From dinosaur fossils and chunks of moon rock, to exotic plants, and even a dodo skeleton, there's no telling what you'll come across during a visit to London's Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum is home to more than 70 million specimens (with at least 500,000 items being added each year), making it one of the largest collections of natural history in the world.

The museum was founded in 1754 (although it moved to its current location in 1881), and was founded thanks to the generous contributions of Sir Hans Sloane, who was also responsible for contributing items to the British Museum. Apparently Sloane wasn't pleased with the natural history collection at the British Museum, and as a result he decided to help fund a second museum in a separate building to house more of these items.

Today, the museum attracts more than five million visitors each year, and is considered to be one of the three most important museums in London (behind the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum).

The Natural History Museum, Pompeii casts The Natural History Museum, dinosaur. By Thorsten Hansen
The Natural History Museum, gold nugget. By Nathan Rupert The Natural History Museum, insects. By Florin Feneru The Natural History Museum, interior. By Lawrence

Natural History Museum Highlights

The Natural History Museum is conveniently divided into four different coloured zones, each of which focus on specific topics or subjects.

The Green Zone has more of a focus on birds, insects, fossils, and minerals, while the Red Zone focuses more on Earth, the planets and the universe; (like the evolution of humans, volcanoes and earthquakes). The Blue Zone, on the other hand, covers everything from dinosaurs, amphibians, mammals, reptiles and marine invertebrates, and the Orange Zone leads you through the Wildlife Garden (which is only open between April and October).

Some of the many fascinating items at the Natural History Museum include:

  • Dippy the Diplodocus skeleton (which hangs in the Central Hall).
  • The first T. Rex fossil ever discovered.
  • The Wold Cottage meteorite (which is 4.6 billion years old – making it the oldest item in the museum).
  • An archaeopteryx fossil (which is the most valuable fossil in the museum's collection).
  • A 14,700-year-old cup made from a human skull (which was found in Somerset).
  • The largest gold nugget in the world (which weighs 27.4 kg, and is worth around $1.5 million).
  • The 1st edition of Charles Darwins' Origin of Species.
  • The Pompeii casts of a man and dog (dating back to the Vesuvius volcano eruption near Naples in 79 AD).
  • The Aurora Collection (consisting of nearly 300 different coloured diamonds).
  • An earthquake simulator in the Earthquake Room (where visitors can step onto a platform in a “supermarket” and feel the room shake, just as it would during a real earthquake).

Special Tips

  • Try to avoid visiting the museum on school holidays as it can get incredibly busy – otherwise, be prepared to be surrounded by children at all times!
  • The main entrance tends to have a long queue which means you may have to stand outside for up to an hour before you get in. If you want to avoid this, the side entrance tends to have shorter queues, especially on weekdays.
  • If you can, try to visit the museum during the evening hours, as the building and hallways are especially beautiful when lit up at night.