This museum is an extraordinary place, comprising the original collection of wealthy tea-merchant and pack-rat Frederick John Horniman. He had this art-nouveau building, with its clock tower and mosaics, specially designed to house his collection. Built in 1901, today it encompasses everything from a dusty walrus and voodoo altars from Haiti and Benin to a mock-up of a Fijian reef and a collection of concertinas. It’s wonderful.
On the ground and 1st floors is the Natural History Gallery, the core of the Horniman collection, with animal skeletons and pickled specimens, presided over by the huge over-stuffed walrus. When the magnificent Apostle Clock up the stairs strikes 4pm, the apostles troop out past Jesus, with only Judas turning away from him. On the lower ground floor you’ll find the African Worlds Gallery, the first permanent gallery of African and Afro-Caribbean art and culture in the UK. The simply fantastic Music Gallery next door has instruments from 3500-year-old Egyptian clappers and early English keyboards, to Indonesian gamelan and Ghanaian drums, with touch screens so you can hear what they sound like and videos to see them being played in situ. The Centenary Gallery traces the history of the museum’s first 100 years. The aquarium (adult/child £4/2) in the basement is small but state of the art, with mesmerising jellyfish, seahorses, blue poison frogs and lots of little elbows. The cafe (open 9.30am to 5.30pm), with seating in the stunning conservatory, is a delight, as are the surrounding 6.5 hectares of hillside and landscaped gardens with views of far-flung central London. On a warm summer's day, they are beautiful and perfect for a picnic.
To get here from Forest Hill station, turn left out of the station onto the South Circular and head straight up north along London Rd. The museum is about 500m on the right, beyond Honor Oak Rd.