Last updated on May 5, 2023
The Science Museum was a big highlight of Otis’ first proper trip to London – he was hyped about it for weeks in advance has been asking to go back ever since.
If you have a similarly space and science obsessed toddler – the kind who watches Maddie’s Do you know? on repeat – then consider it a must for your London trip. And even if science isn’t their thing, all the interactive elements mean most kids will find something that entertains. It’s a perfect London family day out.
It’s a big place and there are a few things to get your head around, so these are our top tips for visiting the Science Museum with a toddler.
Note: We went when Covid restrictions were still in place and you had to book tickets in advance for both the museum and some of the individual exhibits. Things may have changed by the time you read this, so do check the Science Museum website for the most up-to-date ticketing info.
Top tips for visiting the Science Museum with a toddler
1. Choose your priorities
Just the spectacle of all the exhibits is enough to entertain toddlers for a time, especially older ones who are interested in things like aeroplanes, space and vehicles. Otis particularly loved the Exploring Space, Making the Modern World and Flight exhibits, which all have life size displays of things like rockets, planes and trains.
I recommend prioritising one or two rooms that you know your toddler will be most interested in. You never know when they might reach their limit, so anything else will be a bonus.
Otis was so hyped that we managed to go in nearly every room as he kept insisting he see it all – although “all” is a loose term as we whipped round most of it – a toddler visit isn’t a time for studying all the descriptions in detail! See this map for an overview of the different rooms.
2. Book tickets for the three interactive areas
When we went, during the pandemic, we had to book time slots for all three. It was a bit tricky planning the timings, but our timetable worked well in the end (I’ve included our itinerary below).
If you can’t get tickets to any of these, the Who Am I? gallery also has interactive elements.
3. Remember it isn’t all free
Entry to the Science Museum is free, although you’re strongly encouraged to give a donation. And it’s also free to enter both The Garden and the Pattern Pod (although a donation of £5 is suggested for The Garden).
You do, however, have to pay for the Wonderlab (£11 for adults and £9 for 4-11 year olds, which includes a 10% donation). Under 3s go free.
And you also have to pay for the IMAX, which costs from £10 per ticket. Children under 3 go free for this as well.
4. The Garden is perfect for little ones
The Garden is a lovely interactive space, aimed at children aged 3-6, but also suitable for younger kids. It has loads of activities where children can learn about shadows, floating, sinking, textures, sound and more. Arlo particularly loved the water play area and the little wheelbarrows for carting around bean bags.
When we went, time slots were restricted to 20 minutes, which was actually enough for us as Otis was excited about seeing more things, but you could easily spend a lot longer there. Arlo would have been entertained for ages.
The Garden can be tricky to find. It’s in the basement of the museum, which isn’t accessible via all of the elevators, so you need to find the correct one (it’s lift D, which is the one past the space exhibit). Leave about 15 minutes to get there from the front entrance.
There’s a cafe and changing facilities nearby, which is handy for a quick stop before or after.
5.Dance in the Pattern Pod
The Pattern Pod, just near the IMAX, is a sensory area for under 8s where kids can play with interactive exhibits all around the idea of patterns. For example, you can make shapes with light, create symmetrical images on touch screens and build patterns with foam tiles.
Arlo loved playing with the ripples that were beamed onto the floor and responded to movement. And we all loved dancing and watching the coloured shapes our bodies made in the psychedelic dance room!
As with The Garden, time slots are currently for 20 minutes.
6. The Wonderlab is amazing for all ages
The Wonderlab is an incredible interactive space filled with opportunities to learn about and interact with real scientific phenomena in fun ways. There are slides where you can learn about friction, ferrofluid to play with, a colour zone to explore and all sorts of other fun concepts.
They also hold regular demos throughout the day, teaching about space, chemistry, electricity and more. Otis absolutely loved it, and while it was a bit old for Arlo, he still enjoyed wandering around and taking it all in – there’s a lot of sensory stimulation!
You currently have to book a time to enter the Wonderlab, but once in, you can stay as long as you like. We spent around 1.5 hours in there.
7. Download the Treasure Hunters app
Treasure Hunters is an app-based game developed by the Science Museum, which adds an extra interactive element to your visit, encouraging users to see things they might not have noticed otherwise. For example it has challenges like: ‘Take a picture of the biggest wheel you can find’ or ‘Find something designed to move really fast’. We didn’t do this as Otis was excited enough without it, but I’d love to give it a go on future visits.
8. Older toddlers might like the IMAX
If you’re going with an older toddler, it might be worth booking a ticket for one of the IMAX shows. We didn’t do this as we knew that Arlo wouldn’t sit through a 50-minute show, and it was debatable whether or not Otis would either. We decided to save it for when they’re older. The IMAX tends to show 3D educational films about wildlife and space, and also hosts special events.
9. Check what events are on
The Science Museum holds regular events aimed at kids of all ages, so be sure to check the what’s on section of the website to see what’s happening when you go. You can search events based on what age they’re suitable for, including under 5s.
10. Bring a packed lunch
There are plenty of places to sit down and eat a packed lunch at the museum, including a designated picnic area outside the Wonderlab. It’s a cheaper and quicker option than the popular on-site cafes. That said, if you don’t bring food, you can buy light meals and snacks in one of several cafes in the museum. And there’s a shake bar just outside the Wonderlab if you fancy a treat.
There are also some good cafes nearby, so you could buy a packed lunch en route (I recommend Gail’s for excellent cakes and sandwiches).
11. Tie it in with a trip to Hyde Park
If you’d like to spend part of the day outside then perhaps go to the Science Museum in the morning and then head to Hyde Park for the afternoon, or vice versa depending on the weather. It’s a 20-minute walk between the two. I talk about Hyde Park in more detail in my 7-day London itinerary for toddlers.
12. The gift shop is worth a visit
Although you might be risking tantrums, I highly recommend the Science Museum shop for loads of great gift ideas, including brilliant books, experiment kits and more. You can also buy it all online.
Our Science Museum itinerary
Because we had to book everything in advance, we planned our day quite meticulously and this is what we did. I hadn’t anticipated going in so many rooms, but Otis insisted. However, I wouldn’t bank on doing this much. Instead, perhaps choose one room for each time slot instead (e.g. Exploring Space from 10:50-11am).
10am: Arrive (timed entry ticket)
10-10:50: Exploring Space and Making the Modern World
10:50-11am: The Garden (timed entry ticket)
11-12: Flight and Who am I?
12:30-12:50pm: Pattern Pod (timed entry ticket)
12:50-1:30pm: Mathematics and Medicine
1:30pm: The Wonderlab (timed entry ticket)
How to get to the Science Museum with a toddler
The nearest tube station is South Kensington on the District and Circle lines. It’s a 5-minute walk from the museum. Gloucester Road tube station is a 15-minute walk away and is on the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines.
There is very limited parking nearby, including some disabled bays on Exhibition Row. See this website for details of parking in the area.
Plenty of buses go to both South Kensington and Gloucester Road.
Pop the Science Museum into Citymapper to find the best route from where you are. The address is: Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.
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