Days Out: The Aquarium at the Horniman Museum, South London
Sunday 23 July 2006
Just opened, the £1.5m aquarium at the Horniman Museum is a timely replacement of the original, which was Britain's first free public attraction of its kind. The aquarium is set in the modern Centenary Development structure, next to the original 1901 museum building. Visitors descend into the deep - or the basement - where 15 displays offer authentic habitats for more than 150 species of plants and animals. The seven zones recreate local to global environments - British pond life to a Fijian reef. The two most popular among our group were Drifters, an entrancing violet tank of beautiful moon jellyfish and floating plankton, and Seashores, which replicates the rock pools of the British isles, complete with crashing tides, stunning seahorses, starfish and crabs. This is no dark, dank fish tank; the aesthetics are cool and attractive and despite holding 14,000 litres of water, the aquarium is a manageable size for children without boredom setting in.
There are interactive elements, such as the Marine Marathon magnetic game, Whacky Facts displays, worksheets and trails and seating with children's reference books. The Explorers' Vests, in which kids can don glasses and view their surroundings as a four-eyed fish, went down a treat with our young ones. In the rest of the museum, there are family hands-on activities every weekend throughout summer and different events at other times. The gardens include an animal enclosure with turkeys, goats and rabbits and a nature trail.
Big people will get just as much out of the aquarium as little ones, but the rest of the Horniman is home to some interesting ethnographic and instrument collections, too. The hands-on room in the music gallery, where you can experiment and create many different sounds, is certain to prove a hit with all of the family.
There is a reasonably priced café on the ground floor, serving a range of hot and cold snacks and meals, with indoor and outdoor seating.
All exhibition spaces and facilities are accessible to people with limited mobility. Bookable car-parking spaces. Large-format printed material, and hearing loop systems in some areas.
Open daily 10.30am-5.30pm. Closed 24-26 December. Entry to museum, aquarium and gardens is free; a charge is made for major temporary exhibitions.
How to get there
The Horniman Muse¤um, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ (020-8699 1872; horniman.ac.uk). By train: five minutes' walk from Forest Hill. By bus: 176, 185, 312, P4, 63, 122 and P13. By car: the museum is on the A205 South Circular and there is free parking in local streets.
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