Natural History Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on April 22, 2011

This is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington. There is a high concentration of museums in South Kensington, all well signposted from the Tube. This one is home to life, earth and science specimens. It is a purpose built Romanesque colossus - some say this is London's most handsome museum - I can see why - it is a really beautiful building.

The museum is open daily between 10:00 and 17:50. We arrived at 11:00 and found quite a long queue to get in. We stood in line for about 20 minutes, but when we got inside, although it was busy, there was plenty of space for everyone.

There is no admission charge. We bought a children's guidebook costing £5.00 at the entrance - I would highly recommend it. Also we bought a map for £1.00 - both go towards the museum upkeep.

The museum has been massively redeveloped over the last 10 years, but there are still areas that remain little changed since it opened in 1881. It celebrates the Victorians love of nature and collecting. It was originally designed as an offshoot of the British museum.

The cathedral-like entrace hall is truly magnificient. The towering diplodocus dinosaur skeleton, just ahead of the main entrance here is so impressive. It is actually hard to match any of the other exhibits with this initial sight.

There are 70 million plus specimens from across the natural world in the museum, including insects, fossils and rocks. There are even specimens here that were collected by Darwin!

The Dinosaur Gallery is one of the most popular exhibits in the museum and where we went first. At about 3pm there was a big queue to enter this area, so we were pleased we had done it first. There is a giant T-Rex, a horned Triceratops and a fossilised skin of an Edmontosaurus, amongst lots of other interesting things. Our son yanked us through to the left of the Central Hall to see the roaring and tail flicking animatronics T-Rex - the museum's star attraction. It was introduced in 2000.

The other memorable sight is the huge blue whale in the mammal gallery - this will impress even the most jaded children.

There are 2 hands-on galleries - Investigate and Earth Lab. In the Investigate Gallery, children aged 7-14 can handle plant, geological and animal specimens, put them under the microscope, search the computer database and use other scientific equipment. There is also a secluded garden where children can explore plants and animals in their natural habitat. You have to get a timed ticket to enter.

The museum offers Explorer backpacks for children. They have binoculars, an explorer's hat, drawing materials and activities. They are for 7 years and under. You have to pay a refundable deposit of £25 via credit card to get one, but they are free. They had none left when we arrived, but the children's guidebood we bought served the purpose for our 7 year old. I do think a backpack would be wonderful for younger children though.

It is a good idea, before you go to the museum if you have children, to visit the kids only section of its website as there are interactive games and videos to make children more excited about their visit.

There is a very nice cafe, but it was incredibly busy during our visit and was virtually impossible to get a table. There are lots of benches in the hallways where you can eat your own sandwiches - I would recommend this.

The Earth Gallery is in a new section of the museum and is sleek and modern. It has black walls lined with crystals, gems and precious rocks. We loved going up the escalator into a hollowed out globe with displays about earth's geology. Volcanoes, storms and earthquakes are all featured in the upper floors. The star attraction is the Restless Surface Gallery. Here they have a mock-up of the Kobe earthquake - you "experience" it in a supermarket area. It is weird and poignant, given recent events in Japan. There are lots of other hands-on things in this area for children too.

The nearest Tube stop for the museum is South Kensington.
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
London, England, SW7 5BD
+44 20 7942 5000

© LP 2000-2009