Home » London Attractions » A Short Guide to the Natural History Museum

A Short Guide to the Natural History Museum

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The origins of the Natural History Museum go back to  when Sir Hans Sloane left his collection of curiosities to the nation. It was originally housed in the newly-formed British Museum but by 1860 it was decided that a new building was needed. The chosen site for the new Natural History Museum in South Kensington was previously occupied by the 1862 International Exhibition building.

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Alfred Waterhouse created the design for the new museum which opened to the public on 18 April 1881. Although opinions on the new building were mixed at the time, over time it has been recognised as a London icon and become world famous.

The museum has expanded considerably since its opening incorporating the Geological Museum in 1985, and in 2000 a large extension was built on the back of the South Kensington site to house some of the collections and curators. Known as the ‘The Darwin Centre’.

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The Museum houses one of the largest and most important natural history collection in the world with more than 70 million specimens, ranging from microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons.

The range of the specimens is enormous, including material from the ill-fated dodo, meteorites from Mars and a full-size blue whale skeleton. They cover almost all groups of animals, plants, minerals and fossils, and range in size from cells on slides to whole animals preserved in alcohol.

In total in the collection, there are:
55 million animals, including 28 million insects
9 million fossils
6 million plant specimens
more than 500,000 rocks and minerals
3,200 meteorites
17 million insect and 3 million plant specimens are now looked after in the Darwin Centre and Cocoon

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Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery

Discover the dramatic forces of nature in our newly-opened Volcanoes and earthquakes gallery.

Treasures in the Cadogan Gallery

Explore some of the most exceptional objects from the Museum’s collection in new permanent gallery.

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Meet a terrifying T.Rex, inspect dinosaur skeletons and sort the facts from the myths about why dinosaurs died out in the famous Dinosaurs gallery.

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Mammals (blue whale)

Discover a world of massive mammals. Inspect a blue whale, the largest creature ever, from above and below.

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Hintze Hall, formerly the Central Hall

The Museum’s grand entrance hall includes the Blue whale skeleton, a 1,300-year-old giant sequoia tree, Darwin’s statue and the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish still living in the Indian Ocean.

Images of Nature

Marvel at some of the most beautiful, historic artworks and modern images of nature held by the Museum.

Creepy Crawlies

Satisfy your curiosity about ants, hawk moths, termites, spiders, hermit crabs and 1000s of their relatives.

The Vault
Discover the stories behind some of nature’s most rare, unique and valuable treasures in the Museum’s Vault gallery.

Earth Hall

Examine beautiful specimens, including a piece of the Moon. Then take the escalator up through the giant Earth sculpture made from iron, zinc and copper.

This Museum has Free Admission

If you would like further information, visit the National History Museum website here

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