During our recent visit to London, we took Miss M to see London’s dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum in Kensington. We have visited numerous dinosaur museums and parks – Berlin, Altmühltal, Brussels – and were looking forward to showing Miss M one of the best.
I must preface this by saying that I had been to the Museum and seen London’s dinosaurs twice in the last two years, without Miss M. I think this gave me a somewhat jaded view as it became a little repetitive and seemed to be more crowded with each visit.
Our little dinosaur aficionado, on the other hand, loved the museum. However, she was so hyped to see London’s dinosaurs, she nearly had a meltdown when we had to walk through other parts of the museum to get to them. After seeing the T-Rex, she was more subdued, but we’ll get to that directly.
History of the Natural History Museum
One hundred years later, the collection was in need of new housing. Sir Richard Owen, then curator of the natural history collection, convinced the British Museum’s board of trustees to build that new home.
Sir Richard Owen – who incidentally came up with the name dinosaur – had three main aims for the new museum.
- The museum should be free and accessible to all.
- The building had to be big enough to display new discoveries, including very large ones such as the diplodocus (Dippy the Diplodocus, possibly the most famous of London’s dinosaurs, stood in Hintze Hall for many years before recent renovations).
- It should be a ‘cathedral to nature’.
The resulting Museum is one of the most iconic London landmarks and a striking example of Romanesque architecture. Architect Alfred Waterhouse used terracotta for the building, which was more resistant to the London climate. However, it also allowed him to decorate the inside with a plethora of detailed plant ornaments and reliefs, turning it into Owen’s ‘cathedral to nature’.
Finding London’s dinosaurs
Fortunately, there are numerous ‘dinosaurs’ to see before reaching the actual dinosaur gallery.
Miss M was chomping at the bit and getting quite impatient about getting to London’s dinosaurs. We entered via Exhibition Road, the entrance furthest from the dinosaurs, but closest to the underground. We had to walk through the Museum to get to Miss M’s eagerly-awaited highlight.
There are pterosaur fossils mounted n the wall above the cloakroom – not technically dinosaurs but close enough. I think they were actually sculptures, but we won’t tell Miss M.
In the Earth Hall, we found ‘Steggy’ Stegosaurus. We had to post for a picture with him.
Next, we found and spent time with the marine reptile fossils. Many of these were found by Mary Anning, one of Miss M’s palaeontologist role models. She has been a fan since first seeing an episode of Dino Dana. Miss M was delighted to see – and recognise – so many of the fossils that Mary Anning found.
Of course, we also saw the squabbling Velociraptors at the entrance to the T.rex Grill.
Finally, our last detour was Hintze Hall. It was crowded so we took a brief look at the Mantellisaurus before heading on to the dinosaurs.
RAWR! The animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex was a hit with our little dinosaur aficionado.
The room is fairly dark – the entire dinosaur gallery is – and the T-Rex can be quite scary for young children. Miss M was cautious but mesmerised, while some others took a fair bit of coaxing out from behind mum or dad. Fortunately, we didn’t have any older kids announcing that the T-Rex was not real and destroying the effect.
I must say that the rest of the dinosaur exhibition was a little disappointing.
There is only a relatively area to show as much as possible. A lot of the dinosaurs have been raised off the floor to create more room. This makes it more difficult for smaller children to really see their prehistoric favourites.
There is also a lot to read. When your child is not able to read it all themselves yet, it means they either want to be read every single word or race over things because there is not as much that they understand.
For us, there also seemed to be fewer interactive elements than there were at other dinosaur museums. This made it a little dry in delivery. There was a fun interactive quiz, but this was also available online, so Miss M had already had practice (and got it all right of course).
While there were a number of fascinating specimens, there were far fewer full dinosaur skeletons than there are at other museums, such as Brussels with its Bernissart dinosaurs.
The other problem is that the size of the space, together with the amount of information and specimens on display and it was a little cramped. London’s dinosaurs are very popular – there must be lots of little dinosaur aficionados in the city. However, the crowds were a bit uncomfortable at times and made it difficult to appreciate (or photograph!) the specimens.
The dino shop
This is hands down, the best dinosaur-themed gift shop that we have seen so far at a museum. There are numerous gifts for little dinosaur aficionados, both big and small, and souvenirs of their visit to the museum.
We found a number of gifts for Miss M. A torch, a new dinosaur book and a palaeontologist’s helmet. We loved this costume for carnival, but it would not fit in our suitcase (an argument that we had to use for many desired Christmas gifts while we were in Australia).
The Natural History Museum is not just about London’s dinosaurs. There are a number of other highlights.
When we were there, there was a temporary exhibition that basically consisted of a huge moon. Difficult to explain, a simple concept but definitely mesmerising.
Back in Hintze Hall, we took a moment to just appreciate the Hall and the carvings and have a look at the other specimens. The giraffes were fascinating – one of our favourite zoo animals – and we spent quite a while with the mastodon and the birds on the second level.
On our second tour through Hintze Hall, Miss M also discovered the different ornaments throughout the hall. She loved running her hand over them and seeing how many different decorations and animals she could find.
During our visit, we also had the opportunity to see the clock from Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures and Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures. Miss M had only seen a couple of the episodes because it is not available in Germany. Luckily, she had seen an episode the day before on the TV in our hotel room, so she immediately knew the relevance of the clock.
Another highlight is definitely the escalator in the Earth Zone up to the volcanoes and earthquakes. Miss M was in awe.
Pretty gems are guaranteed to be a hit with Miss M. Pretty rainbow gems are even better. She loved looking at the gemstones and picking out one for me and one for herself in each colour.
Unfortunately, we had to bypass some of the gemstone collection. I don’t think it mattered much – Miss M did not understand the differences anyway. It was just too crowded to see some of the collection well. Miss M was starting to tire anyway, so I did not feel the need to push it or wait too long.
Unexpectedly, Miss M was fascinated by the volcanoes and earthquakes gallery. She watched the videos, even vying and waiting for a space to watch them properly. She also wanted me to read the information on various boards. The influence of the Paw Patrol volcano episodes? Who knows!
Her absolute favourite, only second to the T-Rex, was the Kobe earthquake reenactment. She went through it at least five times and dragged me in to do it with her at least three times. She was fascinated, if a little scared.
Entry to the museum is free, just as Owen intended. Donations are encouraged.
We arrived about ten minutes before it opened and had to line up to get in. From memory, this happened the last time I visited the museum too. We only had to wait a few minutes after the doors opened, however.
The building. I could rave on and on about the building, just like I did about the Brussels museum. It is just stunning.
The other surprise positive was Miss M’s fascination with the volcanoes and earthquakes. It was not something expected, but it was nice to have such a wonderful exhibit bring out the interest.
It was also lovely to see crowds at a museum. So many of the museums we have visited have been rather empty – good for us but sad for the museum. Unfortunately, the Natural History Museum is a little too full, which detracted from our enjoyment a little.
After seeing the multimedia ‘tours’ at St Paul’s Cathedral and in Amsterdam, I wonder how long it will be before the Museum also introduces optional multimedia guides. There may be a usage fee but I think it could be beneficial for some parts of the museum. Can you imagine being able to hear the dinosaurs roaring or honking?
The future: The Natural History Museum has just released its strategy to 2031 entitled “A Planetary Emergency: Our Response”. The Museum aims to foster “advocates for the planet” and create a new children’s gallery and a “new world-class dinosaur gallery“. We are very excited to see how this will develop but it might take until 2031 to see the new dinosaur gallery.
The Natural History Museum is and remains one of the best museums in the world for natural history. London’s dinosaurs are a particular highlight.
Compared to other dinosaur museums, however, we would put the London museum at the same level as Berlin. This is both because of the number of dinosaurs and the quality of other exhibits at the museum. In our opinion, the Brussels museum is still just in front of both, due to the number of dinosaurs, the overall space and the level of interactivity of the exhibit.