Things to do in London: Late nights at The Natural History Museum

On the last Friday of every month, something magical happens at The Natural History Museum. The sun goes down, the bar opens and the exhibits come alive in the dimly lit rooms. Figuratively, of course. Imagine the great hall draped in a blanket of quiet whilst you wander amongst the displays, wine (or in my case, cider) in hand. If your usual experience of museums = battling to get to exhibits among flocks of school trips and an ever-increasing chorus of chatter, this will feel like a private tour through history.

I last visited the NHM in August with family. We’d had a long day and it was so loud and busy that we quickly shuffled through the dinosaur section before heading home. This time, there was an overwhelming atmosphere of calm – owed to the darkness and lack of visitors, especially in comparison to the bustle of the hot, summer’s visit before. It’s worth noting that children are still allowed to the evening visits, however, there seemed to be few and so it was noticeably quiet!

There are pop-up stalls dotted throughout the museum with experts ready to discuss specific exhibits and themes. I was particularly in awe of the butterfly/beetle display, where the expert on-hand explained she’d caught the biggest beetle on display herself! I was a little bit sad to learn they have to kill them for the sake of preserving them; I suppose it’s obvious when you think about it…I naively hoped they’d stumble across them, already dead!!

Nevertheless, it was brilliant to be able to really look at the displays without feeling hurried by a crowd waiting behind – we had this one to ourselves and spent ages looking at the details of the wings! If you’re a bit of a nerd like me, you’ll love being able to soak it all up in your own time. Did you know that the dung beetles have a lovely shimmer to them? They’re so pretty, yet spend their lives in…well, crap! Weird!

The calm of the place/having a little tipple/incredible thought-provoking views = the PERFECT concoction for influencing deep life chats. I love a life-affirming ponder and this was a real perfect setting for one. It’s the kind of place that would be equally perfect for a first date as it would be to catch up with your best friend. The hushed tones and shadowy setting is wonderfully romantic and creates a real sense of magic. In many ways, it feels like you’re part of a secret club – a select few who have been given the privilege to be here!

Something I missed the last time I came was the Mineralogy collection in this huuuge hall – apparently, it’s one of the world’s finest with over 500,000 rocks, gems and minerals including 5,000 meteorites!

I am a complete magpie and love anything shiny so I adored wandering the cabinets of crystals and gems, marvelling at the fact that the earth made them!!! It blows my mind that something so beautiful can be natural – a design beyond our control.

Each of the late events holds free talks on a different theme and I’d really recommend checking them out. We were lucky enough to see a talk by expert cave diver, Martin Robson, who blew my mind with his scuba diving stories! As someone who is ‘qualified’ (though barely, it’s been so long!) and has done a few leisurely dives, I couldn’t believe that some deep dives go on for more than 24 hours! Did you know that they can take a device down (essentially a big bucket) and create air pockets so they can rest, eat and drink? Me either!

(…A talk about cave diving? How friggin’ adult/cultured is this Friday night?!)

It was the perfect way to start a weekend: calm, curious and filled with magic (cider!). I couldn’t recommend it more! Plus, sometimes they have up-and-coming artists playing acoustically in the great hall, which would sound stunning! Remember, it’s completely free and open ’til 10. Check out the next late event on Friday 29th March – they release the theme/talk topics nearer to the date!

Ps. Look at this gorgeous print I got from the gift shop! I loved looking at the butterflies so much and I love this kind of blue so I was utterly drawn to it. £8 too, what a barg!

Love Siân x

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