Having taken my daughter to gaze at whales and dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum as our first London museum visit, next on our list had to be checking out London’s neighbouring Science Museum for toddlers.
It’s another museum I used to visit as a child myself, and while the dinosaurs left the more lasting impression, there’s plenty for the youngest visitors as I rediscovered when I headed back with my two-year-old.
As things have changed a bit since then, I decided to do my research on visiting the Science Museum with toddlers to get the most from our visit – here are my top Science Museum tips, the 10 things you need to know about exploring this London museum with a child.
For my complete set of tips on visiting London’s museums with toddlers and kids, check out my ultimate guide, as well as the best things to do in London with preschoolers and toddlers
1. Check the extra charges
Entry to the museum is free – although they do ask for a donation – but there are charges for the IMAX 3D Theatre, the Science Museum simulators and some special exhibitions, so it’s worth knowing before promising your kids.
That includes the fabulous Wonderlab too – aimed at primary school age kids and tweens rather than toddlers, it’s still likely to be on your list if your littler ones have older siblings.
Tickets cost from £9 plus there is an annual pass which costs less than the price of two visits (at £14 for kids) if you live close enough to return. Under-threes enter free if you are visiting the Science Museum with toddlers and older kids.
Incidentally, if you are booking tickets to Wonderlab or the exhibitions, you still need to prebook a free entry ticket to the main museum – if you visit on a term-time weekday, you’re unlikely to have a problem getting in, although prebooking is strongly advised at weekends and school holidays.
2. Pack lightly for your day out
While there is a cloakroom at the Science Museum, it’s only accepting small items rather than buggies and pushchairs any more.
You can take buggies into the museum and many galleries, although they aren’t allowed inside some areas for space reasons – there’s free buggy parking opposite The Garden in the Spare Room, as well as coin-return pushchair locks (these need a £1 coin).
If you’re visiting the Pattern Pod, there’s also a small buggy parking area nearby which you can use while you’re visiting this area. And there’s also space inside Wonderlab to leave pushchairs.
Any possessions in the buggies are left at your own risk though. If you want to leave bags somewhere secure, there are also lockers on level -1, which cost from £3 for small lockers (big enough for coats). These are card payment only.
3. Start with the Garden
The Garden is an interactive gallery aimed at pre-schoolers based around water, light, sound and construction – think playing with interactive water exhibits to dam the flow and float boats, stacking huge blocks and getting hands on with lots of different sensory displays.
The Garden also home to the Science Museum soft play area, as well as some music inspired exhibits and puppet theatre.
Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the most popular areas, so you may need to wait during busy times (the same goes for Launch Pad and Pattern Pod). The quietest times are usually 10-11.30am and 4-5.30pm (closes at 4pm on weekdays in term time).
Whatever time you go, getting toddlers out is tricky, so it’s worth having some motivation (or bribes) up your sleeve!
4. Bring spare clothes
There are no longer any waterproof aprons and cover-ups provided in the Garden so it’s a good idea to bring your own if you can.
As toddlers can always find a way to get wet and messy no matter what precautions you take, it’s well worth packing spare clothes for particularly enthusiastic days (or if it’s chilly outside).
5. Pack a map
The Garden is also tucked away in the basement and not always easy to find – instead of taking the first lifts by the entrance, go past the shop and café on the ground floor then head down in the lifts.
There are maps to download as well as large print versions at the Information and ticket desks, and touchscreen options inside if you get lost though. You can also download sensory maps.
6. Find the toddler activities
If you look at the What’s On section of the Science Museum’s website, you can search by age – just choose ‘Who’ – so you can check what’s on for under-fives on any given day.
Some are firmly aimed at preschoolers while some are probably better for more confident kids poised to start school, but it’s a great starting point to let you judge what your toddler is going to enjoy.
EDIT: previously you could get free wristbands for children at the information desk if you were visiting the Science Museum with toddlers, so if your child went missing, it would help security find them – this no longer seems to be an option.
7. Be an early bird
There are special Early Birds dates, where the museum opens at 8am, so children who benefit from a quieter environment can explore more easily – it goes without saying that the Science Museum is almost invariably busy, but especially at weekends and during holidays.
The events are accessible and aimed at families with children aged four to 15, although siblings are also welcome to attend. It’s free but you need to book, and booking opens around one month beforehand – the events take place on selected Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year.
8. There are more picnic spots than you think
As well as cafes with children’s menus, there are two designated picnic areas including one next to The Garden.
There’s also a dedicated picnic area outside Wonderlab on the third floor near Shake Bar, and you can also prebook lunch bags and kids’ lunch bags when you book tickets.
The ground floor café also has high chairs, while milk can be warmed on request if you’re visiting with a baby. You’re also welcome to breastfeed anywhere, but there is a quieter Family Room on Level -1.
Previously, you could normally eat in any quiet uncarpeted area of the museum – helpful when the basement area is full of school groups and you want a quieter spot in the Science Museum for toddlers – but there’s generally plenty space in the picnic areas.
9. Do check the other kids’ galleries
Although the Launchpad area is aimed at older children, toddlers will love sticking teaspoons to the magnet block and the bubble blowers.
The Pattern Pod is another interactive gallery, aimed at five to eight-year-olds but with plenty for toddlers to enjoy, including clothes for dress-up and pattern puzzles – my daughter loved making shapes with light in particular.
And while younger visitors might not appreciate the engineering marvels on display in the galleries filled with vehicles or focused on space, how many toddlers don’t love cars, trains and planes?
Not to mention rockets. You might find yourself scampering through at speed but the bonus of a free museum is that you can adapt your visit to short attention spans and always come back another day!
10. Prepare with an app
The museum also produces its own apps, including one for pre-schoolers – available for Apple and Android – called Treasure Hunters to encourage children to look beyond the best known exhibits.
You earn badges and the challenges include simple options like taking a photo of the biggest wheel you can find, so toddlers can join in as much as older siblings. The game is designed to be played on one device, no matter how many join in, so it’s a great way to entertain several ages at once.
There are also some family trails – while none are aimed specifically at toddlers, there is an interactive trail and one for under-7s.
**First published 2015, last updated 2023**
PIN FOR LATER: VISITING THE SCIENCE MUSEUM WITH TODDLERS
The Garden/toddler photos/space shuttle images copyright MummyTravels, all others courtesy DepositphotosLIKED THIS? SIGN UP FOR MY EMAIL NEWSLETTER