Originally built to house the British Museum’s natural history collection and bolstered by samples provided by Britain’s great 19th-century explorers and scientists—notably Charles Darwin—this is one of the world’s preeminent museums of natural history and earth sciences. The terracotta facade of this enormous Victorian cathedral of science (which featured prominently in the movie Paddington) is embellished with relief panels depicting living creatures to the left of the entrance and extinct ones to the right (although some species have subsequently changed categories). Most are represented inside the museum, which contains more than 70 million different specimens. Only a small percentage is on public display, but you could still spend a day here and not come close to seeing everything.
As of early 2017, the skeleton of a giant blue whale will dominate the vaulted, cathedral-like entrance hall. Meanwhile, similarly huge dino bones can be found in the Dinosaur
Gallery (Gallery 21), along with fossils and some extremely long teeth. You'll also come face-to-face with velociraptors and a giant animatronic T. rex that's programmed to sense when human prey is near and "respond" in character. When he does, you can hear the shrieks of fear and delight all the way across the room. Kids love it. If you have under-sevens with you, check out the museum's free "Explorer Backpacks," containing a range of activity materials to keep the little ones amused.
An escalator takes you into a giant globe in the Earth Galleries, where there's a choice of levels to explore. Don't leave without checking out the earthquake simulation in the Volcanoes and Earthquake Gallery. The Darwin Centre houses some of the millions of items the museum itself doesn't have room to display, including "Archie," a 28-foot giant squid. If you want to see Archie and some of the other thousands of specimens on the shelves, you'll need to book one of the low-cost behind-the-scenes Spirit Collection tours (around £5). These half-hour tours take place at 10:40, 11:40, and 12:40, with a longer 50-minute tour at 1:30, and can be booked on the same day (space is limited, so come early). The Centre's Cocoon Experience is a 45-minute tour, during which you can see specimens from plant and insect collections previously in storage, and "Nature Live" is a program of free, informal talks given by scientists, covering a wildly eclectic range of subjects, usually at 2:30 (and at 12:30 on weekends) in the David Attenborough Studio.
The museum has an outdoor ice-skating rink October–January, and a popular Christmas fair.