Planning on taking the kids to the Science Museum in London? You won’t regret it. This is the magical place where dull and dry classroom subjects come alive.
You’ll look hard to find more inspiring exhibitions when it comes to explaining science and technology to children. Here are the museum’s top highlights summarised by a London family
The Science Museum feels less like a museum in the traditional sense and more like an interactive learning centre for everyone to explore. But because of the vast size, it’s just impossible to see everything in one day, especially with small kids in tow.
Nevertheless, a bit of planning goes a long way in avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the choices, honing in on interactive activities and hands-on displays. So if your kids are restless little buggers like ours, you’ll enjoy the family favourites on our list.
7 Favourite Things for Kids at the Science Museum
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- Wonderlab (paid entry): Educational and great fun at the same time. Everything hands-on makes this a winner in our book.
- Exploring Space (free): Kids just love the full-scale Apollo 11 Eagle module and the colossal space rockets hanging from the ceiling.
- Flight (free): History’s most important aeroplanes in one single gallery
- The Garden (free): Perhaps more about fun than science, but our toddler loves this indoor playground!
- The Imax Cinema (paid entry): Sit back and enjoy breathtaking documentaries of nature and space in 3D.
- Free activities for kids: Plan your visit around one of the many excellent free activities for kids taking place throughout the year.
- The Science Museum Shop: A visit to the official gift shop is a highlight that can’t be missed.
1. Wonderlab Science Museum (paid entry)
Great for: Anyone enjoying a hands-on play-based approach to learning about Science
This is our absolute favourite at the moment. Everything is basically hands-on, which is great for our kids and really good for us as parents. You don’t need to worry about your child breaking anything. There are plenty of “Explainers” on hand to organise the different areas avoiding chaos to erupt. The installations are really cool and engaging, taking learning through play to a new level.
There are live experiments taking place at the Chemistry Bar and several Science Shows in a purpose-built auditorium. There is an admission fee for Wonderlab, but you get an annual pass for the price of fewer than two tickets. Which is something to consider if you live in London since chances are HIGH that your kids will beg to come back. Our kids will easily spend at least two hours here each time.
2. The Space Exhibition (free)
Great for: Learning about the history of space travel
The exhibition does an excellent job of telling a compact and understandable story of space exploration. Starting with the first telescopes, going through the significance of the Nazi’s V2 rockets through to near-future Mars expeditions. Less hands-on than Wonderlab, this is great for kids interested in space and astronauts.
You can see a real-size replica of Eagle, the lander that took Neil Armstrong to the Moon in 1969. There are also two substantial original space rockets suspended from the ceiling. This is part of the free exhibition, and we would set aside an hour at least.
3. Flight: The Wonders of Flying (free)
Great for: Anyone with an interest in aviation history
It’s just incredible how many iconic planes they’ve managed to squeeze in on the top floor of the museum. Anyone with an interest in aeroplanes will enjoy this exhibition. Since the exhibition area is so compact, you get a good sense of how technology developed from primitive glider planes to modern jet planes.
The youngest kids will probably get very excited at the sight of all the planes and then get bored after 20 minutes when realising very little is hands-on. For older kids with a more profound interest in aeroplanes, I would set aside around one hour. We can also highly recommend the Red Arrows 3D movie and jet simulators for some action. Any child (or adult) interested in planes will feel like Christmas comes early from this experience. It’s actually a great gift to give someone that enjoys planes (hint hint).
4. The Garden: Interactive Play Area (free)
Great for: Restless toddlers eager to explore
It’s funny that it’s called “The Garden” since the play area is buried deep in the basement. Recommended age is 3-7, but definitely a lot of fun for 2-year olds as well. Through hands-on sensing, children can explore sound, motion, water, shadows, reflections… This is a really popular area during school holidays and weekends, so make sure to arrive early or after 4 PM when most are heading home. This is a really well-planned play area and a “must” for everyone with a toddler in tow. The only downside is that your child will probably make a fuss when leaving. We usually spend around one and a half-hour here.
We would usually do just a couple of these activities in one day. But if you are visiting London from afar, you might want to squeeze in some more while you are in town. Our advice is to prioritise and begin with the activities your kids enjoy the most to make sure you cover them while the kids’ energy levels are high.
5. Imax: The Ronson Theatre (paid entry)
Great for: Sitting back and enjoying incredible 3D films about the natural world
The museum offers an incredible cinema experience with its giant 3D IMAX screen, one of the largest in the UK. With a 7-year-old daughter passionate about the environment, we were really looking forward to seeing Antarctica 3D by BBC Earth. Captured by the film crew behind Planet Earth with incredible underwater scenes of all the surprisingly wonderful creatures living under the ice, this is a film we recommend everyone to see. Even our 3-year-old sat still through the 60 minutes duration, captivated by the incredible 3D experience. Relaxing in the comfortable cinema seats for an hour was also a welcome break for both kids and parents.
Keep in mind that the cinema itself is a good 10-minute walk from the museum’s main entrance, so book your general admission tickets with some buffer in between. You basically need to walk to the far end of the exhibition hall, walking straight past the information desk through the Exploring Space and Modern World exhibitions.
Other great family-friendly 3D films shown at the time of writing include Beautiful Planet 3D, narrated by Jennifer Lawrence and Hubble 3D, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. Check the museum website for the latest update on which films are on show.
6. Free activities for kids
Great for: Families getting even more out of their visit
One of the great things about the museum is all the free activities they organise throughout the year. A great example of this is the “CoderDojo” free coding session for 7-17-year-olds held once per month. Kids get the opportunity to try different coding projects, from basic programming of simple robots to creating advanced apps. Knowledgeable volunteer mentors are at hand, guiding and encouraging the kids to learn more about coding.
Suppose you have already booked your next visit to the Science Museum. In that case, we recommend checking the museum website’s see and do tool, where you can filter on the type of event and age group. In this way, you can easily find an activity that suits your family. Attending a live event or workshop often makes the museum visit extra memorable!
7. The Science Museum Shop
We save the museum’s gift shop towards the end of the day because it’s a highlight the kids can look forward to. With cool toys like old-school steam engines, board games, talking robots and science kits, it’s clear that a lot of effort was made to curate a high-quality selection of games and toys. Finding toys that are educational and entertaining for kids is not easy, and browsing through the gift shop is a great way to get ideas for Christmas and birthdays.
In the museum store, you’ll find toys branded as approved by the museum in addition to popular brands like Lego and Playmobil. Of course, some of the items might be a couple of pounds more expensive than on Amazon. Still, in return, you get the real shopping experience, which I think is valuable for the kids to take part in. Plus, you get to support a fantastic museum!
Lunch options at the museum
Depending on your budget and mood, there are several lunch options in and around the museum. Here are a few places to consider:
Restaurants in the museum
Energy Cafe: Located on the ground floor just after the main entrance, the Energy Cafe serves sandwiches, salads, and hot food like pizzas. We also like their “Kid’s Bag” with a sandwich and selection of healthy snacks.
Shake Bar: Located right outside the main entrance of Wonderlab on the third floor, this is the place to indulge in creamy, decadent milkshakes and ice-creams.
The Diner: Located on the ground floor, just outside the entrance to IMAX, here you can get a decent selection of salads and sandwiches as well as hot and cold beverages.
Basement Cafe: Right outside toddler-friendly The Garden, you’ll find a small cafe with essential treats like ice cream, cakes and sandwiches.
Bringing your own packed lunch
We absolutely love the Science Museum. Not only is the museum completely free to enter (while encouraging donations). They’ve also made an ample open space available for anyone bringing their own food to have a picnic. With several large tables geared towards groups of families, this is perfect for anyone preferring to bring their own food. The Shake Bar is also conveniently close by if you want a treat after having your packed lunch.
Child-Friendly restaurants near the Science Museum
With a large selection of places to eat in South Kensington, you don’t need to walk far to find restaurants near the museum. You’ll find several child-friendly restaurants in the area, such as:
- Pizzetta Pizza
- Honest Burgers
- Memories of India
- Pappa Roma
- Light of India
Picnic in the park
Last but not least, if it’s a hot summer day, you might want to consider a picnic in Kensington Gardens nearby. Not only do you have plenty of green space, but you also have Diana Memorial Playground within a short distance. The Diana Fountain in nearby Hyde Park is perfect for cooling off on hot days.
Free family events at the museum (updated summer 2021)
Free storytelling show, drop-in
Where: Basement Studios, Level -1
Dates: Saturday 24 July – Sunday 29 August 2021
In this storytelling event, the museum’s Explainers will take young children on an adventure to show them how important trees are and how they work.
Free science show, drop-in
Where: Lecture Theatre, Level 0
Dates: Saturday 24 July – Sunday 29 August 2021
Families can join the museum’s excellent Explainers for this interactive show. Find out what carbon dioxide is, why too much of it is causing our planet some problems and what we can all do to help.
Where: Our Future Planet, Level 0
Dates: Saturday 24 July – Sunday 29 August 2021
Children can join our Explainers in the exhibition Our Future Planet to learn more about carbon dioxide and how we can reduce levels of it in our atmosphere.
Free, ticket required
Dates: On the second Saturday of the month, June – December
Times: 11.00–12.45 and 14.00–15.45
CoderDojo is a free coding session for young people interested in programming, open to everyone from total beginners to programming experts. Young people and their families can discover how coding is valuable and relevant to everyday life and what skills are used by programmers. According to the Science Museum, “the sessions offer an informal and creative environment to try coding out for the first time or work on a project with volunteer mentors”.
The History of the Science Museum
Ever wondered how old the museum is? Here’s a brief introduction to the museum’s history and how it evolved from the Victorian age.
This history of the museum began more than one and a half centuries ago, with its origins from the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. The museum’s original building was an iron-framed structure that had an unattractive factory-like appearance. Nicknamed the “Brompton Boilers”, it was open to the public on Wednesday, 24 June 1857.
Well categorised and labelled
The museum’s present building was designed by Sir Richard Allison, with the East Block first built in 1913. Still, it was abandoned after the First World War and not fully opened until 1928. Its galleries reflected the museum’s thinking at the time: The displays were organised by the subject in glass-topped showcases lit mainly by sunlight. And the labels of the exhibits were often excessively long and complicated, more targeted towards subject matter experts than ordinary visitors exploring new topics.
The move to modern interactive museums
Today the museum’s focus is very much targeted towards inspiring everyone. And you certainly don’t need a degree in physics to enjoy all the marvellous interactive galleries! With award-winning exhibitions, iconic objects and stories of incredible scientific achievement, the museum continues its journey providing knowledge of science and technology to the masses.
FAQs about the museum
Is the museum free of charge?
Yes, entry is free to the main section of the museum. For special exhibitions like Wonderlab there’s an entry charge.
Is the Science Museum just for kids?
No, the museum is for everyone.
Is the museum family-friendly?
Yes, the museum has made lots of efforts to create interactive exhibitions that are fun for kids.
Is the Science Museum good for parents?
Yes, we really like the open space and the ability for kids to explore without parents having to worry about kids breaking something.
Is the musem toddler-friendly?
Yes, especially “The Garden” gallery on the lower ground floor. But other sections like “Flight” and “Wonderlab” will be a lot of fun for young kids.
Can you bring your own food?
Yes, there’s a big open space on level 3 great for family picnics.
What’s the nearest train station to the Science Museum?
Go to Victoria Station, then take the District or Circle line directly to South Kensington with no changes needed.
What’s the best time to visit the museum?
If you want to beat the crowds, avoid weekends and scool-holidays. As always in London, make sure to arrive early to beat the crowds.
What are the best sections for kids at the Science Museum?
“Wonderlab”, “Exploring Space”, “Flight” and “The Garden” are some of the most popular museum sections for kids.
Is it free entry to Wonderlab?
No, it’s paid entry. Note that an unlimited annual pass is not a lot more expensive than a day pass. Check the official webpage for the latest prices.