London is famous for having some amazing museums with extensive collections. From art and history to science and anthropology, there are museums to satisfy many a curiosity. We visited two spectacular public museums during our stay in London: For the science lovers, we explored the Natural History Museum. To learn more about history and ancient civilizations, we visited the British Museum. Both are public museums that are free admission.
Natural History Museum
It had been a dream of mine to visit the Natural History Museum in London. One of my bucket list goals is to visit a science museum in every major city in which we vacation, and I had especially wanted to see the one in London, as I read that it has the best collection of dinosaur fossils in the world. On our second day in the city, we made that dream a reality. The museum is located in South Kensington, not far from the South Kensington Tube station, so it was easy to get to from where we were staying in Fulham via the District Line. The building from the outside is gorgeous. The Victorian structure, completed in 1880, is a massive, ornately decorated work of art, with intricate details that depict the life sciences. More impressive however is what’s inside. The Natural History Museum houses over 80 million specimens collected over the past 200 years and spanning Earth’s 4.5 billion years of natural history.
We had a great time exploring the museum and its collections. It was interesting learning about earthquakes we experience where we live in California from the perspective of a museum thousands of miles away in Great Britain. I was amazed by the gemstone and rare mineral vaults. I’m a bit of a rockhound; as a hobby I collect gems and minerals, and have often enjoyed exhibits at other museums of natural history, especially ours here in Los Angeles County. We have a great collection here in Los Angeles. The collections at the Natural History in London blew me away.
As mentioned above, the Natural History Museum is well-known for its dinosaurs. The kids learned much walking through the dinosaur exhibits. The most complete Stegosaurus specimen, nicknamed “Sophie” is the most complete skeleton of its kind. The museum houses specimens from the Middle Triassic period 280 million years ago to the Late Cretaceous 66 million years ago, with important finds from the U.K., U.S., Canada, and Africa.
In addition to finds of geologic importance, there are exhibits featuring the biological sciences. The museum has massive collections relating to botany, entomology, and zoology. It is also a research institution. Over 300 scientists work at the museum, which helps to publish over 700 scientific research papers with researchers from all over the world, with a focus on taxonomy and conservation.
The Natural History Museum is a publicly-funded national museum. As such it is a charitable organization, and does not charge an admission fee, though donations are always welcome. And a fun fact for those who follow the royal family, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge is patron of the museum.
The British Museum
The British Museum is another publicly funded museum that is free to visit and showcases vast collections dedicated to human history, art, and culture. There are over 60 galleries that are open to the public. The galleries span almost the entirety of human history, from ancient civilizations to the modern era. There are an estimated 8 million objects housed within the museum, with many sourced during the explorations by the British Empire. We spent three hours within the walls of this fabulous museum, and we didn’t get through even one-fifth of the galleries.
The opportunity to view such a collection of historical artifacts was really an awesome experience for us. The kids have learned about ancient civilizations from Mesopotamia to Ancient Levant, which encompases modern day Palestine and the surrounding regions. It was exciting to see them be able to gain a deeper understanding of what they studied in school. Last year, Samantha learned about the Minoans and Mycenaeans in her sixth grade history classes, and this year was able to connect what she was seeing at the museum to what she had learned in class. Her favorite galleries, however were those relating to Ancient Egypt. We unfortunately missed the King Tut exhibition at the California Science Center, so she was happy to browse the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt.
To properly explore the British Museum, I would recommend visiting over a couple days. We unfortunately didn’t have the time to do this; with our London stay being only four days, our time at the museums was pretty limited. We did select the rooms that we were most interested in viewing, as well as those that tied into what the kids are learning about in school. Also, while it is free to enter the museum and view most of the galleries, there are special events and exhibits that require paid tickets.
I would definitely recommend a trip to both of these famous museums. Their collections are unmatched in size and historical significance, so if you can, take advantage of the opportunity. And the fact that they are free to visit is icing on the cake. Happy trails!
For more information, and to plan your visit:
To view British Museum collections online, visit: