For centuries London was a hub of scientific discovery, and there’s still plenty to occupy a curious mind in the capital

Darwin centre

What’s the story?

Housed in the Natural History Museum, the Darwin Centre was opened to the public last year. It contains millions of biological specimens.

Why is The Darwin Centre cool?

While it’s a state-of- the-art museum, it’s also a site of ongoing experimentation and discovery.

You’ll observe scientists at work – mapping the effects of climate change or unlocking the mysteries of DNA.

» Natural History Museum, Cromwell Rd, SW7 5BD  TUBE: South Kensington. Open daily. Free

Royal Observatory

What’s the story?

Commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II – pretty cutting-edge given the Catholic church was still adamant telescopes were instruments of heresy – the Royal Observatory has been a stargazer’s Mecca ever since.

The Prime Meridian, the basis for longitudinal measures and the international dateline, runs through the building, hence the expression Greenwich Mean Time.

Why is The Royal Observatory cool?

At the Observatory you’ll find a 71cm telescope, the largest in the UK, which is powerful enough to pick out Saturn.

In the courtyard a camera obscura projects a close-up real-time moving panorama of Greenwich and its surrounds.

» Blackheath Ave, SE10 8XJ  TUBE: Greenwich Open daily. Free  

Grant Museum of Zoology

What’s the story?

Robert Grant was one of Charles Darwin’s mentors.

This collection of his teaching aids, buried deep in the bowels of University College London, includes about 62,000 specimens covering the entire spectrum of the animal kingdom.

Why is the Grant Museum of Zoology cool?

There’s some weird stuff: the monstrous skeleton of a 250kg anaconda, bisected wallaby heads preserved in formaldehyde, elephant hearts, and a three-toed puffer fish.

These days zoology makes a more family-friendly pitch – it’s all animatronic rabbits and talking dolphins – but this harks back to a more offbeat, less touchy-feely era.

» Malet Pl, University College London, WC1E 6BT. TUBE: Euston Square. ( Open Mon-Fri. Free

Science Museum

What’s the story?

Originally part of the same complex as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum splintered off and got renamed in 1893.

Why is the Science Museum cool?

There’s heaps to see. Exhibits include the first jet engine, a reconstruction of Crick and Watson’s model of DNA, a working model of an early giant calculator, and the first prototype of a clock designed to keep time for 10,000 years.

» Exhibition Rd, SW7 2DD  TUBE: South Kensington ( Open daily. Free  

Royal Institution of Great Britain

What’s the story?

Founded in 1799 by the leading scientists of the day, the Royal Institution is committed to the advance of science in society.

Basically, it champions the scientific world view but is also committed to research, particularly in areas of nanotechnology and health science.

Why is Royal institution of Great Britain cool?

The Faraday Museum charts more than two centuries of scientific discovery and innovation.

It houses instruments used in groundbreaking experiments, as well as state-of-the art laboratories.

There are also in-depth biographies on the Institution’s scientists, as well as lectures on the state of the discipline.

» Albemarle St, W1S 4BS  TUBE: Green Park. Open Mon-Fri. Free

Hunterian Museum

What’s the story?

In the 18th century John Hunter was the leading surgeon of his day, developing treatments for gunshot wounds and venereal disease.

He was an avid collector, amassing more than 60,000 specimens skewed to pathology and anatomy.

Why is it the Hunterian Mueum cool?

One of the centrepieces is the skeleton of Charles O’Brien, an Irish giant who appeared at carnivals.

When O’Brien fell ill, Hunter wanted his skeleton as an exhibit.

Suspicious, O’Brien demanded he be sealed in a lead coffin and buried at sea.

But Hunter paid fishermen £500 for the corpse, which he boiled so only the bones remained.

» Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Royal College of Surgeons, WC2A 3PE.  TUBE: Holborn Open Tue-Sat. Free


Have you been to any of the above attractions? Tell us what you thought below?