If you’re looking for London museums for kids, the obvious place to start is Kensington. The London Science Museum, Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum are all based in this neighbourhood. Also in Kensington are the excellent Design Museum, Kensington Palace, Serpentine Gallery, Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park. You could spend days and days just exploring the attractions in Kensington.
If you stay in one of the many excellent hotels in Kensington, you shouldn’t have to take public transport to get to most of these top London museums. But if your base is further away, Kensington has excellent connections to other parts of London via the bus and Tube. Depending on which part of Kensington you’re in, you might even be able to stroll to London attractions in neighbouring Chelsea, like the National Army Museum, or the Saatchi Gallery, which at the moment has an unparalleled collection of artefacts from Ancient Egypt in its exhibition, Tutankhamun.
This is a collaborative post. The spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own.
How to get to Kensington London
Especially in the school holidays, the station has a festive feel, and it 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 Victoria and Albert Museums are all just a short stroll away. One great thing to bear in mind is that these museums are all free to enter. We’re so lucky here in London! There is sometimes a charge for exhibitions, and signs do encourage visitors to donate some money if they can. But there’s absolutely no requirement to pay to see the vast majority of the collections.
Our day in Kensington
Although each of these huge London museums for kids 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. My top tip would be to arrive early and start with the Natural History Museum, whose queues grow longer as the day wears on. It opens at 10am, and I’d recommend getting there about ten minutes before opening time.
We spent a day in Kensington, whizzing round a selection of the different collections. We booked on to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, and Tutankhamun at the Saatchi Gallery. Our time slots for both those exhibitions were later in the day. So we decided to spend the morning dipping into the London Science Museum, and the V&A.
Victoria and Albert Museum kids’ backpacks
First of all, we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, a world-leading collection dedicated to art and design. Families can borrow back-packs, available free from the Learning Centre, which help guide children around the museum’s different collections. The back-packs are aimed at 5- to 12- year olds, and take visitors hunting round on a trail. My two children fitted into the age range for the V&A 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 of vials, chalices and flamboyant glass artworks 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 them to sprawl out on the floor, sketching their favourite piece from the contemporary section.
The backpacks were an excellent way to bring the V& collections to life, and we’ll be back again to explore more parts of the museum. 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 Science Museum London
The Science Museum is five floors of treasures waiting for families to look, feel and explore. The new Wellcome Galleries house the most significant medical collections in the world, with the world’s first MRI scanner, Fleming’s penicillin mould, a professional pianist’s prosthetic arm and robotic surgery equipment. Wonderlab is a huge interactive space for youngsters to take part in live experiments, travel under the stars or play with forces on giant slides. Families can spend hours in Wonderlab, and there’s a charge for this part of the museum (day passes start at £8).
Set in the basement next to a cafe and picnic area, the London Science Museum’s Garden is one of those places where parents can just lurk, coffee in hand, while their youngsters dash off and learn about construction, water, light and sound – all through play. Fully interactive, it’s a space for three- to six-year olds, although they’re not too strict about that. On a previous visit, my seven-year old son was allowed in, to accompany his younger 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.
Mathematics – the Winton Gallery
On this visit, we went to the Winton Mathematics gallery, a 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 visual impact of the Maths gallery, but the full-on interactivity of Wonderlab held more allure.
The Clockmakers’ Museum
Usually, the kids race straight for the interactive zones when we visit any London museums for kids, but I wanted to encourage them to look at more traditional exhibits for a change. So I guided them towards the Clockmakers’ Museum. It’s located in a beautiful, quiet part of the Science Museum. The Clockmakers’ Museum features over 1000 beautiful timepieces, dating back to 1600. The 300-year old grandfather clocks interested the children. Just like the one in Granny and Grandad’s house – only a lot older….
The London Science Museum is a place that we return to every year or so. Collections change, and there are still parts of the museum that we haven’t properly explored. We could spend days there.
Science Museum address: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD
Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum
The London Natural History Museum showcases wonders of the natural world, including a world-famous dinosaur collection, including part of the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found, and the first skeleton of Iguanodon known to science. It also hosts the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. The winners and leading entries of this annual competition are displayed on 100 stunning lightbox displays. From fierce-looking bears to snow-covered forests and spooky underwater kingdoms, the photographs really are breathtaking. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
Natural History Museum address: The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Which are your favourite London museums for kids? If you want some idea of other London museums to visit, check out this feature.
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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!