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Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Natural History Museum review. If you’re into animals then try the London Aquarium and London Zoo. Battersea Park Children’s Zoo might be better if you’ve got young kids. There are some more big animals at Chessington World of Adventures, or you can do some birdwatching at the London Wetland Centre.
The Natural History Museum has 69 million specimens covering all kinds of life on planet Earth – from dinosaurs in our prehistoric past, to earthquakes, volcanos and man-made climate change.
The Dinosaur Gallery is the most popular exhibit for kids and contain the fossilised remains of nests and eggs, dino footprints, and some full-size skeletons of an Iguanodon, Allosaurus, Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Pterodactyl. They also examine why the dinosaurs died out and became extinct.
The Mammal Hall contains the stuffed remains of every animal you can think of – it’s like a dead zoo, with a life-size cast of a blue whale suspended from the roof.
You can get close to some bugs and insects in the creepy-crawly gallery. It’s definitely not for the squeamish, because this is the one part of the museum that actually has live animals in it – including a thousand-strong colony of ants which you can watch through static cameras and infra-red optics.
The Ecology Hall focuses on the planet’s plant life. Exhibits include a ring of the giant sequoia tree – the largest living thing on planet Earth. The tree is believed to have been over 1,335 years old when it was felled in 1892, and measured 276-feet from top to bottom. The gallery explains how some of the Earth’s traumatic history have been recorded in its growth rings.
The Natural History Museum’s Earth Galleries are entered through the centre of a huge, pulsating, molten red sculpture of the earth. Look out for the genuine pieces of moon rock and fossils – which our ancestors believed to be the weapons of Zeus!
This is one of the Natural History Museum’s most popular galleries, explaining the processes behind Earth’s powerful forces. Models of volcanoes erupting and tectonic simulators let you experience the sensations first-hand, and there’s also a mock-up of a Japanese supermarket during the 1995 Kobe earthquake, so you can feel the ground shivering and shaking as the power is unleashed.
If you like jewels and gemstones, then make your way to Earth’s Treasury, where you can see real sapphires, diamonds, rocks and minerals… plus some lowly grains of sand.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I quite like the Natural History Museum because it’s a bit like London Zoo, except everything in it is dead. They’ve got lots of life-size elephants, lions, rhinos, crocodiles, giraffes, birds, lizards and fish… every kind of living thing, all stuffed and put on display.
The one thing that everyone remembers about the Natural History Museum from their youth is the big huge dinosaur skeleton that stands in the entrance hall. I found out today that his name is Dippy, and he’s a fake! He’s not a real skeleton at all – he’s just a copy.
If you go left from there then you can see all of the proper fossils in the Dinosaur Gallery. There’s a suspended walkway across the length of the room so you can get a good look at the bones as you walk level with their heads, and then you double back and see them from the floor.
When you get to the end you turn a corner and suddenly come face-to-face with a giant animatronic T. Rex, lurching around his little bit of swampy jungle, with his big jaws swinging towards the crowd. On the walk back they show you some smaller exhibits like fossilised eggs and footprints, and videos of how the dinosaurs met their maker.
My favourite part of the museum was probably the zoo-like section, where they display all the stuffed animals in cabinets. It’s a taxidermist’s dream. Honest to god… they must have every kind of animal on earth on show. And I don’t just mean their bones, either – but full-size specimens with big teeth and fur. Imagine if your favourite cat died and you had it sitting stuffed on the mantelpiece – that is exactly what it’s like, only with polar bears and monkeys. The fish bit even had a blue whale suspended from the ceiling!
The most famous exhibit was probably the Dodo. They’ve got a couple of those on show, along with a load of eagles, peacocks and colourful tropical birds. Then you head into the creepy crawly section where you can see some ants and bugs and slugs and locusts. They’ve got an ant farm as well, where you can watch them traipsing their way across a log carrying bits of leaf to build their nest. They were probably the only living animals in the museum (although I imagine it would be quite difficult to stuff an ant).
I didn’t really enjoy the ecology section because that was just a lot of trees and plants, but it got better when you headed into the ’Earth Hall’. The entrance for this bit was up a huge escalator through the centre of the Earth, and inside is an explanation of how the planet works.
This section covers stuff like volcanos, earthquakes and asteroids. One of the most popular exhibits was supposed to be a mock-up of a Japanese supermarket during the Kobe earthquake. But all you do is stand on the floor whilst the building shakes around you. The floor hardly shakes at all – all you get are pots and pans and boxes banging about on the walls. If that was the worst earthquake in Japanese history then it was a piece of cake!
They’ve also got a big display of rocks, minerals and gemstones, including stuff like quartz, rubies and diamonds. That was actually more interesting than it sounds, because they had big bits of amber which contained the bodies of little insects, millions of years old – exactly like the plot of Jurassic Park.
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If you enjoy this then try: Hunterian Museum (catch the tube from South Kensington to Hunterian Museum); London Zoo (catch the tube from South Kensington to London Zoo) and Science Museum (you can walk there in less than 1 min).