London's Natural History & Horticulture Museums
In a city renowned for its parks and green spaces, home of the famous London Zoo, and host to the world's most famous flower show, it's no surprise that London has a number of excellent and very diverse plant and animal-related museums and collections.
Premier among them, of course, is the wonderful and much-loved Natural History Museum in South Kensington. However, there are plenty of other collections to explore, whether your interest is zoology, garden history or botanical art.
In addition to London's famous and in many cases internationally known museums, there are lots of quirky smaller collections, some lovely local museums, and a number of very specialised collections only accessible by appointment. Not all the museums listed are in Central London, however all but one* are located in Greater London and within London's M25 orbital motorway.
Return to London's museums grouped by theme
The Museums (in alphabetical order)
The Cuming Family's 19th century 'Cabinet of Curiosities' collection encompasses natural history and includes the Schomburgk collection of South American lowland botanical specimens, and an eclectic assortment of specimens including insects, taxidermy, shells and ancient Egyptian mummified animals.
Garden Museum (formerly Museum of Garden History)
A beautiful museum tracing 400 years of British gardens, located in and around the church where the great gardener and plant-hunter John Tradescant is buried. The collection of around 10,000 items covers gardens of all sorts, from the formal grounds of grand country houses, to modest back yards, and includes tools (from Neolithic implements to a Victorian cucumber straightened), plans, books, artwork and ephemera. Displays celebrate garden design and art, and chart changing ideas, technologies and passions relating to gardens and gardening, while a series of temporary exhibitions explore topics as diverse as urban gardening and celebrity garden designers. A great place to explore the British love affair with gardens!
This gem of a museum has a walled herb garden and a series of four period gardens (open 1 April - 31 October only), chronologically arranged to reflect the museum's main display of period rooms. The gardens display the key styles of middle-class town gardens over the past four centuries and feature accurate plantings, planting relationships and layout within beds.
An extraordinary collection of mounted animals, skeletons and specimens covering every part of the Animal Kingdom. The presentation is scholarly (it is primarily a teaching collection), however great efforts have been made to make the collection accessible and interesting for the general public, and visitors of all ages are sure to find things to fascinate them - from insects to elephants, and from extinct creatures such as the Dodo to spectacular glass models of sea creatures.
A lovely and exceedingly family-friendly museum with an excellent Victorian-style natural history gallery and brand new aquarium, located amid 16 acres of formal and natural gardens. The aquarium features a series of environments including British ponds, Amazonian rainforests and Pacific coral reefs. The natural history room has fossils and endangered/extinct birds, plus displays on vertebrates and invertebrates, animal movement, defences and evolution. The centrepiece is the largest walrus we have ever seen!
Europe's largest collection of canine art, and a delight for everyone interested in dogs. The collection includes many works by famous dog artists, and there are regular temporary exhibitions featuring particular breeds, and on themes such as Royal dogs and dogs in war.
Housed in an extraordinary and very beautiful 19th century building, the Natural History museum has fabulous zoological, botanical, paleontological and geological collections of international importance. It is also home to the Centre for UK Biodiversity .The biggest draw is of course the superb dinosaur collection, however there are fascinating exhibits around every corner, from creepy crawlies to dramatic rock formations, plus a gallery of natural history artworks and a wildlife garden. Don't miss the massive blue whale, the mineral and gemstone displays and the new Darwin Centre Cocoon where you can explore 'science in action'.
Kew Gardens has a trio of museums/galleries which are well worth taking the time to see during your visit to this World Heritage site.
A Victorian treasure house of the remarkable botanical art of pioneering artist, adventurer and philanthropist Marianne North. Even if you have no special interest in botanical art, this gorgeous collection of paintings of landscapes and natural habitats is well worth a look.
A fascinating display of around 450 plant-based treasures selected from Kew's vast Economic Botany Collection, thematically arranged with displays on 'Healing plants', 'Sugar and spice', 'Plants for energy' and 'To dye for'. Exhibits illustrate the extent of human use of plants around the world and include a 300 year-old wreath from the coffin of the Egyptian Pharoah Rameses II, apparatus for smoking opium from Hong Kong and a set of rubber dentures.
A brand new gallery which holds regular exhibitions throughout the year featuring historical and contemporary botanical illustrations.
Home to the working horses that play an important role in The Queen's official and ceremonial duties. They are mainly Cleveland Bays, the only British breed of carriage horse, and Windsor greys, which by tradition always draw the carriage in which The Queen is travelling. (Note: they are working horses and may not always be on view).
A small but interesting gallery on the top floor of the Science Museum that chronicles the rise of veterinary medicine. The centrepiece is an extraordinary Victorian anatomical model of a horse, and displays unsentimentally examine our working relationship with animals, featuring instruments for assisting with animal births, medicine boxes and accessories, and 'humane killers' used for slaughtering.
NB: Those with a particular interest in veterinary medicine and history may also wish to visit the Royal Veterinary College's Museum of Veterinary History (by appointment only) which is located just north of London near Potter's Bar (there is a shuttle service from Potter's Bar Station; check the website).