The Horniman Museum is a bit off the beaten track compared to the big national museums in central London. And it’s very much loved by local South East Londoners around Forrest Hill and Greenwich. A popular hangout place for families at the weekend, you’ll find plenty of child-friendly activities.
The collection was created by the wealthy tea dealer Frederick John Horniman and is an absolute treasure chest. The Horniman has something for everyone, from a gigantic stuffed walrus to a slowly turning moon jellyfish to a disgusting 17th-century torture chair from Spain and a stunning musical instrument exhibit.
The oldest part of the museum on the ground floor has very much retained its Victorian spirit. As nature and animal enthusiasts, it feels quite weird to visit this vast collection of stuffed dead animals. Here you can study the natural world in all its splendour in peace and quiet without interruption. Our kids just love to run around and gaze at all the creatures, so I guess nothing much changed since Victorian times. There are two stars of the show that we enjoy above everything else are:
4 reasons why South Londoners love the Horniman Museum and Gardens
1. It’s much less frenetic than the Central London museums
Horniman might not match the world-renowned museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, but you’ll be able to enjoy a much more relaxed visit compared to the popular museums in Central London. And when the kids had enough of the museum, you can venture out in the garden and enjoy the farm animals occupying a corner of the park.
2. It got a stuffed Walrus and Dodo
The star of the show is the huge centrepiece Walrus that is placed in the middle of the exhibition hall. Just like with the dodo, the Victorians didn’t completely succeed in making it true to life (although this was once a real walrus from Canada). They actually overstuffed it, so it kind of looks like it’s about to burst. And I guess it’s the sheer size that is the most fascinating for all the kids flocking around it. By now it’s been on display for more than a hundred years, and I find it really impressive that it’s still in relatively good condition.
We are ambivalent in our relationship to the dodo. On the one hand, it’s a really funny character that we have enjoyed immensely in movies like Ice Age. On the other side, with several animal species on the brink of extinction, the dodo is a sad reminder of what can happen if we don’t take care of the environment. If nothing else, I guess it’s a way to explain for kids some of the harsher realities of life.
In our ignorance, we thought this had originally been a real dodo. It turns out that the body is covered in chicken or goose feathers with whole chicken wings added. The tail was made using tufts of ostrich or goose feathers. In reality, the last dodo went extinct in 1662 and only skeletons remain!
3. The Horniman gardens
Horniman is located in a fantastic location on a hilltop overlooking South East London. In addition to plenty of green space to enjoy a picnic, you’ll find a collection of animals such as rabbits, chickens, alpacas and goats.
4. The Sunday farmer’s market
Every Sunday you’ll be able to enjoy a lively farmer’s market where you’ll also find plenty of street food options. From sourdough bread and croissants to organic meat and fresh seafood, you’ll find the perfect ingredients to enjoy a delicious weekend meal.
Summarising Horniman Museum
At Horniman, you can have a great family day out at the museum. Kids can get fed up really quickly, and the big national museums can feel claustrophobic bringing small kids who just want to play. At Horniman on the other side, you can do a wide range of activities, and keep moving quickly as the kids get fed up with one thing.