We received a free family ticket to visit the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Exhibition in Piccadilly Circus in London.
According to Wikipedia, Robert Ripley was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist, who lived from 1890-1949. he ran a very popular cartoon series called Ripley’s Believe it or Not, in which he featured oddities from around the world. He travelled widely and amassed a collection of weird and wonderful artefacts, which have now been put together into several odditoriums (as they like to call them) throughout the world.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London opened at The Trocadero, Piccadilly Circus in August 2008. It’s on the site which some people will remember as the Guinness World of Records exhibition, and indeed some artefacts (like the tallest man and the heaviest man) have been retained in the show from when it was Guinness records. My son loved it when the whole family stood on the scales and were not as heavy as the heaviest man – and I remember that too from when I was little.
Ripleys is not one of the first places I think of when asked to name London attractions. But I was vaguely aware it was there, and just a little bit curious, so it was great to get a look inside.
We visited on one of the snowiest days in January and not many people were about, so we were able to wander freely, see everything clearly and spend as much time in each room as we wanted to. I was very impressed with how well signposted everything was – a clear path through the exhibition, each item labelled with fun and interesting facts, which the children were able to read easily and found very amusing for the most part. There was an audio guide available too, although we didn’t choose to use it.
This is not a boring old museum with ancient things which children will get bored of easily. There is a surprise round every corner, and my children were captivated and fascinated throughout.
The exhibition is very interactive. Quite a few exhibits were backed up with video, showing the real people and animals whose waxworks were on display, or a little bit about the history and origins of particular artefacts. Lots of exhibits had buttons to press and there was plenty for children to climb on and touch.
I would say at this point though, that you need to be sure of your children’s disposition before coming into this exhibition. You need children who are comfortable with the whole Horrible Histories idea – gruesome and gory bits. My daughter is 10 and my son is 8 – while most of the time they were fine with what they were seeing and had a macabre fascination for it all, each one of them got grossed and freaked out a couple of times (in different places) – and younger children might get properly scared by some of the exhibits.
Quite a few of the exhibits show genetic mutations of humans and animals, plus crazy things that humans have done to themselves in the name of tribal tradition (eg. baby head binding and neck stretching with rings) or art (tattooed lizard man with a forked tongue). To see these people and especially to see the video of them in real life was a little bit shocking, even for me, in parts, and gave the exhibition a bit of the flavour of a Victorian freak show (which I think is a bit what the curators were after). I’ve left the shocking pictures out so I don’t offend anybody…
In between the shocking bits were parts that were beautiful (gorgeous sculptures out of jade and camel bone, plus miniature paintings on leaves and seeds), artistic (large sculptures in matchsticks and cassette tape, paintings made with bubble gum balls, a portrait of Kate Middleton with lipstick kissed on paper, and one painting done by a horse)
Some bits were just plain odd (a knitted Ferrari and a man who makes chewing gum sculptures in his mouth then spits them out fully formed…?)
A couple of rooms were very educational – my two really enjoyed the exhibition of all the Olympic torches of the past 100 years (having queued in the rain for hours last year to see the London torch). My daughter enjoyed the mirror maze (my son didn’t want to go in as he found the music creepy and off putting. And of course, they both enjoyed the obligatory gift shop at the end….
Taking all things together, we did have a good time at Ripley’s, and it led to some very interesting conversations over the next few days as the children processed when they had seen and heard. they have truly had their eyes opened at some of the funny things that humans have done to themselves and to each other over the years (and the odd things that some people consider to be art).
I’m not sure I would have paid full price to go (our family ticket would have cost £88), but with voucher sites like Money Supermarket Family Days Out offering discounts on the tickets, it is well worth a look if you have children in those interesting in-between years. We have never had so much fun in a museum, nor so many surprises.