How to make the most of the Science Museum, London
Welcome to the insider’s guide to the Science Museum London! As one of the most popular tourist destinations in London, the Science Museum is an incredible place to explore the wonders of science and technology. Whether you’re a science enthusiast or just curious about the world around you, this museum offers a unique and interactive experience that will leave you inspired and amazed.
The Science Museum is a bustling attraction that caters primarily to families with young children. Visitors can easily spend an entire day exploring the exhibits and engaging in hands-on activities. During peak seasons like Easter and Summer holidays, the museum can get quite busy, attracting not just families but also science enthusiasts. Whether your interests lie in spaceships, steam engines, human personality, or the history of medicine, there’s always something at the Science Museum to fascinate science buffs of all ages.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the Science Museum’s fascinating history, its extensive collection of exhibits, and provide you with some helpful tips to help you make the most out of your visit. Each section will be divided into floors so you know what to expect when you walk through each department. We’ll also share some insider knowledge that you won’t find in your typical tourist guidebook, giving you a deeper understanding of the museum and what makes it so special.
So, whether you’re planning your first trip to the Science Museum or you’re a seasoned visitor looking to explore something new, this insider’s guide is the perfect resource to help you make the most of your experience. Let’s dive in!
History of the Science Museum, London
The Science Museum London was founded in 1857 as part of the South Kensington Museum, which was later renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Science Museum originally exhibited a collection of industrial machinery and scientific instruments. In the late 19th century, the museum expanded its collection to include exhibits on transport, electrical engineering, and photography.
During World War II, the museum was heavily damaged and many of its exhibits were destroyed. However, in the post-war years, the museum underwent extensive reconstruction and expansion, with the addition of new galleries and exhibits.
Today, the Science Museum is one of the most popular museums in London, attracting over three million visitors each year. The museum has a vast collection of over 300,000 objects, including some of the world’s most significant scientific and technological innovations. The museum also has a strong focus on education, with a range of interactive exhibits and programs designed to engage visitors of all ages with science and technology. You can find a range of paid exhibitions at the Science Museum that vary throughout the year, so it’s always worth checking their website to see what’s currently on offer.
Before you visit the Science Museum
Plan your visit ahead of time: The Science Museum London is a vast space with many exhibits and activities, so it’s a good idea to plan out your itinerary before you arrive. You can check out the museum’s website for a list of current exhibits and events. With so much to explore and discover, it’s recommended to take your time and wander through each section of the Science Museum. Visitors can easily spend 3-4 hours here not including the paid exhibitions, and it’s not uncommon for people to spend an hour exploring just one section of the museum. So, plan accordingly and allow plenty of time to fully experience the exhibits and activities. Take breaks between each sections because after 1 hour, you’d be tired walking.
Arrive early: The museum tends to get crowded later in the day, so it’s a good idea to arrive early to avoid the crowds. You can start your visit with the most popular exhibits first, like the Launchpad interactive gallery or the Information Age exhibit.
Explore the Information Age exhibit: The Information Age exhibit is a fascinating exploration of how communication technology has evolved over the years. From the first telegraphs to the modern internet, you’ll learn about how people have communicated with each other over long distances throughout history.
Visit the IMAX cinema: The Science Museum London has its own IMAX cinema, which shows a variety of science and nature films in stunning 3D. Check the schedule ahead of time to see what’s playing during your visit.
Take a break in the museum cafe: If you need a break from all the exhibits, the museum has several cafes and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat and relax for a while.
Shop for souvenirs: The museum’s gift shop has a wide variety of science-themed souvenirs, from books and DVDs to toys and games. You can find something for everyone, whether you’re shopping for kids or adults.
What can you see at the Science Museum in London?
At the Science Museum in London, you can see a wide range of exhibits covering various scientific disciplines such as physics, biology, astronomy, and technology. There are interactive displays that allow visitors to learn about the laws of motion, the history of flight, and the evolution of computers. You can also see a collection of historic scientific instruments, including telescopes, microscopes, and calculating machines. There is also a section dedicated to the human body, where you can learn about the different systems and functions of the body, as well as see how medical technology has evolved over time. In addition, there are temporary exhibits that focus on current scientific topics and breakthroughs, offering visitors a chance to learn about the latest developments in science and technology. Overall, the Science Museum offers a fascinating and educational experience for people of all ages. The Science Museum is split into 5 floors and the Gift Shop.
Making of the Modern World
Future of our Planet
Watch the IMAX 3D Cinema
Our Future Planet
Who Am I?
The Clockmakers’ Museum
Brass, Steel and Fire
Engineer your Future
And of course, Science Museum Shop which you can visit at the end of your tour. In the Science Museum Shop, you can buy scientific toys for all ages, books such as the Encyclopaedia, storybooks for pre-schoolers, robots, t-shirts, keyrings, and many more.
How long do you need at the Science Museum?
Spend at least 2 hours if you’re short of time. To cover the whole museum, it can take around 3 – 4 hours here covering the whole museum. Plan well and you’ll get the chance to visit the Natural History Museum and the V&A Museum next to each other.
As soon as you step into the Energy Hall, you are transported back to the 18th Century, where you can learn about steam engines and their inventor, James Watt. These engines were a game-changer during the Industrial Revolution, leading to British prosperity. Steam has been the backbone of British industry for the past 300 years, and today it still contributes 75% of our electricity. The Energy Hall showcases four colossal steel machines, mostly invented by James Watt himself.
James Watt, a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer born in Greenock in 1736, displayed an early interest in mechanics and engineering. In the 1760s, he focused on improving the efficiency of steam engines, which powered factories and mills at the time. His innovations, such as a separate condenser and more efficient steam valve, increased the power and reliability of the steam engine, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution and revolutionizing modern industrialization. Watt’s contributions to science and engineering continue to be celebrated and recognized today, even after his death in 1819.
By exploring the numbered exhibits in the Energy Hall, you can learn how steam engines were used to transport agricultural goods and extract natural resources, replacing horses and carriages. The massive size of the machines, compared to old photographs, makes it hard to imagine the physical strength and endurance required of peasants to operate them and achieve their desired results for their crops. The Energy Hall concludes with a tribute to James Watt and the tools he and his fellow inventors used to make the steam engine a reality.
Making the Modern World
The Future of Our Planet
The Science Museum in London presents The Future of our Planet exhibition, which delves into the challenges and opportunities that the Earth faces in the 21st century. This exhibit offers an informative insight into climate change, biodiversity loss, and the effects of human actions on the environment. Visitors can explore potential solutions to these challenges, including renewable energy, conservation practices, and sustainable lifestyles. With the aid of interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations, visitors can discover the most recent scientific research and technological advancements being employed to safeguard the planet and its resources for future generations.
The Science Museum’s exhibition, “The Future of our Planet,” educates visitors about the harmful impact of carbon dioxide pollution on our planet. Human activities such as deforestation, coal production, and decomposition result in the release of this gas, which can adversely affect our planet’s sustainability. However, the exhibition highlights that we can mitigate this damage by taking steps to reduce or sustain carbon dioxide levels. One solution that scientists are working on is the mechanical tree, which absorbs carbon dioxide, along with other tools to combat pollution. The exhibit also features educational videos and interactive games that provide visitors with a comprehensive understanding of how we can collectively work towards a sustainable future for our planet. “The Future of our Planet” exhibition ultimately offers a reflective and enlightening experience that inspires visitors to contemplate their role in creating a more sustainable future.
The IMAX 3D Cinema – Ronson Theatre
The IMAX Cinema 3D at the Science Museum London, also known as the Ronson Theatre, is a must-visit attraction for movie lovers and science enthusiasts. This state-of-the-art theatre features a giant screen that measures over 26 meters wide and 20 meters high, making it one of the largest cinema screens in the UK. The theatre is equipped with the latest 3D technology and surround sound, creating an immersive and unforgettable cinematic experience. Visitors can watch a range of fascinating documentaries, blockbuster movies, and educational films that cover a variety of scientific topics. The theatre also hosts special events and screenings throughout the year, making it a popular destination for people of all ages. A visit to the IMAX Cinema 3D at the Science Museum London is a truly memorable experience that should not be missed.
The Pattern Pod
The Pattern Pod is a fascinating and interactive exhibit at the Science Museum London that is perfect for young children. This exhibit is designed to introduce children to the concept of patterns and sequences through a variety of fun and engaging activities. Children can create their own patterns using colorful shapes and objects, explore different types of patterns, and even use a giant kaleidoscope to see patterns in a new way. The Pattern Pod also features interactive games and puzzles that challenge children to think creatively and logically. This exhibit is a great way to introduce young children to the wonders of science and technology in a playful and interactive way.
Who Am I?
Who Am I? is an interactive exhibition situated at the Science Museum in London that aims to explore the science of human identity. It delves into the factors that influence our identity such as genetics, environment, culture, and personality. The exhibit is a hands-on experience that includes various interactive displays and activities for visitors to learn about their own genetic makeup, compare it to others, and discover how different factors contribute to who they are. It also covers the ethical considerations surrounding genetic testing and the use of genetic information.
Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by a large screen displaying various questions like “Am I intelligent?” and “Am I happy?” that encourage visitors to reflect on their own identities. The exhibit is dimly lit, and visitors can see people exploring their identities, children interacting with video pods to learn about their personalities and families, and various objects, including tools related to IVF and DNA testing. Upstairs, visitors can view a glass case containing various items like dolls, cigarettes, and computers that investigate why our interests and hobbies change as we age. The exhibit also delves into the science behind our memories and genetics and explores why we fear certain objects like spiders, buttons, and snakes.
In summary, Who Am I? offers a captivating and educational experience that explores the complex and multifaceted nature of human identity.
Engineering our Future
The Science Museum’s Engineering Our Future exhibit on the third floor is a captivating showcase of the exciting and innovative world of engineering. The exhibit features advanced technologies and cutting-edge innovations such as renewable energy, robotics, and advanced materials. Visitors can engage with interactive exhibits and discover the challenges and opportunities facing engineers as they strive to build a sustainable future. Through hands-on activities and interactive displays, visitors can explore engineering concepts and gain insight into the work of engineers. This exhibit is a must-see for anyone interested in science and technology and provides a great opportunity to learn about the vital role of engineering in shaping our world. Additionally, the exhibit emphasizes the importance of science and maths in shaping our future, with inspiring photos of students who have made a difference in the world through engineering. Children over 11 years old can enjoy educational and interactive games that encourage them to think about their future aspirations. Many kids were enjoying the exhibit and waiting in line to play the interactive games.
NEW: Injecting Hope
The “Injecting Hope” exhibit at the Science Museum in London provides visitors with a glimpse into the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. The exhibit showcases the science and technology behind these vaccines, including the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Visitors can also learn about the rigorous testing and regulatory processes that vaccines must undergo before they can be distributed to the public. The exhibit also highlights the unprecedented global effort to develop and distribute vaccines, from the international collaborations between scientists and researchers to the logistical challenges of vaccine distribution. By exploring the history and science of vaccination, “Injecting Hope” offers visitors a greater understanding of the importance of vaccines in controlling the spread of infectious diseases and the potential to combat future pandemics.
The Medicine section of the Science Museum in London offers visitors a chance to delve into the history of medicine and discover the key events, figures, and inventions that have shaped modern medicine. The exhibit highlights notable advancements such as the development of anesthesia and the eradication of smallpox. Unlike other sections, the Medicine area provides a spacious environment to explore. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a towering statue, while to the left, five well-preserved glass-encased models of human bodies from the 18th century are on display. These anatomical models were used for dissection and served as an essential tool for medical students of that time.
The exhibit invites visitors to explore the diagnostic methods used by healers throughout history, which varied from magical practices in ancient civilizations to the use of instruments in medieval Europe. With advances in technology, medical practitioners today use a combination of sensory observation, patient reporting, and tools and tests to diagnose and treat patients. Visitors can learn about routine measurements like pulse, blood pressure, and temperature, which are recorded in patient charts to track their progress. Additionally, the exhibit explores the bubonic plague, the first pandemic that killed millions of people in the 14th century, and how it spread through fleas and infected animals. The Medicine section of the Science Museum is a fascinating journey through the history of medicine that will leave visitors in awe of human ingenuity and advancement.
As you explore the exhibit, you may come across a striking sight: a large steel coffin enclosed in a glass case by the wall. During the 18th century, this coffin served as a container for the bodies of the deceased, which were used by anatomy schools for dissection. However, due to a lack of legal bodies, criminals were often procured for this purpose. Grave-robbers, also known as body snatchers, would later resort to stealing corpses from graves, and in some cases, even resort to murder. This dark practice continued until the 1832 Anatomy Act, which permitted the dissection of the poor as a form of payment for the charity they received during their life.
As you continue through this exhibition, you’ll delve into the fascinating history of dissection, childbirth, and grave robbery during the 18th and 19th centuries. This exhibit showcases the tools utilized during these practices, including the development of the operating table and blood measurement techniques. You’ll also explore the methods used to measure intelligence, with models of brains on display. In addition, you’ll gain insight into the evolution of hospital beds, as well as the introduction and progression of the National Health Service (NHS). Don’t miss the chance to view an old booklet containing information on hospital fees prior to the establishment of the NHS.
As you near the end of the room, there’s a small chamber you can step into and experience what it was like for the mentally ill who were confined in a dark, desolate space without sustenance. You’ll also hear a harrowing account from a real-life mental patient and their ordeal in such a room. Although I didn’t personally feel confined or uneasy in there, I can only imagine the torment they must have endured.
Moving on, you’ll find a replica of a 19th-century pharmacy. You can also observe the vintage prescription bottles from the Victorian era. The dimly lit and cramped room showcases the tools used to produce pills and how medicines were purchased before the advent of modern pharmacies. Visitors can observe vintage prescription bottles from the Victorian era and learn about the role of pharmacists in society. The exhibit also features displays on herbal remedies, surgical instruments, and medical devices of the time. The pharmacy replica is a testament to the evolution of healthcare and medicine and provides a unique insight into the history of medical practices.
The Faith, Hope and Fear
The Faith, Hope and Fear section of the science museum is an exhibit that explores the intersection of science, religion, and the human experience. It delves into how people throughout history have sought answers to life’s big questions and have found solace in their beliefs, whether they be religious or scientific. The exhibit showcases artifacts from different faiths and their practices, as well as scientific discoveries that have challenged traditional beliefs. It also highlights the role of fear in shaping beliefs and how it can drive people towards religion or science. Overall, the Faith, Hope and Fear exhibit provides a thought-provoking look into the complex relationship between science and religion and how they have influenced each other over time.
At AgeUK, we believe that spending quality time with grandchildren is invaluable, and what better way to create lasting memories than a visit to the Science Museum in London? As grandparents, we have a wealth of knowledge and life experiences to share, and the Science Museum offer the perfect setting to ignite curiosity and foster intergenerational connections. Click the grandparents’ guide to the Science Museum to find out more about how grandparents can make the most out of the Science Museum with their grandchildren.
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