I hate dragging my heels round museums.
Staring vacantly at inanimate artifacts, reading huge blocks of text, returning home with blisters from being on my feet all day.
So, it’s no wonder, every time I’ve visited the Natural History Museum in London, I’ve never felt excited about it.
Over the last six months or so, Noah’s developed an appetite for dinos and geology – everywhere we go, he picks up a new rock to “add to his collection”. Thanks to a TV cartoon that he watches incessantly, Dinosaur Train, he had also discovered that there is such a thing as the ‘Natural History Museum’ – a place he had decided he had to go to so he could “meet a paleontologist”.
We were visiting London for the weekend and needed an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon, so while he probably wouldn’t meet a paleontologist, I’d figured he would probably get quite a lot out of visiting the free Natural History Museum.
Last time I visited, I queued for quite some time. A lady at Doncaster railway station suggested we check out the side entrance on Exhibition Road. To our surprise, we walked straight in, and whilst we weren’t greeted with the extravagance of the main entrance’ whale skeleton, the side entrance’ humongous model of a fiery earth (entrance to the museum’s Volcanoes and Earthquakes section) certainly got our attention. Immediately, Noah was making a bee line for the escalator that intercepts the model, although his attention was interrupted by the glistening stones and minerals on display in the the foyer.
After a conversation with one of the helpful museum staff, we found that the dinosaur gallery was on the ground floor so we headed there first. I had realised, as the museum is so big and spread out, I had never actually visited the dinosaur wing. I think I also had a preconception that it would be a quiet, drab gallery designed more for history loving intellectuals than for families. How wrong I was!
We were both captivated by the life-size animatronic T-Rex that looked like one of the creatures from Jurassic Park and gave us a little sense of what it might be like to come face to face with a predatory dinosaur.
A one-way system took us through a parade of different dinosaur related exhibits that investigated subject matters such as how dinosaurs’ bodies worked and what could have possibly brought them to extinction. The simple text accompanying the exhibits allowed me to easily explain them and answer Noah’s questions (on a subject matter I know very little about). To my astonishment, Noah pointed to pictures of models of dinosaurs that I’d never seen before and told me their almost unpronounceable names. I asked him how on earth he knew what they were and his answer was “Easy! Dinosaur Train!”
Following a trip to the dinosaur gallery’s fantastic shop, I asked Noah if he’d like to look at the mammals or the human body (both galleries are close by). He chose the Human Body gallery, a deceptively large, interactive area where kids and adults firstly learn about how babies are born and then about a bundle of other aspects of the human body. We really liked how many activities there were to do in this gallery that made learning really fun.
After we explored this gallery, Noah decided it was time to go back to the fiery earth model we had seen at the entrance; he was desperate to investigate. Usually, I would not have been fussed about riding an escalator, but looking at things from Noah’s point of view helps me see the wonder of things I’ve become complacent about. At the top, we discovered the Volcanoes and Earthquakes zone. Thanks to our trip last year to Iceland, this was of particular interest to us. There were so many exhibits that helped explain why volcanoes and earthquakes happen and Noah and I had lots to talk about, however, my favourite part (not so much Noah’s) was the earthquake simulator where you can experience how the ground moving in a supermarket would feel.
By this point, we had spent 3-4 hours in the museum. Noah decided he wanted to go see our hotel. It was a lovely afternoon and definitely my best experience of the museum, thanks to Noah and his wonderful questions and insights into the things we saw. My perception of the Natural History Museum was unquestionably challenged by letting Noah take the reigns. I thoroughly recommend visiting with children, but follow these tips for an easier trip (*we followed some of these, some of these we learned during our trip).
- Plan ahead. I absolutely think it would be impossible to see everything in the museum in one day so have a look at their website before you go and pick out which sections you would like to look at. The map of the museum is conveniently broken into four colour coded sections so a suggestion might be to save your legs and explore one section in one day.
- Use the side entrance. The Exhibition road entrance may have less of a queue than the Cromwell Road entrance, or even no queue at all. Also follow the NHM Visitor Info Twitter Feed for real time queue info.
- Use the cloakroom. We were visiting the museum on our way to checking into our hotel, so we had heavy backpacks. It would have been exhausting carrying these around so for a few £ we popped them in the museum’s cloakroom.
- But remember to bring a small, light bag to carry necessities around. No doubt you will want to keep a phone and possibly a camera with you and your purse or a bank card. I realised I didn’t have any pockets on my trousers and no other bag with me, so I ended up buying a jute bag in the souvenir shop; an over the shoulder pouch would have been way more ideal though.
- Carry a bottle of water (or money to pick one up). Walking around the museum is tiring. It can be crowded and warm. So, keep a bottle of water with you or purchase some from the gift shops. Although I did not notice them, I have read that there are water fountains installed as well.
- Wear light clothes and your most comfortable shoes. I can’t stress how important it is to wear comfortable shoes, especially in spring/summer. You will be on your feet for a long time, it will probably be very warm, so you will be thankful at the end of the day to be wearing comfortable clothes.
- Take pocket money. There are several shops in the museum and if the kids spot the impressive main shop it will be difficult to get them out without them wanting to purchase a souvenir.
The Natural History Museum is free to visit (but donations are welcome) and is located at Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD (5 mins from South Kensington underground station). Hours are 10:00 – 17:50 (Closed 24th – 26th December).
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