The architecture of South Kensington’s iconic Natural History Museum, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, is a striking work of art and one of the country’s most impressive Romanesque-style buildings. Sir Richard Owen, in charge of the museum’s natural history collection from 1856, called it a “cathedral to nature” and stressed the importance of a free and accessible place for all to enjoy. The central Hintze Hall is vast and elaborate, relief carvings and sculptures are found throughout the building, and intricate tiles decorate the ceilings. The museum is in care of more than 80 million objects that are tied to billions of years of natural history and is now a leading science research centre. It began as a place to host the private collection of some 71,000 items–from natural specimens to cultural artefacts–belonging to doctor and collector Sir Hans Sloane. The government purchased these objects after his death in 1753 and built a place to house and display them. It opened to the public in 1881.
Visitors are invited to navigate the spacious interior by following maps, signs and floor markings to explore four colour-coded zones. Highlights include the life-size blue whale model, the robotic roaring life-size tyrannosaurus rex, the escalator that allows riders to ascend from the Earth Hall through the core of a model of the planet, the earthquake simulation installation, and a wander through the winding paths of the outdoor Wildlife Garden. There are four cafes and restaurants on site, a picnic area and several shops that sell souvenirs, gifts, books, toys and more.
The museum is open daily from 10am to 5:50pm with last entry at 5:30pm. General admission is free but advanced booking of a time slot is highly recommended. Weekends and school holidays are often crowded.