Natural History Museum London with kids: the ultimate guide

The Natural History Museum in South Kensington is one of London’s most loved museums. Kids adore its fearsome T rex, shuddering earthquake simulator, glittering gems, fossilised giants and preserved animals. There’s bound to be something to capture their imagination among its 70 million specimens, covering 4.5 million years of history.

But, without planning, a visit to the Natural History Museum can be exhausting. Covering the equivalent of eight football pitches, it has an eye-watering 28 galleries, spread over five floors. And, in normal times, there’s another 5 million people a year equally eager to take it all in.

 

This guide will help you have a fantastic visit to the Natural History Museum London with kids. It’s based on decades of experience of taking children to the museum, from niblings to my own children. I’ll talk you through the best highlights for families. From galleries to shops and cafes, I’ll make sure you know what’s there, and what not to miss. There’s also a run through of facilities, from baby changing facilities to parking. Whether you’ve never visited the Natural History Museum, or been lots of times before, I’m sure you’ll find useful information in this post.

And, as I’ve published this during the global pandemic, I give an outline of what to expect in terms of covid-secure measures, gallery closures and pre-booking tickets. Plus there’s at home activities for kids and virtual visits to enjoy too.

Don’t forget to bookmark this post for later! There’s so much here, you’ll want to return to it before and during your future visits.

 

Finding your way round the Natural History Museum London

To help you navigate this vast space, the museum is arranged in four colour coded-zones. Each zone is dedicated to a different theme:

Blue: From Dinosaurs to Man

Green: Birds, Bugs, Fossils and Minerals

Red: Planet Earth

Orange: Darwin Centre and the Wildlife Garden

There are family-friendly displays and interactives in each zone. You’ll need a map to navigate your way around. The coloured zones aren’t that obvious when you’re in the museum. The museum’s layout is confusing, and the galleries are spread over multiple levels. Even finding the lifts can be tricky without one! Download a map here or buy a paper map for £1 during your visit.

Below I suggest family-friendly highlights from each zone to include on your visit, and outline other galleries.

 

How long do I need to visit the Natural History Museum?

The Natural History Museum is one of London’s largest and busiest museums. To see most of the highlights, and take some well-deserved breaks, I suggest allowing at least four hours.

If you only have an hour or two, then pick a couple of highlights from the list below. The same applies if you have a toddler or younger child with a short attention span. In my experience, it’s better to see a little and leave happy, than attempt too much and get exhausted!

VERY short of time? My advice: stick to Hintze Hall and the Dinosaurs.

 

Natural History Museum Highlights

Here I highlight the galleries in each zone which are most family-friendly, in my experience. I’ve only featured the galleries most likely to be open during COVID-19 restrictions. After all, who wants to be reminded what they’re missing? Of course, the other galleries are still rewarding to visit, so I’ve given them a mention too.

Read through my zone by zone highlights to see which will most appeal to your child(ren), based on their own personal interests and age.

Tips for visiting the Natural History Museum with kids:

  • Try to visit the highlights in the same colour zone at the same time. Walking between the different sections of the museum can take a lot of time, especially if it is crowded or with little legs.
  • Download a map or buy a paper one whilst you’re there.
  • Less is more. In my experience, it’s better to really enjoy seeing one or two things than tire yourself out by cramming too much in.
  • This family favourites self-guided trail takes in many of the museum’s highlights.
  • Allow plenty of time for breaks. I’ve listed the museum’s cafes below.
  • If it’s not working for your family, move on. There’s plenty more to see.
  • Family Explorer Backpacks are currently unavailable due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Read more of my tips for visiting South Kensington museums with kids here.

 

Hintze Hall highlights for families

If you see just one part of the Natural History Museum, I think it should be Hintze Hall. It’s the first part of the museum you encounter when you use the main entrance on Cromwell Road.

At the heart of the Hintze Hall, Hope the blue whale dives towards the entrance, her skeletal mouth wide open as if to swallow up visitors. At over 25 metres long, it’s something special to be able to walk under a remarkably complete skeleton of one of the largest creatures to ever live. She’s also a symbol of how we can take action to save species from extinction, as we have with whales.

But for me, the main attraction is Hintze Hall itself. Part of the original 1881 museum, there’s beautiful details everywhere you look. Troops of stone monkeys clamber up its arches, and its ceilings are painted with plants from all over the world. Terracotta tiles depict animals alive and extinct throughout the historic building. It’s easy to see why the Victorians dubbed it ‘the animal’s Westminster Abbey’. Take the stairs or the lift up to the third floor mezzanine level for the best views of Hintze Hall.

Exhibits in the hall are beautifully, if sparsely, displayed. The cross section of a 1,300 year old giant sequoia on the third floor mezzanine puts key dates in human history into perspective.

On the ground floor, the Mantellisaurus is one of the most complete dinosaur fossils ever found in the UK. Nearby, you’ll find a giant tank holding a Marlin. At four metres long, the fish is one of the largest specimens preserved in fluid in the collections.

But the Museum Kids’ favourite is the large showcase on the first floor filled with birds from the Phasianidae, or pheasant family. And not due to the wondrous diversity of nature it showcases, but because of the large comb on one bird they now affectionately call ‘King Chicken’. Kids, eh? There isn’t any information with the balcony displays in Hintz Hall, so if you want to know more download this guide.


 

Blue Zone highlights for families

Dinosaurs Gallery

It’s alive! Stand beneath a towering T rex, if you dare – it moves, growls and snaps its jaws at you in a rather realistic manner. The gallery also features the first skeleton of Iguanodon (one of the first species described as a dinosaur), a triceratops skull, and part of the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered. Several hands-on exhibits accompany the rather detailed wall text. The gallery is a little tired, especially with its imposing elevated walkway now permanently closed. But whilst it awaits an imminent revamp, it’s still a real highlight of our visits.


Mammals Gallery

From polar bears to pygmy shrews, this gallery shows fossils and skeletons of extinct animals alongside specimens of their living relatives. Are polar bears and grizzly bears distant relatives? How does human anatomy compare to that of a horse? The kids enjoy finding animals they recognise, especially amongst the big cats. Other highlights include the skeleton of the extinct giant Diprotdon, a sabre-tooth cat, and Cynognathus, the ancient mammal predecessor with reptile features.

 

Also in the Blue Zone:

Fishes, Amphibians & Reptiles
Meet the ocean’s weird and wonderful species including a komodo dragon and vampire squid.

CLOSED Human Biology
Find out more about your own body and mind with hands-on interactives. Closed due to social distancing.

Images of Nature
Showcases the museum’s extensive art collection and the relationship of art and science.

Jerwood Gallery
A temporary exhibition space, currently used as a lunch room.

Mammals Hall (Blue Whale)
Discover the biggest mammals in the animal kingdom, with a life-sized model of a blue whale.

CLOSED Marine Invertebrates
Discover life beneath the waves. Closed due to social distancing.


Green Zone highlights for families

Minerals

Step back in time in the minerals gallery. It’s remarkably unchanged from its 1881 origins, right down to the original oak cabinets. There’s a mind-boggling 12,600 sparkling gems and raw minerals on display in one of the most comprehensive collections in the world. Highlights include the largest ever flawless blue topaz gemstone in an armoured showcase, ornamental mineral art, and meteorites from the 18th century. Most of the cases are too high for very little ones to peer into. But we still love spending time in this beautiful, light-filled space. And it’s usually much quieter than the rest of the museum.

 

Andy’s Clock

Here’s the real time machine – for preschoolers at least! See Andy’s clock from the CBeebies shows Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures and Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures. It’s located on the ground floor between the Central Cafe and Hintze Hall.

 

Fossil Marine Reptiles

Giant prehistoric ‘sea dragons’ swim across historic walls, including ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery is home to some of the the most complete fossils of prehistoric sea animals in the world, including specimens collected by the legendary Mary Anning. Along with the Birds Gallery, it’s also the space which connects to the Earth galleries (Red zone) with the Life Galleries (Blue and Green zones). Keep an eye out for the skeleton cast of the giant ground sloth.

 

Birds

Part of the through route to the Earth galleries (red zone), there’s always something in the Birds gallery which captures the children’s attention. In a two hundred year old glass cabinet, a tree blossoms with 180 specimens of minute hummingbirds. It’s an arsenic-laden love letter to the species, adored by ornithologists for its sheer variety and beauty. You can still see flashes of iridescence, even after centuries of light damage. Cases of nesting birds featuring blackbird and storm petrels date from 1883, and a comparison of bird egg sizes. A rare example of the extinct dodo sits alongside contemporary conservation efforts.


Also in the Green Zone:

East Pavilion
Temporary exhibition space, currently hosting Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

PARTLY CLOSED Creepy Crawlies
Step inside a giant termite tower, explore all things arthropod. Partly closed due to social distancing.

CLOSED Investigate
Hands-on science centre aimed at children aged 7+. Closed due to social distancing.

CLOSED Treasures (Cadogan Gallery)
22 star exhibits from 4.5 billion years of history in a small but fascinating gallery. Closed due to social distancing.

CLOSED The Vault
Nature’s most unique and valuable gems, diamonds and meteorites. Closed due to social distancing.

Waterhouse Gallery
Temporary exhibition space, currently hosting Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature

 

Red Zone highlights for families

The Red Zone, or Earth Galleries, use the 1930s buildings of the former Geological Museum. In normal times you can enter the Red Zone directly via Exhibition Road. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, you can currently only enter the museum through the main entrance on Cromwell Road. Follow signs from Hintz Hall to the Red Zone.

 

Earth Hall

Roaring their hello to the Earth Gallery is Sophie, the most intact Stegosaurus fossil skeleton ever found. Huge plates crown her nearly six metres long body, and at the end of its raised tail are four sharp spikes. They don’t actually know if Sophie is a boy or a girl, or the purpose of those hefty plates, but it makes for an impressive display.

The rest of the Earth Hall still has drama, its dark slate walls etched with a map of the solar system. Inside little portholes you’ll find strange curiosities – like a devil’s toenail, a fossilised stingray and Zeus’s thunderbolt. Afterwards, ride the central escalator through a giant metallic globe to the Red Zone galleries.


Volcanoes & Earthquakes

The Volcanoes & Earthquakes gallery is home to another of the museum’s most loved exhibits: an earthquake simulator recreating a supermarket scene during Japan’s 1996 Kobe earthquake. Everything shakes, from the stacked shelves to the floor itself. Expect squeals of surprise – Museum Girl even asked if this was a real earthquake. There’s also dramatic footage of volcanoes erupting, casts of victims from the Mount Vesuvius eruption of AD 79, objects melted by lava flows and interactive games. Together they explore the powers which shape the world we live in.

 

Also in the Red Zone:

Earth’s Treasury
Minerals, gemstones and rocks including gold nuggets, Stonehenge rock, kryptonite, and sparkling cut gems.

From the Beginning
Discover the origins of the universe and the evolution of life from the Big Bang to the present.

Human Evolution
Trace the origins and evolution of our species, with life-like Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens models.

Lasting Impressions
Fossil evidence of long-ago events.

Restless Surface
How wind, water and other weather shaped the Earth.

 

Orange Zone highlights for families

Wildlife Garden

Go on a minibeast safari or play leaf bingo in the museum’s Wildlife Garden – pick up a pack from the marquee. This two acre space recreates British habitats including pond and downlands. Open March to November each year. In spring they even have grazing sheep to help tame the grass.

 

Also in the Orange Zone:

CLOSED Attenborough Studio
State-of-the-art communication centre which hosts talks and events. Currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CLOSED Cocoon
Glimpse behind the scenes and plan your own expedition in this futuristic workspace and store to 22 million specimens. Currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CLOSED Zoology Spirit Building
Fascinating behind-the-scenes tours of their zoology collection preserved in spirit. Ages 8+. Currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

 

Tickets for the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum London is FREE to enter.

Due to the pandemic, all visitors must book a FREE entry ticket in advance. This includes members. Entry is not permitted without a pre-booked ticket.

Charges usually apply for special exhibitions. These must also be booked in advance, including members tickets.

March 2021: The Natural History Museum has suspended all bookings due to lockdown. I’ll share on my Instagram stories as soon as they reopen – make sure you’re following @museummum and have story notifications on.

 

Eating at the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum has a number of eateries, although some are currently closed due to the coronavirus. All of them are family-friendly and offer freshly prepared food. Vegetarian and vegan options are available. If you have dietary requirements, speak to staff. The NHM’s eateries are run by Benugo, who manage many museum cafes including those at the V&A Museum and the Museum of London

The Central Cafe is on the ground floor of the Blue Zone, just behind the Hintze Hall. It offers sandwiches, salads, cakes, pastries and fruit to eat in or takeaway. High chairs are available.

Members and Patrons can eat at the Anning Rooms, a private lounge, study area and restaurant on the second floor of Hintze Hall. We’ve eaten there several times and enjoyed both the food and the relaxed atmosphere. Children’s meals available.

A lunch room is available for those who bring their own food. Usually it is in the basement of the Green Zone. Currently, due to the coronavirus, the lunch room is now in the Jerwood Gallery in the Blue Zone, near the exit to the Dinosaur Gallery.

 

Shopping at the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum has three permanent shops across its site, as well as pop-up exhibition shops:

The Museum Shop is the largest shop at the museum, with the biggest range of nature-inspired gifts for all ages. You’ll find it on the ground floor, near the Hintze Hall and the Cromwell Road entrance.

The Cranbourne Boutique is aimed more at adults, with stylish homeware and fashion items. It’s on the ground floor of the Red Zone, opposite The Coffee House.

The Dinostore is a themed shop selling – you’ve guessed it! – dinosaur gifts for kids and young adults alike. It’s also the museum’s smallest shop. You’ll find it in the Blue Zone, opposite the exit to the Dinosaur gallery. Closed due to coronavirus.

 

Visiting the Natural History Museum during COVID-19

We have made three visits to the Natural History Museum since it reopened with COVID-19 restrictions in August 2020. It is, in many ways, an even more enjoyable place to visit than usual.

Limited ticket numbers mean there are no queues to get in, or to see any exhibits. Seeing the museum without its usual crowds is an absolute delight, and for this reason alone, I would recommend a visit. We find it easy to social distance in almost all of the museum, apart from the earthquake simulator which gets a little busy.

All adults and children aged over 12 need to wear a face covering throughout their visit, unless they are exempt. We adapted to face coverings quite quickly, and they don’t stop us enjoying ourselves. We take regular breaks for coffee and food in their cafes, as you are allowed to remove your mask when seated and consuming food or drink.

Some galleries are are closed due to social distancing, but there’s still more than enough to fill a day out. I have listed galleries closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but keep in mind other closures may happen at short notice.

In the galleries which remain open, some – but not all – of the hands-on interactives have been removed or cordoned off.

Enhanced cleaning measures have been adopted, including hand sanitiser stations and frequent cleaning.

All toilets are open with socially distanced queues, a reduced number of urinals and some one-way routes.

 

Natural History Museum facilities


Toilets

You’ll find toilets at the Natural History Museum across each zone. I’ve noted the ones with baby change facilities

  • Hintze Hall, towards the Central Cafe, on the right hand side. Baby changing facilities and wheelchair-accessible toilets toilet available.
  • Blue Zone, near the entrance to the Mammals Blue Whale gallery. Wheelchair-accessible toilets toilet available, no baby changing facilities.
  • Green Zone, on the lower ground floor, accessed via the stairs or a lift. Baby changing facilities and wheelchair-accessible toilets toilet available.
  • Red Zone, on the mezzanine level, accessed via the stairs or a lift; baby changing facilities available. Also baby changing facilities and wheelchair-accessible toilets toilet available on the Ground Floor.
  • Orange Zone, on the ground floor between the Cocoon and Image of Nature gallery. Wheelchair-accessible toilet available, no baby changing facilities.


Lifts

  • Cromwell Road is the only entrance to the museum in use during COVID-19 restrictions. It is step free.
  • Blue Zone: The mezzanine level in the Mammals Blue Whale gallery is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. It can normally be accessed via the stairs only. The rest of the Blue Zone is level access and does not require steps or a lift.
  • Hintz Hall and the Green Zone: All of the Green Zone is accessible by lift, including both the first and second floors of the Hintz Hall. As the lifts have limited space, please use the stairs where possible. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, lifts are restricted to one household at a time.
  • Red Zone: The Red Zone lift is closed for essential refurbishment until early 2021. The Volcanoes and Earthquakes, From the Beginning, Restless Surface and Earth’s Treasury galleries can be accessed via the escalator and stairs only.
  • Orange Zone: The Cocoon is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. It is normally accessed by lift. The Wildlife Garden is level access and does not require steps or a lift.


Luggage and cloakrooms

Located in Hintz Hall. Charges apply, FREE for members. Coats aren’t accepted. Bags, suitcases, scooters and pushchairs only. Large and wheeled suitcases which cannot be carried MUST be left in the cloakroom. As space is limited, it’s best to avoid bringing these items to the museum. £3 bags weighing less than 4kg; £7 bags weighing more than 4kg; £2 scooters; £3 pushchairs.


Driving and parking at the Natural History Museum

If you can, go by public transport. Honestly, it’s much more straightforward.

There are no visitor parking facilities at the museum.

Parking around the museum is very limited and cannot be booked in advance. The museum is within a Controlled Parking Zone operated by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. During controlled parking hours, all visitors must park in pay-by-phone parking bays or off-street public car parks. Outside of controlled parking hours, anyone can park for free in any resident permit pay, pay-by-phone parking bays, or on single yellow lines. Queens Gate, which runs alongside the west side of the museum, has parking restrictions operating Monday to Friday 8:30-18:30 and Saturday 08:30-13.30. Please check signs carefully as operational times for residents’ bays vary. Fore more infomation, visit the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea website.

The Natural History Museum is outside of the Congestion Charge zone. However, as the borders are very close you should plan your route carefully to check whether you have to drive through the zone. The Congestion Charge has temporarily increased to £15 with extended hours of operation from 07:00-22:00, seven days a week. For more information visit the Transport for London website.

The Natural History Museum is outside of the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). However, from 25 October 2021 the ULEZ expansion will include the Natural History Museum. The ULEZ operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including weekends (except Christmas day), with a £12.50 daily charge for vehicles that do not meet the required emissions standard. There is an exemption until 26 October 2025 for ‘disabled’ tax class vehicles. For more information, visit the Transport for London website.


Blue badge holders

There is a very limited number of parking spaces at the Natural History Museum for Blue Badge holders, which must be pre-booked in advance. Call +44 (0) 20 7942 5000 and ask to speak to the Security Reception team.

There are also 12 Blue Badge parking spaces on Exhibition Road. You can park there for four hours between 08:30 and 18:30. These are managed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and cannot be booked in advance. You’ll find more information on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s website.


Contemplation Room

A quiet, naturally lit room for prayer and reflection is available in the Hintze Hall. Please ask a member of museum staff to access it. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only one household or two people from different households can use at one time.

 

How much does it cost to visit the Natural History Museum?

The Natural History Museum is FREE to enter. Donations are welcome – you can donate on arrival or when you book your tickets. Charges apply for special exhibitions and events. All visits must be pre-booked. Currently all future ticket bookings are paused.

 

When is the Natural History Museum open?

The Natural History Museum is currently closed due to lockdown. All future ticket bookings are paused. They hope to reopen in May in line with current UK Government plans.

Opening times during 2020 pandemic: Daily, 10:00-17:50.

Normal opening times pre-Covid: Daily, 10:00-17:50. Closed 24-27 December. Late night opening until 22:30 last Friday of the month.

 

Annual events at the Natural History Museum

These regular Natural History Museum events are well worth marking in your calendar:

  • October: The annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year opens, the world’s largest wildlife photography competition.
  • October: The Natural History Museum ice rink opens, a stalwart of the London Christmas season.
  • Throughout the year: Dino Snores For Kids are sleepovers in the museum for children aged 7-11 and their carers. Currently suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Throughout the year: Dawnosaurs are free early openings for families with children with neurodivergent conditions including those on the autistic spectrum. Currently suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.


Virtual visits to the Natural History Museum London

You can explore the Natural History Museum and its collections from home:

 

Natural History Museum at home family activities

Even if you can’t visit the Natural History Museum, there’s still plenty of family fun to be had at home, in your garden, or local green space:

 

Natural History Museum address and contact details

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD
https://www.nhm.ac.uk/
Nearest London Underground Station: South Kensington.

 

I hope this guide helps you have a fantastic visit to the Natural History Museum London with kids. I love hearing how you get on. Let me know what your museum highlights are, or if you have more tips to add. You can comment below, or tag me @museummum on Instagram and I’ll be sure to share.

For more tips on visiting museums with kids, follow me @museummum on Instagram and subscribe for blog updates.

Please take a second to share this post with other parents. Mention it in your parenting WhatsApp groups, share to your Facebook wall, pin to Pinterest – whatever you feel most comfortable. Every share helps me reach more people, and encourages more families to visit cultural places.

 

Disclosure: I was gifted a membership for the Natural History Museum in return for social media exposure in August 2020. All thoughts, words, photographs, and love for Hintz Hall are however my own. All photographs copyright Museum Mum and cannot be reused without prior agreement. Photographs taken during numerous visits with the Museum Kids, and sometimes Museum Dad, between 2018 and 2020.

 

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