Something a bit different. We normally plan some outdoor adventures during the school holidays but, after watching Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures when he was small, then Night at the Museum and with his general love of animals and dinosaurs, Rowan had wanted to visit the Natural History Museum in London. With February half term being a bit unpredictable on the weather front, we opted for a city break in the Old Smoke.
It was with a little trepidation that we set off on our journey. There had been a handful of cases of some new virus in the capital and the way it was being reported in the news seemed a bit ominous (and we all know happened next). But ultimately, we decided it would probably be ok to go so, armed with the brilliant City Mapper app, we boarded the train, then braved the underground (excited son looking after his claustrophobic mother) first stop, the Science Museum.
The Science Museum is about 30 minutes on the tube from London Euston. I had top and tailed our four day break with museum visits, as this would provide me with somewhere to put our rucksacks on the days we didn’t have the option to leave all our stuff in a hotel room, and this worked a treat for us. Entry to the museum is free (pre booking required at the moment, and donations always welcome) but in addition, for enquiring young minds, there is the pay to enter Wonderlab.
Wonderlab is an interactive experience, allowing kids the opportunity to use their imagination, explore and feel like a scientist. We had a brilliant time in here. Rowan was able to get hands on with scientific and mathematical concepts with some brilliant displays – his favourite being the friction slides. There were live displays, with plenty of explosions, chemistry and my favourite – the lightning strike.
After unleashing our inner scientists with the displays in Wonderlab, I managed to prise Rowan away to have a look at the rest of the museum and found something for both of us. There wasn’t much time left, but we managed to wander round some of the brilliant, interesting exhibitions and even managed a trip with the Red Arrows in the Flight Gallery, using the power of 3D cinema, before walking the mile down the road to our hotel.
The Tower of London
Next morning, after filling up at the all you can eat breakfast (challenge accepted!) and, feeling braver on the tube, we made our way to the centre of London to visit the notorious Tower. I’m going to write a separate blog about this as there was a lot to see, including an unexpected (for us anyway) visitor.
We spent most of the day exploring the Tower of London. When we finally left, we weren’t ready to return to the hotel so we head down to the Thames for a boat ride to the London Eye.
The London Eye
The huge wheel of the London Eye sits on the River Thames and affords magnificent views of the city. I had missed a trick by not booking in advance as there were savings to be had, but I hadn’t sure how our days would pan out and did not want to be rushing from place to place. But as we were here, we decided to buy a ticket and join the queue. (You currently have to book tickets in advance)
When it came round to our turn, I found myself feeling a bit anxious and claustrophobic (again), and surprisingly nervous about the height. Rowan was beyond excited though, and looked after his mum like a trooper. One full rotation takes about 30 minutes and as I settled down, I realised that we had fallen really lucky with the time of our ride, managing to bag a sunset. We watched as the sun went down – the flickering lights of London reflecting in the River Thames. It turned out to be pretty amazing.
All Aboard for a Sight Seeing Tour
After a busy couple of days, we planned a day sight-seeing trip on one of the hop on hop off buses that operate in London. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember which one now, but Google will provide a list of different options.) It was dry, so we were able to take advantage of the open top as we took in the sights. Some of the buses provided a narrative to what we were seeing through headphones (provided) but we much preferred the buses that had an actual, real-life person guiding us through the streets and points of interest.
In Piccadilly Circus we spotted Eros, though the statue actually depicts Eros’ brother, Anteros (I never knew that). Round the corner, we found one of Rowan’s favourite statues of the day – the Horses of Helios.
We visited Buckingham Palace to see if the Queen was home. The Royal Standard was flying, so I believe she was in, but we didn’t spot her peeping out of the window.
Jumping back on the bus, we passed Marble Arch and, deciding that it was time for dinner, made our way to the Hard Rock Café for burgers.
Next stop was Trafalgar Square, where Rowan was very impressed with the lions.
After milling around the square for a while, we hopped back on the bus, passing a number of landmarks including St Paul’s Cathedral. At London Bridge, we jumped off the bus to visit The Golden Hinde (blog to follow).
After looking round the ship, we decided that we should think about heading back to the hotel – but not before visiting some Harry Potter locations. I mean, it had to be done. Look at the kid’s hat and scarf.
In Leadenhall Market we found the doorway to the Leaky Cauldron, looking much brighter than it did in the film, but the entrance nonetheless. Then we travelled to King’s Cross Station to find Platform 9¾. A luggage trolley was stuck halfway into the magic wall providing a brilliant photo opportunity and inside the conveniently located shop you could purchase a professional photo. Be warned – it is a treasure trove for Harry Potter fans and Rowan spent an age wandering round looking at shiny things, absolutely enchanted.
Natural History Museum
When our last day came, we were really excited to visit the Natural History Museum. The building itself is beautiful, the NHM website aptly describing it as a cathedral to nature – its stone animals and dinosaurs watching down from the walls, like inquisitive gargoyles.
Once inside, I dropped my rucksack in the cloakroom, picked up a guidebook and started exploring the hall. As you walk in you find yourself in the magnificent Hintze Hall, once home to Dippy the Diplodocus, now watched over by Hope, the Blue Whale. Hope became stranded off the coast of Ireland in 1891. Recently, analysis of her baleen has enabled scientists to trace her movements over her final seven years which in turn is enabling a greater understanding of this endangered species today.
In the arched alcoves she overlooks are many different specimens, including dinosaur fossils, rocks, huge tree fossils and an American mastodon. All around was something to discover, down to the animal carvings in the staircase and the amazing ceiling tiles showing a variety of plants.
There are so many collections in the museum and we quickly realised we weren’t going to get round everything in one visit, especially with having to leave before closing to catch the train home. We decided we would visit the dinosaur collection first. Being a Saturday, it was pretty busy, but as we walked round Rowan was able to compare different types of tooth, look how dinosaur legs moved and admire the many fossils on display and hanging overhead. And we love LOVED the animatronic T Rex.
After leaving the dinosaurs, we checked out the some more of the museum. Andy’s Clock has high on Rowan’s list to visit, and we found it in the Hintze Hall. I wanted to find the Earth Hall to revisit my A Level Geography with plate tectonics and volcanoes. Sophie the Stegosaurus, the most intact Stegosaurus fossil ever found guarded the way and we took a whistle stop tour where Rowan was able to learn through the hands on exhibitions.
But eventually, it was time to leave. We collected our rucksacks and took the short tube ride from the museum to London Euston. Rowan was inspired and really excited for a return visit and I’d not only had an expectedly brilliant time, but had developed a weird love/hate relationship with the London Underground!