Reasons to Visit the Natural History Museum in London, with Kids

The Natural History Museum is an oldie, but is it still a goodie? Mr Tot and Junior dragged us around London to find out.

Heading to the capital with my gaggle of children (ok, two, but I often feel vastly outnumbered) is expensive. London isn’t a cheap city so one of the first reasons to visit the Natural History Museum is, it’s free! One of the city’s best museums and most of it costs completely nada.

Meet Sophie, the world’s most complete Stegosaurus skeleton. Charmed.

It’s a classic. I was taken to the NHM as a kid by my mum, now it was my turn to take my tots. We’re talking multi-genrational memories here. As a kid I remember being awestruck by the gigantic diplodocus in the Hintze hall. I’d heard that he was gone, replaced by a whale, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I can reassure folk that the NHM is still totally dinosaurific. We were greeted by a Stegosaurus dinosaur. It’s only the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton found on earth, carefully exhumed from the dust of Wyoming in America. ‘Sophie’, as she’s called, is a thing of beauty, and she’s mildly intimidating.

Ascending into the bowels of the Natural History Museum. Very dramatic first impression.

From there, an escalator elevates visitors, both tot and adult, into the bowels of the burning earth. Talk about an impressive first impression.

At that point the focus turned to volcanoes. I wasn’t overly interested in volcanoes (my inner child wanted to find more dinosaurs) but my three year old son totally surprised me by getting really into it. Asking questions, reaching out to touch displays, telling me his random conclusions about things. The thing about the NHM is that it’s a place where your kids surprise you.

 

Mr Tot gets his volcano groove on.

It’s interactive. There are lots of buttons to press, handles to turn, but a grand example of this was a shop where the ground starts to go from under you and you experience what a low level earthquake feels like. Little details are quite curious, such as tiny gloves for rescue dogs, enabling them to search wreckage for human life without damaging their paws on broken glass. I found the experience quite upsetting, as I clutched onto my kids’ hands and watched how powerful and destructive nature can be. Be prepared to be moved, both physically and perhaps even emotionally.

Meet Hope, the relatively new arrival at Hintze Hall.

Nature is the star. As well as stuffed dodos and lost treasures of the past, the new headline act is Hope, the Blue Whale now dominating Hintze Hall. Mr Tot walked up and down all the stairs around the gothic hall, viewing Hope from every angle. It’s a strangely immersive experience. I still miss Dippy, but Mr Tot’s memories will now be of Hope the Whale. He’s the next generation.

It’s realistic. The animatronics rock. The T-Rex creation was so loud and terrifying that Mr Tot couldn’t take his eyes off of it. He’s not daft. He wanted a photo taken with the T-Rex but refused to turn his back on the roaring creature, so I only got a snap of the back of his head.

The slightly terrifying T-Rex animatronic. Raaaaaar!

It’s central. Easy to find, and close to other great museums, including the equally free V&A. The only negative thing I can think of is it’s busy. I mean, London busy. On a Saturday afternoon the queues are gigantic, snaking round and round the grounds of the museum. Avoid, avoid! Arrive at anti-social hours, i.e. opening time on a Wednesday morning, do anything to miss the queues. It’s vast. We did skip some areas and exhibits as there was too much to see. But that’s not a crime, the focus is enjoying yourself, not overdoing it.

There’s so much going on at the Natural History Museum. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on the website for the latest news. The Sleepovers for kids stood out to me, cooly named Dino-Snores! Dawnosaurus is a free event that lets children on the autistic spectrum enjoy the museum during quiet periods. The free Permanent Galleries include Human Evolution, Minerals and Vaults, and Cocoon. There are also special events or workshops you can sign up to: family events are often free or sometimes drop in. Lastly look out for Special Exhibits – many of which do incur a cost, but not all of them. Currently running are Wildlife Photographer of the Year, The Art of British Natural History (free), Venom, and Whales: Beneath the Surface (kids go free in February 2018).

So many dinosaurs, so little time, enjoy!

OUR STORY – We didn’t eat at the NHM but there are lots of options, click here to discover more. To reach London we caught the Caledonian Sleeper Train overnight from Aberdeen to London, arriving at 0747. After dropping our bags at Nanny London’s flat and enjoying brunch we caught the tube, disembarking at South Kensington. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend catching the tube with a buggy, certainly I’d wouldn’t want to do it alone. Once you arrive at the Natural History Museum it’s very accessible and easy to move around with kids.

For more child-friendly activities around London click here.

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30 Comments

  1. Reply

    Sonia

    January 25, 2018

    This is one my favourite places to take the children. There is so much to see and do of all ages 🙂

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 26, 2018

      If I lived locally I’d return a few times as we definitely didn’t see everything in one visit, just the highlights.

  2. Reply

    BattleMum

    January 25, 2018

    Has the Natural History Museum had a makeover? The reason I ask is my hubby and I visited about 10 years ago and weren’t impressed by it at all. But your pictures and descriptions make it sound much better.

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 26, 2018

      I suspect so. I was really impressed by the Dinosaurs Trail. I miss Dippy but the Blue Whale ‘Hope’ is impressive too. Considering it’s free I would have been happy JUST to see the dinosaurs, that was an outing for me in its own right. I’d include the dinosaur animatronics in that. I put a video of the T-Rex animatronic on my Instagram.
      The ‘earthquake’ area was also quite something.

  3. Reply

    Kira

    January 26, 2018

    I don’t think I have ever been here , but we are forever taking the girls to museums so would definitely put this one on our list

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 26, 2018

      Oh you have to visit. It’s iconic. Enjoy.

  4. Reply

    Kara

    January 26, 2018

    We visited last year and I have to admit I found some of it is very tired and dated. The kids love the dinosaur exhibition though and the earthquake room is fab

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 27, 2018

      We don’t have any dinosaur exhibits of this scale and quantity at home so I was delighted. The earthquake room, you’re right, is another stand out feature. And the volcano bit was a surprise hit for Mr Tot, which was unexpected. The toughest thing for me was how popular and busy it was!

  5. Reply

    MummyTravels

    January 26, 2018

    I never tire of visiting this museum – I would second turning up early or at a odd time though. My daughter was distinctly cross when they got rid of Dippy but even she is impressed by the whale. She still refuses to go up the escalator to the red zone thanks to ththe unnerving rumbles. Next time, she says, always next time…

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 27, 2018

      That’s so funny, poor wee thing, the escalator is quite daunting when you put it like that!

  6. Reply

    myrabevlife

    January 27, 2018

    So many times I have said I will visit the NHM and often forget when in London, I will have to visit soon for sure

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 27, 2018

      Well, it’s such an institution it will probably be around for a very very long time 🙂

  7. Reply

    What Mum Loves

    January 27, 2018

    I love this museum, it is so interactive and fun. I prefer it over the Science Museum, which sadly didn’t meet my expectations.

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 30, 2018

      I’ve still to visit the Science Museum so it’s interesting you say that. A relative of mine recommends it, but he is a chemist!

  8. Reply

    Steph Renovation Bay-Bee

    January 29, 2018

    We’ve never visited here before with the kids, it looks great and my son would love this

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      January 30, 2018

      My tots were interested in sections that weren’t my cup of tea, such as the insects, but the dinosaurs were the definitive hit.

  9. Reply

    countryheartdeb

    January 29, 2018

    We have never been but it looks amazing and definitely somewhere we would visit if travelling.

  10. Reply

    Trish @ Mum's Gone To

    January 30, 2018

    Happy memories of bringing my own son here when he was little. We loved the escalator and the dinosaurs and oh, everything else too but in small doses over the years. That’s the advantage of it being free – you can leave when you’ve had enough!
    #citytripping

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      February 1, 2018

      It also means you can return to see things you missed the first time round.

  11. Reply

    Baby Loves Travel

    January 30, 2018

    I really must take my little one here this summer – I must admit that I always get put off by the idea of all the people and head somewhere else instead! #citytripping

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      February 1, 2018

      Maybe go first thing on a Wednesday !

  12. Reply

    Sara

    January 31, 2018

    I think that this would be so magical to visit as a kid. The exhibits, the grand scale of everything, and the ability to explore and learn so much – I would have absolutely loved visiting here as a kid (and probably now, tbh, lol). #Citytripping

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      February 1, 2018

      Dippy is a definite memory of mine, in fact it’s all I remember 🙂

  13. Reply

    pigeonpairandme

    January 31, 2018

    It’s only been a couple of years since we visited the NHM, but it sounds as though a lot has changed. Not just Dippy! Mind you, it’s possible we never made it to the earthquake shop. he place is so vast, and worthy of several visits. Great post – really informative.

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      February 1, 2018

      We definitely didn’t see everything, the kids were too small to visit everything, but we felt we cherry picked the best bits. Your pair would like the earthquake I think, it’s over in a flash but interesting.

  14. Reply

    WanderMum

    January 31, 2018

    We haven’t been to the NHM for a while so looking forward to revisiting and seeing the whale! The queues are a bit of a nightmare. If going on the weekend, you do need to get there early but they usually go down fairly quickly. Thanks for linking #citytripping

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      February 1, 2018

      I can imagine if you live in London you could nip there every year or so for a wee update. I haven’t been for about 30 years!

      • Reply

        WanderMum

        February 2, 2018

        Absolutely! I won’t be leaving it that long!

  15. Reply

    Hilary

    February 1, 2018

    We LOVE this place, and have definitely found ourselves whiling away an entire day here! #citytripping

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      February 1, 2018

      We spent about three hours inside. You could easily spend longer but our tots are still quite wee, so this felt right to us.

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