London museum hop: Science Museum and V&A

London museum hop: Science Museum and V&A

The museum-side exit of London’s South Kensington tube station has a festive feel. Especially in the school holidays, the station teems with families who have come to visit a top London museum. Once through the clatter of the tube barriers, you can either head up, out into the grand, leafy Exhibition and Cromwell Roads; or you can walk through the subway, past tuneful buskers and billboards to whet your appetite with pictures of the latest exhibition. The Science, Natural History and V&A museums are all only a stroll away.

V&A

the V&A Museum of Art and Design

Although each of these huge London museums has enough to occupy visitors for several days, they’re close enough to each other to do a ‘mix-and-match’ day. You could quite easily dip into a couple of sections of each – so long as you arrive early and start with the Natural History Museum, whose queues grow longer as the day wears on. Best of all, the museums are all free to enter, with a charge for some exhibitions.

Over the summer, we’d planned to spend the day at the Science Museum, at the Robots exhibition and Wonderlab gallery. Bad planning on my part meant that we missed Robots by just one day, and Wonderlab was closed for planned maintenance. So, instead, we decided to go on a London museum hop. We didn’t have the time or energy to do all three museums – but here are the highlights from our hop.

Backpacks at the V&A

V&A

I’m going to describe our day in reverse order, because I wanted to start with the glass collection at the V&A. It’s not the first London museum you think of as being family friendly, but there’s a full families programme. We tried out the back-packs, available free from the Learning Centre. The back-packs are aimed at 5- to 12- year olds and take visitors on a trail around specific parts of the museum. My two (five and seven) fitted into the age range for the glass collection, so that’s the trail they chose.

Glass collection – The Märit Rausing Gallery

It took us a while to find the glass collection. We followed the back-pack’s map through the vast museum, walking past a replica of Michelangelo’s David, through the world’s oldest museum café, and then up in a glass lift, to reach the gallery.

The V&A holds glass from the Italian Renaissance, the Middle-East, 17th–20th century Britain and Europe, and contemporary art glass from around the world. The gallery’s the sort of place where you would normally be terrified to let your child run loose. It’s all glass cabinets, with a handful of people gazing at the displays in reverent silence. But the back-pack was a good tool to help the children focus. We handled wooden objects, blindfolded, then looked for the piece of glassware that was the same shape. The children laid different coloured pieces of ‘fake glass’ (ie plastic) over each other, to see what the resulting colour would be. And the place was quiet enough for the children to sprawl out on the floor, sketching their favourite piece from the contemporary section.

V&A

Now that we’ve discovered the place, we’ll be back to spend more time there. If you’re thinking of making a day of it at the V&A – or even just popping in, check out these useful tips from Mummy Travels.

The Garden at the Science Museum

Science Museum

The Science Museum’s Garden is one of those places where parents can just lurk, coffee in hand, while their youngsters dash off and play/learn. Fully interactive, it’s a space for three- to six-year olds, although my seven-year old son was allowed in, to accompany his sister. In the Garden’s lively water play area, the children mill about in a river of orange aprons. These protect them from splashes while they build dams, operate turnstiles and create bubbles. A light and sound bay lets you shout down a tube, then listen out for what happens to your voice – or watch a mesmerising kaleidoscope, magnified by mirrors. There are foam building blocks, and a climbing frame with pulleys, lifts and chutes, around which an eager team of children transport brightly coloured bean bags. The Garden’s right next to the museum’s picnic area, so it’s perfect for letting off post-lunch steam.

Mathematics – the Winton Gallery

Science Museum

The Mathematics gallery is a new space, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. A hanging plane from the 1920s demonstrated how maths was crucial in developing aviation as we know it. The children liked the Maths gallery, but the full-on interactivity of the Energy gallery held more allure.

Energy

This was our first time in the Energy space. It’s full of screen-based educational games, which my five- and seven-year old were just about old enough to appreciate. Austin took on the role of Energy Minister, making decisions about whether to build fossil fuel power stations, or place windfarms out to sea.

Science Museum

On-screen mice taught my daughter the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy. She also helped the CO2 Ninjas fight evil baddies who were polluting the planet.

Science Museum

Science Museum

The Clockmakers’ Museum, and Journeys Through Medicine

 

These were the first parts of the Science Museum we visited. Usually, the kids race straight for the interactive zones, but I wanted to encourage them to look at more traditional exhibits for a change. This is a beautiful, quiet part of the museum, with over 1000 beautiful timepieces, dating back to 1600. The 300-year old grandfather clocks interested the children, as did a child’s prosthetic leg, made out of leather and wood. But it wasn’t long before they were clamouring to go to the museum’s more interactive areas.

Science Museum

Science Museum

The Science Museum’s the sort of place that leaves you feeling like you want to visit again, very soon. It’s a mind-blowing place for families, as this feature by My Travel Monkey attests.

Have you visited more than one of London’s museums in a day?

The nearest tube station to the V&A and the Science Museum is South Kensington. This is on the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines. London bus services also stop nearby. There are no parking spaces for visitors, except for a limited number of disabled bays for Blue Badge Holders on Exhibition Road.

If you’re inspired to visit more than one London museum in a day, check out this post on the charity Museum dash we did a couple of years ago. 26 in one day!

26 London museums you can visit in one day

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37 Comments

  1. September 26, 2017 / 7:55 am

    We spend a lot of time in museums too, particularly over the Winter months when it rains rans rains. It looks like you had a lovely time in the Summer, and I;m still in awe of your 26 museums thing!! #Citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      September 26, 2017 / 2:28 pm

      I think I’m still aching from it, Karen!

  2. September 26, 2017 / 5:51 pm

    I love museums, and it’s been ages since I’ve been to the London Science Museum a return trip is definitely in order! Whoa! 26 museums in one day I’ve got to ready that post! #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      September 27, 2017 / 11:37 am

      26 was a challenge all right!

  3. September 26, 2017 / 9:30 pm

    The back packs sound like a great idea, I’ll definitely give those a go when I next visit. Not managed more than one museum in a day yet, my three year old has a habit of drifting off to sleep when we visit one..!

  4. September 26, 2017 / 10:20 pm

    We have done the same two as you before! Although we didn’t last long in the V&A (mainly due to my husband’s impatience). We’re so lucky to have great museums so close to each other. Love the science museum! Thanks for linking #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      September 27, 2017 / 11:40 am

      Yes, I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe how much we have access to here in London – for free.

  5. September 26, 2017 / 10:28 pm

    Oh brilliant, I keep meaning to bring the girls down to do some of the London museums. Love the idea of the backpacks, I wouldn’t naturally have thought of the V & A either.
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      September 27, 2017 / 11:41 am

      Now that we’ve discovered the place, we’ll definitely be back.

  6. September 27, 2017 / 12:09 pm

    Reading this really wants to make me take my kids to London! I’ve been many times, but never before with them. So many great museums for kids!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 28, 2017 / 12:39 pm

      We’re spoilt for choice!

  7. September 27, 2017 / 12:09 pm

    Sorry, totally forgot to add the hashtag… #citytripping

  8. September 27, 2017 / 8:29 pm

    We love the Science Museum. Still need a visit to the V&A. It is fantastic that London museums are free. Will definitely now read your 26 museums in one day post! #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      September 28, 2017 / 12:47 pm

      You definitely need good shoes if you’re going to try it!

  9. September 30, 2017 / 11:13 pm

    We love museums, and this is a good reminder that we’ve been meaning to check out the Mathematics museum in New York since my older daughter loves math (me, I could take it or leave it). I’d love to see the one in London because I’m a big Zaha Hadid fan. #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      October 2, 2017 / 1:44 pm

      Even maths-haters couldn’t help but be won over by the Science Museum’s gallery. It’s stunning.

  10. October 2, 2017 / 6:44 pm

    I didn’t know the Science Museum had a garden for parental coffee lurking, how have I missed that?! #CityTripping

    • Nell
      Author
      October 3, 2017 / 1:50 pm

      It’s actually a space in the basement, which looks very little like a garden! And it’s for very young children, so your boys would definitely be too big. Shame, though – a real garden at the Science Museum would also be nice!

  11. October 6, 2017 / 8:45 am

    I’ve yet to visit the V&A museum as whenever we visit London we try to just visit one museum at a time – we’ve done the Natural HIstory Museum, Science and British Museums. V&A is next on our list! It’s true what you say though, we could easily take in a couple on one visit as they are so close to each other!

    • Nell
      Author
      October 6, 2017 / 12:13 pm

      Yes – and then again, you could spend several days in just one of these places!

  12. October 6, 2017 / 9:01 am

    We are so lucky to have these amazing museums in London and to be able to pop in and out is an excellent way of appreciating them. We’ve had a recent visit to the V&A but haven’t been to the Science Museum for years. I think it’s worth returning every so often to see new exhibits. Maybe that maths gallery will help me brush up my own number skills!
    #CulturedKids

  13. It’s a shame, we always used to seek out Science Museums when my littles were actually little. Haven’t been to one in YEARS. Love the look of the glass exhibit. (PS – 26 museums in one day? That’s insane!) #CulturedKids

  14. October 6, 2017 / 1:38 pm

    Crikey 26 is a mission. I have done more than one in a day. Recently on our visit to Stockholm we did 3 in a day – My record so far! #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      October 13, 2017 / 11:44 am

      It did feel pretty hardcore! I’d say three was more fitting, especially with kids 🙂

  15. October 6, 2017 / 5:29 pm

    I love the idea of the backpacks, and the glass exhibit looks gorgeous – you are right Inprobably would have missed the V&A off our South Ken list, but no more! #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      October 13, 2017 / 11:44 am

      It’s a beautiful place.

  16. October 6, 2017 / 8:06 pm

    We’re attempting London with the tots in November so I’m trying to select locations for 3 and 2 year olds. The Garden at the Science Centre sounds like it might be the best option out of the three above?

    • Nell
      Author
      October 13, 2017 / 11:45 am

      Yes, that’s our go-to museum place.

  17. October 7, 2017 / 3:35 pm

    The science museum is my fave in Kensington #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      October 13, 2017 / 11:45 am

      We love it too!

  18. October 7, 2017 / 3:38 pm

    Now the V&A has its swanky new Exhibition Road entrance popping between the three of them is even easier! #CulturedKids

    • Nell
      Author
      October 13, 2017 / 11:45 am

      Yes – it’s such an elegant entrance.

  19. October 11, 2017 / 11:33 am

    Might attempt 2 museums next month when we head to Greenwich. Does the Cutty Sark count!? #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      October 13, 2017 / 11:47 am

      I reckon it does!

  20. October 23, 2017 / 8:38 pm

    Good to know about those backpacks at the V&A. My two like the piano playing in the afternoon tea room as they call it.. little cake addicts. I adore the V&A so I am very glad they are creating ways for younger children to access their exhibits.The Science Museum is an incredible resource too – we love the downstairs play area and the rockets. London has such a wealth of museums. We will miss them! #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      November 1, 2017 / 11:59 am

      Yes, we’re so lucky. You must come back and visit, though!

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