Situated in the Kensington area of London, The Natural History Museum is a nationally famous institution and having had the pleasure to visit it recently it was a joy to see such an institution thriving.
Going at the start of the summer holidays whilst Britain was gripped by a heat wave it should perhaps have been no surprised to see the great queues lining up just to gain entrance to the museum but it always raises ones heart to see a museum drawing in such a crowd. Throughout the museum the crowds were there in abundance which did make some of the exhibits awkward to view but you cannot hardly begrudge it for its success, a museum exists for everyone not just one person. Consequently it was uncomfortably hot in some areas of the museum, especially the central core of the building; however heat waves are exceptional by their nature so again it would be harsh to penalise them thoroughly for that.
The entrance to the first exhibit is something quite spectacular one must admit, a row a statutes featuring mythological explanations of the world guarding an escalator that raises you up to journey through the core of a planet is quite something to see. Furthermore starting with the origins of planets and geology is a sensible start.
If you’re looking for an engaging experience this summer then the museum certainly delivers that by having a huge array of interactive exhibits. They frequently encourage you pull this, twist that giving you plenty of opportunity to be active; it also gives the rooms a very lively atmosphere which is very apt especially in the galleries devoted to the human body. Traditional history museums can sometimes seem like mausoleums of the dead, but this museum is very much alive, such is nature.
The only downside of this is that it can get a bit too noisy for some, and if you are a die hard traditionalist you might find it to be a bit off putting. Personally I did rather enjoy them but sometimes wondered what it was I was learning. Nevertheless to be fair, not every gallery had the same proliferation of interactive exhibits, the mineral galleries being one of a more traditional approach with lots of labels and time to appreciate the objects.
This variety does mean there’s something for all types you just have to hope your preferred gallery style meets your preferred topic.
For me the highlight of the visit was the Darwin Centre, a hidden gem at the back at the Museum. Light, spacious and airy it had a very refreshing feel to it and such was its approach, looking at what scientists do behind the scenes. Perhaps my favourite thing that I learned from this was how they prepare specimens’ for presentation and display as its just something that you wouldn’t necessarily think about. Furthermore the opportunity to the behind the scenes researchers (who sadly do not seem to work weekends) makes it an attractive visit. I thoroughly recommend it.
However with highs come lows. Having looked forward to one gallery above all others the dinosaur gallery was desperately disappointing to me, the heat and severe overcrowding most definitely have tinged my view but there seemed to be an underwhelming amount of fossil to look at. Generally speaking it was more pictures and digital representations of dinosaurs than the real thing to look. The few whole skeletons were set out above head level to be viewed from a suspended walkway, on which you had no choice but to be herded forward giving you little time to really appreciate the majestic nature of those beasts. Indeed a narrow one way format with little to look at was the story of that gallery. Having visited the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, which has the largest dinosaur hall in Europe , this January I am aware I have been spoilt and I cannot recommend it enough. However I cannot say the same about the dinosaur Gallery in London.
Nevertheless it is a good museum worth visiting. It offers a good variety of ways to approach natural history in addition the Darwin centre is a novel take and must see for me. However on a busy time you can save significant time skipping the dinosaurs.