Welcome to my ranking of all the natural history museums I’ve visited!
This list is constantly shifting and changing depending on updates to museums, new exhibitions, new museums I’ve visited etc. It’s just a bit of fun and 100% my own opinion so it is not an insult on any of these amazing institutions if they are low on my list. Also, if you have a differing opinion then I’d love to hear it! It’s all about creating a discussion about these awesome museums.
There are lots of different reasons why these museums are in these positions. Personally, I love natural light (probably my photography background) alongside kickass fossils and interesting information. I love interactive elements or a modern approach bringing natural history into the 21st century. Don’t get me wrong, there is importance in the traditions of older museums but sometimes I think there should be a compromise. A mix of traditional and modern.
Rankings (from worst to best):
Italics = temporary exhibits.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Dippy On Tour)
This temporary exhibit was just disappointing. The hall was dark and gloomy. The vinyl was peeling off the walls. The shop was near empty. In all in, it was a bit shabby. On top of that, the vinyl which you could read, was super patronising. It was clearly aimed at children and very young ones at that. I haven’t been able to visit any other Dippy On Tour exhibits so far unfortunately but this one was below par. Read my full blog post on it here.
Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall
I was born and raised in Nottinghamshire so it disappoints me that I have to rate the local natural history museum so low. The only redeeming feature is that it is contained within Wollaton Hall which is Wayne Manor from The Dark Knight Trilogy. I didn’t even realise that it was called a natural history museum until that long ago. It needs serious updating and it is basically a giant collection of taxidermy (which really is not for me). The good news is that it is going to be completely renovated (read about it here) so watch this space.
Charmouth Heritage Centre
This is a sweet little heritage centre by Charmouth beach down in Dorset. It houses Attenborough’s Sea Dragon (from the BBC documentary) which is pretty neat as well as a Scelidosaurus. My bug bear is that the heritage centre doesn’t permit photography (apart from of the Sea Dragon) which, as a photographer, I find irritating.
This is a very little, traditional museum. It has even got that old, dusty museum smell. I love Wool.i.am, the resident Wooly Mammoth, and the geology gallery had some interesting specimens. The traditional aspect of this museum may be wonderful to some of you but for me it needs some modernisation. Its Victorian Natural History Gallery, whilst impressive, is just a glorified collection of taxidermy. Not my thing. The geology gallery needs definite improvements. There’s no excitement, little interesting information and its just fossils in some display cabinets. It feels like a museum that has lost its mojo.
Dinosaurland, Lyme Regis
This is an independently and privately run museum based in Lyme Regis. It has over 14,000 specimens on display with no fossils behind closed doors. Everything you see is everything the museum owns. This is a very traditional museum: no gadgets, no interactive displays with homemade cabinets and displays. This is a very obvious thing to consider when walking into the museum – it feels very homemade. Now, I have a huge load of admiration for this museum. The collection is amazing and the fact it has no whizzy displays is that it is letting the collection speak for itself. However, I do think it needs a lot of updating. It needs some finesse. The information is displayed on laminated paper, there is dust and cobwebs on the fossils and it has a full on musty museum smell. There needs to be more of a compromise between the amazing collection and some more modern elements. It is well worth a visit though.
Nottingham Natural History Museum (Dinosaurs of China exhibit)
This was a temporary exhibit in Wollaton Hall in 2017. Unsurprisingly, it was all about amazing fossils discovered in China. These included incredibly well preserved dinosaurs with feathers as well as a pretty awesome Mamenchisaurus which dwarved everything else in the exhibition. I wish it had been a little bigger and a little less expensive but it is definitely the best natural history exhibit to visit Nottingham.
New Walk Museum, Leicester
This museum has a charm to it. I love how it really focuses on the local natural history. So much information on The Rutland Dinosaur (Cetiosaurus) as well as the Barrow Kipper (a plesiosaur discovered in Leicestershire) which for someone from the East Midlands was really refreshing. It needs a bit more natural light and The Story of Life section is in need of an update. However, it is a sweet museum and I will definitely be visiting again. Read my full blog post here.
This museum definitely incorporates a bit of traditional and modern. I adore Doris the Pliosaurus who is suspended from the ceiling. The marine reptile fossils are particularly impressive alongside the scelidosaurs. Similarly to New Walk Museum, there is a huge emphasis on local fossils and information. The story of life section was super cool. It was very vintage with really vintage dinosaur sculptures and so on. It was lovely.
Lyme Regis Museum
Lyme Regis is special. I love how you have the choice of not one museum but two. Lyme Regis Museum is everything you would want from a little town museum. Three stories tall jam packed with fossils and local history. Obviously, being on the Jurassic coast and all, Lyme Regis has so many marine reptile fossils to choose from. It is wonderful having a museum full of them. That and all the wonderful information on Mary Anning – Lyme Regis fossil collecting legend.
Natural History Museum, London
I know, how dare I put the NHM third and not first?! I have my reasons which I promise I will explain. The NHM is THE museum to visit in the UK. So much information, so many displays and the dinosaur section is unreal. It probably has the best fossils out of all of the museums too. I think it could do with a little bit of updating. It has been the same since I can remember and I’ve been visiting since I was a child. It will always have a place in my heart but I miss the walkway over the top of the dinosaurs and some of the dinosaurs are still up high so it feels odd that the walkway is shut. The displays need some updating, the archaeopteryx should be in with the dinosaurs and also I would like some more natural light in the dinosaur exhibit (the blinds are always shut). It is an amazing building and the hub of all things natural history in this country. I just think it needs to move with the times a little bit.
I had heard great things about Manchester Museum and I was not disappointed. Lots of information about so many different fossils in chronological order (Precambrian to current day). Alongside this, I love the modern approach this museum takes to very traditional exhibits. The taxidermy for example is beautifully displayed – to the point where I actually found it interesting. It is such an unique way of displaying specimens and it has completely revolutionised the way I view such traditional methods. Alongside this, there are live frogs and reptiles – I loved it! Read my full blog post here.
Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham
I love this museum so damn much. Natural light galore, beautifully curated and so interesting. I love how its set out in chronological order (Precambrian to current day). There are also so many interesting fossils: from Roary the Allosaurus (a cast of Big Al) to the Pteranodon swooping from the ceiling to the Dimetrodon skull to a mammoth tusk. This museum is just the best and it makes me so happy.
So these are my current rankings:
- Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham
- Manchester Museum
- Natural History Museum, London
- Lyme Regis Museum
- Bristol Museum
- New Walk Museum
- Nottingham Natural History Museum (Dinosaurs of China exhibit)
- Dinosaurland, Lyme Regis
- Ipswich Museum
- Charmouth Heritage Centre
- Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall
- Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Dippy On Tour, Birmingham)
Let me know what you all think! At the end of the day, all these museums are automatically awesome because they celebrate natural history so they all get 10/10 Goldblums.
Until next time,
Emma a.k.a The Cookieraptor x