Skeletons, oddities, and history collide in a glorious mishmash of weird and wonderful at the Grant Museum of Zoology.
Home to some of the world’s rarest specimens, London’s last university zoology museum has been a centre of research and discovery about the animal kingdom since 1827. Today the Grant Museum’s collections inspire visitors and are a valuable resource to scientists working to protect the natural world. And this London hidden gem is completely free to visit.
Read on for my top tips for visiting the Grant Museum, with and without kids.
A Glimpse into History: The Grant Museum’s Origins
In 1827, Robert Edmond Grant started amassing a collection of animal specimens to teach comparative anatomy. Grant was the first zoology and comparative anatomy professor in the UK, teaching at University of London. He studied marine invertebrates and influenced Charles Darwin. The Grant Museum of Zoology grew from Grant’s teaching collection, and today is home to 68,000 animal specimens.
Visiting the Grant Museum of Zoology
The Grant Museum displays over 10,000 of its specimens in one large, tightly packed room. These include skeletons of animals both living and extinct, animals in preserving fluid, models, fossils, and pinned insects. Some of their showcases come from The Great Exhibition of 1851!
Today the Grant Museum is housed in the former University College Hospital’s cruciform, an imposing cross-shaped building. This was designed in 1896 by the same architect as the Natural History Museum, architect Alfred Waterhouse. Over 40,000 people a year now come to the Grant Museum to marvel at its floor-to-ceiling displays and atmospheric charm.
The museum is arranged by branches of the animal kingdom. When it reopens in January 2024, new interpretation will showcase the incredible diversity of nature and inspire a stronger bond with the natural world.
Here’s the Grant Museum highlights, and where to find them:
- A quagga skeleton. The rarest skeleton in the world, one of only seven examples known of the South African zebra, extinct since 1883. Extinct and endangered display near Museum entrance.
- Dodo bones. Did you know there’s no stuffed dodos remaining? The Grant Museum has two boxes of dodo specimens, hunted to extinction by 1681. Extinct and endangered display near Museum entrance.
- Thylacines. The Museum houses extremely rare preserved dissections and skeletons of the now extinct thylacine, also known as Tasmanian tigers. Extinct and endangered display near Museum entrance.
- The Micrarium. A beautiful back-lit display of 2,300 microscope slides of the tiniest animal life. One of London’s best selfie spots!
- A jar of moles. This large jar is crammed full of 18 whole preserved moles, probably intended for students to use in an anatomy class. Case 12, shelf 3 near the Museum door.
Allow 30 minutes to an hour for your visit.
Visiting the Grant Museum with kids
10,000 curious creatures fill the Grant Museum’s wooden cases, like a Victorian nutty professor’s cave. In my experience, kids love creepy things and animals, so both together equals a winner. Its compact size makes it a more manageable alternative to that London bemouth, the Natural History Museum.
There’s humour in the display which will appeal to children – such as the skeletons on the balcony keeping a watchful eye over the place. The text labels are short, offering a fact about that (living) animal.
Trails are available from reception, or you can guess the mystery specimens on the online trail Displays of Power family activity.
Most objects are not at toddler height, so ask for a step stool at reception for smaller children. The kids enjoyed looking at the specimens together – Museum Toddler repeated the names of animals he knew and made the corresponding noises. He also learnt a new (onomateopic) word from his sister in reaction to the pickled mouse head – ‘eeeewww!’
The Grant Museum runs special free family events monthly, inspired by their collections and the themes of social and climate justice. Past events include animal inventions, bird mask making, and fossil tours. These usually need to be booked in advance through the Grant Museum website.
- On-site Cafe: No.
- Baby changing: Yes. In disabled toilet, ask at reception for key.
- Buggy accessible: Yes – ramp to entrance. Narrow walkways.
Tips for visiting the Grant Museum
Here’s some tips to make the most of your visit to the Grant Museum of Zoology:
- Visit on a weekday for a quieter museum experience, it is busier on weekends.
- Download a digital guide to learn more about the exhibits. The Museum Guide helps you discover some of the most important parts of the collection. Families can try to identify the mystery specimens whilst they learn about their history.
- Consider becoming a Grant Museum Member for exclusive behind-the-scenes stories, Members-only events and priority booking. Family Members get early access to the Museum on the last Saturday of the month, with fun family activities. Individual Membership costs £30 per year; Family Membership (up to 2 adults and 4 children) costs £45 per year.
Grant Museum Opening Hours and Costs
- Location: Rockefeller Building, University College London, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE.
- Nearest Underground Station: Euston Square
- Opening Hours: The Grant Museum opens Tuesday to Friday 13:00-17:00 and Saturday 11:00-17:00. It is closed temporarily for improvement works, reopening January 2024.
- Admission Costs: Free, no booking required.
- Website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/grant-museum-zoology
Other things to do near The Grant Museum of Zoology
- Marvel over the minutiae of everyday life in ancient Egypt at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.
- Explore health and human experience at The Wellcome Collection. Best for tweens, teens and adults.
- Chase the pigeons or picnic in the nearest green space, Gordon Square.
Conclusion: Is the Grant Museum of Zoology worth visiting?
The Grant Museum in London is more than just a specimen store; it’s a living testament to the wonders of the animal kingdom and the need to act to preserve it.
Whether you’re a family seeking an educational outing or a solo explorer looking for something unusual, the Grant Museum offers a unique and memorable experience. Jar of moles, anyone?