London’s Natural History Museum is home to some 80 million artifacts, the oldest of which date back billions of years. Located in one of London’s most cherished Victorian-era structures in the heart of South Kensington’s bustling cultural district, the Natural History Museum welcomes millions of visitors each year enticed by the attraction’s fascinating galleries full of dinosaur skeletons, botanical specimens, stuffed birds, moon rocks, meteorites, earthquake simulators, and much, much more.
History of the Natural History Museum
The origins of the Natural History Museum’s massive permanent collection of objects can be traced back to one man’s possessions: Hans Sloane, a seventeenth-century physician, botanist, and avid collector of natural specimens. By the time Sloane died in 1753, he alone had amassed some 70,000 items, including an especially notable herbarium; after his death, Parliament purchased this collection and promptly set about constructing the British Museum in order to showcase it.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Sir Richard Owen had been placed in charge of the British Museum’s natural history collection; displeased with that institution’s lack of space devoted to displaying these natural history items, Owen persuaded his bosses to establish a standalone Natural History Museum. This necessitated the construction of a new building; designed by the architect Alfred Waterhouse, this Romanesque structure stands today as one of London’s most famous Victorian-era sites, beloved for its iconic terracotta façade and ornate interior galleries, elegant ceilings, and many decorative flourishes. Known until the 1960s as the British Museum (Natural History), this popular attraction was finally renamed the Natural History Museum in 1992.
Natural History Museum Highlights
The Natural History Museum is so large that its floor plan is divided up into multiple, color-coded zones. The Green Zone focuses on the evolution of the planet and features galleries devoted to marine fossils, birds, and natural minerals; it’s also where you’ll find the museum’s majestic Hintze Hall, its single largest gallery. On the other side of Hintze Hall is the Blue Zone; this popular area of the museum contains exhibits on dinosaurs, reptiles, and mammals.
The Red Zone is comprised of exhibits covering topics like human evolution and plate tectonics; in addition, it encompasses well-regarded galleries discussing volcanoes, earthquakes, and diamonds. The Orange Zone is anchored by the Darwin Centre and the Attenborough Studio; here guests can sneak a peek at the work being done by the museum’s approximately 300 staff scientists; yes, that’s right: in addition to being a popular tourist attraction, the Natural History Museum is also a world-class research center, library, and archive!
For many visitors, particular highlights of a trip to the Natural History Museum in London include the Dinosaurs Gallery, where a striking combination of skeletons, fossils, and animatronic dinosaurs mingle; the Volcanoes and Earthquakes Gallery, which is famous for its earthquake simulator; and the museum’s single largest specimen, a nearly five-ton skeleton of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall.
More to See and Do at the Natural History Museum
Over five million visitors pass through the stately halls of the Natural History Museum each and every year. If you’re planning on joining the fun, here are a few more things to keep in mind while you’re in South Kensington.
*There are four different establishments located throughout the Natural History Museum where you can find something to eat and drink. The Darwin Centre Café is a great spot for tea and coffee; The Kitchen serves up sandwiches, wraps, and salads; the Central Café has plenty of highchairs available and offers to-go options; while the T. rex Restaurant is the museum’s family restaurant.
*Three distinctive gift shops ensure you won’t leave the museum empty handed. The Museum Shop sells toys, puzzles, art, homeware, and all manner of museum-related souvenirs; the Cranbourne Boutique is your go-to option for natural history-inspired clothes, jewelry, prints, fashion accessories, and more; and the Dino Store has everything under the sun dino-inspired that your dinosaur-loving little one could ever dream of taking home.
*Consider using a London tourist pass as your entry ticket at the Natural History Museum. Though general admission to the attraction is free, certain passes entitle visitors to receive a complimentary guidebook when touring the site. This bonus perk will prove useful as you navigate this sizable museum’s large layout, making it a hefty free souvenir. Note that you might not want to use a London Explorer Pass as it would could as one of you entries.
*Though general admission to the Natural History Museum is, as mentioned above, free, it’s important to note that certain special exhibitions—like the museum’s recent blockbuster show, Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur—require you to purchase an additional ticket.
*The Science Museum is located right next door to the Natural History Museum; if you’re in the mood for even more hands-on museum fun, consider making it a whole afternoon of interactive, educational fun.
Why the Natural History Museum Should Be on Your Must-See List
This world-famous institution is perennially considered one of the best museums in all of London; if you’re visiting the city with small children, there’s no way you’re going to want to miss out on exploring this remarkable place. You could easily spend most of the day here and not be disappointed, for the Natural History Museum is that full of wonderful exhibits. If you do find yourself with any time left over, big-name London attractions like Kensington Palace, the Design Museum, Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and more are in the neighborhood, too.