London day trip to National Maritime Museum and Natural history museum
Ever since I was a child I’ve loved visiting London. I could never live there (although I’d enjoy all the cultural things there are to do), but there’s so much to see, do and experience, I like to visit a couple of times a year. My mum used to take us each major school holiday to show us the sights and places she knew from when she lived there. So I want to make sure N gets to experience our capital city…and not be daunted by it like the OH is.
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Planning our London day trip
As we didn’t do Children’s Week this year, it’s been a while since we’ve been. For once N was keen…not for the sights, but to visit M&Ms World. He’d seen it on one of the US youtube channels he watches. He had already been when he was 2.5 years, but he slept through it when we visited with friends.
We decided that we’d also try the Natural History Museum as his bedtime story at the moment is The Ice Monster by David Walliams, which is largely set in the museum. I was racking my brains for another place to visit and decided we’d also head down to Greenwich for the Cutty Sark. It was going to mean a lot of tube journeys, but even going a bit later in the day to keep our train travel costs down, we should still have been able to fit it all in.
The joy of off peak train travel from our nearest station means arriving in London half an hour after peak time. Frustratingly, the earlier train gets in 1 minute ahead of off peak – a huge difference of around £90 for the 2 of us to travel in! It did mean we ended up getting held up by an electrical issue at Oxford Circus so we were 30 minutes behind what I’d planned. Luckily by the time we arrived at the Natural History Museum the queues weren’t too bad.
Natural History Museum
The queue did look daunting as it snaked around outside the entrance of the Natural History Museum, but it moved really quickly and we were in within 10 minutes of turning up. A relief we arrived when we did because on leaving at 12.30 it was 3 deep in rows and not moving anywhere fast.
I’d warned N we probably wouldn’t see the dinosaurs because it would be insanely busy in there, and given how cramped it was in some areas, I’m glad we avoided that zone. It didn’t matter because we saw plenty, including the fossils hall, the Hintze Hall where the blue whale skeleton is, and the stegosaurus skeleton in the Earth hall.
The Natural History Museum is easy to find your way around. A map costs £1 so if you know you’re aiming for different areas in particular, then it’s worth getting one. We just ambled where we fancied going.
As we’d gone in via Exhibition Road, we arrived in the Red zone or Earth area first. Several floors of geological finds, broccoli looking minerals and precious stones as well as volcanoes and earthquakes displays, and human evolution. We didn’t make it up to 2 of the floors, but it means there’s more to see next time we go.
We headed through to the green zone to see the bird displays, which was a busy area, then through to the dinosaur and water dragon fossils, again very busy. What’s great about the museum is there’s plenty to see that you’ve never heard of before – a giant upright sloth skeleton wasn’t what I expected to see!
The insects and creepy crawlie section had plenty going on, with interactive displays and models. There is also the Crawley House where you can open doors and equipment in the rooms to find out more about the bugs and flies that can live in those spots. Shudder.
Next it was onto the Hintze Hall, the main famous hall which usually houses Dippy the Diplodocus, but while that’s on tour, now has the blue whale skeleton. It’s huge, much bigger than you imagine, although not easy to photograph. You can go upstairs and around the hall for different views, and the hall itself is quite spectacular. N recognised it as a feature on Cbeebies’ Andy and the Dinosaurs. Nice to know something sunk in when he watched all that Cbeebies when he was younger.
We decided to grab some lunch rather than moving further through the museum. There are several cafes in the Natural History Museum, but we headed to the T Rex grill. It’s a table service restaurant, with a fair offering of burgers, pizzas, salads and children’s meals. It was quite busy appraching 12.15 by the time we were seated. Frustratingly the annoying child and Gran seated next to us were served first even though we were ready which I thought was strange.
The prices weren’t bad for a London tourist attraction. I had an ok (massive) caesar salad with chicken and N had a child’s burger and chips. It would have been nice to have some vegetables with it and decrease the number of chips. I don’t think even I’d have been able to eat a portion of chips the size that was on his plate. The children’s menu is set price – either main and drink for £6, or main, drink and dessert for £8.
Post lunch N decided he’d had enough so it was back on the tube and a first ride on the DLR for N, down to Greenwich. Unfortunately he didn’t get to sit in the front seat but he was pretty awestruck by all the Canary Wharf highrise glass skyscrapers. In the sun, they did look spectacular.
Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum
Ok, so I said the plan was the Cutty Sark, but when we got in the queue for tickets, N decided that it was boat and therefore wouldn’t go on it. His irrational dislike of boats continues unfortunately. It’s a bit of a mystery why. Luckily there’s plenty around Greenwich to entertain so we headed towards Greenwich Observatory.
The common behind the National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House was busy with everyone enjoying the sunshine and unseasonable warm weather. And the walk up to the observatory was packed. I didn’t fancy fighting with everyone else stand either side of the Greenwich Meridian so we decided to stick with the museum, and leave the observatory for anoher visit when we can head there earlier in the day.
It turned out that the National Maritime Museum was a good option. It’s a lot bigger than I imagined, in a beautiful old building, similar to many others in the Greenwich maritime history area.
From old naval history to more modern crafts, including the boat used in the Queen’s jubilee trip down the Thames there’s plenty on display. Find out about battles from Trafalgar to Jutland, get close to figureheads and discover various voyages around the world.
Head up to the mezzanine floor and see the huge map of the world. Children were able to use tablets to find out more about different areas and there were plenty of children enjoying it.
N wanted to try out the ship simulator so he was gutted to find it was shut. But a bit of a laugh using the phones had him happy again, before we decided we’d seen enough and were ready to leave.
We stopped off at an amazing desserts cafe – Kaspas, a 1950s style pink and black diner serving waffles, ice cream and crepes. We just had a takeaway ice cream, the first one of the year. Amazingly the weather has been good enough in February! Delicious, and I’d have loved to have stayed for a proper dessert.
Leicester Square is pretty exciting for children. It’s where film premiers usually happen, there’s street entertainment and lots of restaurants. The queue for the Lego store was insane. but luckily M&Ms World didn’t have one. It was manic though, and I was relieved that N just wanted to see the rainbow dispensers and choose his own chocolates. A warning, if you dislike strong smells, don’t visit, because the chocolate smell is overwhelming.
N was happy though. He had his little bag of M&Ms to take home with him.
It was a lovely day spent with N, and while much of a London day trip is spent on the tube, we still saw plenty. In future, I’ll try and make sure he’s agreeing to go to several places in the one location instead of all over the place! And apart from food and travel, everything else was free.
Tips for this London day trip
Natural History Museum
- Check the Natural History Museum visitor twitter for queue updates
- Go as early as possible to avoid the worst of the queues and peak visitor flow. Alternatively try over lunch – when we came out at 1 the fossils corridor was virtually empty compared with when we’d arrived late morning.
- There are 3 entrances – Cromwell Rd, Exhibition Rd and Queen’s Gate which is only open at peak times, so check before arriving. Exhibition Rd tends to have the smaller queue of the main 2.
- Check if there are extra exhibitions and buy tickets in advance. Until June 2019 there’s the wildlife photographer of the year exhibition.
- Download or print out the map online, before you go to plan what you want to see.
National Maritime Museum
- The museum is free but combine a visit with other nearby attractions – you could spend 2 days just in Greenwich.
- Take a picnic and sit out on the common behind to eat.
- Look out for the events going on at weekends and school holidays for children.
- The Astronomy Photographer of the year exhibition is on until May 2019
What are some of your favourite places to visit with children on a London day trip?