We visited the Natural History Museum pre-COVID-19, so my review does not take into account the current social distancing measures. To find out more about when the museum is open and what they are doing to help keep you safe, click here.
Is the Natural History Museum in London suitable for babies and toddlers?
Two things surprised me about my visit to the Natural History Museum. Well, three things actually. There is plenty to occupy and interest babies and toddlers at the Natural History Museum in London – which I wouldn’t have expected until a friend told me they had visited with their 18 month old and recommended I did the same with my daughter. The second surprise was less pleasant – there’s no step-free access at South Kensington tube station (yet) meaning it is quite difficult with a buggy – though there are other ways to get to the museum. And I’m reliably informed that a project is underway to add step-free access soon. The third surprise was that the café inside the museum wasn’t particularly busy at all even on a Saturday in half term and we got a table straight away!
So if you are thinking of visiting the Natural History Museum with a baby or toddler, here’s some info that might help.
I remembered a tunnel leading from the ticket hall of South Kensington (South Ken) tube with different exits depending on which museum you wanted – the Science Museum is next door. I also remembered a lot of steps up from the tube to get to the ticket hall but assumed there was a lift somewhere – there isn’t. If you are coming from Victoria station as we did, there are lifts to get to each platform – so far, so good. It’s then only two stops on the Circle or District line to South Ken – but then my husband had to carry our daughter while I carried the buggy up an awful lot of stairs. When you go down the tunnel to the museums, there are then more stairs to negotiate. I’m told that there will be step free access up from the tube platforms to the ticket hall in future, but not from the tunnel to the museum, but you will be able to take the slightly longer way around at street level.
I hadn’t realised that the museum is only a 20 minute walk from Victoria so if the weather hadn’t been had we could have walked instead of taking the tube – or perhaps taken the bus.
Inside the museum
The Natural History Museum is huge, and you are sure to spot different things every time you visit – and there are some really interesting sections that are less busy and yet likely to fascinate slightly older children, like the gemstone collection. For babies and toddlers though I recommend sticking to big colourful exhibits or things that are recognisable – my 19 month old loved the taxidermy in the mammals section where she could see monkeys, tigers and more that looked like their living counterparts. So much so that when we saw a leopard she addressed it by the name of our cat! Who is very small and about as unlike a leopard as a cat can get, but good recognition skills from the mini moo!
The dinosaur exhibit is the big draw for young and old alike and sometimes when I’ve been in the past there is a queue for that section. There wasn’t this time, but it was quite busy. There used to be a raised walkway you would go across (accessed by steps so I was assuming we wouldn’t do that with the buggy anyway) which then brought you out around the back of the giant T-Rex. That part was now closed and the high walkway wasn’t in use, and instead as you enter the dinosaur area the T-Rex is the first thing you see instead of the last thing. In my opinion that loses some of the anticipation – and many children would think what comes after is boring in comparison!
For anyone else who remembers the elevated walkway and is curious to know why it’s gone, this explains that it needed to be redesigned to alleviate the congestion and queuing.
There’s still plenty to capture the attention and imagination of children in the dinosaur exhibit, including some large skeletons and models, a few of which move – my daughter waved happily to the animatronic dinosaurs and did lots of pointing at other things!
The mammals collection is popular with the aforementioned stuffed animals and of course the huge blue whale suspended from the ceiling and the other large animal models beneath it – my daughter seemed quite taken with some of them. At the time of our visit the lift to the upper balcony in this area wasn’t working, but elsewhere the museum has good disabled/ buggy access, and baby change as you might expect.
The building itself is staggeringly impressive – my daughter had never seen anything like it and was clearly taking in the high ceilings and ornate decorations of the main hall – and she was very excited about climbing the stairs up to the Charles Darwin statue.
Another big draw for children is the clock from the CBeebies show Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures. In the children’s television programme, explorer Andy is able to change the time on a clock in the Natural History Museum (and it is filmed inside the museum) and go back in time to have some dinosaur adventures. The clock is at the back of the main entrance hall by the café and children were taking their turns to have photos taken in front of it, so we did as well, even though it’s not really a programme my 19 month old watches.
Speaking of the café, we hadn’t had time to organise to take lunch with us, other than a selection for my daughter. We also didn’t buy any food at the train station to take in with us as we had enough to carry – but I do recommend bring your own packed lunch as there are a fair number of benches around where you can sit and eat. So we bought sandwiches from the café and had a nice piece of cake to accompany them. You can find out more about places to eat and drink in the museum here: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/eat-drink-and-shop.html
The museum’s website explains the social distancing measures currently in place and that a few galleries are closed at the moment as they do not allow for sufficient distancing, but there is also a handy section of areas to explore and activities for families and children: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/activities-for-families-and-kids.html
We really enjoyed our visit to the Natural History Museum and there was no doubt my toddler loved it. It was easy to get around, plenty of things to capture the interest of a small child and the fact that she loved the dinosaur was the icing on the cake!