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.