London Museums in South Kensington

A trip to one or all of London’s “Big Three” museums in South Kensington—the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum—may be a requirement for families visiting the capital city.

Children bored by tour guides discussing the Norman period or the Elizabethan period, and tired of seeing historical buildings and statuary, will be happy to spend an afternoon exploring the life of dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum or the wonders of mechanical flight at the Science Museum.

While viewing the entire collections housed within the Victoria and Albert Museum would tire even the most enthusiastic art connoisseur, let alone a preschooler, a short visit to some carefully chosen galleries may be acceptable. Don’t miss the 32 statues of great British architects, artists and crafstmen—Christopher Wren by Oliver Wheatley shown here. Best of all, entry to each of the museums is free, although there may be a charge for temporary exhibitions.

The Natural History Museum

The fun of the Natural History Museum begins before you walk in the door. The museum’s cathedral-like Waterhouse Building (named for architect Alfred Waterhouse) incorporates reliefs of many different creatures, including mythical gargoyles, extinct pterodactyls, and lively monkeys, in the building’s facade. See how many you can spot. The beautiful rounded arches above the main entrance are worth a second look, too.

Even though there is a lot to see outside the best is yet to come. Once inside, be sure to glance up at the ceiling panels in the Central Hall; each panel is an illustration of a plant from around the world. The Central Hall also displays a Diplodocus skeleton that looks like it might be on its way out the front door. Highlights within the Natural History Museum include dinosaurs (in skeletal and animatronics form), large mammals including a blue whale, insects galore, a huge collection of gemstones and minerals, and “The Power Within, a gallery that includes an earthquake simulator and explores volcanic eruptions.

The Science Museum

With lots of interactive and hands-on displays, an IMAX movie theater, and centuries of scientific advancements (and the hardware that went with it) wonderfully exhibited, the Science Museum is sure to appeal to children as well as their parental escorts. Science is a big umbrella; the museum’s collections cover mathematics, physics, astronomy and space, chemistry, biology, medicine, computers, material sciences, and more. Children may have so much fun that they won’t realize how much they’re learning.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum (usually called the V&A) has the largest and most all-encompassing collection of decorative arts in the world. It is probably impossible to see everything in one visit—the galleries stretch over seven miles—and certain collections (such as the Asian and Islamic Art collection) span 5,000 years.

Choose the area or areas that you want to explore, consult the museum catalog or friendly staff for recommended highlights and must-sees, and then go enjoy. Yes, “it” (fill in the blank) is lovely, but just remember, you wouldn’t want to have to insure or dust it.

by Katie Calvert