What is it?
The Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood is a small museum featuring toys and childhood artefacts from the 17th to the 21st century. Find it in Bethnal Green in East London, 5 minutes walk from the tube station.
Ages most suitable for:
Best for: 8-11 years and 12 yrs & over
OK for: Toddlers & preschoolers, 5-7 years
What’s on offer
Although the museum is geared towards families, to be honest, some parents may enjoy it more than younger children, as it’s full of nostalgia.
There are numerous toy exhibits featuring a variety of furniture, miniatures, dolls and games from the past. These include memorabilia from the Victoria era and exquisite dolls houses, but they’re often behind glass. There are also photography, art and design exhibitions to explore. This may not interest younger children, particularly since they can’t share the same nostalgia for the old toys like their parents can. It’s not hugely interactive either.
However, there are a few interactive exhibits, which users of TripAdvisor have recommended – namely a sandpit, sensory playground and daily scheduled arts and crafts activities.
This museum is good for family-friendly facilities. There are baby-changing areas in both the male and female toilets, on the lower ground floor and a quiet room where you can breastfeed or both mum and dad can change their baby together. There’s a buggy park at the Front Gallery (left at your own risk). The museum café is reasonably-priced and has plenty of highchairs, too, so you don’t have to worry about getting a seat.
Anyone with an interest or appreciation of dolls houses will enjoy the collection presented by the V&A. Plus the range of toys from the past enables us to show our children what we used to play with – and to watch their amazement!
As well as all the permanent exhibits, displayed by theme, there are continual special exhibitions, which last for several months. These include a display about popular children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, a diary display, photo stories about favourite toys and an artist exhibit inspired by hand-me-downs. Check out the V&A’s official website for full details about options and timings.
Because of its location and its size, the museum is relatively quiet, especially in the week, and doesn’t get too crowded!
What to watch out for
– Don’t be fooled by the name of the museum. It’s a museum of childhood not for childhood. This kind of old-fashioned museum might not be particularly engaging, depending on your child’s interests.
– The layout of the museum doesn’t flow very well and is a little bit disordered and the interconnecting galleries can mean it gets quite noisy
– There’s not a great deal of information about all of the toys.
– Some of the displays need a 20p in them to work properly. Bring some change.
– The cafe hasn’t had particularly good reviews, but there’s plenty of room in the basement for an indoor packed lunch or picnic.
– The museum shop is positioned in front of the entrance doors, so be prepared if you want to divert your children from a gift shop purchase.
– A lot of the fascinating toys are held frustratingly out of reach behind glass.
– Plan to spend around two hours at this museum and fill your family day out with another nearby activity. Why not check out the Geffrye Museum?
What the owners say
“Welcoming over 400,000 visitors through its doors every year, the V&A Museum of Childhood in London’s Bethnal Green houses the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection of childhood-related objects and artefacts, spanning the 1600s to the present day.”