One of our favourite trips of the school holidays so far has been a stay at the London Marriott Hotel Kensington. The hotel has launched a Dino Discovery package to tie in with the return of Dippy the dinosaur to the Natural History Museum, and I’ve written a full review of our family stay over on the Mini Travellers blog.
If you don’t know about Dippy, he was the first diplodocus to go on display anywhere in the world, and was gifted to the Natural History Museum in 1905. In 2017 he went off on a UK tour, and he’s now back – but only briefly – for 2022.
You can catch Dippy in the Waterhouse Gallery of the NHM from now until the 2nd January 2023, after which he’ll be off on his travels again. It’s free, but it’s worth knowing some insider info if you want to get the most out of your visit. So, fresh from our trip, here are our top 5 tips if you’re planning on taking the kids.
1. Pre-book your tickets!
Whatever you do, please, please pre-book. We turned up at the Natural History Museum to find a huge queue snaking all the way around the building and after a few minutes of standing in it, we wandered up to the front to find that it was for non-ticket holders. With our tickets in hand, we waltzed straight in and bypassed the queue, and in the heat of August we were really glad to. When you book your free ticket on the NHM site just make sure you choose ‘book with Dippy’ – you’ll need to choose a two-hour slot to visit him, but the rest of the time you’re free to explore the museum.
2. Go straight to the Waterhouse Gallery
Because you have a limited window in which to visit Dippy, your best bet is to head straight to the Waterhouse Gallery, then you can see the other areas of the museum at your leisure. Be warned – when we visited in the school holidays it was really busy, and you’re likely to be swept up in a crowd all heading the same way. Fortunately, it eased a bit once we’d ticked Dippy off our list and headed to the other areas. It can be difficult to read some of the guides positioned around the gallery when there are lots of people milling around, so it’s a good idea to download this large-print gallery guide – which has lots of interesting info for kids – beforehand. There’s an audio description, too.
3. Don’t miss the lesser-known galleries
You can’t miss Hintze Hall – it’s the huge main gallery you see when you come in, with a giant whale skeleton strung up in the ceiling. Climb the stairs for the best view of the largest animal on earth, but save some time for the galleries that lead off from here, too. Our top pick was the vast minerals gallery – it’s full of beautiful raw minerals in the museum’s original oak display cabinets, and the most precious gems are in The Vault at the back. We also loved heading into the Earth Hall to learn about volcanoes and ride the earthquake simulator. To get there, you take an escalator that takes you through a giant metallic globe. Here’s the map so you can get your bearings.
4. Take a picnic
While there are several cafés at the museum, it was crazy-busy when we visited, so we were glad we’d packed our own food. There’s a picnic area on the lower ground floor in the Green Zone, and outdoor picnic areas, too. And if you fancy a real treat, walk five minutes to the Ampersand Hotel for their Jurassic Afternoon tea. The kids’ menu looks fantastic.
5. Stay at the London Marriott Hotel Kensington
What made our visit to Dippy so special was the fact we stayed at such an amazing hotel about a ten-minute walk down the road. It meant we weren’t under any pressure to stay at the museum all day, as we knew we could come back the next day, or even later on, if we wanted to. The hotel’s special Dino Discovery package, which runs until December 31st – just before Dippy heads off again – is the ultimate stay for any dinosaur fan. Our kids got lots of dinosaur goodies including a backpack, book, and a special themed sundae in the hotel’s Cast Iron Bar and Grill. You can read all about our stay and what the package entails over on the Mini Travellers blog, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a hotel near to the Natural History Museum – and especially if you’ve got a dinky dinosaur lover in tow.
Want to explore another lovely bit of London? Take a look at these five free things to do with kids in Westminster.