Natural History Museum
Good for: rainy days, free admission, exhibits, experience, architecture
Not good for: crowds at times
Lonely Planet review for Natural History Museum
This mammoth institution is dedicated to the Victorian pursuit of collecting and cataloguing. Walking into the Life galleries (Blue Zone) in the 1880 Gothic Revival building off Cromwell Rd evokes the musty moth-eaten era of the Victorian gentleman scientist. The main museum building, with its blue and sand-coloured brick and terracotta, was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and is as impressive as the towering diplodocus dinosaur skeleton in the Central Hall just ahead of the main entrance. It’s hard to match any of the exhibits with this initial sight, except perhaps the huge blue whale just beyond it. Children, who are the main fans of this museum, are primed for more primeval wildlife by the dinosaur skeleton, and yank their parents to the dinosaur gallery to the left of the Central Hall to see the roaring and tail-flicking animatronics T-rex dinosaur, the museum’s star attraction. The Life galleries to the right of the Central Hall (Green Zone) are full of fossils and glass cases of taxidermied birds, and the antiquated atmosphere is mesmerising. There is also a stunning Creepy Crawlies room, the Ecology gallery’s video wall and the vast Darwin Centre (Orange Zone) which focuses on taxonomy (the study of the natural world), with some 450, 000 jars of pickled specimens, including an 8.6m-long giant squid called Archie, shown off during free guided tours every half-hour (book in advance). The centre’s new feature showcases some 28 million insects and six million plants in ‘a giant cocoon’. The second part of the museum, the Earth galleries (Red Zone) can be reached most easily from the Exhibition Rd entrance. Here Victorian fustiness is exchanged for sleek, modern design and the black walls of its Earth Hall are lined with crystals, gems and precious rocks. An escalator slithers up through a hollowed-out globe into displays about earth’s geological make-up. Volcanoes, earthquakes and storms are all featured on the upper floors, but the star attraction inside the Restless Surface gallery, is the mock-up of the Kobe earthquake, a facsimile of a small Japanese grocery shop that trembles in a manner meant to replicate the 1995 earthquake that killed 6000 people. Exhibitions on the lower floors focus on ecology, look at gems and other precious stones and explore how planets are formed. The Wildlife Garden (open April to September) displays a range of British lowland habitats. A stunning temporary exhibit that may become permanent is the Butterfly Jungle, a tunnel tent on the East Lawn swarming with what must originally have been called ‘flutter-bys’.