As stunningly impressive from the outside as it is within, the Natural History Museum is – and has been for all the years since it opened way back in the Victorian age – one of London’s premier attractions for people of all ages; but especially families. But just what’s so great about it? Why is it truly one of the venues in the UK capital no visitor should miss?
A magnificent and highly appealing example of neo-gothic Victorian architecture, the museums’s housed in a building dating way back to 1881 and can be found in the area of Kensington known colloquially as ‘Albertopolis’, thanks to it featuring several other major public visitor attractions, such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).
On its own though, the Natural History Museum is quite simply one of the world’s pre-eminent sources for specimens of flora and fauna both to be found out in the wild today and extinct – its collection numbers a staggering 80 million items, including a collection once compiled by the legendary Charles Darwin – and it’s renowned across the planet as a centre of research for taxonomy, identification and conservation. All that and, as you may have gathered by now, it makes a fantastic day out!
Granted, with so many things to see and do at such a terrific venue, it actually isn’t easy to pack them all into a – what? – two-hour visit during your time in London. In fact, it’s impossible. So what are the main highlights time-strapped tourists (some of whom may be travelling across town from a hotel like Montcalm London City Suites) to focus on? Well, first off, it’s as well to be aware – and to help your orientation around the huge building – that the venue’s made up of four different coloured zones (orange contains the ‘Darwin Centre’; blue is for dinosaurs, mammals and human biology; green for primates, birds, insects, minerals and general ecology; red for everything else to do with the planet and the ‘Earth Hall’).
But, let’s face it, the museum is most famous for its dinosaur skeleton exhibits and, built around these, its marvellously interactive dinosaur-related activity area – it’s absolutely worth the visit for this alone, whether you’ve made your base the London City Suites hotel or somewhere nearer. Moreover, lest we forget, the entrance hall was also once home to the notorious plaster-based diplodocus skeleton (‘Dippy’), which is now touring around the country; it’s been replaced, however, by an extraordinary 25-metre-long, 4.5-tonne real skeleton of a blue whale. So visitors have hardly been short-changed on that score!
Also worthy of note is the aforementioned Darwin Centre. A relatively new addition to the museum, it’s not only an area where you’ll find in breath-taking giant cocoon featuring thousands of bottled specimens of all manner of life from around the globe, but also – in the spirit of the great naturalist himself – where in-house experts carry out research on the natural world. Plus, of course, there’s the Earth Hall, the main atrium of which houses an enormous Earth-like structure that hangs from the ceiling and through which it’s possible to travel via escalator. Indeed, the whole area is full of exactly this kind of informative interactivity, vibrancy, colour and dynamism. It’s a feast for the eyes and, well, all the senses – for both young and old alike.
Finally, it ought to be noted that, yes, the museum has the obligatory gift shop and, in fact (given it doesn’t do anything by halves), fittingly there are three of them, one of which is a ‘Dino’ store dedicated, you guessed it, to our prehistoric ancestors; another is ecologically-themed and comprises exquisite semi-precious stones. And, last but not least, let’s not forget that, should you be visiting London around the end of the year, then you must make use of the ice rink installed for skating right outside the venue for Christmas and New Year; the atmosphere is absolutely fabulous – as are the refreshments!
Address: Cromwell Road SW7 5BD
Open: 10am-5.50pm Monday-Sunday
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington