One of the most famous museums in London, the Natural History Museum is located in an iconic building and has a collection of heavy historical and scientific value to the world, which is worth seeing by anybody visiting London.
Home to over 80 million items that are distributed in five different categories, you will find among the highlights of the Natural History Museum of London, the first T-Rex fossil ever found, as well as specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself and rock as old as the solar system.
For those into Dinosaurs fossil, this museum is a must, I dare say it has the most impressive dinosaur collection in the world, at least that I have seen.
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What to see in the Natural History Museum in London
The Natural History Museum of London was founded in 1756 as a branch of the British Museum, after Sir Hans Sloane who sold part of his personal collection to the British Government. Back then, the collection was displayed in the Montagu House alongside other collections of the British Museum.
As the collection grew, more space was needed, and in 1881 the Natural History section received a new building, designed by Alfred Waterhouse in a Romanesque style. However, the NHM only became officially independent in 1963.
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What to see in the Natural History Museum
The (Truly) First T-Rex fossil ever found
The first T-rex fossil ever discovered was found by Barnum Brown, a fossil hunter who worked for the American Natural History Museum, in 1902 in Hell Creek, Montana.
The rock around the fossil was blown up using dynamite, revealing the almost complete skeleton. The fossil was transported to the museum and classified in 1905 as a Tyrannosaurus rex (Tyrant Lizard King).
THIS is NOT the history of this NHM fossil. 🙂
Let’s go back two more years, to 1900. Barnum Brown was searching for a Triceratops skull, but in the middle of excavation, he ended up finding something different, the skull of a carnivorous dinosaur never seen before. He didn’t know what that was, and that was not the goal of his search anyways, so he decided to leave that aside, and go back to his Triceratops skull search.
Later this T-Rex skull was classified as a Dynamosaurus.
Years later, specialists found out that both fossils, the Tyrannosaurus‘ found in 1902 and the Dynamosaurus‘ found in 1900, was actually the very same species, turning the 1900’s fossil, the truly first T-Rex fossil ever found, and his skull, can be seen today in the Natural History Museum in London.
The Iguanodon is known for being one of the three first dinosaurs ever discovered and classified as in fact, a dinosaur.
The name came from the fact that the first fossil of this dinosaur ever discovered was the teeth, which looked just like those of Iguanas.
Nowadays a complete skeleton, made of 80% to 90% real bones, can be seen in the Hintze Hall of the NHM.
At the end of your visit to the Dinosaur section of the Natural History Museum, you will have an encounter with one of the probably most famous attractions in the museum: the Animated T-Rex.
Although the museum does not exhibit a complete skeleton of the T-Rex, it does have an impressive Animatronic version created by a Dinosaur expert. The 8 meters long model can react to visitors, moving his head, mouth, tail, and roaring.
Mary Anning’s Plesiosaur fossil
Born into a poor family in the 19th century, Mary Anning went on to become one of the world’s greatest fossil hunters. Just like her dad, Mary collected fossils as a hobby, from a young age.
At the age of 12, Mary and her brother found the fossil of an Ichthyosaur, which pathed her way to the scientific world. But it was her 1823’s discovery that put her name on the hall of fame: the Plesiosaur fossil.
Endemic from the Mauritius Islands, little is known about the Dodo, this weird chubby bird, since they got rid of it before we had any possibility to study these birds.
Unfortunately, Dodo is one of the most recent examples of extinct animals, they were first seen by Portuguese sailors in 1507, and by then on, they were hunted until its extinction. The last individual was killed in 1790.
Because of that, Dodo is now a symbol of human-induced extinction.
There is only one almost complete skeleton of Dodo in the world, and it is being housed in the Durban Natural Science Museum, in South Africa, while other museums only keep some bones.
But here in the Natural History Museum of London, you can see 3D replicas of the species of Dodos that used to exist. No, they are not real stuffed animals, unfortunately, but they give us a good idea of what these weird birds would have looked like in real life.
Barbary Lion Skull
The Tower of London has been lots of things throughout the ages, but 700 years ago, specifically, it was a Royal Zoo. For centuries this zoo housed exotic animals, and among them, there were two Barbary Lions, that took the place of honor, right at the entrance of the Zoo, as a symbol of strength and nobility.
Despite the symbolism, it’s believed that the lions didn’t have quite a good life, unfortunately.
Barbary Lion is a now-extinct species of a lion (declared extinct in the wild in 1922), originally from northern Africa (from Morocco to Egypt).
The two skulls were discovered in the old moat of the Tower of London and moved to the NHM. The oldest skull is dated to between 1280 and 1385, while the other one is estimated to be between 1420 and 1480.
On the Origin of Species
The Natural History Museum has in its collection the very first edition of Charles Darwin’s book ‘On the Origins of Species’. This is without a doubt, the most important book in the biology of all times…so far.
In it, Darwin describes his theory of evolution by natural selection, which was revolutionary when it was first written. Before this book, the common opinion was that God created everything exactly the way it already is, and going against this idea, imposed by the Church, was indeed a dangerous move.
As expected, Darwin was deeply criticized, still, the book was a success and sold out on the same day it was published.
The Moon Rock on display in the Natural History Museum in London comes from the last Apollo mission and is the only piece of Apollo Moon Rock owned by the UK.
In 1973, President Richard Nixon decided to donate a fragment of the rock to 135 countries, including the UK. Now, the rock sits in the Earth Hall of the NHM.
Lucy the Australopithecus
In the museum’s Human Evolution gallery, you are able to see a replica of Lucy the Australopithecus, a key discovery in matters of our evolution.
Lucy’s fossil was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. The skeleton of the small female hominin is one of the best examples ever found and confirms that our ancestors walked upright, even though they were not capable of walking long distances on the ground, proving that this feature came into the human lineage long before the development of a bigger brain.
Next to the replica of Lucy’s skeleton you will also find a replica of the Laetoli footprints, showing the footprints of a biped hominin.
Don’t miss the chance of getting inside the small room decorated in a Japanese modern style, but no reason to be afraid of the floor shaking suddenly!
The Earthquake simulator shows what it was like during the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, that happened on the morning of January 27, 1995, and was registered as a magnitude of 6.9 (7.3 on the Richter scale).
Using the simulator is completely free.
Behind the Scenes Tour
What most people who visit the Natural History Museum of London don’t know is that the museum also offers a Behind the Scenes Tour, and on this tour, you are able to visit the Spirit Collections, composed of preserved natural specimens.
Located in the Darwin Center, the Spirit Collection counts 27 kilometers of shelves and over 23 million specimens! Each category of animal has a floor, but indeed, the highlight of the tour is the Tank Room, where they keep the larger specimens.
Most of the animals displayed here are sea creatures, and among them, you will find interesting specimens like the Coelacanth, and of course, the super rare Giant Squid.
The Giant Squid
Considered a myth for centuries, the Giant Squid is indeed a rare sight. “Archie” as this particular specimen was affectionately named, was acquired by the museum after it was accidentally caught by fishermen.
Little is known about these animals’ habits since they live deep in the sea and rarely come to the surface.
Due to its incredible long length (8.62 meters long), it was especially hard to preserve and house Archie. He is now on display in the Tank Room and can be seen if you take the Scenes Tour.
The entrance to the Natural History Museum is completely FREE, just like most of the museums in London.
However, it is important to bear in mind the lines can be pretty long, so in order to avoid it, you can just book a skip-the-line ticket that includes an In-App audio tour, to help you move around and learn more about each piece.
It is also interesting to consider a private tour so that you will make the most of your visit, being guided by a professional who will walk you through the galleries and collections, explaining details and answering your questions.