December 6 2013 Latest news:
Simon Bull, London24 editor
Sunday, May 27, 2012
A day out at the Ripley's Believe It Or Not attraction in Piccadilly Circus. Weird and wonderful, or just weird?
Most museums cater for a particular field of interest. At the Science Museum a strong interest in space or medicine is recommended. At the Natural History Museum its all about animals and Earth sciences. The Victoria and Albert is a Mecca for devotees of art and design.
While all of these things are obviously very broad subjects, they are still not going to be to everyone's tastes. Ripley's Believe It Or Not at Piccadilly Circus is different.
Even though it does showcase weird and wonderful exhibits from around the world, it can't be thought of as a traditional museum. It's not so much as a place of learning as an interactive house of the bizarre where you can see - and experience - some very odd things.
It also doesn't cater for any one particular subject. It's a museum that should interest people with an interest in the, well, interesting. It's a palace of oddities, a celebration of the unbelievable, paying homage to crazy human feats, strange records and all-round madness.
Address: The London Pavillion, 1 Piccadilly Circus, W1J 0DA
Opening times: Open 365 days a year, 10am-midnight, last entry at 10.30pm
Tel: 020 3238 0022
Prices: Adult ticket £26.95, child £21.95, family ticket £87.95 (2 adults, 2 children), concession £24.95
Located in the London Pavilion building where the now defunct Madame Tussaud's Rock Circus was based, Ripley's features more than 700 exhibits spread over five floors.
I will go into more detail on individual exhibits in a forthcoming look at the weirdest things to see at Ripley's but suffice to say, if you go in expecting to be amused, bemused and astounded then you won't be disappointed.
You will see everything from the longest human nose in history to a Chinese man with a candle inserted into his skull which he used as a lamp. There is also a life-size knitted Ferrari, a man born with a blue face like a Smurf, the tallest man ever known to exist - and so on and so on.
Obviously, because of the nature of what they represent, not all the exhibits are not the original items. In many cases they are models or mannequins, but this doesn't take anything away from the museum - it is still fascinating seeing everything it has to offer.
As well as the main collection of exhibits to gawp at, there are also several other highlights of Ripley's.
My favourite was the spinning tunnel, a walkthrough vortex surrounded by whirling lights. The effect is dizzying and you'll do well not to fall over when you exit. You enter this section after a funny blacklight space-themed area where you and your friends will be able to laugh as one another as you glow in the dark.
There is also a maze of mirrors, a confusing labyrinth within a dimly lit space which is a challenge to successfully get through, to say the least.
LaseRace, meanwhile, challenges visitors to jump, crawl and twist their way through a network of laser beams - good fun for the short time it lasts, a bit like something out of Mission Impossible.
Visitor facilities within Ripley's include a small cafe (reasonably priced for this kind of attraction) and the inevitable gift shop (rather a disappointment at the end of the tour).
Overall, Ripley's is a great experience and my wife, nine-year-old daughter and I had a fun time during our time there - about three hours to see everything, including a snack break.
There are a couple of things to be aware of when visiting, however.
One of the floors contains a dungeon zone which younger children may find disturbing. In fact, some adults may find it a little unnerving too.
One of the exhibits is an electric chair. A dummy sits upon it, his head covered by a bag. The chair can be activated with a pull of a lever, sending the 'condemned' into quivers and spasms as he 'fries'. It'll be fun for some with a dark mind while others will find it rather unsettling.
The other thing to be conscious of when visiting is the entrance price. My family and I were fortunate enough to get in gratis. And we had a fantastic visit. However, if we were to go back it would cost around £75 for the three of us.
I would heartily recommend Ripley's as a special place to visit for a one-off treat. I'm not convinced the entrance fee justifies a return visit, though.
Ripley's is a unique attraction in London, packed with some of the weirdest things you'll ever see. If you've not been before, it's definitely one to bear in mind for a family day out during the summer.