It’s not that kids don’t learn important stuff in school, but the interactive elements and jaw-dropping technology inside London’s museums are up there with the best in the world, inspiring the next generation to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Marie Curie and Sir David Attenborough. The permanent collections that shine a light on science, nature, art, culture and history are vast and fascinating – and there’s always something to see at the temporary exhibitions, too. Here are our top choices in London.
1. Museum of London, Barbican
Medieval and Roman London are well covered here, but this is also a one-stop must for children of school-age learning about the Great Fire of London or the Plague, complete with gruesome details that will undoubtedly help fuel the imagination. The well-drawn illustrations and paintings showing the fire that famously broke out at a Pudding Lane bakery in 1666 are a stark reminder of the extent that London’s landscape changed forever. Elsewhere in the museum, one highlight is the brilliantly conceived Victorian Walk that will take you on an immersive 19th-century journey down cobbled London streets, past everything from a tobacconist to a toy shop – with not a Nintendo or Star Wars lego set in sight.
Address: Museum of London, 150 London Wall, Barbican, London EC2Y 5HN
2. V&A, South Kensington
There’s something wildly uplifting about the V&A. It’s the place to come for both historical and modern, cutting edge art and design. Fashion, photography and art – including a phenomenal Italian Renaissance sculpture collection – are all explored over centuries, with no porcelain vase left unturned. Workshops and family-friendly activities are in abundance, but keep your eyes peeled for the opening of Youth V&A in 2023 – the much-anticipated replacement for the now-closed V&A Museum of Childhood over in Bethnal Green.
Address: V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
3. Natural History Museum, South Kensington
You will have already gained the full attention of the children on entering Hintze Hall, when you are greeted by the spectacular skeleton of Hope the blue whale: a dramatic symbol to ram home how a sustainable future is possible. This sets up what’s to come nicely, from the millions of preserved specimens of reptiles, fish, mammals and wildlife to the Atlantic bird collection. Hard to miss is Archie the very rare giant squid (8.62 metres to be precise), frozen whole after it was caught unexpectedly by a fishing trawler. The wonders of planet Earth and why it must be saved is the clear message in every museum display.
Address: Natural History MuseumCromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD
4. Wellcome Collection, Euston
Set up by 19th-century pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome, the main focus at this museum and library is on health, and it particularly supports research into our wellbeing, with a team that creates thought-provoking art and science exhibitions surrounding this. In addition to the permanent collection – which includes curious medical contraptions (alarming in parts) and intriguing artefacts – there are always very original visiting displays. The Wellcome also runs excellent youth schemes that include activities and research for ages 14-19, and look out for the revamped reading room to hang out in.
Address: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
5. Horniman Museum & Gardens, Forest Hill
As well as the prettily manicured gardens themselves, one of the main talking points at the Horniman is the extraordinarily huge, stuffed walrus – apparently over-filled due to a basic Victorian era error that didn’t make allowances for its naturally baggy-skinned appearance. It’s surrounded by plenty of other taxidermied animals in glass cases, which is more in keeping with their best selves look. The museum also has an extensive anthropology collection with thousands of very significant objects and artefacts from the world over. For some actual live-action, you can head for the aquarium, which includes a Fijian coral reef and a beguiling jellyfish display, or the on-site butterfly house with tropical gardens, where there are lots of fluttery on-sleeve landings.
Address: Horniman Museum & Gardens, 100 London Road, London SE23 3PQ
6. British Museum, Bloomsbury
It’s easy to forget when you are living in London that the city’s British Museum is up there with the most staggeringly comprehensive collections of human history ever seen. A journey through six continents and two million years would be a big ask for anyone to get through in one day, which means there is always going to be something worth going back for. Egyptian death and afterlife is a winner with the younger generation, with all those mummified bodies – of both humans and animals – to see up close.
Address: British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
7. London Transport Museum, Covent Garden
A look at the past 200 years of London and its transport systems may not instantly scream fun, but there’s something endlessly fascinating about trains, buses and the underground system that intrigues children. You only have to think back to their enthusiasm for the Wheels on the Bus going round and round and round, to their wooden train track building efforts that can while away hours on end. Many of the displays are interactive and you can climb in and out of things, and even sit in the driver’s seat of a double-decker bus – and who hasn’t always wanted to do that?
Address: London Transport Museum, The Piazza, London WC2E 7BB
8. Science Museum, South Kensington
Don’t underestimate the power of science. No children’s half term in London would be complete without a trip to this museum, with all those mind-boggling facts that will shape our future and a whole heap of interactive buttons to press. This means that even if the kids don’t fully understand what’s going on, they will enjoy it nevertheless – head for the Wonderlab to ramp up the educational entertainment. The 3D science films at the in-museum IMAX also get our vote.
Address: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD
9. The Cartoon Museum, Fitzrovia
Comics and cartoons have long entertained all generations, and this museum exhibits everything great and amusing about Britain’s cartoon and comic artwork history – starting with works from the 18th century and building up to the modern-day. There are lots of caricatures of royalty and celebrities to marvel at, as well as a whole library of comics. Well-run comic drawing workshops from Beano to Manga are another big reason to visit throughout the year, too.
Address: The Cartoon Museum, 63 Wells Street, London W1A 3AE
10. Grant Museum of Zoology, Bloomsbury
A small but glorious natural history museum that is part of University College London, established in 1827 by Robert Edmond Grant, predominantly to aid university teaching. There are close to 68,000 specimens cleverly displayed in the compact space, many in glass cases, and highlights include an extinct quagga skeleton (only one of seven in existence). The super eerie jar of whole preserved moles is also a well documented popular exhibit – and you can pick up a photographic postcard of them as a memento to astonish friends with. Also lookout for the Micrarium: a backlit ‘cave’ with tiny, microscopic creatures displayed in thousands of tiny slides.
Address: Grant Museum of Zoology, Rockefeller Building, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE
Source: CN Traveller