The ornate terra-cotta facade of this enormous Victorian museum 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.
A giant diplodocus skeleton dominates the vaulted, cathedral-like entrance hall, affording you perhaps the most irresistible photo opportunity in the building. It's just a cast, but the Dinosaur Gallery (Gallery 21) contains plenty of real-life dino bones, fossils, and some extremely long teeth.
You'll also come face-to-face with velociraptors and a giant animatronic Tyrannosaurus 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.
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 free behind-the-scenes Spirit Collection tours. These can be booked on the day, but 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.
"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 in the Darwin Centre.
The museum has an outdoor ice-skating rink from October to January, and a popular Christmas fair.
There are 50-minute Spirit Collection tours at 1:30 daily and 30-minute tours at 10:40, 11:40, and 12:40.
Got kids under seven with you? Check out the museum's free "Explorer Backpacks." They contain a range of activity materials to keep the little ones amused.