Hunterian Museum – Review for families

Find out about the wonderful world of medical science and surgery at the Hunterian Museum

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What is it?

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The Hunterian Museum is a museum dedicated to the history of surgery, with a vast collection of surgical instruments and biological specimens, as part of the Royal College of Surgeons. Find it a 5 – 10 minute walk away from Holborn tube station and the British Museum.

Best for

9 – 12 / 12+

OK for

5 – 8, dependent on the child and their interests.

Cost

Free, but they strongly encourage a £3 donation per visitor

What’s on offer

This small yet unique museum hidden on the second floor of the Royal College of Surgeons has a lot to offer the curious who have an interest in human anatomy, animals and the medical profession. It’s home to thousands of human and non-human skeletons, bones and body parts in jars and displays the incredible transformation of surgical instruments and technology over time. Many of the museums displays are old, but it’s very relevant and still interesting to this day. They offer the chance to watch an up-close-and-personal surgery video. Needless to say, those without strong stomachs need not visit.

Temporary exhibits are available throughout the year for long periods of time, including themes of war and art, still related to surgery

The Hunterian Museum accompanies the experience with a handy audio guide, which can be purchased for around £3 and free talks by knowledgeable staff and volunteers. For children, there is a kids area available, with pencils, crayons and drawing pads to encourage children to draw the unusual things they’ll see within the museum’s walls.  There are school holiday workshops and events for children and their families, too.

The Hunterian’s facilities are a bit scattered around, but there nonetheless. There are free lockers and cloakroom offered to you upon arrival at the museum. In the Nuffield building of the college, there is an accessible toilet and resting room with a day bed for which you can request the key, which may be a suitable place for breastfeeding mothers, if you choose to bring your baby here.

Highlights

The weird and wonderful exhibits on display truly live up to the aforementioned description. They include two-headed skulls, deformed skeletons, diseases innards and so much more. It’s fascinating to those with a natural curiosity about such a natural part of the world. One thing most visitors find to be incredible is the skeleton of the world’s tallest man, who was 7’7”.

The audio guide is really useful, well worth paying for and will awaken an interest in anatomy you may never know you had. The well-maintained, well-laid out museum is easy to navigate, which contributes to the eye-opening experience most TripAdvisor users described.

Science loving kids and budding medical professionals will love it. One highlight is its uniqueness and how out of the ordinary it is, particularly in a tourist-trap city like London. There’s no other museum like it. It’s also very educational. In addition, staff members are friendly and helpful.

What to watch out for

– Please be aware that there are preserved human and non-human foetuses in jars at this museum. There are also jars containing diseased sexual organs. This content may not be suitable for children. If you or you child would be upset or offended by this, do not visit here or ask staff if these displays are contained to a specific area. Upon entering, the human foetuses are placed on right side, past the reception and small selection of gifts. They are not immediately visible if you choose to browse what’s on sale.

– Generally, the museum is filled with jars of bones and body parts, among other subjectively graphic, icky and gruesome stuff. It’s hard to avoid. Is your child squeamish, very sensitive or easily frightened? Maybe reconsider your visit.

– The Hunterian is closed on Mondays. Please consult the website for full opening and closing dates and times.

– Upon entering, you must collect a visitor’s badge and keep this with you at all times. Don’t forget to return it.

– There are lots of photo-worthy things to see here, but you are not allowed to take photographs in the museum.

– There’s nowhere to eat a packed lunch within a museum, there are no refreshments on site and you can’t sit outside on the steps. There is a park and numerous pubs, cafes and restaurants in the vicinity, however.

MFM tips

– Museums with similar themes include the Old Operating Theatre Museum and the Florence Nightingale Museum (but they’re a bit less gruesome). 

– Wednesday at 1pm is the best time to visit if you want to catch the 30-minute introduction to the exhibition. Advance booking is recommended and there’s a phone number for this on the official website.

– TripAdvisor users report that the museum held their children’s interest for an hour – hour and a half.

– If you’ve got a little artist in the family, why not bring along their sketchpad and encourage them to draw one of the exhibits?

– Once you’ve visited the museum, enjoy a rest or packed lunch at Lincoln’s Inn Fields opposite.

What the owners say

“The Hunterian Collection today contains approximately 3,500 specimens and preparations from surgeon John Hunter’s original collection. The collection still includes many of Hunter’s most famous specimens, including those showing his successful ligation of the femoral artery for popliteal aneurysm and his experiments on collateral circulation. Other specimens demonstrate Hunter’s extensive and varied researches on subjects such as bone growth, transplantation and freemartins.”

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Visit the official Hunterian Museum website

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