The questions are hitting me like hail in an ice-age storm: Are those teeth real? Where did that rock come from? How did they get the animals to stand so still? The inquisition starts at the Diplodocus skeleton in the tubular Central Hall and continues as we circle the Camarasaurus, pass the T. rex skull and gawk at the extinct auk. It’s a colossal menagerie, rivalled in size only by the building it’s housed in.
Photo: Paladuta Cornelia, dreamstime.com
It could take a week to wander the four colour-coded zones of this 133-year-old museum – through a humid tropical butterfly house, past the skull of a Barbary lion said to have lived in the Tower of London around 1280 and into an earthquake simulator. We opt for a tour of the “greatest hits,” from gaping at the terrifying T. rex to standing inside a life-size African termite mound.
When it comes time to blow off some steam, the kids race up the Gothic double staircase, narrowly missing the statue of the museum’s “patron saint,” Charles Darwin. Not surprisingly, Darwin has his own wing, a state-of-the-art science and collections facility around the back of the museum, like a private cocoon. In fact, it is a cocoon: a giant oblong pod rising from inside a glass viewing atrium. A glass lift takes us up into it. From there we wind our way down gently sloping curved walkways flanked with plants and insect specimens. Our kids press their noses against the glass displays, shrieking at the sight of the giant spiders. A museum’s not supposed to trigger such fervour in children – or so we once believed.
Cromwell Rd., 44-20-7942-5000
The 3.5-tonne Cranbourne meteorite, found in Australia in 1854 and now in the Earth Today and Tomorrow gallery, was apparently formed 4.6 billion years ago in a region between Mars and Jupiter.
Comptoir Libanais, wildly popular with children thanks to its Middle Eastern sharing plates and finger foods, is a vibrantly decorated break from the subdued colours of the museum.
1-5 Exhibition Rd., 44-20-7225-5006, lecomptoir.co.uk
Alex Pook-Leary’s screen-printed notebooks, £6 (about $11).