Darwin Centre Spirit Collection

Repository for more than 22 million pickled specimens


The Natural History Museum, one of the three large museums on Exhibition Road in London, is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons. But those are not the only life and earth specimens that the museum holds; within its walls, there are more than 70 million items sorted into five main collections. Among those, the specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself.

Opened to the public in September 2009, the Darwin Centre's collection allows museum visitors to "explore world-class science in action in a dramatic new public space" according to the museum's website. "The Darwin Centre is a state-of-the-art science and collections facility. The building is the most significant expansion at the Museum since it moved to South Kensington in 1881."

The "spirit collections" are those preserved in alcohol, of which there are millions, some on display, but most stored in jars in what looks like filing cabinets that are several metres long; these are inaccessible to the public unless you sign up for a tour of the Centre. Several species found by Darwin were the first of that species to be discovered and are preserved in glass jars with golden yellow tops.

The most famous creature preserved in spirits is arguably a giant squid, more than 8.5 meters long, affectionately named Archie.

  • Hours
    The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. daily except December 24-26. Guided tours of the Darwin Centre run through the day until 4:15 p.m. Tours last approximately 30 minutes, with an hour-long more in-depth tour starting at 3:15 p.m.
  • Website
  • Address
    Cromwell Road, London, England, SW7, United Kingdom
  • Cost
    Free, but advance tour booking is required.
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Inventory of specimens at the Darwin Centre
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The nearest Tube is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines. Buses 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 360, 414 and C1 stop near the museum.

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