What kid can resist the appeal of dinosaurs? While not specifically a children’s discovery museum, the Natural History Museum has one of the world’s most famous dinosaur exhibits. The museum features the first T-rex fossil ever discovered plus a specimen of the Baryonyx, a large carnivorous dinosaur. It also has exhibits split into four zones. The Blue Zone has a life-size model of a blue whale that leaves kids in awe, while the Red Zone, dedicated to geology, takes the whole family on a journey to the centre of the Earth.
While taking the kids to a museum housing toys they can’t touch may seem like a disaster, the V&A Museum of Childhood makes an extra effort to include interactive exhibits that will keep little hands busy. Adults can enjoy nostalgic displays of dolls’ houses and rag dolls dating back to the 1600s, while kids can try rocking horses and play with Lego. The museum also has free daily activities such as treasure hunts.
Sometimes kids just need space to run and play. The Horniman Museum, founded in 1901, has around six hectares (16 acres) of gardens to explore, plus daily free activities for children. It also houses dozens of family-friendly exhibits, including the Nature Base, which features live animals; a hands-on display that lets kids touch museum pieces; and an aquarium with 15 exhibits of environments from around the world.
The Science Museum proves that science doesn’t need to be dull. Attracting over 3 million visitors each year, the museum has exhibits for every age group, including galleries for kids under five and the Pattern Pod for kids up to eight.
The National Maritime Museum has 10 free galleries to explore and a collection of artwork, maps and memorabilia. It is perfect for kids interested in pirates, shipwrecks and adventure, and has an interactive children’s gallery where youngsters can learn about maritime technology while loading cargo, arming a cannon and sending semaphore signals. Kids can also easily spend hours playing and working together in the interactive boatyard, where exploration and adventure come to life. Older children will appreciate the Ship Simulator gallery, where they can try to pilot a ship and steer it into port.
The Royal Air Force Museum London has free admission to more than 100 displays of aircraft with interactive exhibits and fun activities for kids. See the world’s only life-size model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet and then visit the Bomb Bay TV under the huge Vulcan bomber. Kids can enjoy the 4D Theatre in the Historic Hangar, complete with dynamic seating and special effects, to experience time travel or an adventure as the pilot of a B-17 bomber on a mission. Tickets for the 4D Theatre cost extra. Free interactive exhibits for kids include learning how to pilot an aircraft at the Aeronauts Interactive Centre.
The Golden Hinde was the English galleon on which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe. Kids can experience life as a 16th-century sailor aboard the Golden Hinde in London. This full-size reconstruction offers interactive tours with actors in period costumes. Kids can explore the deck, raise the anchor, fire the guns and watch a staged sword fight. Older kids may enjoy the Living History Tour, which includes a visit from a 16th-century barber surgeon who demonstrates how illnesses and injuries were treated at the time with a prop box of frightening medical tools.
The Grant Museum of Zoology houses some of the world’s rarest specimens. The museum has one of just seven remaining skeletons of the South African zebra, extinct since 1883, plus preserved bones of the dodo bird, which has been extinct since 1681. Older kids can enjoy gawking at thousands of strange preserved specimens, including a huge jar crammed with 18 whole moles. The purpose behind the jar of moles isn’t known, but they may have been prepared for an anatomy class at one point.
The Burgh House & Hampstead Museum is a popular place for families with young children. This historic property has period costumes visitors can try on, a reading corner and a museum trail to explore. The house also hosts a Bach to Baby class for babies and toddlers as well as weekly art workshops for older kids. Admission to the Burgh House is free.
While not specifically a children’s museum, kids can enjoy pretending to go back in time at the Geffrye Museum of the Home. Founded in 1914, this museum explores the home setting from 1600 to the present day through a series of period rooms. Take a walk back through time and see how domestic life has changed. The rooms are presented chronologically with an introduction. Each room features the type of furniture popular in an English home at the time. Admission to the museum is free. The attached café is located in an open space overlooking the period gardens and serves a variety of hot meals, sandwiches, salads and pastries. The museum is currently closed for renovation and is expected to reopen in spring 2020.