How do you get your kids into art? London is a wonderful place to introduce your children to a wide range of art and artists – there are so many fantastic art galleries and museums in the UK capital, many of which are free. Children are more likely to engage with what they’re seeing if they can take part in some way and in all the places on my list, children are actively encouraged to get involved by doing art workshops, going on a family trail or listening to stories about the art.
Most of the workshops are free but do check before you go as they’re often very popular and you may need to book in advance or arrive an hour early to be sure of a space.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery is home to one of the greatest collections of paintings in the world and there are lots of activities aimed at helping families to make the most of their visit from children’s audio tours and family trails to Magic Carpet storytelling for the under 5s and hands-on art workshops for school-age children every Sunday.
On Wednesdays, there are messy play sessions for the under 5s. During school holidays, children of all ages can take part in some wonderful drop-in workshops inspired by paintings and current exhibitions. Workshops on offer this half term include making a sculpture of a horse and becoming an architect’s apprentice and building a model of the National Gallery.
The National Gallery is open daily from 10am until 6pm, until 9pm on Fridays. Entrance is free. Most of the workshops are free but it is best to arrive an hour early to book your space. Some workshops have a charge and need to be booked in advance.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The world’s greatest museum of art and design has plenty to fascinate everyone in the family and there are lots of hands-on exhibits from trying on theatre costumes to building a replica of the Crystal Palace.
It’s a great idea to pick up one of the free backpacks for kids when you arrive – you can choose from topics like Ancient China, architecture, and magic glasses – which are filled with hands-on activities and objects to help children explore the collections.
On Saturdays and school holidays there are performances of plays, music, puppets and stories. There are also Family Art Fun Trails including one designed by the author, Jacqueline Wilson, and Sunday drop-in design workshops on subjects like crazy costumes and dragon puppets.
During school holidays, there’s even more going on, with drop-in activities in the Imagination Station, free activities in the digital studio and workshops when families work together with an artist to create a piece of art.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is open daily from 10am until 5.45pm, until 10pm on Fridays. Admission is free.
The vast Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has always been a great space to let children explore the art installations. The Bankside Power Station site has been a must-see for anyone interested in modern and contemporary art since it opened in 2000 and this June sees the opening of several new galleries.
There are loads of great ways to get your kids involved in art here. The Families’ Welcome Room is open every weekend and Fridays during school holidays. You’ll find family activity maps and a fantastic time travel activity which you can use to find artwork the same age as your children. Kids can use digital sketch pads to create their own masterpieces in the Bloomberg Connect Drawing Bar and make their own 3D sculptures at Liminal.
There are also free monthly drop-in workshops when children can work alongside an artist to create a joint work of art.
Tate Modern is open daily from 10am until 6pm, and until 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Entrance is free.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Just imagine having a sleep-over next to European masterpieces like Rembrandt, Canaletto and Gainsborough! Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London had its first sleep-over for kids last October and is planning more. There are also family trails, weekend and after-school workshops and interactive storytelling sessions once a month.
The monthly family Sundays offer free art activities from creating animations to self portraits. There are also Mini Masterpieces sessions for babies from 6 to 18 months with sensory and interactive activities (Tickets cost £12 per adult and child).
Dulwich Picture Gallery is open every day except Monday from 10am until 5pm. Adults, £5; children free.
Royal Academy of Arts
The stunning setting of Burlington House on Piccadilly plays host to some of the best art exhibitions in London from last year’s blockbuster Ai Weiwei to this spring’s exhibition on the gardens of artists like Monet and Matisse. Art Detective Trails for kids are available free for all exhibitions and there are regular free drop-in workshops for children – upcoming themes include screen printing and making creatures out of clay.
You’ll have to book well in advance for the creative family workshops which are inspired by current exhibitions (Adults, £15; children, £5). During the popular Summer Exhibition there are Family Gallery Tours every Sunday afternoon in July.
The Royal Academy of Arts is open daily from 10am until 6pm, until 10pm on Fridays. Tickets for ‘Painting the Modern Garden’ cost from £16 for adults, free for under 16s.
National Portrait Gallery
In the National Portrait Gallery you’ll find portraits of people from pop stars to kings. My children love the Tudor Gallery which is filled with paintings of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. At weekends and school holidays you can pick up a free sketch book at the Family Activity Base and fill it with your own drawings while you look around the gallery. There are also some really good audioguides for children with different themes depending on what they’re most interested in looking at.
The gallery has just launched monthly drop-in art sessions for children on Sundays, with creative activities for children of all ages from photography and sound to animation.
There are also free family trails and workshops in school holidays. This February half term, children can take part in activities like designing accessories, making paper costumes and creating a fashion magazine to tie in with the current Vogue exhibition.
The National Portrait Gallery is open daily from 10am until 6pm, until 9pm on Thursday and Friday nights. Entrance is free.
For over a century, the Whitechapel Gallery has been one of the best places to see contemporary art, showcasing artists like Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Sarah Lucas. It’s particularly welcome to families too – it holds regular ‘Crib Notes’ sessions for parents with babies and toddlers, opening its doors an hour before the gallery is usually open so that parents can walk around the exhibition with a curator in relative peace.
There are free activity trails and drop-in Family Days, filled with fun, creative activities. Upcoming workshops include digital art and technology. Every summer, a large section of the galleries are transformed into a space for children to have fun exploring and interacting with art.
The Whitechapel Gallery is open from 11am until 6pm every day except Monday. It opens until 9pm on Wednesdays. Entrance is free. Tickets for the Crib Notes sessions cost £8.50 including refreshments and need to be booked in advance.
On Family Days at this museum by Tower Bridge, the whole place is taken over with free design activities for children. There are also monthly drop-in workshops focusing on design and making activities for children aged from 5 to 11. Upcoming topics include screen printing and poster design.
The whole family can try the monthly ‘Sunday Sketch’ when adults and children can take part in a range of drawing activities with an expert illustrator. It could be anything from drawing some of the objects in the exhibition or architectural drawings. Family Trails are available to help children explore the museum and learn more about design.
The Design Museum is open daily from 10am until 5.45pm. Adults, £13.65; children, £6.85; under 6s, free.
This museum in Bloomsbury is the place to come if your kids are into comics as its galleries are full of British cartoons from the 18th century to the present day including children’s classics like Dan Dare and Dennis the Menace.
The museum offers workshops for children during the school holidays. Workshops on clay animation, mini-comics and superheroes vs supervillains are all on offer this coming half term. They’re very popular so book early online. Tickets cost from £10 to £20.
The Cartoon Museum is open daily until 5.30pm; from 10.30am, Mondays to Saturdays; from 12pm on Sundays. Adults, £7; under 18s, free.
The Wallace Collection
In this historic townhouse you’ll find 18th-century French paintings, furniture and porcelain alongside Old Master paintings and world-class armoury. Children can try on armour in the Conservation Gallery or go on a ‘Warrior King’ family trail.
There are monthly drop-in art workshops with artists and illustrators. Holiday workshops might involve making pop-out furniture, Hama bead portraits or giant 3D snakes. Some are drop-in free activities and for others you’ll need to book a ticket in advance.
The Wallace Collection is open daily from 10am until 5pm. Admission is free.