Natural History Museum review for families
In a nutshell
This world-famous institution is a delight for children of all ages, from pre-schoolers who’ll love seeing the stuffed and preserved animals to fact-finding primary school kids. It’s a destination that should be on every family’s must-visit list
What we tested
- Fun for kids
4.5A star rating of 4.5 out of 5.
- Fun for parents
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
- Worth the money
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
3.0A star rating of 3.0 out of 5.
- Family friendliness
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
- Free entry to main museum, highly educational and informative, vast number of displays to explore, temporary exhibitions updated regularly
- Gets very crowded at peak times, very hot in summer, expensive food and drink, some exhibitions unsuitable for younger children, some temporary exhibitions cost extra
COVID-19 safety update
Some facilities and attractions may be closed or restricted this year, due to COVID-19 – and there may be extra safety rules, pre-booking requirements or one-way systems in place. Please check Natural History Museum's website before travelling or booking.
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When and who visited:
This was a family affair; I visited the Natural History Museum with my two boys, aged 2 and 5, along with their cousin, also aged 5, her mum (my sister), and our mum. We visited on a blisteringly hot day in the summer holidays.
What’s the Natural History Museum like since Covid-19?
- Visitors should book a free ticket in advance for guaranteed entry
- To help keep everyone safe, a timed entry system is in place
- Only a limited number of people are allowed in the galleries
- Subject to capacity on the day, a limited number of walk-up tickets will be available. Visitors may need to queue during busy times. The only way to guarantee entry is to book in advance
- It is recommended that visitors wear a face covering inside the Museum
- The Museum is continuing to operate at a reduced capacity to give visitors more space
- Visitors are asked to follow the signposted one-way routes
- Hand sanitiser is available throughout the Museum
- Facilities will be cleaned throughout the day by staff
- Visitors should pay with contactless if possible, although cash will still be accepted
- Visitors are asked to not visit the Museum if feeling unwell or have a temperature, consistent cough or loss of taste
- Protective screens are in place at key touchpoints such as cafes, shops and information desks. Face coverings are optional for staff
- It is no longer a legal requirement to collect visitor's contact details for Test and Trace purposes. NHS QR codes are still be available for those who choose to check in using the NHS COVID-19 app
What age is the Natural History Museum best for?
Best for: Children aged 3+ years and adults
Still good fun for: Babies and toddlers (0-2 years)
How much does it cost?
- Entry to the Natural History Museum is free, with a suggested donation of £5
- Some temporary exhibitions are paid for
Any other extra charges once I’m there?
Aside from the food and drink, which we felt was worth the price, the main place you’ll spend your money is at one of the gift shops.
There are 3 main stores strategically placed on the ground floor, outside the busiest areas, including:
- The Dino Store, which is at the exit to the Dinosaurs gallery and has a prehistoric theme
- While hard to avoid, the gift shops are lovely and stock a wide variety of souvenirs and gifts, from nature-inspired puzzles to replicas of star specimens
- The prices vary too – with plenty of pocket-money-level items for those unwilling to spend £35 on a fluffy whale soft toy
- If you plan to visit the more than a few times in one year, annual family membership (£102) gives a discount at the cafes and restaurants and 20% off merchandise from the gift shops
- TripAdvisor offers a ‘skip the line’ and semi-private guided tour
How long will you spend at the Natural History Museum?
With 36 permanent galleries spread over 4 zones and 4 floors, you’ll struggle to see everything in a day. And that’s not factoring in the fantastic extra daily events and exhibitions, many of which are free. While young children (under-5s) might tire after a morning, older children and adults with the inclination and stamina could feasibly spend a whole day here, from soon after 10am until closing time, including a few rest and refreshment stops.
For more fun things to do in London, take a look at our roundup of the best family days out in London.
What does the Natural History Museum offer for families?
The Natural History Museum is housed in a building designed to be a ‘cathedral to nature’ and dominated by the grand Hintze Hall at the main entrance. Inside, only a fraction of the museum’s collection of 80 million specimens is on display at one time but there’s still a staggering number of species, fossils, minerals and renderings to see, making the Natural History Museum one of the world’s greatest scientific resources.
A trip here is always educational and stimulating but also – in busy periods – frenetic and crowded.
What shouldn’t be missed?
Highlights for us were:
- The variety – wander off either side of the impressive entrance hall and you’ll find yourself in hallways and corridors that lead to 36 galleries over three floors that explore the history of our planet and our evolution
- To bring the displays to life, exhibits include stuffed (taxidermy) animals, interactive displays, skeletons and fossils. Information panels supply facts that underpin the visual impact of life-sized mammals, reptiles and prehistoric beasts
- Dinosaurs are undoubtedly the main attraction – the gallery was mobbed when we visited at 11.30am, with kids jostling for pole position in front of the handful of animatronic dinos placed throughout the displays. They roar and roll their eyes in a convincing fashion, scaring the littlest visitors (Rocco, my 2 year old, was quite happy to observe from a distance while holding my hand). There was space to pause in front of the displays but not much room to pose for photos, as the unrelenting tide of people flowed around us
- Away from the Dinosaurs floor, there’s plenty more to explore, from sea life to a giant Sequoia tree trunk
- The second floor of the Red zone, is dedicated to volcanoes and earthquakes. Journey up here to experience an earthquake simulation in the Restless Surface gallery, which thrills children of all ages – and their parents
Will we see the big dinosaur skeleton?
Stepping into the grand main entrance, Hintze Hall, parents may be surprised to see that Dippy the Diplodocus – who used to great guests as they entered – is still away on tour (ending October 2020); he’s been replaced by a huge blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling, which is still awe-inspiring.
What to bring to the Natural History Museum:
- Refillable water bottles – all that exploring and learning is thirsty work and you can refill yours from water fountains around the museum
- Comfortable shoes – there’s a lot of walking involved as the building is huge
- A jumper or cardigan for Life in the Dark (it’s cool and dry inside)
What you need to know before you go:
- Some exhibitions are paid-for, so if your child spots adverts/posters for one, it’s worth checking if it’s part of the (free) main museum or costs extra, so you can manage expectations
- You can leave folded pushchairs in the cloakroom for free but you’ll need to pay for coats and bags
- Since virtually every gallery and floor is accessible by lift, you could wheel your buggy around and use it to store your stuff until your little one needs to rest in it
- The Life in the Dark exhibition is cool, spacious and deliciously dark. It’s the perfect place to visit when the crowds in the Museum get too much and the ideal spot to get a buggy-bound baby or toddler to nap
- If you’re not good with crowds, it’s best to visit outside of peak times. If you or your child have autism, there are 4 mornings a year where you and your family can visit the museum before general opening hours (see below)
Did the Natural History Museum cater well for different aged children?
Yes, but it’s especially good for curious kids aged 3 and up and their inquisitive parents. While there are certain galleries or exhibitions that may not be suitable for younger children (for example, the Dinosaurs galleries), the vast majority of the exhibits and exhibitions will thrill and delight everyone in your family, from the youngest to the oldest.
Some information is inaccessible to smaller visitors (either too high up to read or too complicated) but our young children (aged nearly 3 and 5) each enjoyed the museum enormously and were happy to glance at more complicated exhibits and spend longer gawping at bigger, more accessible ones, such as the skeletons of the Dinosaurs and Mammals.
It’s still manageable for babies, toddler and very young children, as long as they are happy to go in a sling or buggy and/or stop for rests. However, much of the interactive stuff is better suited to 4 year olds so smaller children won’t be able to participate without help.
Was the Natural History Museum pushchair friendly?
Yes it was – the galleries are all flanked by wide corridors, allowing plenty of space for both buggies and wheelchairs. All floors in the Green and Red zones and the Darwin Centre (Orange zone) are accessible via lift.
What are the food and drink facilities like at the Natural History Museum?
Excellent. The restaurants and cafes are all family friendly and sell fresh, great-tasting food, including veggie and dairy-free options. It’s not cheap (expect to pay £4.50 for a tuna baguette, for example) but portions are generous and ingredients frequently organic, plus profits support the good work of the museum.
You could bring a packed lunch and treat you and your family to cold drinks and coffee and cake at The Coffee House or, if budget isn’t an issue, treat everyone to burgers, steaks and pizzas at the T. rex Grill.
Bear in mind, though, that other than a snack bar next to the picnic area on the lower ground floor, all the other restaurants and cafes are on the ground floor. So if your kids are ensconced in the Volcanoes & Earthquakes display on the second floor and you’re craving caffeine, it’s a fair way down and through the crowds to get a fix.
The food and drink aren’t cheap – a can of San Pellegrino lemonade will set you back £2.50; a slice of cake about £3 – but there are water fountains dotted around so you won’t go thirsty.
MFM tip: As nearly all the coffee shops and restaurants are on the ground floor, plan your visit around a stop here (or the lower ground floor if you’re bringing a packed lunch)
Can you take a picnic?
Yes, there’s a large indoor picnic area on the lower ground floor, with plenty of spaces to sit down, and a snack bar if you’ve forgotten anything (or used half your picnic to avoid a hangry meltdown on the tube journey to the museum!).
What are the toilets like?
Numerous and clean where you can find them, although there were long, albeit fast-moving queues in the loos nearest the Central Café, which is at the back of the main entrance hall. What I found surprising is that, in a place so popular with younger visitors and schools, there are no children’s toilets – with lower loos and sinks – or family cubicles. Of course, the toilets in the designated school area on the lower ground floor of the Green Zone may be better equipped for younger guests.
There are only 2 baby care rooms, both of which are in the Green and Red zones, far from the Orange and not super close to the Blue zone, which houses some of the most popular galleries, including Mammals, Dinosaurs and Blue Whale.
How well does the Natural History Museum cater for disabled visitors?
- Considering the limitations of the historic building, the Natural History Museum is remarkably accessible
- Wide corridors allow plenty of space for wheelchairs
- All floors in the Green and Red zones and the Darwin Centre (Orange zone) are accessible via lift
- Wheelchairs can be borrowed for free from the cloakrooms just inside the main entrance
- You can download free audio descriptive guides for the main displays and galleries
- For more information visit the Natural History Museum’s accessibility page
Are there any special sessions for children on the autistic spectrum?
Children on the autistic spectrum are catered to with Dawnosaurs events that run 4 times a year. These free early morning sessions allow autistic children to enjoy the museum with their families and siblings without the hustle and bustle of the general public.
What to do before you go to the Natural History Museum:
- Look at the website with your family, investigate the array of displays and exhibitions and decide what you’re going to see. Once you’re there, the sheer size and scale of the place can feel quite overwhelming and although everything is well signposted, the crowds during peak times can make it difficult to navigate
- Accept that you can’t possibly expect to see everything in one visit so select a gallery per family member – expect to see 3 for a half-day visit and 4-6 galleries in a whole day
- Download the free visitor app and use your smart phone to guide you around the galleries and listen to behind-the-scenes insights into the collections
- It’ll also help you navigate through the displays to the cafes, restaurants and loos
Opening dates and times:
The Natural History Museum is open daily from 10am until 5.50pm. Last entry at 5.30pm
Closed – 24-26 December
Best time to visit:
It’s busy every day, but quieter before 11am and after 4pm.
How to get to the Natural History Museum:
The Natural History Museum is in London’s South Kensington, with great public transport links
- The nearest station is South Kensington but there are plenty of stairs and escalators
- If you bring a buggy beware of walking through the tunnel from South Kensington Station – there’s a steep flight of stone steps to get to the museum. Instead, come out of the station onto the street level and cross the road/s at the lights
- There is step-free access at Cromwell Road and Exhibition Road
- There’s also another entrance at Queen’s Gate, which is a 5-minute walk from Gloucester Road. This isn’t step-free, although it’s the closest entrance to the Wildlife Garden, which is a lovely place to end your visit after hours indoors
- Don’t bother driving as there’s no parking nearby save for a handful of spaces for Blue Badge holders. But there are loads of buses
Worth a long car journey?
Definitely. You’ll get to spend time in one of the world’s most famous museums, inside one of England’s most iconic buildings and see, hear and learn so much. Marvel at the main hall, explore endless displays and let the kids roam around the wildlife garden once you’ve had your fill. All for free (well, a £5 donation).If you do drive, it’s worth noting that parking nearby (like much of central London) is difficult to find and very expensive.
Which hotels or holiday accommodation are near the Natural History Museum?
The central London location means there are plenty of accommodation options nearby. South Kensington is a popular area (with the room rates to match) so look further out for cheaper accommodation. Options close to the museum include:
- The elegant Franklin Hotel - Starhotels Collezione is less than a 10-minute walk to the museum, with luxurious family rooms
- For an extra-special treat, try the K West Hotel & Spa
- For a home-away-from-home feel, look for deals on HomeAway.co.uk and Mulberry Cottages
- Find family-friendly hotel deals near the Natural History Museum on Booking.com
Nearby attractions for a longer day out:
London’s packed with family fun, but start with the Science Museum, Kidzania and the Victoria & Albert Museum – both right next door to the Natural History Museum. If the kids need to run off some energy after packing in so much info, walk up the road to Hyde Park. Or if you’re packing in the sights, the Tower of London and Madame Tussauds are each less than 30 minutes on public transport. If you fancy seeing some animals, you could head to London Zoo.
A not-to-be missed destination that’s bound to delight children of all ages and adults. Enjoyable and educational in equal measure, the Natural History Museum offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore the history of our planet and discover the fascinating story of evolution through engaging and interactive galleries and displays. Book tickets online for one or more of the temporary exhibitions to ensure you make the most of a day out here – and escape the inevitable crowds in the rest of the museum. The kids and I would happily return, although we might wait for an inset day to ensure the museum is a little quieter!
Visit the Natural History Museum website
Gabrielle Nathan has been a journalist for 20 years, writing lifestyle features for publications including Red, Women’s Health, Wildflower and Condé Nast Traveller. She has been writing about parenting since 2012, the year she became a mum.