When you visit London’s Natural History Museum, prepare to be blown away from the moment you step inside. Not least thanks to the giant blue whale skeleton (named Hope), who hangs in the entrance hall. Climb the stairs past Darwin’s statue and get ready to discover the world.
What’s in this guide?
- What to see at the Natural History Museum
- Natural History Museum history and facts
- Bars, shops and restaurants at the museum
- Opening times and ticket prices
How do you get to the Natural History Museum?
The Natural History Museum is in South Kensington, easy to get to from other parts of Central London and beyond. Hanging around in Chelsea, Belgravia or Kensington Gardens? You should be able to stroll to the museum in no time. Spending the day in Covent Garden, Camden, East London or elsewhere? Reach the museum using the city’s straightforward public transport.
London’s underground system (tube) is effortless to use if you know where you’re going. And if you don’t? Just head into any station and ask somebody who works for TFL (Transport for London). Travel to South Kensington or Gloucester Road station to get to the Natural History Museum.
South Kensington is on the Circle (yellow) and District (green) lines, connecting directly to Notting Hill, Fitzrovia, Blackfriars and other parts of the city centre. This is the closest tube station to the Natural History Museum, a 5-minute walk away.
Gloucester Road is also just a few minutes' walk from the museum and benefits from being on the Piccadilly line (blue) in addition to Circle and District. Piccadilly line tubes run to Covent Garden, past the British Museum and Finsbury Park.
London Victoria is the closest train station to the Natural History Museum.
What to see at the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is packed with things to see, including many exhibits that appeal to kids. Head here for a family day out and expect lots of laughter and learning along the way.
Visit displays and research covering everything from British wildlife and human evolution to ocean life, dinosaurs and outer space! The museum is constantly changing its spotlight, so you can expect to discover something new every time you visit.
The Hintze Hall is the first thing you’ll see when you step inside the Natural History Museum, a gateway to the rest of the building and well worth a stop. Walk among meteorites, skeletons and fossils, including a rock that’s as old as the solar system!
The giant hanging blue whale skeleton might catch your eye first; this 25-metre marvel represents a species driven to the brink of extinction. Around 360,000 blue whales were killed by humans in the first half of the twentieth century. Since becoming protected in 1966, the population has started to recover. The skeleton’s name, Hope, reflects the positive change she represents for her species.
The Hintze Hall is also home to the museum’s beloved American mastodon, a prehistoric relative of the elephants we know today. The mastodon skeleton on display is often confused with a mammoth – they do look alike! Both mastodons and mammoths have a trunk, tusks, chunky legs and a hairy coat, but mastodons have lower shoulders and gentler tusks. This large land mammal roamed North America throughout the Ice Age; meet it yourself when visiting the Hintze Hall.
It’s a crime to visit the Natural History Museum without seeing the dinosaurs gallery – the bones, fossils and roaring T. rex animatronic are world-famous! Explore different prehistoric ages and come face-to-skull with real-life dinosaurs; this museum highlight is a favourite for all ages.
The dinosaurs gallery is home to part of the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, the skull of a Triceratops and a giant Scolosaurus.
The Natural History Museum’s Earth Hall is home to the best-preserved Stegosaurus skeleton in the world, standing three metres tall to welcome you when you step inside.
Head here to look at gems and minerals, including a piece of the moon! This atmospheric part of the museum is a space where visitors can feel the drama of our planet and its position in the solar system.
The Natural History Museum’s Minerals gallery offers visitors a chance to step back in time. It’s laid out exactly as it would have been in 1881, with glass and oak display cabinets flooded by light through original windows.
Discover beautiful, sparkling gems and raw minerals in the waist-height cabinets spread throughout this large gallery. There’s also a collection of carved mineral art and the world’s largest flawless blue topaz gemstone.
Natural History Museum history and facts
The Natural History Museum opened in 1881, but its history dates back much further. Sir Hans Sloane and Sir Richard Owen are the pair we have to thank for the museum we know today; here’s how they shaped the institution.
Sir Hans Sloane was a keen collector. Travelling the world as a doctor in the early 1700s, he would pick up natural history specimens and cultural artefacts along the way. When he died in 1753, Sloane had more than 71,000 items in his personal collection!
The British government bought the collection for just £20,000, significantly less than it’s worth, and built the British Museum to display the items to the public. The Natural History Museum was separated from the British Museum in 1963 and officially named in 1992.
Sir Richard Owen’s new building
Sir Richard Owen was a scientist of the natural world (responsible for naming the dinosaurs!). He took over the British Museum’s natural history collection in 1856 and was unhappy with the small space dedicated to the enormous – and growing – collection.
Owen persuaded those in charge that a new building was needed to spotlight natural history. A competition was launched to find an architect for the new Natural History Museum.
A new design
Francis Fowke, who designed the Royal Albert Hall, won the competition but died unexpectedly just a year later. A lesser-known architect called Alfred Waterhouse took over and got to work planning the new museum building in South Kensington.
Waterhouse chose terracotta for most of the building, knowing it would be resistant to harsh London weather. He didn’t realise his intricate Romanesque design would remain one of the most striking buildings in London over a century later.
The style is characteristic of Waterhouse’s architecture, but Sir Richard Owen had significant input along the way. He wanted to build a museum for the public, which he lovingly called a cathedral to nature. He ensured the new building would be large enough to display any new discoveries. And good job! Thanks to Owen’s vision and Waterhouse’s design, the Natural History Museum has been able to host large creatures like whales, elephants and dinosaurs.
Restaurants, bars and shops at the Natural History Museum
When you visit the Natural History Museum, you’ll be in the heart of London. So it should be no surprise that there are lots of excellent restaurants and bars nearby. Not to mention some of the city’s best shopping a short walk or tube journey away. But why not make the most of your time here? The museum boasts four eateries and three shops.
Restaurants and cafés inside the museum
Enjoy a quick coffee, a snack or lunch without breaking the atmosphere of your Natural History Museum visit. There are four tempting spots to choose from: T. rex Restaurant, Central Café, The Kitchen and Darwin Centre Café. These restaurants and cafés are spread around the museum, so no problem if you get hungry halfway around.
The T. rex restaurant is a family restaurant with a varied menu, serving pizzas, toasted sandwiches, salads and desserts. Hot and cold drinks and kids’ meals are also on offer here.
In the Central Café, visitors can enjoy a selection of fresh sandwiches and salads, pastries, fruit or a quick coffee.
The Kitchen serves all the lunch favourites, including a large variety of deli-style sandwiches and salads. You can also grab kids’ lunches and activity packs to keep little ones happy.
The Darwin Centre Café offers similar light bites from another part of the museum and lots of snacks to refuel before the adventure continues!
Natural History Museum shops
Want to pick up a gift for someone back home? Maybe you’re looking to treat a little visitor or buy something special for yourself. There are three shops in the Natural History Museum, so you’ll have plenty to choose from.
The Museum Shop is a treasure-trove of nature-inspired gifts, selling lots of beautiful books and art. Not to mention toys and puzzles for children.
The Cranbourne Boutique offers museum-branded gifts and unique souvenirs to commemorate your visit to the Natural History Museum.
Did you enjoy the dinosaurs gallery? Pop into the Dino Store on your way out to pick up a cuddly stegosaurus or T. rex of your own. This exciting shop sells everything from dinosaur books and games to clothes and keyrings. There’s even a pocket money section, where little ones can choose a little treat to pay for with their own well-earned cash.
Natural History Museum opening times and prices
The Natural History Museum in South Kensington is open every day from 10:00 to 17:50. The last entry is at 17:00.
Planning a low-cost trip to London? Good news! The Natural History Museum is always free. Some special exhibitions do cost, so have a look on the official website before your visit to check if there’s anything you want to see. Otherwise, book your free timeslot online to help control the number of visitors in the galleries at one time.
Taking the train to London?
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