleries if you look around you. One of these spots is a beautiful, bright mosaic that says goodbye to visitors, set into the floor in the main hall of the museum. You need to be lucky to get a good look at them on a busy day, though! You could be surrounded by people streaming around you, perhaps while you are trying to take some pictures. That's normal for being in one of the most famous art museums in the world!
A short history of the Museum
Did you know that the initial paintings of the National Gallery do not come from a royal or princely art collection? The Gallery, in fact, was established in 1824 as a response to the increase of art purchases by the British government. The first building acquired was a small private house of the deceased John Julius Angerstein, whose collection was also left to the Gallery. However, by gifts, bequests and purchases, the collection grew rapidly, and it was moved to Trafalgar Square in 1838. Its new location was chosen since this square was considered by many to be the core of central London.
The present beautiful, old building that dominates Trafalgar Square was designed by the Neoclassical architect William Wilkins in 1832. Only its façade was unchanged from this time, though! A number of rooms and galleries were added little by little throughout its history. The most important addition to the building has been the creation of the Sainsbury Wing, occurred in 1991. Designed by the postmodernist architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, it was thought to be the home of the collection of Renaissance paintings. Nowadays it is even from here that you can enter the museum.
Planning your visit
The best time to visit the Gallery is at opening time, particularly at weekends, if you want to admire some of the masterpieces without hustle and bustle. With a little bit of luck, you might have the possibility to relax in one of the numerous seats while you're enjoying the paintings. However, during Christmas time and Bank holidays, it might be challenging to avoid the flow of visitors swarming the city.
How to get there?
Now, find your best way to reach the National Gallery, located on the northern edge of Trafalgar Square, at the following address: Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN. It is effortlessly easy to get there, even if you are on your own.
The best way to travel in London is with an Oyster card, which can be bought online or from a ticket machine at any Underground stations. It allows you to travel in all parts of London on the Underground, DLR, Overground, some riverboats and the iconic red London buses.
The typical way to get to the museum is by tube. Have a look at the tube map and jump on the London Underground, getting yourself to Charing Cross, a station served by the Bakerloo and Northern lines. Once you have passed through the ticket turnstile, just follow the signs telling you exactly which exit to take and you'll find yourself at Trafalgar Square. You can also use Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus stations.
Bus is a functional and accessible vehicle in London. You can also reach the National Gallery via routes 6, 9, 11, 12, 15, 24, 29, 87, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176 and 453. You can always use the Oyster card, and a single bus journey will cost only £1.50. No matter how far you go. Not so bad.
If you prefer to go around the city by bike and to enjoy the beautiful weather than to take any ordinary public transport, you can find the nearest bike stands on Orange Street, St Martin's Street, St Martin's Place, and Duncannon Street.
If you are far from the centre of London instead, you can reach the museum by train. The nearest station is Charing Cross railway station, which is a three-minute walk away.
Reaching the National Gallery by car can be more complicated. Driving in the centre of London is challenging since you are within the congestion zone. Please refer to www.cclondon.com for more details on charges and how to pay the congestion charge. However, it is possible to leave your car in a parking space on Orange Street for Blue Badge holders only or in public car parks, such as Q Park, which is an underground car park right next to Trafalgar Square itself. Standard rates for an hour is £8, for 5 hours is £40, but for 24 hours is £48.
Entering the National Gallery
Did you know that the National Gallery has several entrances? Surprisingly, the doors on the façade are not among these; they are used by people when their visit is over. Its main entrance is the Sainsbury Wing, to the left of the main building, located at the corner of Pall Mall and Whitcomb Street. The other two ways to enter the museum are by the Getty Entrance, situated on the east side of Trafalgar Square - which can be used only if you are part of a group - and the Pigott Education Centre Entrance, located on Orange Street at the back of the Gallery - which is only for school groups and visitors coming to events in the Centre.
Entrance to the National Gallery is free. Why? Because these pictures belong to the public. That is not only for the permanent collection but also for some temporary exhibitions. One of the positive aspects of free admission is that there are no queues at the entrances. Some exhibitions are ticketed, though. The tickets may cost from £10 up to £20; it depends on the subject of the exhibition. However, did you know that you could save money if you go to the museum on weekdays and also if you book the tickets online? Families also have some discounts: up to four free under-18 tickets can be booked with each adult. In addition, if you are a student or a job seeker, a discount is available for you.
The National Gallery provides a range of accessible facilities to help you enjoy the visit, and explore the Gallery, its collections and its exhibitions. The museum offers British Sign Language-interpreted talks on paintings for visitors who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and art sessions for who are blind and partially sighted. If you are part of a school group, the Gallery can also offer you sessions using multi-sensory materials to better experience the visit.
Unfortunately, you can only reach the museum by tube via Westminster station - which is the nearest station with step-free access from platform to street level - and then you need to take buses 12, 24, 88 or 453. If you have a car instead, there is one designated parking space for badge-holders on Orange Street for National Gallery visitors, only booking in advance and other three designated parking bays on St Martin's Street.
Opening and closing times
You can visit the Gallery every day from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., but you may also consider going there on Friday night when it is open until 9 p.m. It is a great and different way to spend a night out in London! Guests are asked to prepare to leave at least five minutes before closing time. You will find the museum is closed only if you get there on 24th, 25th, 26th December and on 1st January.
Exploring the Collection
Explore the European art at the National Gallery with its outstanding and famous collection of masterpieces, and let you guide by the atmosphere full of art and preciousness. The museum contains many world-famous works of art that you shouldn't miss. The 10 top pieces you must see for their popularity and glory are "The Virgin of the Rocks" by Leonardo da Vinci, the beautiful painting "Venus and Mars" by Sandro Botticelli, the fascinating painting "An Allegory with Venus and Cupid" by Bronzino, the amazing Jan van Eyck's "The Arnolfini Portrait", the magnetic "Madonna of the Pinks" by Raphael, the magnificent "Bacchus and Ariadne" by Titian, the fascinating Hans Holbein the Younger's "The Ambassadors", "Self portrait at the age of 34" by Rembrandt, "Bathers at La Grenouillère" by Monet and the iconic "Sunflowers" by Van Gogh. Unfortunately, Van Gogh's Sunflowers will be on tour in Japan and Australia in 2020-2021, though!
The recommended visiting time is around three hours, but you may need more time for exploring the collections in their entirety. However, if you have a short time, and you are worried about missing any fundamental artwork, have a look at our tours that are thought for any necessity. The National Gallery: Express Tour which consists of a selection of artworks chosen if you can spend a limited time at the museum, If you only have one hour is thought to allow the visitors to have a general idea of the collections and The National Gallery: The Ultimate Tour is designed to guide you through all the major marvels of the museum.
If you are interested in discovering the highlights by any particular theme, just see and listen to our helpful themed routes, such as Impressionism, Baroque, Landscape, Christian Art, Early Renaissance, Genre Paintingand much more.
The National Gallery is divided into 4 main Collections - Paintings 1200-1500, Paintings 1500-1600, Paintings 1600-1700, and Paintings 1700-1930; each of them is dedicated to a particular period. If you see our app, you can find the highlights of each Collection. The most visited one is probably Paintings 1500-1600 that houses the masterpieces of the Late Renaissance from Northern and Southern Europe.
Aura's special tips
- Is the museum family-friendly? Definitely. In fact, the National Gallery provides facilities, and always new events and activities for families, such as Sunday storytelling. Moreover, families are allowed to bring packed lunches or can find cheap offers for children at the cafés.
- Have a lovely breather eating a stone-baked pizza or a salad at the National Dining Rooms with stunning views over Trafalgar Square. You can find them in the Sainsbury Wing, Level 1.
- If you like drawing, you are welcome to sketch in the Gallery!
- Art therapy event in museum is available, but need to booked in advance.
- National Art Pass is a great and clever way for Londoners to save money and experience the new exhibitions. You can visit over 240 museums, galleries and historic places for free and 50% off entry to several exhibitions, including National Gallery. It only costs £73 for 12-month membership and £45 if you are under 30. For further information, visit the website https://www.artfund.org/national-art-pass.
Check the Map of the Gallery on our App.
Before or after your visit to the Gallery, you cannot fail to reserve at least half an hour to check out Trafalgar Square. The Square is a tourist attraction and a site known for celebrations, events and even protests. Located around the corner from the Square, The National Portrait Gallery is a spot where you may spend a few hours, and it's free! It is also a short walk away from Leicester Square,the elegant district of Mayfair and the foodie havens of the modern market Covent Garden - like Bancone, a modern Italian pasta restaurant located at 39 William IV Street, London - and Chinatownin Soho. Located at southeast corner of Covent Garden is London Transport Museum, a great museum for all ages, but especially for children fascinated by buses, trains and other transports. Kids go free! Tickets for adults may cost from £16.50 to £18, but allow unlimited admissions to the Museum for one entire year. Why not?