The Horniman Museum and Gardens

To me, there’s no better place to unwind than a museum. Whatever city I land in, no matter the country, there’s always a museum that is calling my name to visit. As a self-confessed history geek, who’s trying to start a career in the heritage sector, I’m one who will gladly make a museum their home for the day. Today I’m taking you to The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London.

The World Gallery in The Horniman Museum and Gardens. Photo is from the upper balcony looking down the to collection

Gone are the days when museums were hushed places, where you were to silently observe and learn from display cabinets. Museums are becoming interactive places, where a little bit of noise is allowed, and children can engage with displays, while learning, in a more enjoyable manner. I’m a big believer and advocate of Public Archaeology, and love finding new ways to engage with the public, and particularly children who will make up a new wave of archaeologists – and what’s better than engaging them in history, heritage and archaeology at a young age?

So why am I babbling on about Public Archaeology? On a recent visit to London, a rainy forecast had us googling fun indoor activities. I always try to squeeze a bit of history into my trips to London, but am well aware that my brother and sisters don’t find quite the same amazement as I do with these types of things. It was actually my brother’s suggestion to visit The Horniman Museum, as he remembered enjoying a previous visit as “it’s not quite like other museums”. This immediately caught our attention, and a quick google had us planning the short trip to Foresthill.

The Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum and Gardens specialises in Anthropology, Natural History and Musical Collections. When you enter the galleries, you’re immediately hit with colour. We spent some time walking around the World Gallery, which displays the anthropology collections. Within this gallery, objects are displayed to show the different ways of life in different countries, with four main areas: an introductory section which explores the memories we attach to objects; Encounters, which compares ways of living in different countries and different time periods; Perspectives, which looks at ways we understand and categorise the world; and Horniman’s Vision, which gives visitors an insight into the Horniman’s history. The section of objects within this gallery were all eye catching and engaging, for both children and adults, and helped visitors to compare different ways of life. Around the gallery were interactive games – perhaps aimed at children, but we found amusement playing along too – and had us using all five of our senses to think about the world.

The Galleries

The Horniman is also home to an impressive taxidermy collection, with a gallery filled with a huge variety of animals. Cabinets are filled with skeletons and taxidermy which showcase evolution, adaption and domestication of animals, as well as an impressive collection of fossils. And right in the middle of the room is a walrus, who sits on top of an iceberg, and was certainly getting the most attention from kids.

Tree in the centre of the World Gallery in the Horniman Museum with colourful ties and notes hanging off the wooden branches.

The Music Gallery is home to 1300 musical instruments, with display cases filled with instruments from around the world, showing the huge variety of musical instruments played across the world. There’s also short films which you can watch to understand a bit more about how and when the instruments are played.

A unique twist to the Horniman Museum is that there’s not only artefacts on show – there’s also an aquarium and butterfly house which you can buy tickets to visit. We, of course, jumped at the chance of visiting both.

The Aquarium

The aquarium was filled with beautiful sea life, from different climates, starting off here in Britain with a typical British pond eco-system, and travelling to coral reefs filled with colourful fish. It was mesmerising watching the different animals swim and dart amongst rocks, and fascinating to see so many different colours and shapes.

Stingray underside in a tank in the aquarium at Horniman Museum

The Butterfly Room

The butterfly room was an incredible addition to our visit, and we timed it just right to be there when the heat was turned up, and butterflies were flying around the green house. We picked up a ‘spot the butterfly’ card, and were able to identify some of the types of butterflies that were circling our heads. This room was so relaxing to wander along the small paths and spot butterflies resting on leaves, at the nectar of flowers or even sitting on orange slices. There is also a cabinet of cocoons, and we were lucky enough to be in the room when a worker was letting a newly hatched butterfly take its first flight outside of the cabinet. This room will catch the imagination of any kid that visits, and no matter what your age, you won’t be able to help staring in wander at the butterflies fluttering around the room.

Red and orange butterfly on a leaf at the horniman Museum and Gardens
Brown butterfly with yellow and black dot that looks like an owl's eye on a post in the horseman museum and gardens

Our visit to the Horniman was the perfect activity for a rainy day, with many displays to wander through inside. And it would be the perfect place to bring kids throughout the upcoming winter months, when the weather may be a little cold for outdoor activities. There’s even a hands on base, where you can touch and handle different objects, and even try some clothes on. It’s a great opportunity to test your imagination and learn why and how some of the objects are used, and a fantastic way to keep kids entertained while learning.

On a warmer day, the Horniman is set in beautiful gardens, where you could spend hours wandering around and having a picnic. There’s even an animal walk where you can get up close and personal with animals like rabbits, chickens, goats – and even alpacas. This is definitely an activity high on my list for the next time I visit London on a good day.

Pinterest Pin for The Heritage Tourist - Guide to the Horniman Museum and Gardens London

SO, if you’re looking for a place to entertain kids (while being educational) then the Horniman is the place for you. And if you’re adults looking for a little bit of culture and history, then head along too – but maybe try to avoid the school holidays. I’d say its been one of the funnest trips to a museum I’ve had in a while, and I definitely learnt about different cultures while there.

Where’s your favourite museum?


View of Edinburgh Castle from the Royal Mile

Guide to The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

The Royal Mile is the historic heart of the city, where characters from all walks of life were to be found throughout the ages. A mile provides a lot of places to uncover history, and you won’t be disappointed when you start to delve deeper into the stories behind the buildings. In this one-stop-guide to Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, I’m taking you right down the mile – from the Castle to the Palace, and EVERYTHING in between. Marvel in the beauty of Edinburgh and its hidden heritage and use this post to plan your next visit to the capital. 

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Published by Emily Johnston

Archaeologist and Heritage Tourist Blogger at

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