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We all have a favourite museum memory. Maybe it was the first time you saw the Diplodocus at the Natural History Museum; or that rainy day spent exploring an oddly charming local exhibition of knickknacks. Or maybe it was a unique exhibition at one of our many national museums that made you see the world in a different light.
Brits are spoiled for choice when it comes to museums and historic displays. Whether you are in the country or the city, you are sure to be within visiting distance of some of the world’s best museums…and some of the quirkiest to boot (Dog Collar Museum, anyone?).
What’s more, most of our museums are free to attend and are regularly updated with exclusive and educational exhibitions and events – perfect for entertaining the kids, learning something new as a family, or just whiling away a few peaceful hours by yourself.
Have a look at our pick of the country’s favourite days out, just in time for National Museum Week. Which one will be your new favourite?
Sir John Soane’s Museum – London
This tiny treasure trove of a museum is one of London’s hidden gems. Located by Lincoln’s Inn Fields on the outskirts of Bloomsbury, the building was once the home of the legendary British architect Sir John Soane. Over the course of his life he collected numerous sculptures, art works and architectural models, and he displayed each piece with meticulous precision.
In 1833, he successfully passed an act of Parliament which would preserve his home as a museum following his death (he died five years later). Today, everything is just the way he left it 177 years ago…but with fewer cobwebs than you might expect.
British Lawnmower Museum – Southport
Not to be confused with the smaller Lawnmower Museum at Trerice House in Cornwall, the British Lawnmower Museum is dedicated to, you guessed it, lawnmowers. Old lawnmowers; new lawnmowers; handheld lawnmowers; motorised lawnmowers – you name it, they’ve got it.
An exhibition titled ‘Lawnmowers of the Rich and Famous’ features a Qualcast Panther once owned by Jean Alexander (Coronation Street’s Hilda Ogden), a garden stake donated by Vanessa Feltz and Alan Titchmarsh’s trowel.
An extensive gift shop is attached, and yes, you can buy lawnmowers from it.
Guided tours start at £16.66 for two people.
British Museum – London
The British Museum is one of a kind. When it opened in 1753 it was the first national museum in the world, and it is still considered to be one of the most important centres of human history and study.
The iconic building houses some of the most famous and significant artefacts in history – from the Rosetta stone (the earliest evidence of linguistics), to the mummified remains of the Ancient Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Visiting exhibitions have included the Terracotta Army, and a life size re-enactment of the lost villages of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Schedule at least one full day to get around.
Admission free (except exhibitions).
Dog Collar Museum – Leeds Castle, Kent
Leeds Castle is one of England’s quirkier attractions. It has an actual moat, a maze, a falconry and a legitimately terrifying armoury. But its strangest feature is without a doubt the Dog Collar Museum.
The surprisingly large collection features hundreds of dog collars dating back 500 years, from medieval hunting muzzles to couture designs. The only catch is – you can’t bring your dog in with you.
Make sure you’ve set up your satnav properly – Leeds Castle is situated just outside Maidstone, Kent, approximately 230 miles south of the city of Leeds.
Admission from £14.40. Children under four go free.
National Museum of Rural Living – East Kilbride, Scotland
Not all museums need to be indoors, as Scotland’s National Museum of Rural Living proves. The vast countryside reserve features a working 1950s-style farm which is packed full of cows, horses, sheep, pigs and more. The museum hosts seasonal events throughout the year – visit in the springtime to watch the sheep being sheared, and keep up to date with the latest arrivals via the farm’s own ‘LambCam’.
If the weather is against you, there is a huge indoor display spanning 300 years of Scottish farming history, while the Garden Detectives area is great fun for young children.
Admission free to National Trust and Scottish Museums members.
Big Pit Coal Museum – South Wales
This is probably the only museum in the world which is set 300ft underground. Big Pit used to be a working coal mine until it was shut down in 1980. Now, former miners act as tour guides, taking visitors through the history of mining, the industrial revolution, and a day in the life of the mine. Wearing protective gear, you will descend down the mine shaft in a wire cage until you are 300ft below the surface. Then your guide will take you through the labyrinthine network of underground offices, recreational areas and tunnels, all of which have been preserved in their original state.
Above ground, the museum owns a number of historic buildings which were associated with the colliery, including the scary-sounding Explosives Magazine, where all the gunpowder was held!
National Football Museum – Manchester
A must-visit for anyone with more than a passing interest in football. This is the biggest football museum in the world, with a staggering array of football memorabilia, including trophies, vintage shirts and FIFA souvenirs (remember the vuvuzela?).
During school breaks, the museum hosts a series of educational events and activities which are suitable for all the family – if you time your visit well, you could even be there to witness the latest induction into the Hall of Fame. The past year has seen Michael Owen and Patrick Viera take part in the ceremonies.
Natural History Museum – London
Like the British Museum, the Natural History Museum is a national institution. Located on ‘Museum Row’ (aka Cromwell Road), next to the V&A and the Science Museum, it is best known for the life-size Diplodocus who greets you upon arrival.
But if you want to meet ‘Dippy’ in person, you’d better hurry up – she is set to be removed in 2017 and replaced with the Blue Whale skeleton which currently hangs in the Blue Zone.
Despite being surprised with more snow recently, and still having to occasionally scrape the ice off the windscreen, spring is definitely on its way. (Honest!) There are lots of tiny clues that spring is just around the corner, so dust off those winter blues and look out for these 11 signs of spring…
1. Beautiful birdsong
You’ll start to hear more early morning birdsong at this time of year, as our migrating birds have come home and male birds begin to sing in order to attract a mate. Look out for indigenous birds such as robins and great tits or migrant birds such as chiff chaffs and blackcaps. Book a cottage with a well-established garden and you can look out for birds carrying twigs and moss for nest building at this time of year.
If birdwatching is your thing, why not head to the Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Burscough? This family-friendly venue celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and you’ll find more species than ever before. Make sure you don’t miss the spectacle of the afternoon swan feeding, when thousands of these impressive birds gather. During the Easter holidays, there’s even a giant rubber duck hunt!
For a more ‘natural’ birdwatching experience that still helps you avoid the rain, you could plan a walk that incorporates one of the many bird hides that dot the countryside. We can recommend exploring the rugged landscape around Malham, in Yorkshire – which even appeared in the Harry Potter films – and taking your flask into the hide that looks over Malham Tarn. From here, you’re likely to see great crested grebes, little grebes, tufted ducks, pochard, widgeon, teal and goosander.
2. Flower power
Bluebells and snowdrops are the first to poke their delicate heads through the cold soil. Take a stroll around National Trust property Dunham Massey in Cheshire to see more than 10,000 plants in the cyclamen grove, bluebell meadow and yellow meadow. Any visit is sure to brighten your week.
In spring, wild garlic also grows in abundance around woodland areas, filling the air with its characteristic smell. With pretty white flowers, this plant looks lovely – but can also make a delicious foraged meal. Do a quick internet search and you’ll find a host of tasty suggestions from Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater and the River Cottage Team.
You’ll easily be able to sniff out wild garlic on a woodland walk in Hurst Green, Lancashire. There are a number of varied walks that skirt around the famous Stonyhurst College. Film buffs might recognise this stunning building as the boarding school from Three Men and a Little Lady. The lush landscape nearby is said to have inspired JRR Tolkien when writing about ‘The Shire’.
3. A new season of fresh food
There are a host of food fairs and farmers markets across the country in spring. River Cottage’s Spring Food Fair grows in popularity each year. If you’re likely to find yourselves in the beautiful Dorset countryside on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th May, book a ticket to join Hugh and the team. This is a full weekend of growing, cooking and eating!
Saturday 23rd to Monday 25th May will see Blenheim Palace host its first ever Food Festival. The magnificent grounds will be home to cookery demos, children’s workshops, foraging fun and stalls selling mouth-watering treats.
You can also celebrate the season of growing with The Royal Welsh Spring Festival, held on 16th and 17th May. With over 1,300 livestock, poultry and horses, hundreds of tradestands, the only Premier Open Dog Show to be held in Wales, children’s activities, a food and drink quarter, vintage machinery, auction, country leisure and much more, this event has something for everyone
Visit the Cairngorms National Park in spring and you’ll have a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a wild adventure. White water rafting is at its best at this time of year, as the snow melts from the Cairngorm mountains. There are many companies offering this activity throughout the area. You can white water raft on sections of the River Spey as well as the River Findhorn which some say is one of the best for rafting in Scotland.
5. Woolly Jumpers
While all farms stick to a different lambing schedule, there are undoubtedly more lambs frolicking around the fields now than at any other time of year. The warmer weather means you’re more likely to see them outside, playing with their friends and then dashing back to their mums! Take the family to Home Farm in Cambridgeshire and you’ll see a host of rare breed sheep and lambs, as well as goats, cattle, pigs and horses. Families can even take part in farm activities like grooming the donkeys and feeding the pigs.
6. Something Fishy
Spring is the most action-packed fishing season. From March to May, high water levels disperse large fish to spawn upriver and you’re likely to see those iconic images of salmon leaping against the current. Avid anglers should head to Wales where the beats and tributaries of the River Usk teem with brown trout and substantial salmon bite in the Wye.
The stunning scenery will be at its finest in the spring too.
7. Seeing clearly
At this time of year, we tend to find that the days become crisper and clearer and the nights do too! Clear, cloudless skies are perfect for star gazing in one of the UK’s night sky parks. The Brecon Beacons National Park is one of only five International Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Residents and visitors are encouraged to prevent light pollution and take an interest in the night sky. The beauty of a cottage break – over a hotel stay – means you can stay up late to explore the night sky and simply have a lie in the following day, without missing breakfast!
8. A blossoming treat
The hedgerows of the UK come alive in spring and the stunning damson blossom throughout the Lake District is a beautiful sign that better weather is on its way. In early April you can even visit the Westmorland Damson Day Festival, and enjoy all things related to this delicious treat. (Make sure to try the damson ice cream!) Blackthorn is one of the first trees to flower in early to mid spring, when it produces a mass of white blossom. This is the tree to also keep an eye on in autumn, when it bears sloes. The cup-shaped white flowers of the wild cherry are a sure sign of spring, these appear in April even before its leaves.
9. Time travel!
An odd thing to look out for in spring, but trust us – if you’re in the right place, you might see military men and more from the 1940s! Haworth is a beautiful Airedale village, which was home to the famous Brontë sisters. With its historic cobbled Main Street, iconic parsonage and rolling moors, it’s well worth a visit at any time of year but if you choose to go between the 15th and 17th May, you’ll be able to enjoy the region’s famous 1940s weekend!
10. Taking the tiddlers to find tadpoles
Frogs start mating from January onwards, so look out for frogspawn in ponds, ditches and slow-moving streams. Frogspawn tends to be in large clumps, while toadspawn will be in ‘strings’. Why not take the kids pond dipping? This can be an exciting and valuable learning experience for little ones. You might set out with your own bug bucket, net, magnifying glass and observation sheet (you can even download top tips from the Woodland Trust) or you might choose a more structured, organised event. Rutland Water, for example, holds a host of family activity days for budding biologists and conservationists throughout the year.
11. Mad March hares
In early spring, look out for the famous ‘Mad March Hare’. These long-eared leapers can be seen ‘boxing’ during mating season. You might think these are the boys brawling, but it’s actually more likely to be the females fending off unwanted attention. The moors of Yorkshire and Derbyshire are top spots for hare spotting.
A few more…
For your own mad activities, you could take inspiration from the many rural fairs and local shows occurring at this time of year where you’ll often see eccentric challenges like egg throwing or welly hurling – both of which you could try in the garden!
For egg throwing, stand facing each other and play ‘catch’ with an egg. Each time you successfully catch it, take a step apart – the game gradually becomes more and more difficult until the egg eventually cracks and breaks on the grass, or on you!
Welly hurling is exactly what it sounds like. All you need is some open space, well away from the road, and a welly boot. Set out a throwing line and mark where each person’s throw lands with a twig. The aim of the game is to throw the welly the furthest.
For a slightly calmer garden activity, you could set up a chocolate egg hunt for the kids (and big kids) during the Easter holidays.
Take a look at the latest spring availability and offers on cottages4you.
We’ve teamed up with Dalesman, the best-selling Yorkshire magazine, to bring you a comprehensive guide to what’s on across the region this Easter time. Whether you’re looking for fun activities for the family or rest and relaxation, there’s plenty to choose from in God’s Own County.
Bolton Abbey, near Skipton – Easter Egg Hunt, April 3-6
In the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, the annual egg hunt at Bolton Abbey starts at the Cavendish Pavilion, following the riverside path into Strid Wood. Follow the trail to find the clues and crack the Easter code. Then you can visit the Easter Bunny in her wooden hutch in the woods to claim a chocolate prizes! The path is pram and wheelchair friendly so all the family can join in. Explore the rest of the estate, following the woodland and riverside paths, taking in the Abbey ruins and trying your luck with the stepping stones across the River Wharfe.
York Chocolate Festival – April 3-6
York has a long and illustrious history in chocolate, as home to famous chocolate making families Rowntree’s, Terry’s and Cravens. Favourite treats Smarties, Chocolate Orange and Kit Kat were dreamt up in the city! The annual chocolate festival includes a chocolate market, chocolate trails, demonstrations, historical talks and plenty of tasting opportunities! The Lord Mayor holds an Easter Egg Hunt starting from Yorvik Viking Centre on Easter Saturday. Join the York Walls Chocolate and sweetie walk for chocolate inspired history and places of note on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And there are chocolate master classes including Easter egg moulding and chocolate bar designing at the York Cocoa House (booking required).
Newby Hall and Gardens, near Ripon – Easter Family Fun Day, April 5-6
Join the Easter Bunny and friends for a fun trail through the magical woodland at Newby with an Easter egg prize for all children! Make a day of it at Newby Hall which is one of Britain’s finest Adam houses. The extensive 25 acre award winning gardens offer plenty of spots for a picnic or a rest, whilst the adventure playground, water play features, miniature railway and swing boats provide a real slice of wholesome family fun.
Castle Howard, near York – Easter Fair and Farm Friends, April 4-6
It’s Easter with an old fashioned feel at Castle Howard. The house hosts a traditional fairground featuring all the favourites – a carousel, big wheel, coconut shy, hook-a-duck and candy floss. Be prepared to be amazed by ‘WonderPhil’ the magician and meet Molly the rabbit who will be walking the grounds. At the mini-farm you can meet animals including rabbits, ducks, lambs, mini-pigs and even some creepy crawlies if you’re brave enough! Together with an Easter egg hunt and crafts this is a lovely family day out – and that’s before you’ve got started on the main house and grounds complete with adventure playground.
Burton Agnes Hall, near Driffield – Easter Egg Hunt and Trail, April 1 -12
The magnificent grounds of this architectural gem are a wonderful place to follow an Easter trail, find the clues as you go to solve the puzzle and receive an Easter treat. There are games to play, a craft tent for Easter colouring plus find the giant golden egg that the Easter bunny has hidden somewhere in the grounds. On Easter Sunday and Monday the Easter egg hunting steps up a notch, children are invited to scour the Hall’s woodland for some of the thousands of chocolate Easter eggs that have been hidden! If that’s not worn you out, try the yew tree maze or spot butterflies and emerging bees in the Children’s Corner.
Sledmere House, near Driffield – Easter Trail and Lambing, April 3-6
The Easter Trail takes you around Sledmere’s dynamic grounds, finding clues to complete to claim a prize! The gardens and parkland provide a stunning backdrop to the trail, bursting with colour from spring daffodils and tulips. On Easter Sunday and Monday there are Easter Lambing events where you can see the newly born lambs and take part in their feeding. Children’s crafts, a bouncy castle and lawn games for all the family promise to make this a great day out.
Kirklees Light Railway, near Huddersfield – Easter Eggspress, April 3-6
Climb aboard Yorkshire’s Great Little Steam Engine this Easter and help the Easter bunny find all his food! Take the Easter ‘Eggspress’ to the station at Shelley where you will meet the Easter bunny who needs your help finding all the food he’s dropped in the playground there. He’s also hidden some very important golden eggs and if you find one there will be an extra special prize. Take part in the Easter craft activities to decorate a bonnet, basket or egg, compete in the egg and spoon race and enjoy the adventure playground and children’s entertainer.
North York Moors National Park – Easter Trail, April 3-6
National park centres at Danby and Sutton Bank have Easter Trails to follow. Use the map to find the ten hidden eggs and claim your tasty Easter treat! The centres have various bookable events for children of all ages over the Easter holidays. Take a look at their website for more details. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway will also be running over Easter weekend if you fancy sitting back and basking in the warm spring glow of some of the UK’s most naturally beautiful scenery.
RHS Garden Harlow Carr, near Harrogate – Gold Bunny Hunt and Easter Family Fun, March 28 – April 12
The inspiring gardens at Harlow Carr are a wonderful day out for young and old. Hop through the garden on the trail of the giant golden bunny, following the clues to a delicious treat. Through the holidays there will be indoor craft activities and outdoor workshops for all ages. For younger children there are also storytelling sessions of garden adventures and garden creatures. Over the Easter weekend the Easter bunny himself will be visiting in person to check on all his bunny friends in the garden. With plenty of picnic spots, Betty’s café and restaurant and the fabulous tree house in the woods, this is a great place to say hello to spring.
For further listings of events in the Yorkshire region over the Easter period visit www.dalesman.co.uk.
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St Patrick’s Day, 17th March is the biggest date in Ireland’s cultural calendar. It’s a national holiday celebrating the patron saint with street parades, music, dance and plenty of Guinness. St Patrick is seen as a champion of the Irish people, his life and legend symbolising struggles against adversity and of course a reason for a great party! Ireland hosts a wide variety of events where you can experience the world famous ‘craic’.
As you might imagine the capital city celebrates with style across a four day festival. The main event is the parade on the big day itself where 500,000 people will watch the colourful display of floats and bands. The festival sees street performers and live music from ska bands to choirs, performing in indoor and outdoor venues across the city.
Saturday 14 March hosts the Irish boat race where University College Dublin takes on Trinity College in a 2km race along the River Liffey. In the evening there’s a more light hearted competition at The Laughter Lounge comedy venue where 10 stand-up comedians battle it out for glory.
Sunday 15 March sees a day-long street carnival, ‘The Big Day Out’ featuring aerial artists and street shows in Merrion Square. St Stephen’s Green hosts the annual Festival Céilí with traditional music and dancing. No experience is needed so take your dancing shoes!
It’s a great weekend to explore Dublin on foot and take in some of the historic landmarks. The Festival Treasure Hunt starts at 10am on Saturday 14 with a shorter children’s version also available for littler legs. And if you want to learn more about the fascinating history of St Patrick, there are highly recommended daily walking tours across the 4 days, with local historian and author Pat Liddy.
Once darkness falls, you can have fun spotting the buildings around the city that are going green for the festival. The Guinness Storehouse, Museum of Ireland and St Patrick’s Cathedral are just a few taking on an interesting new hue! And if that doesn’t sound like enough entertainment, there’s the Irish beer and whiskey festival at the RDS Main Hall which opens at 5pm Friday 13 March for the long weekend. You’ll deserve a few tasters if you manage to fit it all in!
This year historical Limerick, capital of the Shannon region, will mark the big day by hosting the 45th International Band Championship on Sunday 15 March. One of the most internationally acclaimed band competitions will see 1000 musicians from bands across Ireland, Europe and the USA compete for the title ‘Overall Parade Champion’. The Chicago Police Band, University of Southern Mississippi and Friendship Band of Northern Ireland are some of the big names in contention! There’s also a local band prize and 6 of Limerick’s finest marching bands will compete with bands from across Ireland.
Limerick City was founded by Vikings back in the 9th century but today has a distinctly more Georgian feel. The waters of the River Shannon together with the historic architecture make for a lovely setting and there are plenty of landmarks and great eateries to keep you entertained either side of all the music!
Ireland’s second city hosts one of the biggest and most vibrant St Patrick’s Day celebrations with a foodie, family friendly twist. Co. Cork is famed for its fantastic local food producers who converge on Cork for the award winning ‘Mahon Point Farmers Market’ and for the period of the festival the family friendly ‘Barry’s Tea’ Food Market.
There’s family fun right across the weekend with circus performers, street artists, live music and children’s art and crafts sessions building up to the Tuesday parade. The more grown up ‘Lee Sessions’ is an extensive free programme of traditional music hosted across the city centre pubs in the afternoons and evenings of the long weekend. Perfect for sampling the music and a pint of the brown stuff!
Dingle, Co. Kerry
The charming town of Dingle, located on the stunning Dingle Peninsula boasts the earliest St Patrick’s Day celebrations which literally start at the crack of dawn. At 6am in a long standing tradition, the Dingle Fife and Drum Band march around the town, followed by enthusiastic supporters, waking up the towns-people ready for the day! Dingle residents say it’s a magical start to the day and is followed by a 6.30am mass at the town’s St Mary’s Church.
If this seems a little early, the more traditional parade begins at lunchtime and is once again led by the Dingle band, promising music, entertainment and plenty of authentic atmosphere. Dingle has interesting shops and cosy pubs including ‘Ashes and Foxy John’s’, possibly the only hardware shop that is also a pub! Make sure you leave time to take a drive down the stunning coastline to check out what National Geographic once described as the ‘most beautiful place on earth’. And if you’re really lucky you might catch a glimpse of one of Dingle’s most famous residents too, Fungie the dolphin!
Magical Kilkenny is at the heart of medieval Ireland with a reputation for a good party. The small city is big on architecture with a maze of Norman passageways and alleys winding round the crumbling walls of abbeys, cathedrals and the 13th century castle. There is a bustling crafts industry here and a host of arts festivals including TradFest, a four day traditional music event which kick starts the St Patricks Day festivities.
TradFest is a celebration of Ireland’s traditional music and dance and features the best-loved acts in the Irish music scene. The festival promises music across the city in all manner of venues including the castle. The ‘Trad Trail’ offers a real traditional experience of intimate music sessions in pubs across the city. The annual parade offers family friendly entertainment, music master classes and craft sessions to keep all the family entertained.