There aren’t many places in London where you can expect to come face to face with a walrus. The Horniman Museum fills this void. Sort of. It’s a stuffed walrus. A giant, bean-bag-like, tired looking creature with menacing tusks. Peer past this, though, and you’ll find so much more.
Inside there are more worn carcasses to gawp at. Spiky puffer fish peer out from cabinets shared with hedgehogs, while foxes of all sizes are nestled within foliage, trapped behind glass. Some animals, such as the poor walrus, are embarrassingly over-stuffed, bulbous giants. This remains as a lasting sign of the times: some of these exotic creatures were little known to Victorian Britain. Giant elephant skulls, ostrich bones and mounted dog heads may not be for everyone, but – fear not – the museum is more than an ode to taxidermy.
The Horniman holds a random lot of objects organised in an unusual fashion. A dense anthropological collection explores our changing perspectives on the outside world; our continually reshaped focus on “the other”, while the largest collection of musical instruments in the UK and bright pieces of modern art excite other senses, as does the aquarium housed downstairs.
For those who quickly tire of traditional museum fare, this place could have the opposite effect. For starters, it is child friendly. Very child friendly. Some exhibits are hugely interactive. Throughout, whether looking at seahorses or reading about the history of performance in European classical music, you’ll find the explanations fairly simple. This place can make you feel that little bit too old. But then there is an escape: sixteen acres of beautiful gardens encircle the museum. You could easily spend a sunny afternoon here, trailing through the interesting buildings, some unimpressively modern, others resembling Victorian garden rooms, eventually settling down on the grass to doze.
In short, this place is worth a trek up Forest Hill. Look out for the clock tower followed by a totem pole and you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Nearest Tube: Forest Hill.
Entrance to Museum and Gardens is free, there is a charge for the major exhibitions.