The Natural History Museum is, in a word, incredible. This spot definitely needs to be added to your ‘must-see’ list when you’re visiting London, especially while travelling with kids.
First of all, be forewarned that this place is massive. We spent about three hours there and I would guess that we might have seen 20 per cent of the museum, if that. In fact, we may plan a second visit since we are lucky enough to be in London for several weeks. Try getting there in the morning while the kids’ energy level is high and the crowds are thin.
If you have the chance (and access to a computer), check out the museum’s excellent web site before your visit. It will give you a sense of the main areas of the museum – which are called ‘Zones’ and classified by colour for easy navigation. It also features a ‘Parents’ survival guide’ that lists some key activities that you’ll want to check out if visiting with kids.
We started out by visiting the Central Hall, where the information desk supplies the under-seven-year-old set with ‘Explorer backpacks’ (yes, they are free!). These ridiculously cute exploration kits consist of a small, orange backpack, kid-friendly binoculars and a plastic explorer hat (reminiscent of Go, Diego, Go!). You have your choice of backpack themes – I requested the ‘Mammal’ edition for my four-year-old daughter, Lily. A bag containing three ‘specimens’ and a booklet of clues prompts kids to find a specific exhibit within their theme (spoiler alert: Lily had to find the polar bear display in the mammal hall).
For older children – ages seven to 14 – the lower level offers up an impressive hands-on science lab called ‘Investigate.’ Staffed with enthusiastic young volunteers, the large lab is home to hundreds of specimens – all of which can be pulled out in trays and examined with magnifying glasses and easy-to-operate microscopes. An adjoining courtyard garden (which was under renovation during our visit) allows kids to collect live bugs and pond samples.
One area within the green zone on the main level is ‘Creepy Crawlies.’ Elissa and Lily enjoyed walking through the kitchen display, which features cupboards and a garbage can that can be opened to see pictures and read information about common household pests. Displays are organized according to four main groups: insects, crabs and related species, centipedes and millipedes, and spiders and related species.
Partway through our exploration of the Natural History Museum, we stopped for lunch at ‘The Restaurant,’ located on the main level. Featuring a children’s ‘Scoffasaurus menu,’ there were lots of kid-friendly choices. Food is freshly prepared on site; we had a tasty meal of burgers and pizza. For those with special dietary needs, they do offer vegetarian and dairy-free dishes and food with no gluten-containing ingredients.
All in all, a great place to keep the whole family entertained, especially on a cool, windy day in London.