V&A Dundee is the first V&A space outside London. Often new projects head to cities such as Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow or Edinburgh. To reach Dundee was a triumph for the city and the surrounding area. V&A Dundee is visually breathtaking, it’s generated a buzz in terms of architecture, art and design, but there are a few tips it’s handy to know when planning a family day out.
I’m leading with cost because, first off, V&A Dundee is free, which is always a bonus. Temporary exhibits, of which there are two every year, cost an entry fee (more details below) but the rest is totally free.
V&A Dundee is just a few metres from Dundee train station, so it’s pretty easy to hop on a train with the kids (good luck and bon voyage!). Even on a rainy day, there isn’t far to walk.
In terms of driving, there’s no parking, which surprised me for a such a vast building, but don’t let this put you off. Dundee isn’t your typical city, there’s a LOT of public parking and we secured a space for £4.30 for three hours. Tip, have your loose change ready for parking.
I think the architecture is the main draw of the V&A. It’s a stunning building, designed by architect Kengo Kuma. It sits next to the water like a beautiful vessel docked elegantly at the quayside. Museums and galleries are often foul rather than fair weather exploits, but try to choose a dry day when you can walk around and appreciate this building both internally and externally. It deserves your attention. The kids were happy pootling near the water features and gawping into the river. It is a breathtaking build.
Inside, the atrium/lobby is equally sublime to look at. On the ground floor is a ticket desk, information point, informal café and gift shop. A lift provides access for buggies and the less mobile.
The Scottish Design Gallery features roughly 300 pieces of Scottish design, everything from a Christopher Kane gown, to spoons, sportswear and wellies. A lot of pieces are exhibited in display boxes with relevant information cards, which didn’t engage my kids for particularly long. Their favourite section was constructing bridges, Scots have a pretty good track record when it comes to bridges (with the notable exception of the initial Tay Bridge), and this task occupied the children for some time. Older primary school and secondary school children would gain a lot more from the Scottish Design Gallery, and relate to many more of the pieces.
Within this space is the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Oak Room, which is a beautiful creation. Designed for one of Miss Cranston’s legendary Glasgow tea rooms it’s an original and rare CRM design that’s been restored and brought back into the public eye. After the loss of the Glasgow School of Art and its library, finding another precious slice of CRM heritage is hugely appreciated.
I liked what I saw, but I was surprised that such a vast, extensive building didn’t have more in it. Don’t compare it to the V&A in London where you can get lost for days. In terms of free exhibits it’s a much smaller enterprise. The plus side is that it suits children’s shorter attention spans.
When we visited there was an area full of jenga bricks for fun building exploits. Many of the builds were engrossing adults who were constructing towers of 4, 6 or 9 feet tall. We avoided it as my four year old tot could quite possibly knock over at least three passionately built towers in one exuberant dash. We’d be the talk of Dundee. Overall this area would be a cool space to chill out and play for most age groups.
I absolutely loved the balcony with sweeping views out over the Tay towards the Tay Bridge. Mr Tot, aged 5, gawped out over the water too. Do not miss this.
Touring Exhibition Galleries
Two exhibitions will be held each year, and we arrived for the preview of ‘Videogames: Design, Play, Disrupt’, which opens on Saturday 20 April, and runs until 8 September 2019. Dundee’s history of video game design is renowned, so it’s a fitting topic for the city.
The concept of the exhibit is to explore the creative process behind these playful, radical and provocative games through original design, concept art and prototypes. From delicate character sketches to narrate structure you can see the work behind the games. My tots gravitated towards the more interactive aspects of the exhibit, from little handheld games to a room full of arcade games. They also appreciated any games onscreen, and the staff were excellent at highlighting any material that parents may wish to avoid, such as battle scenes or scary monsters.
If you have issues with violence or gun culture in video games, or concerns about the portrayal of both men and women onscreen then you’re not alone. An entire room of the exhibit is dedicated to these conversations – covering gaming in relation to racism, politics, sexism, gender, sexual representation (or the lack of it). Yes, it’s ‘just a game’ but if your kids spend hours staring at the screen then it’s food for thought.
A large viewing room, with huge, comfy bean bags was a hit with my wee ones. Here we watched short films about gaming culture. The one that blew me away summed up gaming as a spectator sport, consumed in the way folk might watch a big football match. In 2017 over 60 million people logged on to watch a play off in Beijing between two global teams. This took place in a packed stadium, featuring chanting crowds, fireworks, music and lighting – it looked bigger than a Beyoncé tour. I felt I was introduced to a whole new world, isn’t that the goal of a good exhibition?
The final room, with the arcade games, is the natural draw for children and adults alike. Stools are provided for wee ones to reach the controls – very thoughtful. Play different games, of varying complexity, for as long as you wish.
In terms of prices for the Touring Exhibitions, adults currently cost £11, children aged 5-12 are £7, teens aged 13-18 are £9.00 and under 5s are free. There are other concessions available, and members also go free.
On the ground floor, in the impressive lobby is The Living Room Café. Ideal for light bites and informal snacks.
On the first floor is a Picnic Room. I love this idea as visitors are free to bring their own food if they wish. [This room can be closed to the public to accommodate school trips, so check its availablity before you travel.]
On the second floor is Tatha Bar & Kitchen. With fantastic views out over the Tay, it offers dishes such as Pulled Pork French Toast, Devilled Mushrooms, Moroccan Spiced Duck Leg or good old Fish and Chips. One tip – book ahead! I wish we’d known as its dishes sounded so good, and it offers a children’s menu. We turned up at 12.15pm to be informed the next table would be free at 2.15pm.
Luckily the V&A is wonderfully central. My pal recommended the small but lovely Vegan cafe, Marwick’s, nearby. And we also found an old school bakery called Fisher and Donaldson that does a fine line in pies, stovies, cakes, pastries and chocolates. With a reasonably large seating area and relatively low prices we were all happy. The kids left decapitating Gingerbread Men.
The V&A is very impressive on this front, offering…
Drinking bowls for Assistance Dogs.
Toilets – Accessible toilets are available on all floors and there is a Changing Places toilet on Level 1.
Lifts – Lifts are available to all floors and there is wheelchair access to all spaces.
Wheelchairs – A limited number of wheelchairs are available for loan free of charge by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org in advance. Small mobility scooters are welcome inside the museum.
Seating – There is a range of seating provided around the museum and the grounds. We also have portable stools available to borrow for use in the gallery spaces.
Induction loops – Induction loops are available at all service points in the museum, as well as throughout the learning suites.
Disabled Parking – Disabled person badge holders may park free of charge and without time limit in any Dundee City Council car park or on-street parking bay including disabled parking bays are outside the museum.
Opening Hours – 10:00 – 17:00 daily (Closed on 25 and 26 December)
We drove from Aberdeen to Dundee – taking just over an hour. The city is also supported by frequent trains and a small airport connecting it with destinations such as London.