The Museum of London is a hidden treasure. Tucked away at London Wall, near Blackfriars Bridge and the Barbican Centre, from the outside it doesn’t seem the most impressive of places.
The museum was opened in 1976 and at first glance it still looks like a relic from that era: masses of concrete, and grey. Lots of grey. Its building certainly doesn’t have the splendour of some more well-known museums that appeal to families, like London’s Science Museum, the Natural History Musuem and the British Museum.
But when I took my daughter there last week, I was pleasantly surprised. Inside, tucked away in a small but atmospheric corner, we found the London 2012 Cauldron, Thomas Heatherwick’s breathtaking hedgehog display of copper petals, which was unveiled at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Cauldron’s room is dimly lit, with different coloured lights on rotation, slowly illuminating the petals. If you’re visiting London and have an interest in the Olympic Games, I’d recommend stopping by. It is completely free to enter, after all.
And then, there are the rest of the Museum of London’s permanent displays. Unsurprisingly, the museum covers the history of the UK capital. It’s a fascinating story, starting in 450,000 BC, when what is now London was wild tundra inhabited by nomadic hunter-gatherers. The museum reconstructs the different eras of London, through to the modern day. Highlights for me and my daughter were the Victorian Walk, a series of streets with shopfronts from 1900:
(There was even a bar – or public house, depending on where you hail from):
In the museum’s Medieval kitchen I was treated to stew, and strawberry ice-cream by my daughter:
And a friendly curator in the Roman section spotted my three-year-old gazing in awe at the coins in their display cabinets. She wandered over to show us some (fake) Roman coins she had in her pocket, so that my daughter could handle them.
We didn’t get round to see the more modern exhibits, but even so the museum felt manageable in size for little legs. It caters well for kids, too; I first visited the place a couple of years ago, during the school holidays, when they had a full programme of children’s activities, including a brass-rubbing session where youngsters could make a churchtower bell, and learn about the history of the song ‘Oranges and Lemons’ (at the time this was lost on my three- and one-year-old, but it would be perfect for them now they’re older).
If you’re looking for a souvenir from the capital, the museum gift shop has a whole host of London-themed paraphernalia, including (as well as the ones shown here) books on London for kids.
Things to bear in mind
The museum is much quieter during termtime weekdays. We arrived at the opening time (10am) and it almost felt like we had the place to ourselves for the first hour or so. We did find ourselves in the middle of a school-trip flashmob a couple of times, but once the other kids had moved on, the peace descended again.
For £1 you can hire a locker to put your belongings in. Rather frustratingly though, they’re a bit too small for a scooter. So if your child does use one to, you’ll have to carry it round the museum.
There’s a museum cafe/restaurant with a pleasing range of cakes, as well as child-sized portions of food. It’s rather expensive though, and they don’t do hot drinks in child sizes (or prices – £2.80 for my daughter’s hot chocolate. Ouch!)
Although the museum is free to enter, like most London museums there is a charge for some temporary exhibitions. At the moment it’s ‘Crime Uncovered’, which I’m sure is fascinating for adults and older kids. With a three-year-old in tow, I decided to bypass it this time.
Have you visited the Museum of London? Did you know the Olympic Cauldron was there?
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