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I recently had a few hours to kill in South Kensington and decided to visit the Natural History Museum. My favourite building in London.
There is nothing quite like playing tourist in your own country, and this museum is the perfect place to do this. I might be slightly biased about this place, as I actually had the honour of working here for 18 months. But despite going every day, and it being a place of work. I never did tire of it. That shows just how magical it is. At my recent visit, I even had to queue. Something I wasn’t used to, my pass used to mean I could just walk in. It was worth it.
Therefore I am extremely qualified to tell you exactly why you should go and visit.
How to get there
Some practical information first.
Easiest way is to get either the Piccadilly or the circle and district line to South Kensington. Signs will invite you to go along the tunnel, but it is actually quicker to walk above ground.
There are two entrances into the building. The main one on Cromwell Road and the other on Exhibiton Road. Check the NHM visitor info twitter account as they frequently update the queue times at both entrances. As long as you aren’t visiting in school holidays, the queue does move quite fast.
And now – why visit?
You don’t even really need to go inside to see the beauty of this. Just standing outside the front the majestic Natural History Museum cannot fail to inspire. But for me it is the detail inside of the famous Hintze Hall.
There are people much wiser than me who can tell you about the history of the building. About the architect Alfred Waterhouse and how he came to design the building. In fact there is a very interesting display on the first floor, above the entrance, about how the Natural History Museum was originally part of the British Museum. If you’re interested make sure you check it out.
If you look at the arches lining Hintze Hall, there are hundreds of carved monkeys and other animals. Each one individual. The best place to view these is to go right to the top near the giant sequoia. There you can get up close and personal with the carvings.
While you are up there, have a look at the beautiful panels on the ceiling. For more detail on these, again on the level of the sequoia (on the right hand side as you look at the tree) is an information board.
The Darwin Centre
Such an underrated part of the Natural History Museum. This modern extension was built in 2009. It’s light, bright, airy and stunning. Soaring high up in the roof is the white cocoon. This houses more collections, as well as insights into the work of the scientists and views into the laboratories.
In the summer there is also the large courtyard, which is the perfect place to relax.
This side of the museum also contains the spirit collection. Hundreds and thousands of specimens preserved in spirits. Some of them, even Darwin’s himself.
You can also arrange a behind the scene tour, to see even more of the collection. Doing this means you get to meet the giant squid!
Hope (and Dippy)
This controversy will always divide opinions, over which is better. Dippy will long be a firm favourite in many people’s eyes. For me, I love him because of how much time we spent together!
But recently, going back I realise how amazing Hope is. From so many different angles you can see the beauty of this huge animal.
The most important thing is the awareness she brings to conversation. This is an animal that is still living on our planet, and we need to protect.
I love this dinosaur – now my favourite in the Natural History Museum! She is located in the Earth Hall, and just inside the Exhibition Road entrance. She is a stegosaurs and the most complete ever found. Discovered in Wyoming and named after the daughter of the person who made the donation possible.
Hidden treasures in the Natural History Museum
There are many famous galleries in the museum, and these are often crowded. I would recommend avoiding the dinosaurs, mammals and the mammal hall. But if you look a little deeper, there are some really interesting and quieter parts.
One of the largest and most architecturally beautiful galleries is the minerals on the first floor of the Waterhouse building. Filled with gems and stones. At the very back is the Vault, which holds the most precious stones. Including the collection of diamonds know as done Aurora collection. Definitely worth checking out.
On the other side of the building is the Images of Nature gallery. This gallery explores how nature is seen through art throughout the years. Really fascinating and an interesting perspective.
Research and Conservation
The most important reason to go and visit the museum! Donations and the commercial side of the nose contribute to the amazing work the scientists in the building do and it is an amazing thing to be a part of.
On my first day, I was told that the size of the ‘behind the scenes’ parts that the public don’t have access to, is larger than the rest. Such a hive of activity, doing such great things for our planet.
Interested in being a tourist in your own country – have a look at my guide to North Norfolk