Since its founding in the mid-19th century, the Natural History Museum has offered one of the largest, most diverse collections in the world. The dinosaur exhibits are world-renowned, but there are dozens of others equally deserving of a visit.
The building itself makes the trip worthwhile. Completed in 1880, the Italian Renaissance design sports an ornate terracotta facade with several stepped arches. It looks as much like a Gothic cathedral as a museum. Terracotta was popular, as it stood up well to Victorian soot. The exterior is festooned with hundreds of carvings that reflect the contents of the interior.
Inside, there are displays as old as 1750 and as new as today. The original collection was formed from a bequest of the estate of Dr. Sloane, physician to Queen Anne. Comprising books, dried plants and animal and human skeletons, and much more, it was transferred from the original site, Montague House, which had served for more than 100 years. The collection, originally part of the British Museum, grew to require its own building.
Expanding in the 19th century, as explorers and naturalists brought back specimens from their travels, the museum grew to house the largest dinosaur collection anywhere. The long-ago erected giant Diplodocus skeleton is one of the more prominent symbols of the collection in Waterhouse Way.
Today that collection has even become animated as several of the life-sized reptiles have been re-cast in animatronics. T-Rex shows his ferocious, teeth-lined jaw in motion while velociraptors battle oviraptors. Visitors can get a real sense of how the dinosaurs not only looked but moved and sounded.
Out of the millions of specimens, some of the oldest is still the most spectacular. The mineral exhibit holds an array of quartzes, gemstones, and rocks that dazzle the eye and the mind. The variety possible from a few simple elements will amaze kids and adults alike.
But the exhibits aren’t all as static as rocks. There is a floating squid (preserved from a live specimen netted in the Falkland Islands) that’s a full 8m (26 feet) long and still looking very lifelike. There are also scaled down erupting volcanoes and simulated earthquakes that give a good view of how dynamic the Earth is.
Visitors can get an inside look at people and animals too. There are skeletons galore, but also a Human Biology Gallery that allows viewers to walk through a birth-simulation chamber. And the remains of a 25m(82-foot) Blue whale is suspended overhead in one section.
The new Darwin Centre showcases 22 million samples – many that the famed naturalist gathered on his voyages. There’s a frog from Seychelles Islands and a Komodo dragon, among many others. Nearby are items from the Creepy Crawlies Gallery. Among the creepy is a giant scorpion that will frighten some children and amuse others.
Many of the exhibits allow hands-on interaction with the objects and discussions with the working scientists who study them. Take advantage of the opportunity to find out first hand about ongoing research and the latest discoveries.
The Natural History Museum is easy to reach via the London Underground, i.e. ‘the tube’ or subway. Exit at South Kensington.