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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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