- Journey back in time to discover how children lived in the past at the V&A Museum of Childhood.
- Discover the most popular and unique toys of both recent and historic childhoods.
- Engage in the interactive features of the museum, which encourage children to be creative.
- Take part in the museum’s daily activities for kids, including arts and crafts and storytelling events
The V&A Museum of Childhood, London, displays artefacts from long ago, as well as more recent titbits of nostalgia, to chart the history of childhood in Britain. There are thousands of objects made for and by children, with some dating back over 400 years to the 1600s. It’s an amazing place for children to explore and learn more about what life was like in the past.
There are plenty of activities at the museum, which is part of the larger Victoria and Albert Museum group. The childhood museum’s permanent collection features toys, clothing, and furniture from the children of generations gone by. It’s incredible for kids to see what it was like to be their age a hundred or more years ago.
It is home to one of the largest collections of childhood objects in the world. The toys on display include handcrafted gifts for young Victorian children and mass-manufactured favourites of the modern day. It’s a trip down memory lane for many of the grown-up visitors to the museum, who can see the toys of their own childhood behind the glass displays.
The museum houses an enormous collection of dolls and dolls' houses, with around 8,000 dolls in the museum’s exhibitions and archives. From the dolls of the Stuart era to today’s Christmas presents, the museum describes the interesting history of this classic childhood toy. Its permanent collection of dolls' houses includes the impressive "Place (Village)" by artist Rachel Whiteread. This artwork is a collection of over 150 vintage dolls' houses which have been arranged and displayed to look like a hillside village somewhere in Britain. The effect is a beautiful but eerie display, with the lit-up houses seemingly alive yet deserted.
The Museum of Childhood also charts the incredible history of children’s clothing. From the fancy dresses and suits of upper-class Georgian and Victorian children to the more modern versions for children of the late 20th century, you can discover how fashions have changed over time to what we know today.
The layout of the museum has been specially designed to encourage kids to engage with the museum’s collections. In the museum’s Creativity Gallery, you can discover the processes that take place for ideas to be transformed into material reality.
The gallery guides you through the imagination process, the impact of inspiration, the effect of exploration, and finally, how the finished project is achieved. Kids can make their own projects and artwork in this section, which forms part of the ever-changing "Made by You" exhibit, which displays the work of museum visitors.
At the museum, you can also discover how life has changed for children over the decades and centuries. In modern times, all children in the UK go to school until at least the age of 16, but that hasn’t always been the case. The permanent "Our Lives" exhibit at the museum uses original memoirs and artefacts to depict what life was like for children of the past. From Victorian chimney sweeps to WWII evacuees, this exhibition shows how challenging childhood can be.
There are loads of brilliant things to keep kids occupied. This includes an indoor sandpit, dress-up opportunities, and fun toys to play with. While the kids are playing, grown-ups can indulge in nostalgia by visiting the displays of famous and popular toys from the last few decades.
With special sessions on Saturdays for under-fives, the museum is a brilliant place to visit with kids. These sessions are open play and involve toys and objects designed for the museum by renowned artist Albert Potrony, specifically created in order to develop your child's curiosity.
There are tons of great ways for older kids to get involved at the Museum of Childhood. Throughout the year, the museum runs free daily sessions where kids can make arts and crafts, listen to a storytelling session, or play with some of the toys at the museum. Kids can create artworks that reflect the objects found in the museum, which they can take home as a memory of their day out.
If you’re looking to explore the local area when you visit the Museum of Childhood, you’re in luck. Bethnal Green is a vibrant community that has retained its East End charm. The Sunday Flower Market is a big draw, and the streets of the neighbourhood are brimming with great independent art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Local favourites such as the E Pellicci cafe and the G Kelly pie shop have been family-run for generations and are friendly neighbourhood institutions.
The V&A Museum of Childhood is easily one of the best free activities in London for families, with its exhibitions and activities encouraging curiosity and wonder, but there are many more great London museums for kids, including the Museum of London and Natural History Museum.
What to know before you go
- The V&A Museum of Childhood is currently undergoing a huge refurbishment, with a more welcoming interior to be designed and built over the next two years. The museum plans to reopen in 2022.
- Admission to the museum is free, although they do accept donations if you wish.
- The Benugo Cafe sits in the centre of the museum and is open daily from 10am - 5pm. Here, you can buy sandwiches, hot food, snacks, and drinks while relaxing in their open-plan space. Everything on the menu is available as a kids’ portion, and they also sell baby food.
- The museum is wheelchair and buggy accessible, with lifts between each floor. There’s also a buggy park where you can leave your stroller if you want to during your visit.
- There are accessible toilets at the museum. Baby changing facilities are available in the men’s and women’s toilets on the ground floor. There is also baby changing tables in the toilets of the Quiet Room, which is also a space for nursing mothers to use.
- There’s no specific parking for the Museum of Childhood, but there is on-street parking nearby. This can get busy, so it’s best to take public transport to the museum for a smoother experience. If you need accessible parking, this can be arranged by calling the museum.
- The museum is just a five-minute walk from the nearby Bethnal Green Tube station (Central line).
- You can reach the museum by rail, too. Cambridge Heath station and Bethnal Green station are both less than a ten-minute walk from the museum.
- There are also various bus routes which serve the Bethnal Green area. The 55, 254, 309, and 388 buses all have stops within walking distance of the museum.