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Visitor’s Guide to the Natural History Museum in London

Most of London’s best museums are free. That’s good news for visitors and residents alike, because there’s nothing better to do on a rainy London day than wander through the halls and galleries of these buildings that house some of the world’s most prized artifacts and art. We are absolutely spoiled for choice here. Museums in London cover all sorts of topics and interests, so everyone is sure to find something that appeals to them. Our personal favorite is the Natural History Museum. It’s one we can return to again and again and never grow tired of. We’ve yet to visit some of the others in town because we keep coming back to this one!

It is the perfect museum for families with children. The hands-on activities and child-friendly exhibits keep everyone entertained, and its sheer size offers plenty of hours of distractions. In fact, you’ll probably find it hard to make it all the way through the museum in just one day, which is why I’ve put together this handy visitor’s guide to the Natural History Museum to help you decide what’s most important to see. For more information about each of the four zones within the museum, click on the links provided to check out my detailed recaps!

Visitor's Guide To The Natural History Museum In London

Architecture

First of all, if you’re coming to the Natural History Museum, you’ve got to take a few moments to appreciate its architecture, both inside and out. More alike in appearance to a cathedral than a museum, the Natural History Museum was built in 1880 with a Romanesque design by Alfred Waterhouse. It features a grand central hall with multi-level galleries extending to each side.  High ceilings, stained glass, and decorative tile-work are the interior’s main attraction. Terracotta tiles were used extensively on the inside and outside to help repel some of London’s ever-present soot that has plagued other famous pieces of architecture, like that of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The result is a cleaner, brighter, and more colorful space that suits the exhibitions on the inside just perfectly.

Recap: Architecture At The Natural History Museum

Visitor's Guide To The Natural History Museum In London

The Blue Zone

Without a doubt, the Blue Zone is the Natural History Museum’s most popular area. Why? The dinosaurs. They take up only a fraction of the space inside the Blue Zone, but they are certainly the main attraction. But, and I stress that but, they are not the only exhibit worth seeing in this zone. The Blue Zone focuses on all life forms from the dinosaurs to humans to the smallest invertebrates. This section is a prime spot for kids and animal lovers of any age.

What To See:
the animatronic T.rex (and the rest of the dinosaur galleries)
the life-size blue whale replica (and the mammal exhibits)
Human Biology (for memory games, brain tricks, and other fun activities)

What To Skip:
Human Biology (if you’ve got little ones embarrassed by nudity)

Recap: Dinosaurs At The Natural History Museum
Recap: Animals & Humans At The Natural History Museum

Visitor's Guide To The Natural History Museum In London

The Green Zone

If you enter the Natural History Museum through the main entrance, the first thing you’ll see is a giant, full scale Diplodocus skeleton. This, and the 1,300 year old giant sequoia tree also in the grand central hall are just the beginning of the Green Zone. This zone is a bit harder to define in terms of focus, but most, if not all, of the exhibits revolve around the environment and the evolution of our planet and its lifeforms. This zone isn’t as kid-friendly as the other three, but there are still plenty of things worth seeing.

What To See:
Our Place In Evolution (to meet our oldest ancestors!)
the giant quadrasphere (and the rest of the ecology section)
Minerals Gallery (the only room in the museum still the same as it was on opening day in 1881)

What To Skip:
Creepy Crawlies (if insects give you the heebie jeebies!)

Recap: The Green Zone At The Natural History Museum

Visitor's Guide To The Natural History Museum In London

The Orange Zone

The enormous cocoon housing the Darwin Center is the main attraction in the Orange Zone. A glass elevator takes visitors seven floors high inside the giant cocoon, and then you explore the exhibitions as you descend on foot through the cocoon. Millions of insect and plant specimens are preserved here, some even collected by Charles Darwin himself. If you’ve got kids, make sure you plan your visit around the Animal Vision shows – you might get a chance to handle some living creatures!

What To See:
The Cocoon
Specimen Prep Area (watch scientists at work)
Spirit Collection (millions of animals, small to large, preserved in jars)

What To Skip:
Spirit Collection (if you’re squeamish)

Recap: The Darwin Center At The Natural History Museum

Visitor's Guide To The Natural History Museum In London

The Red Zone

Finally, the Red Zone, my favorite section of the Natural History Museum after the Blue Zone. The Red Zone is all about Planet Earth, from its natural disasters to the effect we as humans have on it. With its earthquake simulator and escalator into the earth’s core, this is one of the best places in the museum for kids. (If this is your first or only stop inside the museum, enter via the back entrance on Exhibition Road.)

What To See:
Earth Hall (where the escalator is, and a piece of the moon!)
Volcanoes & Earthquakes (the whole exhibit is good, but especially the simulator)
Earth Today & Tomorrow (excellent exhibit on sustainable living and protecting our planet)
Earth’s Treasury (precious stones exhibit)

What To Skip:
Restless Surface (snooze…)

Recap: Planet Earth At The Natural History Museum

Keep in mind, the Natural History Museum is always busy – summer or winter, rain or shine – but weekdays are definitely better than weekends. If you arrive on an extra busy day and the queue to get in the front entrance is extra long, swing around to the back entrance on Exhibition Road. Most people don’t see that entrance and sometimes you can skip the lines entirely!

If you’re looking for decently cheap food, the deli cafe in the Red Zone is great – lots of healthy choices, too. And finally, make sure you check the website before your visit – the museum is open every day, but sometimes portions of it are closed for maintenance or other reasons. Better to check before you go if there’s something particular you’d like to see. If you visit, come back and let me know which part was your favorite!

Natural History Museum: Website
Address: Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD

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Visitor's Guide To The Natural History Museum In London

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  • Irina Akgul
    March 1, 2015 at 6:20 PM

    minerals gallery is really cool)

  • rorybore
    February 20, 2015 at 4:32 AM

    This place looks incredible!! I could spend hours – days! in there. The Museum of Nature is definitely my favourite one here in Ottawa. I love that our local library also provides free admission cards for families in the area too: because a family of 5 can get quite expensive.

  • Leesa & Kate
    February 19, 2015 at 2:40 AM

    Thanks for sharing! This is a great post and it would have helped so much when we visited the museum last year.

    xx Leesa & Kate

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    February 18, 2015 at 6:04 PM

    This is epic – I genuinely always feel like I’ve missed something, or several things at the Natural History Museum when we visit!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 21, 2015 at 1:18 PM

      I feel like that at every museum. :) At least the ones in Europe anyway. They’re all so big. I get overwhelmed sometimes. I think that’s one reason we haven’t done the Louvre yet – it’s intimidating!

      • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
        February 21, 2015 at 9:05 PM

        I know what you mean about the Louvre – I’ve been 3 times and are convinced we haven’t seen everything. That said, it is beautiful!

  • Katrin
    February 18, 2015 at 3:20 PM

    That’s definitely on top of my list of places to visit in London. I am sure I would at least spend two days there. I love museums and I love that so many are for free in London. This one sounds so fascinating!

  • Melanie Fontaine
    February 18, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    I love the Natural History Museum! It’d be worth it for the architecture alone – it’s such a gorgeous building! I also love that museums in London are free – definitely helps to cut costs, especially considering just how expensive some of the other attractions in London are!