For the first time I braved the idea of taking my little monsters to London on a day trip whilst visiting my aunty in Essex. Now a lot of people I know have wondered if it was too soon, with how young they are, but as my eldest had learnt about the dinosaurs at school I was keen for him to explore the dinosaur gallery at the Natural History Museum although I think I was more excited than him
We left the station in Leigh, which is about 45 minutes from the city, and the first info gem I found was that it was cheaper for me to pay for my 5 year old as well than to just pay for myself! – how backwards? With my son at that age and not travelling on trains that often I was unsure of the age when you have to start shelling out for them too (free transport for under 5’s is a great thing!). When I asked the girl in the booth she told me to buy him a ticket as it worked out cheaper and it did. Apparently I would have paid close to £24 for an adult railcard – which gets you all the tubes as well as the return train journey- but with my son’s ticket together with mine, it cost only £15.40 for me and just £1 for Riley. What a great start!
Before leaving the house I had had a quick look on the website for the Natural History Museum to see if we had to pay extra for the dinosaur exhibit – no it was free – even better! However, it warned that in the school holidays it got busy so you can pre book a time slot. I did this just in case!
On arrival at South Kensington tube station we found the museum was not far at all and well sign posted. Outside the museum there was an alarmingly large queue of people trailing down the road waiting to get in. It does warn you of this on the website, which was good as I wasn’t as panicked as I would have been if I hadn’t read that. Be reassured though, that it moves pretty quickly and we reached the door in no time. They do have sellers on the street offering guides for adults and children, if you have children of 7+ the children’s guide looked really good and costs £5, which I felt was a fair price – it looked quite thick.
When you get inside you will see people everywhere and I didn’t realise until we were inside just how big the place is. I won’t bore you with a virtual tour but here are a few points to be aware of:
- Go to the toilets when you arrive – the museum is not only a maze, making finding the loo in a hurry difficult, but they also get busy so having to queue with a desperate child is not good!
- As you go into the main entrance you will see a long escalator which ascends through the centre of a very large Earth sculpture. Again the queue was really big – I’d advise coming back to this at the end. We did this around half 2 as our last point and the queue had completely gone 🙂
- Look out for staff wearing purple tops they are all over the place but are good to ask for directions if you are like us and don’t have a map.
- Get a map. I don’t know where they are but we saw some people with one later on. Or…
- Try the NHM app. It has a map included and supposidly can navigate you around to the exhibit you want to see, though it didn’t seem to work when I tried it.
- We arrived around 12 and so decided to go and eat first. There are a couple of Cafe’s dotted around if you want a sandwich. We decided to have a meal and there was a restaurant located in the green zone. This was not easy to find! Altogether the queue moved quickly and staff were polite. I had a few issues though as the food took ages to arrive – OK so it’s fresh but it is hard with two young children who are hungry to have to sit for 40 minutes before they can eat. We then found that the grown up meals were almost cold and Riley’s pizza really wasn’t worth £4.50. I would advise eating before you visit, trying the cafe instead or taking your own lunch – there are plenty of benches around the museum. The museum itself might be free but we spent well over £35 just on food and drinks!
- Definitely book the dinosaur gallery before you arrive via the website. When we reached the exhibit the queue was massive but we went straight to the front as it was our time to look round! In hindsight I am especially happy I did this as it turns out my son wasn’t that bothered after all and for the quality of the exhibition, at their age, I probably wouldn’t have been happy to queue for that long to get in. Also be aware with very young children, there is a large animatronic of a T Rex at the end, which could be quite frightening for little ones.
As we had the little ones with us we didn’t really look around much. Our aim was the dinosaurs, which would have been more exciting for them if they were 7 or 8 I think. There is also a lot of walking so we didn’t want to stay all day as they were getting tired.
Overall I would say for older children it must be magical to be around such a vault of knowledge, and the architecture is beautiful – especially the huge Diplodocus in the main hall! For accessibility, it is extremely busy so keep young children on reins at all times and it isn’t the easiest place to navigate but this might not be a problem if you just want to wander about. I would give the Natural History Museum 7/10 and I think I will definitely come back in a few years when the children are older.