The Horniman Museum is a bit off the beaten track compared to the big national museums in central London. On the other side, it’s very much loved by local Londoners around Forrest Hill and South East. A popular hangout place for families at the weekend, you’ll find plenty of child-friendly activities.
The oldest part of the museum 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 it’s 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:
The Horniman Walrus
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.
The Dodo at the Horniman Museum
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 feather. In reality, the last dodo went extinct in 1662 and only skeletons remain!
The other highlights
- The Garden; the natural surroundings are really nice, the air feels fresher than in central London and there is a nice view.
- The small farm; just perfect for younger kids with alpacas and bunnies. If you enjoy farm animals, make sure to check out our overview of city farms.
- The (paid-for) aquarium; with fascinating jellyfishes as well as poisonous frogs!
We like the Horniman museum because it has a really nice mix of things to offer families. 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.
Getting to the Horniman Museum
Address: 100 London Rd, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ