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Olympic Cauldron at the Museum of London

Olympic Cauldron

The Museum of London is a hidden treasure. Tucked away at London Wall, near Blackfriars Bridge and the Barbican Centre, from the outside it’s easy to miss.

Museum of London

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.

Museum of London address: 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN

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.

Olympic Cauldron

Olympic Cauldron

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.

Olympic Cauldron

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:

Museum of London

Museum of London

(There was even a bar – or public house, depending on where you hail from):

Museum of London

In the museum’s Medieval kitchen I was treated to stew, and strawberry ice-cream by my daughter:

Museum of London

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.

Museum of London

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.

Museum of London

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!)

Museum of London

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?

A child-friendly exhibition, Beasts of London, was at Museum of London until 5 January 2020. You can read about it here.

If you want more ideas about London museums to visit, check out this feature.

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30 Comments

  • Izzie Anderton
    January 19, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Looks like a fabulous place for a day out in London… happy to hear that you and your daughter enjoyed it x

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 19, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Thanks Izzie!

      Reply
  • Jen
    January 19, 2016 at 10:37 am

    I didn’t even know it was there! So it will be a must visit if we go to London soon. Oh and if you are looking for a fab London book then Pop up London by Jennie Maizels is a must purchase

    Reply
  • Lucy Zelazowski
    January 19, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Fab writing and blog piece. I have done a little research about this museum, its definitely a little hidden gem in London. I want to take my sons when they are a little older and hopefully appreciate it. I love being a Londoner and this museum shows it all.

    Reply
  • Lucy Dorrington
    January 19, 2016 at 11:25 am

    What a fantastic find! I often find the lesser-known attractions offer something special.

    Reply
  • JuggleMum, Nadine Hill
    January 19, 2016 at 11:38 am

    What a great day out! It looks like somewhere I’d be interested to visit – glad you had a good day.

    Reply
  • Erica Price
    January 19, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I have this museum on our to do list – I’d like to find out more about Roman London.

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 21, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      Their Roman section was fascinating.

      Reply
  • oana79
    January 19, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    I did spot it this summer when I found my way around the area for BritMums but I had no clue it is free entry! I may give it a go this year, if I descend to London for the conference again.xx

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 21, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Perhaps a load of us should have a lunchtime outing during BML this year!

      Reply
  • Kara
    January 20, 2016 at 6:17 am

    I have walked past that museum so many times without realising it was there. Adding it to my must visit list for 2016

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 21, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      It’s a hidden treasure – blink and you’ll miss it!

      Reply
  • Mrs M
    January 20, 2016 at 9:39 am

    I never even knew this museum existed – looks a like a great place, I’m sure my children would love it!

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 21, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      It’s a great place for kids.

      Reply
  • Cass@frugalfamily
    January 21, 2016 at 8:40 am

    I’ve never even heard of this museum but it looks great and is now on my must visit list x x

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 21, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      It’s not so well known as some of the others, and is smaller. But that makes it even more worth a visit, in my view.

      Reply
  • Emma
    January 26, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    I have never been, but it looks like a great day out! I remember watching the opening ceremony slightly apprehensively as to what we were about to witness, but it was amazing, and I was SOOO proud of my country! 🙂

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 27, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      It was an incredible spectacle.

      Reply
  • Katja - globetotting
    January 26, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Like many people, Thomas Heatherwick’s cauldron was one of the most memorable things from the London Olympics so it’s fantastic to hear that you can go and see it in person. I had never heard of this museum before but it sounds like a really interesting one to visit with kids. #citytripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 27, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      It’s a great place if you want a real ‘London’ experience.

      Reply
  • Cathy (MummyTravels)
    January 26, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    I love the Museum of London although I’ve never been with my daughter – it’s amazing that every time I read a review or post about it, there seems to be something I didn’t see last time. Unless I’ve been walking round half-asleep, I think there’s so much to discover I just can’t have taken it all in! One for my ‘last year before school’ list I think. #citytripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 27, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Yes, we’re on that year here too. So many places I need to take my daughter to on our ‘dates’ while we still can!

      Reply
  • Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)
    January 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Oh that looks like a very pleasing range of cakes indeed! In all seriousness though, this looks like a wonderful museum. I really must take my two – they’d be particularly impressed with the Olympic Cauldron and the Roman coins.

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 27, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      There’s tons there for kids – I bet we’d find more treasures if we went again.

      Reply
  • Urska @ Slovenian Girl Abroad
    January 27, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Museum of London is such a great place. I love it. 🙂
    #citytripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 27, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Isn’t it just!

      Reply
  • Wander Mum
    January 29, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    I’ve never been here and, admittedly, will have blissfully walked past it many times without realising its existence. I would certainly get a lot out of this…particularly seeing London through the ages – fascinating! Great that it is good for children too…another one to add to my London list (it’s getting rather long). Thanks for bringing this museum to my attention and linking to #citytripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      January 31, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      It’s a pleasure. It’s definitely worth a visit or two – in fact, I was there again today, with my son – I thought the historical stuff about the Black Death and the Great Fire of London would help with his school projects.

      Reply
  • Sandra
    February 22, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    I love all London museums and galleries – they need to get more publicity like this because they are such a fantastic place! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Nell
      February 23, 2016 at 10:30 am

      I agree. It’s incredible that so many of them are free for general entry. We’re so lucky.

      Reply

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