Why you should go
With its thunderous, animatronic dinosaur, riveting displays about planet earth, outstanding Darwin Centre and architecture straight from a Gothic fairy tale, the Natural History Museum is astonishing. Kids are the target audience, but adults will be equally mesmerized.
Go on a journey through the times of dinosaurs with a visit to the Dinosaurs Gallery in the Blue Zone, an absolute must for those traveling with children. It's packed with specimens from tiny fossils to a colossal triceratops skull, but it's the animatronic T-rex that steals the show.
Also in the Blue Zone you can learn all about Human Biology, and stroll the Mammals gallery, which is lined with life-size creatures from hippos to horses. A model of a blue whale is suspended dramatically from the ceiling.
Adults will love the intriguing Treasures exhibition in the Cadogan Gallery (Green Zone), which displays a host of unrelated objects, each telling its own unique story, from a chunk of moon rock to a dodo skeleton. Also in the Green Zone, the Mineral Gallery is a breathtaking display of architectural perspective leading to the Vault, where you'll find the Aurora Collection of almost 300 colored diamonds.
In the Orange Zone, the vast Darwin Centre focuses on taxonomy, showcasing 28 million insects and six million plants in a giant cocoon; glass windows allow you to watch scientists at work. Travel through a sculpture of Earth in the Red Zone, where you'll learn all about the natural forces that have helped shape our world.
At the center of the museum is Hintze Hall, a huge room resembling a cathedral nave. The blue whale skeleton you see on entering the hall was unveiled in 2017, replacing the famous cast of a diplodocus skeleton (nicknamed Dippy), who has gone on a long tour of the UK. The transfer itself was a painstaking engineering project, disassembling and preparing the whale's 4.5 tonnes of bones for reconstruction in a dramatic diving posture that greets museum visitors.
Seasonal treats at the NHM include the beautiful Wildlife Garden (April to November), next to the West Lawn, which encompasses a range of British lowland habitats, including a meadow with farm gates and a bee tree where a colony of honey bees fills the air. From Halloween to January, a section of the museum by the East Lawn is transformed into a glittering and highly popular ice rink, complete with a hot-drinks stall.
Tickets and other practicalities
It's free to enter the museum, although donations are welcome. There is a charge for special exhibits. Book well ahead for Wildlife Photographer of the Year and ice-skating.
The best time to come to the museum on weekdays is after 2pm when school groups leave; at weekends arrive as soon as it opens. More than five million visitors come each year, so lines can often get long, especially during the school holidays. If the main Cromwell Road entrance is looking congested, head to the Exhibition Road entrance round the corner. Entrances at Queen's Gate and Exhibition Road are wheelchair-accessible.