Attraction Reviews,  Things to Do

London Natural History Museum Review: Skippable or Must-See?

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London is home to many great museums – so many that it can be hard to choose! Whether you love science, art, or culture, there are multiple choices within each category to satisfy your desire to learn and expand your mind while visiting this great city.

Within that first category – science museums – there are museums you’ve never heard of and some you may have seen even on TV and in movies because they’re so beloved, well-known, and/or iconic. London’s Natural History Museum is one of the latter: you can even spot it in one of the 2023 Hallmark Christmas movies set in London!

While living in and visiting London many times, I’ve been to the Natural History Museum – of course! Below you’ll find my Natural History Museum review, as well as some of the basics of visiting to help you decide if this museum is worth putting on your London itinerary too.

Bonus! While admission to the Natural History Museum is free, you can receive a souvenir guidebook if you use your London Pass during your visit. Click here to read my London Pass review and click here to buy your own London Pass and save during your London trip.

Visiting the London Natural History Museum

Before jumping into what you’ll discover inside and what I personally think about the museum (and who will most enjoy it), I wanted to start by covering some of the basics of how to visit.

Location & Transport

The London Natural History Museum is located in South Kensington, West London. It is pretty much opposite the South Kensington tube station (or a five-minute walk.) However, if you don’t want to have to wrestle with Google Maps, there’s also a tunnel from the tube that emerges close to the entrance of the museum – you can enter the museum via Cromwell Road. 

Now, the South Kensington station is on the Piccadilly (dark blue), Circle (yellow), and District (green) tube lines, so it’s very well-located and easy to get to! Unfortunately, this is not a step-free station and there is no lift. If you need to use a lift, stop at Gloucester Road, but that’s a longer walk, at about 12 minutes. (And still not step-free.)

You can obviously travel to the museum by bus as well, but do note that London buses have been known to get diverted en route. As in, you can board a bus headed to South Kensington, but mid-way through your journey, the bus driver might inform you that the bus will no longer be heading that way!

Hours, Admission & Tickets

Many museums in Europe close on Monday, but not the London Natural History Museum! This hardworking institution is open seven days a week, from 10am to 5:50pm. Don’t leave it too late as the last entry is at 5:30pm. Also, the museum is closed on December 24th, 25th, and 26th, so it isn’t available if you’re looking for Christmas/Boxing Day activities in London.

Like many other London museums, entry to the Natural History Museum is free. Still, a donation of £5 is suggested – you will pass several signs suggesting the donation on your way in, so you may feel embarrassed not to donate! Many people do walk in without donating though so it’s entirely up to you.

The Museum gets more than its fair share of visitors; it’s also popular for school groups and families. As such, I strongly suggest booking a ticket for priority access. (When it’s too busy, you may be turned away if you have not pre-booked!)

Permanent Exhibits & Galleries

The Museum has several galleries and permanent exhibits. Here are some of the more famous and interesting ones:

  • Hintze Hall (Green Zone): You can see the 25-metre skeleton of a blue whale, the American mastodon (or the elephant’s Ice Age relative), a 300-kg coral collected from the western coast of Australia over 120 years ago, etc.
  • Dinosaurs Gallery (Blue Zone): The National History Museum is probably most famous for its collection of dinosaur skeletons. You’ll see (part of) the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever to be found, a Triceratops skull, and more.
  • Volcanoes and Earthquakes Gallery (Red Zone): Through film footage, interactive games (designed more for kids), and an earthquake simulator, you’ll get a better sense of how the physical world we live in is shaped.
  • Zoology Spirit Collection (Orange Zone): you can view part of the 23 million specimens stored in alcohol that the Museum has here. However, to see Archie, the 8.62-metre-long squid caught near the Falkland Islands in 2004, you’ll have to join the (paid) tour.

For more information and to get oriented, check out a free copy of a museum map here. (Note that the Mammals Gallery will be closed till March 2024.)

Food Options & Facilities

To make things convenient for visitors, the museum has not one but four eateries, located in various zones around the museum. To be honest, though, the museum food is not exactly the best – especially for the price. A meal at the T. Rex Restaurant, for example, will set you back about £20+ per person, and won’t be one of the best meals you’ve had in London. But, if you really must eat on the premises, the Anning Rooms Restaurant is your best bet. 

For the foodies out there, I highly recommend leaving the museum for a bite. South Kensington has so many good restaurants and cafes! For example, CERU Eastern Mediterranean Restaurant South Kensington, on Bute Street (about five minutes away), does one of the best shakshuka in London. For good old pub food, try Zetland Arms a few doors down. Or, if you want something sweet, I highly recommend Oddono’s (also on Bute Street.) The cafe isn’t very Instagrammable, but the gelato is terrific! Take my advice and get the Bacio flavor if you like hazelnut.

Gift Shop & Souvenirs

A review of the London Natural History Museum won’t be complete without mentioning the well-stocked gift shop! There are several souvenir shops in the building. You won’t be able to miss the huge outlet on the ground floor, right by the exit.

If you’re expecting generic souvenirs, you’re doing the store a disservice. It actually stocks many unique items that are very relevant to the exhibits you’ll see on your visit, such as Lego Dinosaurs, a Triceratops Christmas Tree Topper, and a Jurassic Park lamp. 

If you don’t have time when you visit, you can buy from the museum shop online

My Experience at the Natural History Museum

The London Natural History Museum is one that is close to my heart, as my University held our graduation ball there (years ago). There’s nothing quite like seeing it after hours, under starlight, and having the place all to yourselves!

Despite having been to the Natural History Museum several times – the last time was just a few days ago! – I find it challenging to write this London Natural History Museum review as it’s not possible to write a one-size-fits-all review. 

Everyone visits museums for different reasons (I even go in just to sketch the exhibits sometimes!) – so I’ve broken it down into several sections below, to (hopefully) help you better plan your visit.

Who is the Natural History Museum for?

While the Natural History Museum is extremely interesting, with beautiful interiors and specimens, it’s not for everyone. (I popped over to TripAdvisor for a quick look and, true enough, there were 320 “terrible” reviews and 723 “poor” reviews!) 

For example, if you only have time for one museum on your London holiday, and are not particularly interested in the natural world and dislike screaming children, you may want to skip the museum.

However, if you…

  • are visiting London with kids (in my opinion, the museum is very good for kids and schoolchildren),
  • are interested in Natural History (the museum is especialy famous for its dinosaur skeletons),
  • enjoy architecture (the building is made from terracotta, and is considered one of England’s best examples of Romanesque architecture, well worth seeing in its own right, even if you don’t go inside),
  • have a spare day in South Kensington, 
  • or just want to escape the rain

…then don’t miss this London landmark!

Things I Enjoyed Most About the Museum

Many people know about the blue whale skeleton in Hintze Hall (previously Dippy, as the skeleton of a Diplodocus was affectionately known), but did you know that the Natural History Museum also has:

  • Beautifully decorated ceilings? Look up in Hintze Hall- the ceiling has 162 gorgeous panels of plants.
  • Extensive museum gardens? They’re currently still under construction, but will eventually include an Evolution Garden (to take you on a journey into Earth’s past) and a Natural Discovery Garden where you’ll be able to spot wildlife- can’t wait!
  • Special events? I strongly encourage you to check if the museum is running any activities or “Lates,” such as a Murder Mystery Night, after-hours explorations, or yoga under the blue whale, during the period you’re in London! It’ll make your visit extra special.

How to Get the Most out of Your Visit

You can certainly head into the museum for a wander, but that may not make for the most memorable of visits. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The museum gets VERY busy during peak times, so remember to pre-book your tickets and be prepared for crowds. If you can, visit on a weekday, not the weekend. It also gets very hot in the summer. 
  • There will be a lot of children – and the noise that comes with them – so be prepared.
  • The signage is quite small, so you may be unable to read all the information about the exhibits. Moreover, the information is sometimes gamified – you may need to play a game to learn about an exhibit, which can get quite frustrating for adults. (They’re targeted at younger children, not adults.)  If you’re interested in learning more about what you see, this audio-guided tour of the National History Museum will be helpful. (The narrator is Sir David Attenborough!)
  • Alternatively, sign up for a (paid) guided tour. There’s one to learn about the history of the building and another to see the highlights of the museum.

Natural History Museum Review: Final Thoughts

Is London’s Natural History Museum worth it? It really depends on your interests and how much time you have in London. Whilst the Museum is amazing, I wouldn’t rate it as a must-see attraction in London for everyone. 

As mentioned, I highly recommend it if you’re visiting London with children. If you’re an adult, you’ll need to be curious about the living things and earth around us, or enjoy viewing beautiful architecture, to get the most out of it. 

With proper planning (to avoid crowds and heat), your day at the Museum could be one of the highlights of your London trip!

Have any other questions about visiting the Natural History Museum in London, or my review of this iconic London museum? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t forget! While admission to the Natural History Museum is free, you can receive a souvenir guidebook if you use your London Pass during your visit. Click here to read my London Pass review and click here to buy your own London Pass and save during your London trip.

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Zhen fell in love with London when she first visited at the age of 4. After that, she was lucky to have the opportunity to live in UK for 11 years, 7 of which were spent in London. (She particularly adores the areas around Kensington, Southwark and Baker Street!) As someone who loves both food and travel – don’t we all? – you can find her sharing her Asian food recipes over at greedygirlgourmet.com.

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