From legendary royals to pop culture icons and famous public figures; strolling the halls of the National Portrait Gallery is like taking a walk through British history. There are works dating from as early as the 13th century; Tudor portraits including Sir Thomas Cromwell, Richard III and Henry VIII, along with his six wives; and Victorian-era portraits of Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and the Brontë sisters. The modern era is well represented too, including royals like Diana Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge, actors like Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren, and instantly recognizable faces like The Beatles, Richard Branson and J.K.Rowling.
Opening its doors in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was the first of its kind in the world and it’s now home to the world’s biggest portrait collection, featuring over 11,000 works. Notable highlights include the 'Chandos' portrait, alleged to portray William Shakespeare; a sketch of novelist Jane Austen by her sister and the much talked about ‘Ditchley’ portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. In the modern gallery, must-sees include Julian Opie’s celebrated Blur portraits, Sam Taylor-Wood’s video portrait of David Beckham and Marlene Dumas’s painting of Amy Winehouse, while the most bizarre is Mark Quinn’s ‘Self’, a frozen sculpture of his head made with his own blood.
The National Portrait Gallery is located on St Martin’s Place, just north of Trafalgar Square and is open daily from 10am to 6pm, with late-night opening until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays. Admission is free, except for some temporary exhibitions, and a rooftop restaurant and café can also be found on-site.