Kids in London – So much to see and do at The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill

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Posted by KimT on Wednesday 27th of July 2016

I think this museum and gardens wins the prize for offering so many different diversions for children – both inside and outside for fair weather and foul – and most of them are free.


On the large, open and modern ground floor there are loos, buggy parks and a large café. And the obligatory shop which contained lots of books and pocket money priced small toys (including dinosaurs) and instruments as well as cards and animal themed housewares.

Walking down the ramp there’s a Natural History area which starts with some stunning swan pictures.

Numerous glass cases contain animals as you would expect. But what I liked was the way the exhibits were organised – for example, by movement: flying, running, climbing and swimming (big pike!). And the local and familiar were all mixed up with the exotic. There were both stuffed animals and skeletons.

There was a glass case containing a family of foxes. Another with ostriches (big eggs!). Okapis and dodos, crocodiles and cheetahs, otters and elephants (big skulls!), parrots and owls, bats and hedgehogs. Lessons on evolution and anatomy. And up above them all was a giant walrus. And all around was the sound of happy, playing kids. None of that ‘quiet in a museum’ nonsense here!

I took the stairs up to the open balcony to inspect more glass cases and look down on the gallery below. As well as marsupials (always wanted to see a platypus up close) there were spiders and crabs and shells. I was delighted to discover some new animals too – a zorilla and a genet!


Whilst a small space, I liked it in Nature Base a lot. There were plenty of pencils and paper for the kids to get busy drawing. There were stuffed badgers and foxes that you were allowed to touch. There were activities to match the footprint to the creature and leaves to the tree. And I spent some time contemplating "what is my favourite beetle?".

I even found a case containing three live mice. I loved that they had made tennis balls into tiny homes for them. Despite waiting here for some time and employing the help of a friendly explainer I did not get to see those mice. Maybe your kids will be more patient!


I was surprised to find a large music gallery with just about every instrument from around the world crammed in. Every culture was covered.

There was a special display of instruments from Boosey & Hawkes (including English concertinas), histories of how some instruments evolved (big tuba!) and modern, interactive displays for those that miss their ipads.

I was seriously impressed when I managed to locate both an Irish drum (Bodhran) as well as a Native American pow wow drum (from the Sioux in South Dakota).

And who knew that there was such a science in how you classify musical instruments! Music scholar heaven.


The place is fabulously international. There was a bright textiles based exhibition “Revisting Romania”.

There was a large area of photographs in the Centenary Gallery entitled “Favella – Joy and pain in the City”. There was also an enormous colourful sculpture that reached right up into the upper gallery.

I was delighted to be encouraged to stroke the large lion statue at the entrance of the African Worlds Gallery which had suitably low lights to make all those masks and statues appear even more impressive.

There were huge sparkling Vodou altars, scary initiation shields and wooden Ibibio figures from Nigeria stacked up like a totem (and there’s a big totem pole outside too). So many masks and mummies!


There’s a large conservatory just outside the museum with plenty of surrounding running-around space that’s helpfully located next to the massive café nearby with seating areas both inside and out.

Throughout the gardens there’s a sundial trail so if your young explorers like treasure-hunt activities then this is the thing for them.

There are so many wonderful spaces here – perfect picnic spaces under giant shady trees, rougher wild areas for exploring, stunning set gardens with lots of flowers, covered loggias, a terrace with benches looking over a formal parterre with a small ornamental pond in the middle and wide, open green spaces where you can stretch those legs and run with the wind.

There are separate medicinal and food gardens to explore so even outside the education continues.

I also spied a concrete area where some lads were using their skateboards. Although I don’t know if that is strictly allowed.

The wonders continue with a big hill and a band stand on the top. The views of the City of London from here were breath-taking. And there’s a fabulous interactive musical instrument bit too – gongs, wind chimes and all manner of things to make a lovely noise.

Tucked up by The Pavilion there were some hillside walkways – there may be other animals there but I only spied the sheep.

I found an ice cream stall here too. Deep joy!


Entry to the aquarium is £4.40 for adults and £2.20 for kids.

After all the excitement upstairs I was looking forward to some calm time amongst the fish but it was more action here. There’s an open bowl with a small fountain at the start and you can get up real close and personal to starfish. In the British pond display I watched a number of frogs. Fishermen would be delighted to see all the carp, tench and rudd in another tank.

Of course the kids were glued to the side of the large moon jellyfish and smaller seahorse tanks. I saw a lobster lurking in the British seashore display and watched tiny fish dart about the Fijian reef, Indonesian mangrove swamp and the Amazon rainforest displays (including see-through x-ray fish).

And after the poisonous dart frog there was a coral display. And I found Dory!


Entry to this exhibition is £7.70 for adults and £4.40 for kids and it runs until 30th October.

It’s a great space – really open and with interesting things on the walls – illustrations, video displays, stories and fun designs. Such bright colours. And there are dinosaur footprints on the floor to guide you round.

Of course there are dinosaur skeletons – I was particularly fond of a family of Protoceratops with baby ones.

Again, there were lots of places to sit. And pens and papers provided if you felt the need to do a drawing. There was also a dino egg hunt activity. Of course, my favourite was the huge T Rex skeleton – I couldn’t believe the size (big teeth!).

But the kids seemed to prefer the large sandbox area where they could develop their palaeontology and excavation skills by actually digging out dinosaur bones.


There’s all manner of special events scheduled such as free family fun art sessions and pond dipping (£3 charge). At the moment there are a number of events and exhibits focusing on Brazil.

Forest Hill is about 25 minutes from Waterloo mainline station and is also on the overground. It’s about a 15 minute uphill walk. There are plenty of buses running past the entrance too.


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