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National Portrait Gallery

Last updated: 06 May, 2024

Founded in 1856 as a visual hall of fame for the country’s great and good, today the National Portrait Gallery is still a vital part of British culture. The form may be traditional but the collection of 175,000 portraits range from stiff-upper-lipped royals and Victorian politicians to modern-day celebrities and Olympic heroes.

If you’re in London in summer, look out for the gallery’s prestigious BP Portrait Award; otherwise, the rotating exhibitions of portrait photography cover lively themes such as rock’n’roll, fashion and dance.

Don’t miss

What makes the NPG unique is that it encompasses portraits of everyone from Elizabeth I to Barack Obama. Highlights include the 16th-century portrait of Anne Boleyn (by an unknown artist), Antony van Dyk’s self-portrait (17th century) and Map of Days by Grayson Perry, which depicts the artist’s inner psyche, rather than external appearance.


Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The nearest Underground station is Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern lines).

Audio guides offer commentary on over 300 portraits on display, grouped into five themed tours. There are also films from the gallery’s curators and exclusive interviews with artists and sitters. Various apps (for iPhone and Android) are available via the gallery’s website, including an excellent examination of Lucian Freud’s work.

For food & drink, head to the rooftop Portrait Restaurant, with modern British cuisine from breakfast to dinner and views of Nelson and Big Ben. Afternoon tea is served too.

When to do it

The gallery is open all year round, seven days a week.