National Gallery of Scotland Sensory Bag Activity

{Edinburgh} Visiting the Scottish National Gallery with Kids

Happy Museum Monday! Last week, we went to check out the new Scottish Art galleries at the National Gallery of Scotland here in Edinburgh. If you’ve never visited the National before, it is home to world-class art from 1300 to 1945, with four different levels to explore.

National Gallery of Scotland

The Main Entrance is at Level 1 via Princes Street Gardens. Here you will find the Gallery Shop, Scottish Café & Restaurant, Hawthornden Lecture Theatre, and Clore Learning Space. The Main Entrance Gallery currently features the temporary ‘Your Art World’ exhibition, with art by 3-18 year olds from across Scotland. It includes an interactive zone where visitors can get creative themselves, and will be on view until Spring 2024.

National Gallery of Scotland Your Art World

Level 2 houses the new Scottish Art galleries, which feature the very best of Scottish art from 1800 to 1945, including pioneering artists such as William McTaggart, Anne Redpath, Phoebe Anna Traquair, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Boys. The foyer to the galleries also offers spectacular views of Princes Street Gardens, though it was pouring with rain on the day we visited.

National Gallery of Scotland  Scottish Art

Levels 3 and 4 are home to international art, including renowned artists such as Vermeer, Titian, Rembrandt, Velázquez and the Impressionists. We visited the galleries on Level 3 earlier this year, and had great fun seeing how many different animals we could find in the paintings. You can also enter the National on Level 3 via the Mound Entrance.

National Gallery of Scotland

But back to our visit last week and the new Scottish Art galleries. Before we entered the galleries, we checked out the art trolley in the foyer. Here you can find drawing boards, paper and pencils, sketch books, view finders, ear defenders, seating cushions, story books and sensory bags – all designed to help little visitors make the most of the galleries. You can pick and choose what you need or want to take round with you.

We opted for a sensory bag, a view finder and a seating cushion, which comes with a handy loop to carry it by. We had a quick look inside the sensory bag first, so that we knew what to expect. There was a set of eight cards kept together on a ring, each card depicting one of the items from the bag on one side, and a close-up of one of the paintings in the galleries on the other side. The idea was to find the paintings using the close-ups as clues, then pick the corresponding item from the bag, e.g. a rain stick to go with a painting of a water fall to recreate the sound of the rushing water.

National Gallery of Scotland Sensory Bag

My 8 year old had so much fun with this (and even my 12 year old wanted in on some of the fun). Using close-ups for the cards, rather than pictures of the whole paintings, meant that he had to look closely at the paintings as we went round, so he couldn’t just rush past them. A bit like a scavenger hunt. For example one card had a close-up of a rainbow, but we found three paintings with rainbows – which was the right one?!

Eight cards also seemed a good number, not too few to make it go by too quickly, and not too many to draw it out and risk losing interest. The only slightly frustrating thing was that the cards were not in the order they appeared in the galleries, so there was a lot of flipping back and forth between them to try and keep an overview of which ones we had already found and which ones we still needed to go. But this was a minor gripe, and we found them all in the end – and used all the items in the sensory bag! We used the view finder a couple of times too, to zone in on details in the paintings.

National Gallery of Scotland Sensory Bag Activity

There were also two fun little interactive spots in the galleries, with an invitation to ‘please touch’. The first had different kinds of art surfaces that you could flip over to look at touch from different sides, e.g. the front and back of a piece of embroidery, or a smooth and a rough piece of bronze.

National Gallery of Scotland Please Touch Materials

The other touch point was about painting, where you could feel the texture of paint brushes and dried paint on a palette.

National Gallery of Scotland Please Touch Paint Brush

As well as the sensory bag, we had also picked up one of the ‘Art Chat’ family trails (for age 6+) on our way in. There’s also an ‘Art Stomp’ family trail for under 5s, and you can download both trails as well from the National Gallery website. We had a quick look at the trail, but at this point my son’s attention span was starting to go, so I think we will be back to do the trail another day. And to check out the Family Fridays, which take place in the Clore Learning Space on Fridays during term time!

National Gallery of Scotland Art Chat Family Trail
National Gallery of Scotland Art Chat Family Trail

Finally, we could not leave the galleries without one of our favourite games that we play in any art gallery we visit – finding the painting with the most impressive (or silliest) moustache! Here is both the winner from this visit to the new Scottish Art galleries, and the winner from our previous visit to the upper galleries earlier in the year.

On our way out, we dropped off the sensory bag and seating cushion at the art trolley again, and my youngest read one of the books from the trolley while we waited for my parents – who had been visiting with us – to catch us up.

National Gallery of Scotland story book

Overall, we really enjoyed our family visit to the new Scottish galleries. There’s plenty to see and do to keep children engaged. My advice would be not to try to do too much at once, it can get a bit overwhelming for little ones (especially on a rainy day when everyone gravitates indoors, and also because the galleries are new there is of course a lot of interest in them right now). But the great thing about it is that it’s free to visit, so you can do the sensory bag one time, the trail another time, and maybe some sketching the next time after that!

How to get there

Address: The National, The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL

The National can be found just off Princes Street in Edinburgh’s city centre. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from Waverley Station. If you’re coming by train, take the Waverley Bridge exit and walk the short distance through East Princes Street Gardens. If you are coming by bus, there are at least ten different bus routes that stop by the National Gallery either on the Mound or on Princes Street. The nearest Tram stop is also just across the road from the National Gallery, opposite West Princes Street Gardens.

Visitor Information

Opening hours: Open daily, 10am–5pm. Last admission is 4.45pm except where noted.

Cost: Free admission for general visits to the permanent galleries (charges can apply for special/ temporary exhibitions)

Website: Plan Your Visit | Floor Plan | Visitor Guidelines

Good to know: Lockers are provided for you to leave your personal belongings. You may bring small backpacks (55cm x 40cm x 20cm) into the galleries. Bags above this size are not permitted.

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.