The Natural History Museum in South Kensington is a beauty. Home to millions of exhibits and specimens that tell the story of life on earth over billions of years, this museum is really something special. Best visited with a bit of a plan.

Without further ado, my tips for making one.

Admire the Exterior

What is held within the museum is amazing and it’s what you’re there for. But take some time to wander and admire the exterior, too. It’s pretty amazing. Purpose built by architect Alfred Waterhouse, the grand old Victorian building is cathedral-like, beautiful and home to an impressive collection of gargoyles.

Also a moment of appreciation for the railings and gates around the building. With the gold and red, they are a bit extra. I loved them. Well, plain old black wouldn’t really do for a place like this, would it?

Pre Book Your Entry Ticket

One of the loveliest things about the London Natural History Museum is that it is free to visit. But it does get very, very busy so pre booking your entry online is a good shout. Especially if visiting at peak times. There were no walk ins available when we visited between Christmas and New Year.

Allow Plenty of Time

You could spend a whole day wandering, but I’d say two hours minimum. We were in there a bit over four hours and still have plenty left to discover on future visits. If you want to break up your time there are several cafes withing the museum itself, or fuel up pre/post visit at one of the options in the surrounding streets.

Have A Plan

If you just wandered into the museum and then roamed where ever the crowd took you, you’d still see some amazing things. But better to do some research and pick out what you really want to see. Oh and grab a map, available for a £1 donation at the entrance.

We created our own tour by having a look online pre-visit then having everyone in the family pick out their must-see. For me, it was the Hintze Hall with those beautiful imposing stairways and Hope the blue whale overhead. Other picks included the earthquake simulator and riding the escalator up into the Earth Gallery.

Things Helen Loves, escalator going up into large planet like structure in Natural History Museum, London.

There are some self guided trails available on the NHM website, and an audio-guided tour of the Hintze Hall. Narrated by none other than David Attenborough- the perfect guide for this place!

Admire the Details Inside

When Alfred Waterhouse designed the building, he didn’t just create a beautiful shell to hold exhibits. The Victorians were a curious bunch, fascinated by the world around them. The museum is full of details and embellishments inspired by the natural history collections of the time.

There are carved animals, birds and plants. Ceiling galleries of botanicals including important crops of the time; coffee, tobacco and cotton. And presiding over it all, a statue of Charles Darwin. I think if that statue came to life and fancied a chat, he’d sound just like Attenborough. What do you reckon?

Things Helen Loves, statue of Charles Darwin at Natural History Museum London

Find a Bit of Quirky Museum History

The museum has stood through two wars and it played its part in both. A particularly quirky chapter in the museums history was played out in WW2, when a number of the museums galleries were commandeered for use by Special Ops. They created gadgets and training for British spies.

Special Operations Executive (SOE) was formed in 1940 and from a secret workshop in the museum developed a range of devices and knowledge to assist agents in the field, including an exploding rat and games sets that could hide hand grenades and detonators.

Things Helen Loves, WW2 memorial to those who worked on secret war work at the museum in WW2

A plaque by the Mammals Gallery remembers the men and women who worked at SOE. I bet some of them revisited the museum post war and never said a word about their work there.

Know That Your First Visit Won’t Be Your Last

Because there’ll always be something else to see, a new exhibition. I could go back just to enjoy the design of the place and make the contents a bonus. I’d love to go back in the Spring/ Summer and explore the outside areas and the surrounding streets of South Kensington.

The Natural History Museum is a London landmark and it’s created an experience which means you won’t have the same visit twice. It’s a fantastic blend of old school museum and modern visitor attraction. Put it on your London list-at least twice!

The Practical Stuff

Find the London Natural History Museum at Cromwell Rd, South Kensington, SW7 5BD.

There are two entrances- the main entrance on Cromwell Rd and the side entrance on Exhibition Rd. The latter a short walk from the main gates, but was much less busy.

Nearest tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Rd.

Museum entry is free, donations welcome. Opening hours are Mon-Sun, 10.00-17.50. Last entry at 17.30.

Helen x.

30 thoughts

  1. What is not to love about this marvellous museum? I always make a point of enjoying the architecture and internal decoration too – fabulous: and I can see these are a highlight for you too.. The one downside is the crowds who – unsurprisingly – flock there. And I found that going on weekdays doesn’t necessarily help – school partes! My best tip is a Monday if possible. Do you know the Horniman Museum? If you don’t, I highly recommend this away-from-the centre museum which always fascinates, and is within a park, always helpful if you have children in tow. Al good wishes for 2023!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I loved the museum itself as much as the exhibits, I think! I didn’t realise until I visited how detailed the interior was. Yes, I’ve got my eye on the Horniman Museum, looks like another London gem. Happy New Year for 2023!

  2. I have always been meaning to return to this museum, which I last visited around 1988 or so. It was an extremely rainy day, so we bought our younger son a “Rainy Days in London” T-shirt, which he loved and wore for several years until he more-than-outgrew it. (He’s in his forties now.)

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Ah, how lovely. I can confirm London still has those rainy days! The museum is a fabulous place to take shelter.

  3. hannahmkblum says:

    Thank you for the recommendations, I would love to visit here! Happy New Year!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thanks for taking an interest in this post, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in London. All the best to you!

  4. A job very well done here Helen with this compact overview. You’re right that the architecture should be enjoyed just as much as its exhibits, as it’s an absolutely stunning building. Particularly enjoyed the carved animals. This is firmly on our list the next time we’re back in London. Happy New Year! Hope you have a great 2023, Helen.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thanks Leighton, all the best for the coming year. The Natural History Museum is definitely a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It’s such a beautiful place and wonderful that it is free. Happy New Year!

  5. My son loves this museum! Must tell him about its special WW2 history. Thank you so much for the beautiful images too!

  6. One of my favourite London museums along with the neighbouring Science Museum. Son number one studied close by at Imperial so I used to pop in a lot when visiting him there. Happy New Year xx

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Oh, what a place to spend his student days! London just expands to fill time, especially all the fabulous museums. Happy New Year x

  7. Brilliant advice on how to visit one of London’s real treasures. Along with the British Museum I try to make time to visit them at least once a year and each time I discover something different. And long may they be free to the public.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I’m yet to get to the British Museum, but it’s on the list. Along with a long over due return visit to the V & A. Happy New Year, Mari!

  8. Lovely exposition; I’ve just been to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition there – terrific, and pre-booking essential!
    PS If ever you make it to the Horniman (as you other commentator says, it’s a gem), you must contact me as it’s a mile from me and I’d love to show you some of the local sights if you had time. Ands of course, Dog insists! Happy New Year, Helen

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you so much, a local guide would be wonderful! Happy New Year, all the best for 2023 😊

      1. Any time. Just use the contact me button on the blog!! Here’s to exploring 2023. PS we gave our son and DIL a voucher for an Unplugged weekend for Xmas. They’re v excited and have booked Easter. Thanks for pointing me there.

      2. ThingsHelenLoves says:

        You are welcome, I hope they enjoy it.

      3. I’m sure they will; now to book for us

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thanks Anabel, and all the best to you.

  9. Such an amazing place with many wonderful things to see. I would love to experience going up that escalator to Earth Gallery. Lovely post—love the photos!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thankyou so much for your interest in my museum post, if you’re ever in London it’s a great place to visit.

  10. I’ve never been to The Natural History Museum but it does seem fascinating. I also agree that I’d want to spend time to admire and appreciate the building – I find that with some of the museums I visit; the buildings are so interesting and steeped in history too. Thank you for sharing, Helen

  11. Louise Jayne says:

    One of my favourites – I can’t remember spotting the SOE plaque though, I’ll have to keep an eye out for next time. The last time I was there I did a big walk around the outside taking photos of all the different sculptures. Waterhouse also designed one of my favourite buildings in Nottingham, he knew a thing or two about grand designs!

  12. Wonderful – despite all my trips to London I’ve never actually been so it’s high on the list for the next one 🙂

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      You won’t regret it, it’s a wonderful place 😊

  13. I have been once and would definitely have benefited from reading a post like this first. It’s such a huge place isn’t it. Love that you caught all the little details. X

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It definitely helps to have a bit of a plan- I knew it would be big and busy, but wasn’t prepared for just how much! Loved all the details and embellishments, suspect there are plenty more to find too.

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