National Print Museum

National Print Museum

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The National Print Museum is a small museum dedicated to promoting the historical significance and contemporary relevance of printing. The museum is set out to replicate a printing workshop with composing, printing and finishing areas. The permanent collection includes printing machinery and artefacts. This isn’t sounding like the most toddler-baiting of days out so far.  But wait, website notes family-friendly tours are available and there’s a kids education area. Also, there was an exhibition I wanted to see so the boy was duly dragged along and I hoped for the best.

Our visit

My trusty friend Google maps reliably informed me that I could reach the museum on foot in around 50 minutes, versus 45 minutes or so by bus. I elected to walk, and even though the weather was a bit drizzly, it was quite pleasant to walk along the canals and uncover another section of my mental map of Dublin. We arrived just before midday, and a tour was just about to start so I opted to join that on the assumption I would learn more than I would from the self-guided option.

I almost immediately regretted paying for the guided tour though as Pea was in a lively mood, determined to get up into the heavy, dangerous looking equipment and in no mood to be held by me. He probably wasn’t being as disruptive as I thought, but I always feel self-conscious that he’s disturbing other people in situations like this so I tried to keep him on a tight leash which only invoked his wrath.

Thank goodness for the education area! It’s small, but stocked with a nice selection of books and art materials.  A few pieces of plain paper and chalk were enough to keep Pea distracted. So we just stayed there, Pea got chalk all over himself and even tried to eat a piece and I made some crap origami. The museum’s permanent collection is all on the ground floor so I was still able to hear some most of what was happening on the tour.

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The tour finished up with a printing demonstration so we rejoined at this point. Pea and another little girl on the tour got personalised ‘Wanted’ posters made up for them which made for a cool little keepsake. The exhibition that I wanted to see (Print, Protest and the Polls) didn’t open until the following week, not sure quite how I managed to muddle this.

I didn’t learn much about printing but one thing I do remember is the replica Guttenberg press (gifted from the production of The Tudors). Our tour guide explained that Guttenberg came from a winemaking region of Germany and was inspired to build the press by observing the winemaking process. So without wine, we probably wouldn’t have printing. Wine is the best. Yay for wine.

As a toddler distraction activity, this was very much saved by the education zone and I do plan to make a return visit with Pea. We’ll skip the guided tour and hopefully catch the exhibition next time! For older children and adults there’s more to enjoy here – there are printmaking and bookmaking workshops for children from 4 years old, and workshops for adults too.

Essential info

The National Print Museum is located at Beggars Bush Barracks, Haddington Road Dublin 4. Admission is free for a self-guided tour, guided tours cost EUR 3.50 for adults and EUR 2.00 for children. Opening hours are 9.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday and 14.00 – 17.00 on weekends. The museum closes on Bank Holiday weekends. Step free access is available to the ground floor but not for the mezzanine floor where temporary exhibitions are held. There’s an accessible toilet, baby change and a cafe with highchairs.

Drimnagh Castle

Drimnagh Castle

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Drimnagh Castle is a Norman castle in south Dublin, distinguishable as the only known surviving Irish castle with a flooded moat. I learnt of its existence after a session of sofa exploration (Google maps, how would I survive without you?). It’s walkable from our home and I just love a good castle. It’s closed on the weekends though, so, even though I wasn’t sure how Pea-friendly it would be, I decided to chance it on one of our Friday Lee and Pea days.

Our visit

Pea’s Dad was again able to join us for this day out which helped assuage my concerns about its suitability for Pea. As it turned out, it would have been doable for me alone but considerably easier with a two-adults-to-one-Pea ratio. When we arrived, a member of staff emerged from the gardens and informed us we could either walk around the gardens and exterior for free or take a guided tour for a small fee. She initially seemed a bit sceptical about us taking the tour with Pea, but once we’d established a spot to park his pram she seemed happy enough.

Our tour guide was Richie, as knowledgeable as he was affable. It was just the three of us and another family of three on the tour. This worked in our favour as the pace was quite relaxed and Richie was happy to wait for us to catch up when Pea would invariably break free in pursuit of his own entertainment.

I won’t do justice to the full history of the castle but here’s a mico summary. It was built by the Barnewall family (originally de Berneval, Anglicised to Barnewall) on land granted to them in 1215 by King John. It remained in the Barnewall family until the time of James 1st when it was sold to Adam Loftus in 1607. Loftus was formerly Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland and also held another castle in South Dublin at Rathfarnham.

From there my timeline gets sketchy but at some time during the 20th century the castle was in use by the Christian Brothers and, as Richie wryly noted, it all went downhill from there.  In the 1960’s the castle fell into disrepair but thankfully restoration work was undertaken from 1986 to 1996.  Even better, the restoration work was completed by local young people as part of a community employment scheme. Since then it has been open to the public and used for film and television work, weddings and other events.

Richie did a great job of pointing out some of the distinctive features of the castle and bringing stories to life. I appreciate the macabre, so I loved seeing the Murder Hole (basically just a trap door above an entrance, used to tip boiling water over intruders). An unusual feature of the castle is the stairs leading from the undercroft to the great hall, as the steps turn to the left. The children’s room featured a hidden staircase through which they could escape to safety if the castle came under attack. The chandelier that hangs in the great hall isn’t an original feature but rather a prop from the film Excalibur. Gabriel Byrne, who grew up nearby, thought it looked so good there that he convinced the production team to leave it behind.

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The guided tour took about an hour and by the time we finished, we had about twenty minutes spare to enjoy the gardens and courtyard. These days, Pea is generally happy to have space to run around or to pull up grass or gravel and he had the opportunity here to do all three. The gardens are small but very pretty with a cute little bench at the rear.In the courtyard, there’s a mural of Eleanora Barnwell and her love Sean O’Byrne. I won’t go into the story of their romance but things didn’t work out too well for either of the star-crossed lovers and superstitious types believe Eleanora now haunts the castle.

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This turned out to be a surprisingly suitable family day out and I’m sure Pea and I will make a repeat visit in the not too distant future.

Essential info

Drimnagh Castle is at Long Mile Road, Dublin 12. Guided tours cost 5 EUR per adult and 3 EUR per child, we weren’t charged for Pea but I’m not clear at what age a child fee applies. The guided tour grants entry inside the castle building but the gardens can be enjoyed for free. Opening hours are Monday to Thursday 9.00am – 4.00pm and Fridays 9.00am – 12.30, the last tour on a Friday is at 11.00am. There are toilets on site and we left the Pea-mobile in the courtyard while we took the tour.

 

 

 

 

Iveagh Gardens Dublin

Iveagh Gardens Dublin

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The Iveagh Gardens is a lush Victorian green space in the centre of Dublin. Designed by Ninian Niven in 1865, many of the original features still survive. Despite being in the city centre, the location of the gardens is somewhat inconspicuous, giving rise to the nickname Dublin’s ‘Secret Garden’.

Our visit

We first visited back in late April when Dublin was basking in unseasonably warm weather. I saw this as a great opportunity to take advantage of the weather by both walking from our house in the south of the city to the city centre – no better way to get your bearings in an unfamiliar city than on foot – and to let Pea enjoy an unstructured day of outdoor exploration.

It was almost midday as we were approaching the gardens so I stopped to pick us up a takeaway lunch. I had visions of finding a shady spot and enjoying a lovely, languid lunch with my boy. It didn’t quite pan out that way but we had a memorably lovely day nonetheless.

We did a quick circuit of the gardens first thing to get our bearings. There’s a rose garden, a maze, a couple of fountains and, best of all, a waterfall. The abundance of ageing statues, many of them missing heads or limbs, lends the place a sort of romantic Gothic feel. I have a penchant for old cemeteries and although to the best of my knowledge, the gardens have no history of usage as a burial ground, a creaky old church and crumbling gravestones wouldn’t feel out of place here.

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We settled in the sunken garden to have our lunch. I let Pea out of his pram and assumed he wouldn’t be interested in wandering too far when there was the possibility of food. Wrong. He was so excited to be out in the open that I couldn’t interest him in food or get any peace to eat mine. He just wanted to run around or approach random strangers with little offerings of daisies or cut grass. He was having the time of his life. In the end, I felt that we both really needed to eat and hydrate ourselves. The only way to do this was to bundle him back into the pram and pass him little pieces of chicken to eat in his hands. Lesson learned – freedom is more appetizing to Pea than any meal and any future attempt at a picnic needs more careful planning.

After we’d eaten we went for a deeper exploration of the gardens. Towards the National Concert Hall entrance, we found a little foresty area with wood logs arranged in a circle. This kept Pea quite entertained climbing on the logs, picking leaves off the trees, exploring and touching everything he could. It was a great find, as the trees kept us in the shade too.

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We then went to have a look at the fountains in the centre of the gardens. Pea busied himself with throwing pebbles and ivy branches into the water. Finally, we stopped by the waterfall. It’s magnificent, and Pea was completely captivated. It was tricky to drag him away, but he desperately needed a nappy change so there was no choice but to move on. We didn’t attempt the maze on account of a couple of shady looking characters hanging out in the vicinity and we didn’t take in the rose garden as the flowers weren’t n bloom – I’m looking forward to those on a future visit before the summer is out.

Essential info

Iveagh Gardens are at Clonmel Street, Dublin 2. The entrance on Clonmel St is step free, there are some steps throughout the gardens and at the National Concert Hall entrance. The gardens are open all year round and are free to visit. Opening times vary according to the season and access is limited during June, July and August due to various events, so it’s best to check the website before planning a visit. There are no toilets, baby changing or cafe in the grounds. St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is about a 5 minute walk away and has baby changing facilities and an accessible toilet. Camden Street is a good bet for food or drinks nearby.

The Science Gallery Dublin

The Science Gallery Dublin

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Science Gallery Dublin presents a series of exhibitions examining “white-hot scientific issues”. It’s based on the Trinty College Dublin campus in the city centre and is part of a global science gallery network which includes Science Gallery London, opening this year.

Our visit

This was our first proper day out together since moving to Dublin. After several weeks of stress and upheaval including a necessary but painful separation from Pea I was desperate to escape the unpacking and do something fun together in our new city. It needed to be something low cost or even better free because it turns out that moving your family to a different country is a bit of a drain on the old finances (nobody told me). I chose the Science Gallery for our first Dublin adventure because it looked really fun and engaging and

The current exhibition, Fake, explores copying and mimicry in a variety of ways, from art forgeries to biomimicry through a selection of objects and installations. On the day we visited the weather was shocking with torrents of rain of epic proportions. And I had the not too bright idea of walking for much of the way. By the time we arrived at the gallery, I was soaked through to the skin and Pea was chomping at the bit to escape the confinement of his pram. It always amazes me how incensed he can get at being carted around – it’s warm an cosy in there and he’s completely protected from the elements. I’d be delighted to be chauffeured around the city like this but there’s no rhyme or reason to toddler behaviour so what do I know?

The exhibition wasn’t yet open when we arrived, but we were invited to wait in the cafe until opening time. The cafe looks good, but we didn’t try anything as it was very busy and the queuing/ordering process was bit disorganised. Instead, we had a quick look around the bookshop and I spent some time attempting to strap Pea into his harness (an essential restraining device now that he’s mobile).

Once the exhibition was open, I had a hard time containing Pea even with the harness. It’s quite a small exhibition and it was well attended and Pea just kept gravitating towards the most physically intimidating person in the room and then getting right under their feet. Many of exhibits here can be handled but in my judgement, they weren’t robust enough to withstand Pea’s vigorous attentions so I had to keep dragging him away from things which was annoying for both of us. Some of the interactive exhibits included a pretend deli/cafe consisting of foods that can be in some way considered fake (such as Quorn, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter etc) a laughter simulator, and a vanilla sampling station (because the majority of vanilla flavoured things don’t come from vanilla beans at all but are manufactured). Other pieces included a fake alien head and a hairy chair that Pea was very taken by.

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This is a really playful and thought-provoking exhibition that I don’t feel I was able to fully enjoy on account of the heavy duty Pea wrangling I was doing on the day. It’s most certainly better suited to older children and adults but not entirely inappropriate for a toddler, mine was just a bit stir crazy on the day. The upcoming exhibitions look just as intriguing so we’ll absolutely be back for those but I’ll be sure to release Pea into a park or garden to burn up some energy beforehand.

Essential info

The Science Gallery is at Trinty College Dublin, Pearse St D2. The current exhibition, Fake, closes on 3rd June. There’s no permanent collection, so if planning a visit always check the website first as there’s nothing to see in between shows. Exhibitions are open Tuesday – Friday 12.00-20.00 and 12.00-18.00 Saturday and Sunday. Admission to exhibitions is always free.  Accessible toilet, baby change facilities, cafe and small bookshop on site and the staff were happy for me to store the Pea-mobile at Reception.

National Maritime Museum London

National Maritime Museum London

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The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has not one but two dedicated children’s galleries – Ahoy! for under 7’s and All Hands for ages 6-12. Although I’ve visited this museum before Pea was born, I don’t remember lots and I was eager to go back once he was old enough to benefit from the under 7’s gallery. I also love any excuses to visit Greenwich as it’s one of my favourite areas of London, and it’s where I got married! Very appropriate then that this was the last of our London outings before the move to Dublin and Pea’s Dad was available to join us too so it was a very special family day out.

Our visit

We really wanted to make a day of this, so we took a Thames Clipper service from London Bridge City Pier to Greenwich. This takes a bit longer, but it’s so worth it as the river bus is such a chilled out way to travel in London and you get the benefit of cruising past some of London’s most notable landmarks on the way. Once we arrived in Greenwich, we stopped at the market for a much needed hot drink and snacks – it was a brutally cold day, and in such conditions I can’t think of a better thing to do than indulge yourself with some delicious Brazilian churros. Once we’d warmed up and sated our need for sugar we headed over to the museum.

Our first port of call was the Great Map where we released a newly-walking Pea on a mission to conquer land and sea. He had a whale of a time being chased across the oceans by his Dad. The Great Map is the gift that keeps on giving for parents, as it’s next to the coffee shop, so you can keep an eye on your little shipmates while you have a coffee.

One Pea had fully explored the map (and exhausted his Dad) we moved downstairs to the Ahoy! gallery to see what all the fuss was about. I was feeling cautiously optimistic about this one. I’ve taken Pea to some of the other play spaces at London museums but these haven’t been wholly successful. Much of this has simply been down to his age at the time – it is a challenge to design a play space or activity for under 5’s that caters for the full spectrum of that age. Ahoy! does a pretty good job of this, although Pea certainly got more value out of this now that he’s walking than he would have done as a crawler.

We first tried out the little rock pool area which was filled with plush sea creatures, buckets and nets. Pea was quite content in here and probably could have entertained himself for much longer but a large school group arrived soon after we did, and they were pretty boisterous so we elected to move Pea along to a quieter spot. That was a bit tricky, as the school group fanned out into all corners of the gallery like an army of cute excitable ants. Still, we found some respite in the mocked up ship’s cabin. We cooked up a stew in a huge pot and Pea attempted to loot some treasure from a trunk (the booty was glued down, probably just as well with our budding kleptomaniac).

Then we found the little fishmonger’s shop in the back of the gallery which was the big winner with Pea. He spent a good twenty minutes in here with his little apron on just scooping up mussels from the tray and tipping them back in again with that focus and determination that only a toddler has. Eventually, we moved him on as we were concerned he was preventing other children from enjoying it!

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We spent about an hour and a half in here and could probably have spent longer but it was getting near to Pea’s naptime. Sure enough, once we left he fell asleep in his pram quite quickly giving us some time to investigate the rest of the museum. We had a quick look in the upstairs gallery for older kids, All Hands. It’s aimed at children from 6-12 years but I’d say it would be fine for younger kids too. It was virtually deserted when we popped in. From here, we went on to browse some of the other galleries. I was just scrutinising Nelson’s coat when Pea woke from his nap.

We spent the rest of the time at the Museum letting Pea waddle around and taking turns checking out some of the less baby friendly exhibits. We even got involved in testing out an interactive feature being developed for the museum. We stayed until closing time and felt that we’d thoroughly explored all the museum had to offer.

We had such a good time here that part of me regrets not taking Pea here sooner and fitting in a repeat visit before we moved. On the other hand, I think he was at just about the right age to really get the most out of this, especially the Ahoy! gallery. Whenever we are back in London for a visit we will be keen to come back to the Maritime Museum and see if our little sea dog has as much fun the second time around.

Essential info

The National Maritime Museum is at Park Row, Greenwich SE10. Admission is free. Facilities include baby changing, lifts and cafe.

 

Tate Exchange at Tate Modern

Tate Exchange at Tate Modern

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Tate Modern was one of my favourite places to go pre-Pea. Even after many visits over the years, there’s still so much in the permanent collections that I’ve never checked out. Although many London parents consider Tate Modern a great option for a day out with the kids my visits here with Pea have been hit and miss. I really wanted to fit in one final visit before our move to Dublin though, and especially wanted to time it with Tate Exchange. Tate Exchange is an annual themed programme in which partner artists and institutions take over Level 5 of the Blavatnik building to test out ideas and collaborate.

Our visit

We headed out on a cool morning in early February with Pea’s Dad able to join us too. Although Tate Exchange doesn’t start until midday, I wanted to get there as early as we could to get the full benefit of the Turbine Hall installation, Superflex’s One Two Three Swing! I’d popped in for this purpose a couple of times already with Pea but it was always so incredibly busy that we weren’t able to have a go on any of the wonderful swings. This time, we arrived soon after opening and there were already a lot of people but it wasn’t quite so manic and all three of us were able to have fun on the swings. To be fair, I don’t think Pea was actually that bothered about the swings. He was in his element crawling around on the rainbow coloured carpet though.

I’d hoped to have more time to take in some of the permanent collections and pay a final visit to my favourite, the Rothko room. But, by the time we’d exhausted the Turbine Hall and had a coffee at the level 1 Cafe, it was almost noon so we made our way from the Boiler house building to the Blavatnik Building. At this point, we first encountered the total frustration that is the lift system in Tate Modern. Each time the lift doors opened on our level the lift was already full and no one got out so it took us about 10 minutes of waiting to actually get to the 5th floor. It’s for this reason that I find Tate Modern much less baby and toddler-friendly than it really should be given the facilities there. There’s signage indicating that wheelchair and buggy users should be given priority access to the lifts but in practice this just doesn’t happen. In fairness, I’m not sure what else the gallery management could do here to discourage people from using the lifts unless they really need to but wasting so much time waiting for a lift to become available put all three of us in a bit of a grumpy mood.

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Okay, rant over. We made it to the 5th floor for Tate Exchange. The current theme is Production and when we visited it was a Plymouth College of Art takeover under the name Factory Settings, all about challenging the idea of work. As we arrived, we were provided with clocking in sheets – the idea was that you could work your way around the various workstations and clock in to each one as you did. Workstations included screen printing, a production line for manufacturing babies and a large wall for drawing on. At one workstation, one of the students talked to us about the health benefits of certain plants (for example snake plants are good for respiratory issues) and we got to take away some plant cuttings. Our favourite though was Stillness, a tea station. Pea had just fallen asleep and we stumbled across a quiet little spot where we were invited to sit down and relax while we were brought a cup of tea! When we finished up with Tate Exchange we handed over our timesheets and were given our ‘wages’ in brown envelopes in recognition of our shift on the factory floor.

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We decided to go up to the viewing level while Pea was still asleep – cue another farcically long wait to get into a lift. The view is undeniably stunning but by the time we got up there Pea woke up and needed feeding so it was a brief sightseeing mission before going back down to the ground floor level. By the time we fed him we were hungry ourselves and decided to call it a day at Tate and get some lunch over at the Southbank Centre food market. I never did get a final look at the Rothko’s.

Essential info

Tate Modern is at Bankside, London SE1. Open daily with free admission. There are lifts to all floors (but you’ll lose the will to live while waiting for them), accessible toilets, baby change facilities, cloakroom, lockers and the level 1 cafe has high chairs. Tate Exchange is on the 5th floor of the Blavatnik Building from Tuesdays to Sundays and open 12.00pm – 18.00.

 

Horniman Museum

Horniman Museum

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The Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill is a Londoner’s favourite. Being outside of the city centre, it doesn’t attract the same tourist footfall as the Natural History Museum or British Museum and it’s so much more relaxed for that. The permanent collection consists of natural history, anthropology and musical instruments. The dodgy taxidermy is legendary and a selfie with the famous stuffed walrus is pretty much obligatory. Having been a long-term South London resident, it’s a place I’ve been to many a time and it never disappoints but since I’ve had Pea I’ve come to love it even more as its so child-friendly.

Our visit

As a rule, I avoid family-friendly museums and galleries during half term in London because I simply do not have the tolerance threshold for the queuing and the noise and the madness that entails. However, my last visit to Horniman with Pea was indeed during half-term as I really wanted to check out the current temporary exhibition Colour: the Rainbow Revealed and I had limited time to do this before leaving London.

We arrived early, and it was as busy as I’ve ever seen this place with a queue for tickets, a queue in the cafe and both the ground floor buggy storage space and the locker room chock full of buggies, scooters and tricycles. Despite this, it took only a few minutes to queue for our exhibition tickets so we were soon inside, exploring “the many ways in which colour shapes our world”. Except we weren’t really, as it was, as predicted, pretty busy in there, and Pea had just that week started walking. So mostly I spent the time learning that a newly walking child is not really any less terrifying than a crawler, as there’s ample opportunity for them to be trampled. The mood room was nice and the little baby area with rainbow coloured soft play apparatus was very welcome but I don’t think we got the full benefit of this exhibition – I would have liked a bit more on the psychology of colour, and Pea was just a tad too unsteady on his feet at this point to be able to safely roam as he would have liked to.

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A trip to Horniman is never wasted though. We went through to the music gallery and had a go on some of the interactive instruments there. It was a bit quieter in there, but poor little Pea still got bulldozed away from the bodhrans by an older girl. We then took a little walk through the aquarium, which is lovely, but Pea was sleepy by this point so it was more for my benefit than his. I didn’t bother with the museum cafe for lunch – it’s great, but was way too crowded on this occasion so I headed back out into Forest Hill and found a cosy little Vietnamese cafe opposite the railway station. It was nice and quiet in there, Pea slept and I got peace to savour a sweet coffee and the nicest Banh Mi I’ve had in London.

After lunch, we went back to the Horniman for a little wander around the gardens and the animal walk. The view over London from the Horniman bandstand is spectacular and it’s worth a visit for this alone. We went back inside the museum to check out Hands On Base, a special gallery filled with items that can be handled. This gallery is only open occasionally so we’d never managed to go before but it’s brilliant and Pea absolutely loved it. Museum staff were there to draw attention to and discuss some of the items, such as Brazilian carnival outfits, Chinese masks and, Pea’s favourite, a taxidermied fox. In addition to the handling items, there was a good selection of children’s books to browse and enough space for Pea to totter around.

Horniman is such a brilliant museum for families and I’ll really miss having a resource like this so nearby. It was a shame we needed to make our last ever visit during half term as I think we would have gotten so much more from the Colour exhibition if we’d gone during a quieter time. However, we wouldn’t have experienced Hands On Base which was easily the most successful part of our day.

Essential info

The Horniman Museum and Gardens is at 100 London Road, SE23. Admission to the gardens and permanent collection is free, but a fee applies for temporary exhibitions, the aquarium and the butterfly house. The museum has lift access throughout, a really good cafe, buggy storage, lockers and baby change facilities. Colour: the Rainbow Revealed is on until 28th October.