Public space and tourist attraction

Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

National Gallery

Top choice in The West End

With more than 2300 European masterpieces in its collection, this is one of the world's great galleries, with seminal works from the 13th to the mid-20th century, including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Vincent van Gogh and Auguste Renoir. Many visitors flock to the eastern rooms on the main floor (1700–1930), where works by British artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and JMW Turner, and Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces by Van Gogh, Renoir and Claude Monet await.

The modern Sainsbury Wing on the gallery’s western side houses the oldest paintings, from 1200 to 1500, in rooms 51 to 66. Here you will find largely religious works commissioned for private devotion (such as the Wilton Diptych in the alcove of room 51), as well as more unusual masterpieces, such as Sandro Botticelli’s Venus & Mars (room 58) and Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (room 63). Leonardo da Vinci's stunning Virgin of the Rocks (room 66) is a stroke of genius.

Works from the High Renaissance (1500–1600) embellish rooms 2 to 14, where Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael, Correggio, El Greco and Bronzino hold court; Rubens, Rembrandt and Caravaggio grace rooms 15 to 32 (1600–1700). Notable are two self-portraits of Rembrandt (at age 34 and 63, in room 22) and the beautiful Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez in room 30.

Before you leave, don't miss the astonishing floor mosaics in the main vestibule.

The comprehensive audio guides (adult/family £5/10) are highly recommended, as are the free one-hour tours that leave from the Sainsbury Wing foyer at 2pm Monday to Friday. There are also special trails and activity sheets for children.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby The West End attractions

1. Trafalgar Square

0.04 MILES

Opened to the public in 1844, Trafalgar Sq is the true centre of London, where rallies and marches take place, tens of thousands of revellers usher in the…

2. National Portrait Gallery

0.06 MILES

What makes the National Portrait Gallery so compelling is its familiarity; in many cases, you will have heard of the subject (royals, scientists,…

3. St Martin-in-the-Fields

0.07 MILES

This parish church to the Royal Family is a delightful fusion of neoclassical and baroque styles. It was designed by architect James Gibbs, completed in…

4. Leicester Square

0.15 MILES

Surrounded by cinemas that host regular film premieres (if you're there at the right time, there will be crowds by the red carpet), Leicester Sq is a…

5. Benjamin Franklin House

0.15 MILES

This modest house southeast of Trafalgar Sq is where American statesman Benjamin Franklin lived from 1757 to 1775 as he tried to broker peace with Britain…

6. Admiralty Citadel


The ivy-covered concrete Admiralty Citadel is a heavily fortified, bomb-proof command and control fortress built for the Royal Navy in 1941 to prepare for…

7. National Police Memorial

0.21 MILES

In the northeast corner of St James's Park, at the junction of Horse Guards Rd and the Mall, stands this memorial, one column of marble and another of…

8. The Strand

0.22 MILES

In the late 12th century, nobles built houses of stone with gardens along the 'shore' (ie strand) of the Thames. The Strand linked Westminster, the seat…