Europe’s top science and natural history museums

Some of the world’s finest collections and displays will appeal to most people — even kids.

While many museums cater to a niche audience, and are particularly boring for children, no museums appeal to the masses like science and natural history museums.

Europe has some of the world’s finest, from Berlin’s German Museum of Technology, to London’s remarkable Science Museum, Paris’ National Museum of Natural History, Barcelona’s Museu de les Ciencies Naturals, and Milan’s Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia. 

Science Museum (London, England)

A whole day could be whiled away at the cluster of museums directly south of Kensington Palace in one of London’s most upmarket neighbourhoods.

 The Victoria and Albert Museum and Natural History Museum are flanked by the Science Museum, one of the finest institutions of its kind in the world.

The most-visited science museum in Europe, more than three million visitors a year pour into this building,  taking advantage of free entry at all of the city’s publicly funded national museums. 

Among more than 15,000 display items are the command capsule from the Apollo 10 space mission, and Stephenson’s Rocket, the historic steam locomotive from the 1820s.

The museum has an ever-changing array of exhibitions, a huge number of hands-on exhibits and many interactive galleries focusing on the latest trends in scientific exploration and discovery. There are also 3-D and 4-D simulators and a giant IMAX 3-D cinema.

German Museum of Technology (Berlin, Germany)

Hanging above the entrance to this ultra-modern building is a huge 1940s military aircraft, a “Raisin Bomber” Douglas C-47.

 It’s a suitably grand first impression for what is a gigantic museum, with some 26,500sqm of exhibition space in Berlin’s inner-south, by the Landwehr Canal.

This museum is heavy on interactive exhibits, particularly those focusing on communication and transport technology. The most impressive of these is a ship simulator, for those who want to experience what it’s like to be a captain on the high seas.

Great detail is also offered on the history of ships, steam locomotives and fighter planes. Some key display items include a rare Rumpler Tropfenwagen, the world’s first aerodynamic production car, and a saloon vehicle that belonged to late German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II.

National Museum of Natural History (Paris, France)

This is, visually, the most spectacular museum I’ve ever visited. An ever-changing palette of bright colours is beamed through its windows and ceiling, creating a kaleidoscopic backdrop for its enormous range of dinosaur skeletons and taxidermied animals. 

These life-size tigers, rhinos and elephants look as though they are ready to break free from their frozen-in-time status and stampede through the halls of this historic museum.

They are among hundreds of species of animals displayed in this manner in the museum’s huge Gallery of Evolution.

 Dating back almost 400 years, the museum owns a wonderful location alongside a cluster of landscaped gardens by the River Seine.

National Science and Technology Museum (Milan, Italy)

Italy’s biggest science museum opened in 1953 and was dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, the legendary Italian painter, architect and engineer. It boasts the world’s biggest collection of car models based on da Vinci’s sketches, as well as a recreation of his flying machine.

This museum is unique in the number of hands-on workshops it offers to visitors to help them understand key scientific principles. Continuing this interactive theme, visitors can explore an on-site submarine, climb on several historic steam trains and board aeroplanes.

 Being that it’s in Italy, the world’s greatest trove of extraordinary architecture, the museum building is itself remarkable — a 16th century structure which was originally a monastery.

Natural Science Museum of Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain)

This is actually a collection of museums spread across Barcelona, dating back to 1878 when it became the city’s first public museum. Now its four centres host almost four million specimens relating to zoology, botany, petrology, mineralogy and palaeontology.

There’s the Scientific Area and Martorell Museum in Barcelona’s gorgeous Ciutadella Park, the Historical Botanical Garden in Montjuic, overlooking the city centre, and the latest facility called Planet Life at Forum Park. 

The museum has a strong focus on showcasing the natural heritage of Catalonia, the Spanish region of which Barcelona is the capital.

Top image: France’s National Museum of Natural History. Picture: Ronan O'Connell