Thinking of taking the kids to one of the big three museums in South Kensington during the school holidays? By which, of course, I mean the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A Museum. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to be the only ones. Together, these three museums welcomed over 12.3 million people last year, and the school holidays are their busiest times.
I prefer to visit these big nationals during on a weekday during term time – thank you, random INSET days! But even if your little one is set on seeing the South Kensington museums in the holidays, here are my tips to make your visit more enjoyable:
- Don’t try and see everything! Think of these large museums like a seven series boxset. There are some great episodes, but neither you nor your children have the stamina to do it all in one go.
- Pick one or two highlights and aim for those – anything else is a bonus!
- For younger ones, I aim for a 90 minute visit and judge how their mood, energy and interest levels are on the day. Even adults will find more than a couple of hours tiring.
- If it all gets too much, call it a day. You can always come again, and you’re more likely to do so if it’s a short but enjoyable visit.
- The Natural History Museum (NHM) has the longest queues. On more than one occasion I have walked past the NHM line slithering along Exhibition Road, only to walk straight into the Science Museum.
- The Exhibition Road entrance to the NHM tends to be quieter than the Cromwell Road entrance.
- Keep an eye on Twitter. At busy times, the NHM often tweet their queue times, and which entrance is quieter.
- Members of the NHM can go straight to the entrance without joining the queue.
- I have never queued for the V&A, although I always use the entrance from the pedestrian tunnel from South Kensington Underground Station. The entrance is on the right hand side of the tunnel as you head away from the tube.
- Consider your arrival time carefully. Lots of people suggest getting there before opening, at 10am. However, I’ve never managed to get myself and the kids ready and there for that time in the morning, so I can’t confirm whether it’s a good idea!
- I prefer to visit around 4pm when day trippers start heading home before rush hour.
- The Science Museum opens later during school holidays – an extra half an hour in the May half term (til 630pm) and Summer holidays and an extra hour in October and February half term holidays (til 7pm).
HIGHLIGHTS FOR FAMILIES
- Our current favourites at the Natural History Museum are the Dinosaurs gallery (even if it is looking a little tired), and the Museum of the Moon installation by Luke Jerram. Other NHM highlights include Andy’s clock (if you know, you know), the Investigate Centre, and the earthquake simulator in the Red Zone.
- We love Wonderlab at the Science Museum, a hands-on gallery that works from ages 4-14 (having successfully taken children from all these ages). It is paid for, unlike most of the rest of the museum, but still can have long waits in the holidays. Other family favourites include The Garden hands-on gallery in the basement, the Space gallery and the Who am I gallery for older children.
- The V&A hosts blockbuster exhibitions, but these are usually aimed at adults rather than families. We love visiting their John Madejski Garden for a splash around in the pool. As my little ones get older I will start to explore more of the galleries with them. You can borrow family backpacks from the front desk, for a refundable deposit.
- Check the museums’ websites for special holiday activities, most of these are free and aimed at families.
- Download the museums’ maps before arrival, so you know where you’re headed.
- Pack a change of clothes or some swimmers for the pool in the central courtyard at the V&A, perfect to cool down in. Kids can also get wet playing with the water in the Garden at the Science Museum.
LOCAL FAMILY FRIENDLY TIPS
- The nearest playground is St Luke’s (15 mins south). If you can face the walk, go to Princess Diana Memorial Playground (25 mins north), one of London’s best playgrounds.
- All the museums have their own food offers, although they can be expensive.
- For cheap eats, I’ve just started using a cafe run by Imperial College, just a stone’s throw from the Science Museum. They offer a hot fresh main meal for £5, and freshly made sandwiches for a little less. It’s inside their Dyson building, on the south side of Imperial College Road. To find it, turn left out of Science Museum exit, and left at the corner, it’s just on the left hand side. You don’t need to be a student to use it. It’s definitely open weekdays, I will check weekend opening next time I’m there.
- Our go-to treat after every South Kensington visit is a gelato at Oddono’s on Bute Street, a five minute walk away. Their award-winning gelato is only £2.75 a scoop.
What are your tips for visiting the South Kensington museums with kids? Share your secrets below.
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thanks for the tips, definitely plan to take my boy to the Natural History Museum one day:) #culturedkids
I’m sure they’ll love it – let me know how you get on!
Top tip about the cafe! You can also stay in the Imperial Halls of Residence just behind the V&A for just under £100 breakfast, gym and swimming pool included (summer only) #CulturedKids
That is an amazing tip, thank you! Will be sharing that in future
Thanks for the inspiration and the tips. I am making a list of activities to do with my 12 year old nephew, and show him around London. I think he will enjoy the moon exhibit. #culturedkids
I think he will! He might also like the AI exhibition at the Barbican if he’s interested in technology.
Like you, I always prefer to go at the tail end of the day. It’s much quieter. Museum kids do get spoilt with Museum Mum! They look like very happy museum troopers! #CULTUREDKIDS
My kids still love the Science Museum and NHM (age 13&19!) There are some great tips here, I would never have thought to check Twitter for wait times. #culturedkids
They are marvellous musuem and definitely have lots to offer older children (and adults) too. I’ve seen the tweets during busy times, and they’re really useful!
Great tips. We love the museums, the queue is always shorter for the Science Museum so we often tend to head there! #CulturedKids
Nice tips – thanks! I was also recently surprised by how tired the dinosaurs were looking at the Natural History Museum – there was a couple of centimetres of dust on the Stegosaurus! Saving this post for our next visit to London. #CulturedKids
Excellent tips! The Science museum was always our local favourite when the boys were younger. The V&A is a bit less child-friendly exhibit-wise but that outdoor area is fab now in the summer.
Fully agreed on Inset Days! And on the planning, v often we found ourselves in V&A at various exhibitions to avoid NHM crowds! Their activity packs are also so cool and the fountains great tu run around and dip in little feet on balmy days! Thanks so much for linking in on #CulturedKids! X
Top tips, inset days are just the best things! #CulturedKids
Brilliant tips – The playground ones in particular, could never go anywhere without a playground stop! I also love the ice cream shop you mention, we have an oddonos near us in south London and it’s just brilliant. The Imperial cafe is great find! #culturedkids
We always need to have a playground up our sleeve too! You’re so lucky having an Oddonos near you, they are so delicious and well priced! Stumbled across the Imperial Cafe after I realised the V&A cafe was all carbs, managed to get a low carb lunch for a fiver. Brilliant! (They also do carbs, don’t worry!)