For kids of all ages, the V&A Museum of Childhood in London is a treasure trove of fun and activities; with interactive play areas, a sandpit, and even a dressing area to try on historic costumes. But for adults, visiting the museum is like taking a stroll down memory lane, thanks to a massive collection of vintage and other historic toys that will bring back memories of their childhood.
Located in the East London neighbourhood of Bethnal Green, the V&A Museum of Childhood is a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum, best known as the UK's national museum of applied arts.
Throughout its history the V&A Museum of Childhood has gone through many name changes, refurbishments and openings. Although it was originally opened as the Bethnal Green Museum in 1872, the museum was renamed as the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood in 1974, and again as the V&A Museum of Childhood in 2006 after it was closed for refurbishment.
A man named Arthur Sabin was the first to come up with idea for the museum after seeing bored and noisy children wandering around the V&A Museum. He then was inspired to come up with London's first child-friendly museum, and eventually Queen Mary (the wife of King George V) started donating her own toys and childhood items to the collection.
Today the museum houses the largest toy collection in the world, and attracts more than 400,000 visitors each year. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, workshops, tours, educational projects and other special events for children and adults throughout the year.
V&A Museum of Childhood Highlights
The museum doesn't only house games and toys, but also clothing, furniture and other unique household items which date from the 1600s to the present day. The Moving Toys collection displays everything from Xboxes to rocking horses, while the Creativity Gallery consists of musical instruments, chemistry sets, play kitchens, puppets and dolls.
The Childhood section focuses more on babies and children's clothes (some of which date all the way back to the 1600s), and there's even areas dedicated to toy soldiers, toy guns and toy hospitals. This gallery is categorized into different stages of childhood, like “Babies,” “Home,” “What We Wear,” “Who Will I Be?” and “Good Times.”
While their children play in a large sandpit, add a lego table, put on their own puppet show or play with an interactive robot, adults can stroll around and learn more about classic games and toys like Lego, Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders.
Don't miss the massive Dolls' House Collection (which includes a 17th century dollhouse from Nuremberg, Germany), the antique Punch and Judy Booth, an Egyptian paddle doll which dates back to 1,300 BC, and the 18th-century commedia dell'arte puppet theater (which is believed to have been made in Venice).
- If you want to avoid the crowds, then visit the museum on a Sunday afternoon, as the weekdays are usually busy with school trips.
- The museum's café is a tad on the pricey side, so you if you want to have a bite to eat before or after your visit, you can always bring your own food and drink with you and sit in the downstairs eating area
- Be aware that parking in the area can be incredibly difficult, especially on a weekend, so it might be better to use public transport to get to the museum instead.