Taking Sonny as a tinier baby to art galleries in London was a big thing for me. Particularly because I wasn’t sure how he was going to behave, and had overriding, anxious concern that the gallery staff would be snooty, and tut and sigh all over us. I was worried the spaces were going to be tiny and what felt like our ginormous pram carrying everything bar the kitchen sink was going to knock things over, that Sonny would start uncontrollably crying, and basically that we’d be thrown out!
Well, I needn’t have worried, and I’m sharing this to advise you, that you don’t need to unduly feel anxious and worry either! At least, not for the galleries that I’m sharing in this article. Exhibitions change all the time of course, so that aspect I can’t update you on, but I am feeding back on how the staff, atmosphere and physical environment of the below places worked for us! Best of all, they are all FREE of course. If you want more of an insight into what exhibitions may work better for your baby/toddler, @mindonmymonet explores exhibitions in London galleries with her 3 year old son Milo, on a weekly basis. By following her, I decide what seems best for Sonny and I and where he’s at.
Things have definitely changed in regards to what I can choose as he’s got older of course, and despite any reviews, you’ll know your child best and what works for them, rather than someone else’s. As a toddler who now likes to walk/climb stairs, I am looking for galleries that ideally have a spot/cloakroom I can park the buggy: and to be honest, most, if not all, do. I am also accepting the fact that we will spend an insubordinate amount of time on the stairs, as it’s one of Sonny’s favourite pastimes! I think just working out where your child is at, and managing your own expectations around that is really helpful. You may find as your child develops into the next phase of their life, you have a duff visit that brings that home to you (We had a fraught visit recently where the physical environment was all wrong, so many stairs we couldn’t see the exhibition at all, too many people which made it feel stressful for me with some tantrums, and I made the huge faux pax of trying to keep the pram in one hand and a quickly moving, determined to explore Sonny in another. I should have checked it into the cloakroom, but by the time I realised that it was all falling apart and time to go! It certainly helped me get the memo now that an older Sonny needs different things!!). From those earlier days, definitely no longer needing to book a timed slot is super helpful to manage how bad our nights have been and Sonny’s slightly fluctuating nap time depending on that. If you have a child that doesn’t have strict nap routines, I hope that aspect helps you too!
So, here goes, 5 of our London favourite art galleries to take your baby/toddler/small one to!
- Pitzhanger (We saw the wonderful Julian Opie exhibition in October 2021), Ealing Broadway tube
The Pitzhanger is a Manor House but it has an exhibition space set up: so it’s a right treat with all sorts for you and the family to get involved in. We were greeted super warmly on arrival at the Manor- which for anyone but after what can be a trek and half to get there with a tiny person on public transport is SO lovely, right? The space for the exhibitions is 1 level, and it’s a small but decent enough size. There is good running space for a little one wanting to let off steam. The front doors are open, so could be a bit of a flight risk if you have a child that likes to run, though it goes directly onto their own pebbled walkway and garden area so still feels fairly “contained”. Afterwards visiting the Manor itself is included in your ticket, and there are lots of stairs, but nothing of value for a small child to potentially break, and some carefully thought of child-centered art pieces throughout to capture the minds of small ones (see photos below). The Manor also backs onto Walpole Park, with a nice children’s playground and 2 cafes, so plenty of lovely activities and places to relax, directly in the area. The only thing we aren’t sure of is the baby changing facilities: though Pitzhanger seems so set up for and inclusive of families and smaller children, I’d find it odd if they didn’t have these either in the Manor toilets directly and/or their nearby cafes.
Feeding space: I think you could totally find a space if you needed to, however, they have their cafes nearby and if good weather Walpole Park on the doorstep too.
Entrance: step free and all on one level. Stairs inside the manor if you access that: you are able to leave your buggy by reception.
2) Alison Jacques- Berners St, Oxford Street tube
We have seen a couple of exhibitions here, and I love that when we arrive we are always greeted by a lovely lady on their reception desk. It’s a small but friendly space: there is a larger room downstairs, a smaller room next to it which may/may not be able to take your pram, (but there is plenty of space to park the pram to one side without getting in anyone’s way), and on the 2 occasions we have been, it’s either been just us alone, or us and one other person.
There’s also an upstairs: though the stairs are slightly hidden if you have a child who like Sonny is stairs obsessed!
Feeding space: no benches to sit, but definite corners you could park yourself down and quietly feed. We did!
Entrance: has 2 wide, fairly deep steps but still easy to manage solo with a pram. I was able to bounce the pram up and down on entrance and exit independently.
3) Sadie Coles HQ, Carnaby St, Oxford Street tube (we admired the work of Multi Artists in: “What do you see, People Gazing At Me”, January 2022)
This upstairs space is totally HUGE, so it’s great for little ones letting off steam. The exhibit we personally went to, as per photos below, was a bit of a risk, as had many sculptures at little hands level. However, apart from trying to stroke the lady in the middle photos hair, we really didn’t have any problems which was also brilliant!
Feeding space: The upstairs is so so large, that if you needed to sit and fit your child, whilst there aren’t any benches, you could totally and easily do so.
Entrance: Is one level, and you can leave buggy downstairs: there is a big flight of stairs to carry yourself/child up if required.
4) Josh Lilley London, Oxford Street Tube (we saw Rachel McClean’s “That Not Me” in January 2022)
This lovely little gallery is just round the corner from Alison Jacques. It’s on street level, and has stairs leading down to another part. We were treated so warmly here, allowed to leave buggy to one side, and they were very good humoured about Sonny repeatedly trying to climb the stairs into their little office!
Feeding space: Not as easy to sit here away from the art as it’s a bit smaller. We were alone when we visited though (mid week)
Entrance: 1 tiny, easy step.
5) Simon Lee Gallery , (we saw Angela Bulloch’s “Rainbow Unicorn Rhombus”) Green Park Tube
Again, lots of things for little hands to potentially touch: however apart from the middle photo and the luminous box above, Sonny didn’t touch anything else which was a huge welcome surprise.
The staff sit at the back of the space, and were really nice when we saw them. When we went downstairs, we were able to leave the buggy easily beside them.
Feeding space: If you got cut short, you could find somewhere (you need to do what you need to do at the end of the day) but this one would also be a bit tricky to find personal space in. It’s super near Green Park though if the weather is good (and Green Park tube having an extra win as a step free access station).
Entrance: Step free
Hopefully this was really useful! The 4 Central London ones are within easy walking of each other which is also super helpful with planning and we enjoyed each of these galleries so much. Pitzhanger you are spoiled with toilets and cafes and a lovely park right on site, but with the others, you’d never be far from accessing necessary facilities in shops around you.
We’ve also recently been to a couple of bigger, busier, more commerical galleries and they didn’t work out quite so well for us (as mentioned in the first part), but I’m keen to try again and see how we get on!
Do you already take your little one to art galleries, and how is it for you? I love that what we have in London is mostly free (we paid only for the Pitzhanger exhibit of the above mentioned exhibits, which was totally worth it) and that as a “new mum” or a mum who’s kind of got the hang of it by now, you and your child can both get something very valuable from these visits.