on September 10, 2009
Natural History Museum is one of the largest museums of this type in the world, with over 70 million specimens collected in several areas: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Zoology. It's not just a collection but a place of research, especially on taxonomy and identification of species. The building itself is also an attraction, and the Great Hall with its diplodocus skeleton forms one of the iconic images of London attractions.*As soon as my daughter was big enough to say "dinosaur" I took here to the National History Museum during one of our day London trips and we spent about 2.5 hours wandering about the collections. It needs much more - I remembered it from my first visit in 1992, but we will be back.The building itself is magnificent and makes it worth a visit: even those not interested in living things come to have a look at the glorious facade and the impressive interiors, especially the Great Hall. It was built as a result of a 1864 a competition, won by Captain Francis Fowke and then taken over by Alfred Waterhouse, who designed the facades in the most magnificent neo-Romanesque style.Recently, the building has been beautifully cleaned to reveal the whole glory of the intricate multi-coloured facade where the sculptures depict all kinds of members of the animal kingdom rather than traditional monster faces of medieval gargoyles.But most people come here to see what's inside and afford only passing admiring glances to the building itself. I was delighted to find out that National History Museum (as well as Science museum) became completely free of charge some time between 1992 when I last visited and now. We climb the stairs and enter.Welcome to the beginnings of the science age.The Natural History Museum comprises Life Galleries, covering mostly animal life (a lot of it now extinct) and Earth Galleries, covering subjects like geology, volcanoes, minerals and the like. Please note that there is very, very little plant related material in Natural History Museum. If you want to see the plants you have to go to Kew Gardens!*Life Galleries*For a casual visitor Life Galleries are definitely the priority, and if you have only a little time in a busy London schedule (1 hour or less), you would be better to concentrate solely on these. Most of the exhibitions are located on the ground level of that amazing building, but some have raised walkways/ramps/gallery balconies to see from above. The material is divided according to the taxonomy of animal world but some highlights are dotted around the impressive main hall, whose centre is graced by the fantastic dinosaur skeleton, one that's now iconically associated with the Museum.The detailed dinosaur section is very, very good: informative, with plenty of text and interactive/electronic displays; lots of fossil exhibits and models, including robotic models. The absolute highlight must be a life-sized robotic model of a T-rex which moves and roars (randomly, so it's more scary). My 4 year old daughter was absolutely terrified even though I carried her (but she remembered it best of the whole museum too).The other good section is the large mammal one, with plenty of models and stuffed animals placed in one room so you can actually compare the size of the blue whale to other dolphins, giraffes or elephants. The gallery above that exhibit is devoted to sea mammals (mostly whales/dolphins) and is fascinating, with films, demonstrations, maps and models to make their physiology and life closer to us.There is plenty of stuffed animals in NHM, a lot of them bit scruffy (they display the ones in worse state keeping the better ones for research purposes). Recently they also started to display the specimens in jars - spooky looking lizards, turtles and other strange creatures preserved in alcohol in old fashioned glass containers. I found it bit horrible but my daughter was fascinated and loved it!I was slightly disappointed by the Primate section located on the first floor gallery which, though interesting (we loved trying to guess the sounds monkeys make to communicate), seemed bit sparse.Above the Great Hall rests one of the few plant-related exhibits, a cross section of a giant sequoia tree felled in 19th century after something like 1000 years of life. Truly impressive!Creepy Crawlies is a new, modern, interactive gallery devoted to arthropods, from insects to spiders, and most of it is better suited to older children/teenagers.Human Biology section is another highlight, with models of internal organ systems and interactive facilities that probably require a day of visiting on its own to take it all in.*Earth Galleries*We went round only some of the Earth Galleries and rather quickly: the entrance is very impressive, with escalator taking the visitors up to the sphere made of what looked like rusty tin plates, filled with spooky light.The galleries are interesting, though there is less to simply look at and more to take in in the way of text descriptions and explanations. I would say that the youngest age that would be able to enjoy it has to be at least 7-8 year olds, and it's probably better suited to adults and Secondary School age children.*Practicalities*The museum has the usual cafe(s), shop (not bad for a museum money spinner) as well as a cloakroom (very useful for day-trippers and in the winter). The charge for leaving a piece of luggage was 3GBP, which is by the way significantly lower than a charge at Victoria Station left luggage (where it cost 5.50).It's located in South Kensington and the easiest way to get there is to take a district or circle line to South Kensington, and from then on there are signs - it's about 5 minutes walk. It opens between 10 and 18, daily.
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