National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery information

London , United Kingdom
Street St Martin's Pl
Extras WC2
Getting there
tube Charing Cross, Leicester Sq
More information
Opening hours
10am-6pm Sat-Wed, to 9pm Thu & Fri
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Lonely Planet review

What makes the National Portrait Gallery, the only such museum in Europe, so compelling is its familiarity; in many cases you’ll have heard of the subject (royals, scientists, politicians, celebrities) or the artist (Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Sam Taylor-Wood).

The collection is organised chronologically (starting with the early Tudors on the 2nd floor), and then by theme. A highlight is the famous ‘Chandos portrait’ of William Shakespeare, the first artwork the gallery acquired (in 1856); believed to be the only one to have been painted during the playwright’s lifetime. Other highlights include the ‘Ditchley’ portrait of Queen Elizabeth I displaying her might by standing on a map of England, and a touching sketch of novelist Jane Austen by her sister.

The 1st-floor portraits illustrate the rise and fall of the British Empire through the Victorian era and the 20th century. Don’t miss the high-kitsch statue of Victoria and Albert in Anglo-Saxon dress in room 21. The ground floor is dedicated to modern figures, using a variety of media (sculpture, photography, video etc). Among the most popular are the iconic Blur portraits by Julian Opie; Sam Taylor-Wood’s David , a video-portrait of David Beckham asleep after football training; and Stuart Pearson Wright’s slightly distorted JK Rowling . The excellent audioguide (£3) highlights 200 portraits and allows you to hear the voices of some of the subjects. The Portrait restaurant has superb views towards Westminster and does wonderful food.