London Sights



National Gallery

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National Gallery Review

Standing proudly on the north side of Trafalgar Square, this is truly one of the world's supreme art collections, with more than 2,300 masterpieces on show. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Turner, Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, and more—all for free. Watch out for special temporary exhibitions too.


This brief selection is your jumping-off point, but there are hundreds of other paintings to see, enough to fill a full day. In chronological order: (1) Van Eyck (c. 1395–1441), The Arnolfini Portrait—a solemn couple holds hands, the fish-eye mirror behind them mysteriously illuminating what can't be seen from the front view. (2) Holbein (1497–1543), The Ambassadors—two wealthy visitors from France stand surrounded by what were considered luxury goods at the time. Note the elongated skull at the bottom of the painting, which takes shape only when viewed from an angle. (3) Da Vinci (1452–1519), The Virgin and Child—this exquisite black-chalk "Burlington Cartoon" depicts the master's most haunting Mary. (4) Velázquez (1599–1660), Christ in the House of Martha and Mary—in this enigmatic masterpiece the Spaniard plays with perspective and the role of the viewer. (5) Turner (1775–1851), Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway, the whirl of rain, mist, steam, and locomotion is nothing short of astonishing (spot the hare). (6) Caravaggio (1573–1610), The Supper at Emmaus—a freshly resurrected Christ blesses bread in an astonishingly domestic vision from the master of chiaroscuro. (7) Van Gogh (1853–1890), Sunflowers—painted during his sojourn with Gauguin in Arles, this is quintessential Van Gogh. (8) Seurat (1859–91), Bathers at Asnières—this summer day's idyll is one of the pointillist extraordinaire's best-known works.


Color coding throughout the galleries helps you keep track of the period in which you're immersed. Begin at an "Art Start" terminal in the Sainsbury Wing or East Wing Espresso Bar. The interactive screens give you access to information on all of the museum's holdings; you can choose your favorites, and print out a free personal tour map. Want some stimulation? Try a free weekday lunchtime lecture, or Ten Minute Talk, which illuminates the story behind a key work of art. One-hour free, guided tours start at the Sainsbury Wing every weekday at 11:30 and 2:30 (also Friday at 7 pm), and on weekends at 4. If you are eager for even more insight into the art, pick up a themed audio guide, which takes in about 20 paintings. If you visit with children, don't miss special programs for young visitors, including free Family Sundays (every Sunday) with special talks for children and their parents. Check the website for other one-off events.

    Contact Information

  • Address: Trafalgar Sq., Westminster, London, WC2N 5DN | Map It
  • Phone: 020/7747–2885
  • Cost: Free; charge for special exhibitions; audio guide £3.50
  • Hours: Sun.–Thurs. 10–6, Fri. 10–9
  • Website:
  • Tube: Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Sq.
  • Location: Westminster and Royal London
Updated: 02-27-2014

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating:  
  • Experience  
    Don't Miss  

    A must

    One of the major art museums of Europe, with a large, high quality collection of paintings from all but the contemporary era. It's also free, but don't be surprised to find it crowded. A must see.

    by bachslunch, 4/2/08
  • Experience  
    Don't Miss  

    Amazing Art

    Recently, I spent a wonderful Sunday at the National Gallery looking some of the most famous paintings in the world. In every gallery, I spied an "old friend" that I had seen before, and now saw in person. Be sure to look at their website before hand to learn of any special tours etc. I took the free overview tour (about 90 minutes) and we looked closely and discussed 5 paintings (I imagine they rotate those). From their web site I also learned of a special event to meet Titian in his gallery. It was quite magical, and I didnt see anything about it on the day of my visit. I just showed up at the appointed hour and waited and he showed up in costume to discuss his painting and his life. I also rented the audio player, which was very informative. I had a nice quiche and tea in the café. A great way to spend any day.

    by leo, 1/30/07

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