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The best museums in the UK - 17 unmissable museums

17 Unmissable Museums in the UK

20 Mar 2018 by annabel

Great Britain is an island steeped in unique and interesting history, and is also home to some of the finest museums in Europe. With prehistoric sites and early human traces dating as far back as some 500,000 years ago, the Great British legacy comes with countless stories, myths and legends to tell. Our rich heritage creates a foundation for so much interest, making it a fantastic destination for a cultural holiday. With incredible museums and attractions in every city, not just the capital.

For those who enjoy soaking up history, art and culture, here are 17 of the best museums in the UK.

1. British Museum, London

One of the most iconic museums in London is the British Museum, recognised for its striking exterior. The building was designed by architect Sir Robert Smirke in 1823 and features an impressive architectural quadrangle, divided into the North, East, South and West wings.

Located in the Bloomsbury area of the city, the British Museum is free to the public. And it houses a huge collection of world art and artefacts that are dedicated to sharing the story of human history. There are over 8 million objects within the museum building, and there are a number of exhibitions and events taking place throughout the year. If you’re looking for fun free things to do in the capital, make sure you add this to your bucket list.

2. Imperial War Museum North, Manchester

Opened in 2002, this Northern war museum is one of the five Imperial Museums located in the UK. It was a part of the urban renewal project in the Trafford Park area, and holds much cultural significance to the city. The building itself, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is utterly striking. Built to represent the ‘shards’ of the globe shattered and devastated by war, this landmark is a photographer’s dream. Inside, it houses a permanent collection on the First World War to current day.

3. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford

This is the jewel in the crown of the world-famous Oxford University and the oldest public museum in the country. The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology is one of Britain’s most significant museum venues outside of the capital, and it houses ancient and modern art, and antiquities covering world civilisations, as well as fine and applied arts.

The extensive collection shares knowledge and culture from all over the world and some of the highlights include Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.

4. London Science Museum

For a family-friendly museum that the kids will love, we recommend London’s amazing Science Museum. Children can enjoy a hands on experience learning about objects and stories of incredible scientific achievement. It’s also free entry, with various events throughout the year.

Its prestigious location on Exhibition Road in South Kensington places you perfectly for some of the best shops and restaurants in the nearby Kensington and Chelsea area. And situated just a few stops away is the iconic Portobello Market by Notting Hill Gate.

5. Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow

It’s often overshadowed by Scotland’s glamorous capital, Edinburgh. But for culture vultures, there really is much to see in Glasgow. One of the must-see attractions is the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, known to many as Scotland’s most popular museum. It is easily the most visited museum outside of London and it’s the best place to go to explore a wide range of stunning Scottish art as well as examples of natural history. Not to be missed is the famous Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali. To make the most of your time in Scotland, why not stay in, or rent an amazing Scottish Castle?

6. The Mary Rose, Portsmouth

The Mary Rose Museum is dedicated to Henry VIII’s Tudor flagship war vessel and navy. The Mary Rose sank in front of the king’s eyes in the year 1545 after serving several wars against France, Scotland, and Brittany for more than three decades. But on the 19th of July of that year, she saw her last fight and descended in the Solent waters before the Isle of Wight.

It was resurfaced in 1982 in one of the most complex and costly projects in the history of maritime archaeology. It has since been restored for display in Portsmouth. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5:30pm in peak season (April to October) and from 10am to 5pm in the winter (November to March).

7. The Horniman, London

Horniman Museum and Gardens can be found in Forest Hill and is considered to be a community museum first and foremost. The exhibitions are constantly changing and its unique location within the suburbs of the capital make it an important hub for the locals, not just for tourists. Within the attraction, you will find an intriguing collection of artefacts and objects, including musical instruments or displays of natural history and anthropology. And the newly restored gardens provides a lovely little spot for a stroll with the whole family.

8.Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

As far as small museums go, this is definitely one of Europe’s finest. The Fitzwilliam in Cambridge is a considered a gem of the university and what it lacks in size, it makes up for in grandiosity and attracts more than 400,000 visitors every single year. The neoclassical architecture is marked by its monumental exterior and huge marble columns, its impressive entrance and hallway, and a beautiful glass dome. And inside the art collection really speaks for itself, with works of art from Monet, Picasso and Turner. As well as archaeological collections from Egypt, Greece and Ancient Rome.

9. Yorkshire Sculpture Park

For a museum like no other, visit the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park located just off the M1 near Wakefield. This is the UK’s first and leading open air gallery, and is the perfect compromise for groups who want something to suit everyone. The park is spread across 500 acres at the spectacular 18th Century Bretton Hall estate and is the largest park of its kind in Europe.

The sculptures are spread across the large outdoor space and for walkers, there are surprises around every corner. The exhibits change seasonally but some of the British and international artists who have been displayed so far include Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Antony Gormley, Tony Cragg and Ai Weiei.

10. Eden Camp Museum, Malton

A unique themed concept for the younger crowd who want to learn more about WW2. With a hands on and ‘experiential’ approach, Eden Camp is a place to stimulate the senses whilst learning a great deal about one of our country’s most important wars. The museum is divided into huts for thematic effect and kids can experience the sights, sounds and even smells of The Blitz or what it’s like to be inside a WW2 U-Boat. There’s a great picnic area outside, a café, a junior assault course and also a fab gift shop selling souvenirs.  For a museum that is not of the conventional kind, Eden Camp is highly recommended and it’s award winning too.

11. National Space Centre, Leicester

Leicester’s National Space Centre is a landmark building and an award winning museum that appeals to all ages. This is another great place to take the kids, and is considered to be an important educational resource for many schools across the fields of space science and astronomy. In partnership with the University of Leicester, the National Space Centre also contributes to numerous research programmes. For visitors, there are six interactive galleries to be explored, including the UK’s largest planetarium, a unique 3D simulator, as well as the iconic 42m high rocket tower that can be seen from a distance.

12. World Museum, Liverpool

The World Museum is situated within a beautiful building in the city of Liverpool, close to the Walker Gallery, the National Museums, St. George’s Hall, and St. John’s Gardens. So you’ll find plenty of sights and attractions nearby. It’s a hub of archaeology, ethnology and the natural and physical sciences; and it’s home to a fantastic planetarium, an aquarium and a dinosaur gallery, as well as 15,000 objects from Egypt and Sudan. For some hands-on fun, you don’t want to miss the Weston Discovery Centre and for some larger than life models, be sure to visit the Bug House. A two metre animatronic fly and Avril the giant spider await those who dare enter…

13. Natural History Museum, London

The world famous Natural History Museum holds a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history and throughout time. It’s open daily from 10am to 5:50pm and is a fantastic attraction for visitors of all ages. If you are exploring London with the whole family, this is a great place to bring the little ones. The museum’s core focus is to provide an insight into human evolution, with its latest high profile project being the reconstruction of ‘Cheddar Man’. The skeleton of this Mesolithic man was uncovered in 1903 and is now housed in the Human Evolution gallery within the museum.

14.The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

Set inside an incredible Gothic revival building that has been recently refurbished, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum is one of Exeter’s most famous landmarks and attractions. If you’re holidaying in Devon, a day trip to the ancient city of Exeter is a must (for the museum alone if nothing else), and be sure to bring your camera too so you can capture the breath-taking exterior.

Inside, the collection totals round one million objects, sourced from every corner of the globe. There are artefacts from Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. And you will find everything from botany and geology to fine art, archaeology and coins, medals and tokens. Of course though, for little visitors, Gerald the Giraffe (the resident life size animal) is going to be the main event.

15. National Railway Museum, York

York is a fantastic day out for all ages and the National Railway Museum is just one of the many attractions that you should check out if you’re here. It’s ideal for parents who want to find something to do with the kids, but there are also some superb adult perks too. Very recently, the museum won VisitEngland’s ‘Award for Excellence’ for their afternoon tea, so if you need a tasty pick-me-up after a long day of sightseeing, this is the top place to come.

You can experience the luxury of railway dining in a restored carriage with the finest finger sandwiches, cakes and sweet treats in the region. And of course, there’s much to see in the museum, with a collection of over one million objects that cover around 300 years of railway history.

16. Great North Museum, Newcastle

Another superb museum in the North that is not to be missed. Newcastle’s Great North Museum, also known as the Hancock Museum, is a fantastic resource for learning and education and is suitable for the whole family. It has been described as “the world under one roof” as it houses some of the most incredible and culturally significant artefacts of natural history and objects dating back to ancient civilisations.

You won’t want to miss the Living Planet Gallery with its live animal tanks and aquaria, or the Hadrian’s Wall Gallery which exposes a detailed history of the World Heritage Site with a wealth of archaeological finds. If you’re taking the kids, be sure to wow them with the life size replica T-rex and the Egyptian mummies display.

17. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, this Knightsbridge landmark is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. There are more than 4 million permanent objects within the venue, and there are fresh and exciting displays every season (many of which are dedicated to the fashion industry).

There are a number of free areas that do not require ticket access, whilst some of the paid exhibitions have included ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ and ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ in the past. For fashion or design fans, the V&A is a must.

Why not plan a holiday exploring the UK and include seeing some of these fantastic museums on your journey. If you want to immerse yourself in history, then you could even stay in some castles during your travels. For more information do get in touch today.

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