Visiting the Natural History Museum of London

No visit to London is complete without paying a visit to at least one of the many museums the country has to offer. Today, we planned a trip to one of the best museums in London.
Rich in history and filled to the brim with knowledge waiting to be uncovered, with exhibits from the past, present & the future, the museum we chose to spend the day was: the Natural History Museum of London.
Are you curious as to which is my all-time favorite exhibition? Read on to find out! 🙂
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Natural History Museum
Winner of Best of the Best in the Museums and Heritage Awards 2013, the Natural History Museum is a world-class visitor attraction and a leading science research center.
Through the collections and scientific exhibits, the Natural History Museum helps to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in more than 68 countries.
Hundreds Thousands No, MILLIONS of exciting, interactive exhibits are showcased in one of London’s most beautiful landmark buildings. Highlights include the popular Dinosaurs gallery, Mammals with its unforgettable model blue whale and the spectacular Central Hall, home to the Museum’s iconic Diplodocus skeleton.
Also, don’t miss the state-of-the-art Cocoon where, on a self-guided tour, you can see hundreds of fascinating specimens and look into laboratories where you can see scientists at work.
The museum offers a wide-ranging program of temporary exhibitions and events including chances to join experts in the Darwin Center’s high-tech Attenborough Studio in topical discussions about science and nature.
Yes, you’ve read that right. It’s David Attenborough!! For those who enjoy watching documentaries, I’m sure you’ll know who that is and you’re sure to have a blast in the Natural History Museum!
What started as the private collection of a single individual evolved into one of the largest museums of natural history of the world.
The Natural History Museum itself is an exhibit in it’s own right as its architecture, both inside & out – is a magnificent example of Neo-Romanesque grandeur
The museum is housed in a magnificent Neo-Romanesque building, designed by Alfred Waterhouse.
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History of the Museum
Originally part of the British Museum, the Museum of Natural History began with a donation to the country of the collection of Sir Hans Sloane in 1753. Sloane, who was a physician, is said to have collected “natural curiosities”.
When botanist Joseph Banks, the guy who traveled with Captain James Cook added a second collection to Sloane’s existing collection, museum curators began to see a need for a separate location for these items.
A competition was held to determine the architect for the new building. The winner was Captain Francis Fowke who, unfortunately, died before he was able to complete his design. The honors then went to Alfred Waterhouse, who designed a German Romanesque structure that is now known as the Waterhouse Building.
The collections were moved to their new home in 1883, but it wasn’t until the year 1963, that these and additional collections were considered a museum in their own right.
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Waterhouse Building
Considered one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Britain, the Waterhouse Building has become a London landmark. Its high-spired towers soar above much of the skyline and its huge grand facade – inspired by the basalt columns at Fingal’s Cave in western Scotland – is awe inspiring.
The most modern Victorian techniques were used for its construction resulting in an iron and steel framework. The framework is hidden by beautifully decorated terra cotta facades. This structure is famous for its many terra cotta features, and Waterhouse’s use of terra cotta as a building material was groundbreaking in Great Britain.
Don’t forget to look up at the intricately painted ceiling panels in the Central Hall. Decorated with plants from all over the world, these gilded tiles all tell their own story.
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The Exhibits
The museum’s enormous collection of artifacts and specimen (70 million+!!) covering life on earth can be overwhelming. The museum is divided into different color-coded zones, each focusing on a specific aspect of life on earth.
The star attraction in the Natural History Museum of London, is the skeleton of a Diplodocus – taking up premium estate, right in center of the central hall!
The collection of Dinosaur skeletons is one of the museum’s biggest attractions. There are several life-sized models in the Dinosaur hall and you’ll also encounter the skeleton of a Diplodocus in the central hall.
Also a favorite with visitors is a hall dedicated to large mammals, including an enormous model of a blue whale and several elephants.
Another zone of the museum focuses on geology.
In the geology section, you can see the earth seen from outer space, a simulated earthquake, volcanic eruptions and precious rocks found only in space.
There’s also a large collection of minerals and stones.
Then, there is a another hall that showcases a wide collection of very well-preserved London birds.
 
Here in this hall, you’ll get the feeling of walking through an aviary.
Also, there’s a small educational hall that features “creepy crawlies” – bugs you probably wouldn’t want in your living room.
In the hall of “creepy crawlies”, giant animated bugs to tiny live-sized “crawlies” can be found.
Not to forget mentioning, many interactive exhibits – great for the kids!
The rest of the other halls feature exhibitions on Reptiles, Fish, and ecology too!
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Major specimens and exhibits
One of the most famous and certainly most prominent of the exhibits – affectionately known as Dippy – is a 32 meter long replica Diplodocus skeleton, situated within the central hall.
Meet “Dippy”, the official mascot of the Natural History Museum – who is the skeleton of a Diplodocus
The cast was given as a gift by the Scottish American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, after a discussion with King Edward VII, then a keen trustee of the British Museum. Carnegie arranged for the cast to be created at his own considerable expense of £2,000, copying the original held at the Carnegie Museum.
The pieces were sent to London in 36 crates, and on 12 May 1905, the exhibit was unveiled, to great public and media interest even though the real fossil had yet to be mounted, as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh was still being constructed to house it.
As word of “Dippy” spread, Mr Carnegie paid to have additional copies made for display in most of the major European capitals and in Latin and South America, making Dippy the most-seen Dinosaur skeleton in the world.
Over the years, the Dinosaur quickly became an iconic representation of the museum, and has featured in many cartoons and other media, including the 1975 Disney comedy titled: “One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing”.
Another iconic display is the parallel skeleton and model of a blue whale. The display of the skeleton, weighing 10 tons and some 25 m long, was only made possible in 1934 with the building of the New Whale Hall (now known the Large Mammals Hall), though it had been in storage for 42 years since its stranding on sandbanks at Wexford Bay.
Discussion of the idea of a life-size model also began around this time, and work was undertaken within the Whale Hall itself. Since taking a cast of such a large animal was deemed prohibitively expensive, scale models were used to meticulously piece the structure together.
During construction, it was documented that workmen left a trapdoor within the whale’s stomach, which they would use for surreptitious cigarette breaks. Before the door was closed and sealed forever, some coins and a telephone directory were placed inside – this soon growing to an urban myth that a time capsule was left inside.
The work was finally completed – entirely within the hall and in full view of the public in 1938. At the time it was the largest such model in the world, at 28.3 meters in length, though the construction details were later borrowed by several American museums, who scaled the plans further.
The Darwin Center is host to Archie, an 8 meter long giant squid taken alive in a fishing net near the Falkland Islands in 2004. The squid is not on general display, but stored in the large tank room in the basement of the Phase 1 building.
On arrival at the museum, the specimen was immediately frozen while preparations commenced for its permanent storage. Since few complete and reasonably fresh examples of the species exist, “wet storage” was chosen, leaving the squid dissected.
A 9.45 meter acrylic tank was then constructed by the same team that provide tanks to Damien Hirst and the body was preserved using a mixture of formalin and saline solution.
The museum also holds the remains and bones of the River Thames whale that lost its way on January 20th, 2006 and swam into the Thames.
Although primarily used for research purposes and held at the museum’s storage site at Wandsworth, the skeleton has been put on temporary public display ever since.
Well preserved fossil of a Plesiosaurus’s skeleton
Dinocochlea, one of the longer-standing mysteries of paleontology, originally thought to be a giant gastropod shell, then a coprolite and now a concretion of a worm’s tunnel, has been part of the collection since its discovery in 1921. Don’t miss it!
The museum presently keeps a wildlife garden on its west lawn, on which a potentially new species of insect resembling Arocatus roeselii was discovered in the year 2007.
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The “secrets” of London’s Natural History Museum that most visitors usually overlook or miss!
A colossal squid and a cursed gem that refuses to die?
The cursed amethyst
You’ll find this in the mineralogy department.
Everyone who has owned the cursed stone has supposedly died mysteriously or committed suicide.
One of the amethysts’ previous owner was so convinced it was cursed, he then put it in a silver box with lucky charms and threw it in the Serpentine river.
But atlas… Unfortunately, someone found it and brought it back to him! He died soon after.
The canopy ceiling
The building itself was intended to explain a story.
When you look up at the ceiling, there are a series of painted panels of plant specimens. These painted panels in the building tells the story of evolution from plants and animals to humans, standing at the top.
The mosaic floor
Most people take the building itself for granted.
The architecture is absolutely beautiful, and full of small, unnoticed details – like the Victorian mosaic floor. It was all built by hand and is repaired by two guys at 5am almost every day.
The colossal squid
Down in the Tank Room is an 8meter-long fish tank with a colossal squid inside.
Colossal squid are even heavier than giant squid and they’re elusive – mostly only remnants have been washed up, or found inside whales. Their tentacles have great hooks that can rotate and slice through bone. It’s like an alien – and surprisingly more related to slugs, rather than fish!
Archeopteryx
Darwin once talked of intermediate stages in evolution but did not find any evidence…
Well…Archeopteryx is that evidence. It’s the link between reptiles and birds. It’s a small, meat-eating Dinosaur, like a little Velociraptor with sharp teeth and fast-running legs. But look closer and you’ll be able to see beautiful feathers outlined on its arms. It’s a real “wow” moment in natural history.
Sir Hans Sloane’s plant collection
If you go into the cocoon in the Darwin Center, you’ll find a set of old volumes.
They’re the books of Sir Hans Sloane – the Museum’s founding collection. It’s 350 years old and is made up of preserved plant specimens that Sloane had gathered while travelling around the Caribbean and South America.
Does the Cyclops really exist?
Managed to guess what my favorite exhibit is?
Here it is!!
On the left is the skull of a Mastodon and the picture on the right is a statue of a Cyclops.
So…how did the mythological creature known as the Cyclops come about to exist??
During ancient times, people discovered a skull of a Mastodon and mistook it for the skull of the Cyclops.
Btw, a Mastodon is prehistoric elephant.
The skull structure of the Mastodon is built in such a way that, above the tusks and in the middle of the skull, there is one “big hole” right in the middle. This “big hole” is actually where the trunk should sprout out from.
However, in a time when science did not exist yet, people mistook the “big hole” for the singular eye socket of the Cyclops.
And that is how the Cyclops came to exist.
Check our road trips across Europe, in the links below!!
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About Joshua Hideki

Hi! I'm Hideki. You can call me Josh! ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ Welcome!!~ This is a Travel Blog covering Japan, and many other bits & pieces of my personal life. Photography, Blogging, Fashion & Traveling in Style. A travel guide for everyone with these passions. Absorb the mesmerizing atmosphere, take in amazing sights & let the enchanting ambiance take you away as you embrace different cultures & see the world through my eyes - my Eternal Memories. Visit my Blog at: JoshuaHideki.com ! Come discover Japan from the inside with me and also we'll provide you with the best destinations to visit; and that includes the rest of the World too! Please enjoy! Discover Japan & Travel the World with me!! Life is precious, you only have one so live it to the fullest!

4 thoughts on “Visiting the Natural History Museum of London

  1. awhh that seems so interesting! I’ve never been there ^^ your article was really helpful to me, you took so many photos!

    • I’m glad it helped you in some way or another! 🙂
      Could you give me some tips on visiting museums in the Netherlands?

      JoshuaHideki.com

  2. This makes me want to go there!!! I love museums and that one looks pretty cool. ^^

    • I’m glad it inspired you! Do you have museums like these over in Zurich?

      JoshuaHideki.com

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