Now that museums and galleries have mostly reopened, temporary exhibitions are also back. We’ve rounded up some of the more family-friendly shows (including those for older children and teens). Note that almost all require you to prebook, even if they’re free.
The Havering Hoard at Museum of London Docklands (teens)
It’s only two years since London’s largest bronze-age hoard was uncovered in Rainham, and here it is already in a Museum of London exhibition. This free show presents the 453 objects -- “axe heads, spearheads, fragments of swords, daggers and knives, alongside some other unusual objects rarely found in the UK” -- from almost 3,000 years ago.
Museum of London Docklands, Canary Wharf, free (but prebook), until 18 April 2021.
Frieze Sculpture Trail in Regent’s Park (all ages)
Every autumn, the south-east corner of Regent’s Park is filled with thought-provoking sculptures by famous artists (example shown in top image). The sculpture trail ties in with the annual Frieze Art Fair. The fair is mostly an online event this year, but the sculptures will still make an appearance. We’ve road-tested this with preschoolers, and it always goes down a treat (plus, the playground’s adjacent).
Regent’s Park, London, free (no booking), 5-18 October 2021.
Arctic: Culture and Climate at the British Museum (7+)
We might think of the Arctic as a deserted, inhospitable place, yet it has been home to a variety of cultures for some 30,000 years. The British Museum’s new exhibition promises to lift the lid on this poorly understood region, as well as revealing how climate change imperils the people and wildlife who currently live in the Arctic. Objects range “from 28,000-year-old mammoth ivory jewellery to modern refitted snow mobiles”.
British Museum, London, £18 for adults but children go free, 22 October 2020 to 21 February 2021
Artemisia at The National Gallery (teens)
Artemisia Gentileschi is probably the most famous female artist of the 17th century, yet she’s never had a major exhibition in the UK before. The National Gallery’s blockbuster will see “her best-known paintings including two versions of her iconic and viscerally violent ‘Judith beheading Holofernes’; as well as her self portraits, heroines from history and the Bible, and recently discovered personal letters, seen in the UK for the first time.”
National Gallery, London, £20, 3 October 2020 to 24 January 2021.
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (teens)
Nothing stops the Royal Academy’s world-famous Summer exhibition… even if it can’t happen over summer (“Summer is a state of mind, not a time of year,” reckons the RA). The usually bustling expo will this year be a quieter, tightly controlled event, but the quality of art on show should be just as good as ever. Now in its 252nd consecutive year (you can see why they didn’t want to cancel!), the exhibition is a ‘joyous fair’ of both famous and emerging artists.
Royal Academy, London, £20-22, 6 October 2020 to 3 January 2021.
Bruce Nauman at Tate Modern (teens)
As Tate Modern proved with last year’s Olafur Eliasson exhibition, contemporary art can be popular with families. Bruce Nauman’s work may not be for younger children, but “a strong emphasis on sound and moving image, as well as poetic sculptures and neon pieces”, should appeal to teens and adults alike.
Tate Modern, London, £13, 7 October 2020 to 21 February 2021.
Masterpieces From Buckingham Palace (teens)
The Queen’s matchless art collection is having a break from the walls of Buckingham Palace, while the gallery there gets a makeover. A chance, then, to see some of the finest paintings from the collection on display next door at the Queen’s Gallery. The exhibition includes works from Titian, Guercino, Guido Reni, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens, Jan Steen, Claude and Canaletto.
The Queen’s Gallery, London, £16/£8, 4 December 2020 to 31 January 2022.
LEGO Brick City at Leicester Museum and Gallery
Outside London, the pick of the family exhibitions has to go to Leicester Museum, which is home to a show of Lego architecture. Lego artist Warren Elsmore and his team have constructed replicas of famous buildings from around the world, including Rome’s Colosseum and St Pancras station.
Leicester Museum and Gallery, free (but prebook), until 22 November 2020.
Mayflower 400 at The Box Gallery, Plymouth
This year marks the 400th anniversary of The Mayflower’s voyage across the Atlantic with the Pilgrim Fathers. This exhibition in Plymouth brings together objects related to that world-changing expedition, and also launches Plymouth’s brand new cultural venue, The Box.
The Box, Plymouth, free (but prebook), 29 September 2020 to 18 September 2021.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.