Want to save money on days out? The UK has some of the world's best museums and best of all, many of them are free. From Bristol's new M Shed to London's Science Museum, here are our top picks.
Want to save money on days out? The UK has some of the world’s best museums and the greatest thing of all is, many of them are free. From Bristol’s new M Shed to London’s Science Museum, here are our top picks.
By Meera Dattani
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What’s there: One of Bristol’s newest attractions is a 1950s transit shed on the city’s wharf, transformed into a £27million museum – M Shed. Exploring the city’s heritage from prehistoric times to the 21st century, this free museum brings history to life with objects, art and stories. The museum’s foyer is also home to the 4.2-metre-long pirate ship from Aardman Animations’ new pirate-themed movie -The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists – complete with a headless figurehead and the captain’s cacti collection. The ship is held together by items collected by the pirates, from a cricket bat to a broom.
Open: Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm; weekends and Bank Holidays 10am-6pm (closed Mondays except Bank Holidays).
Getting there: M Shed is on Princes Wharf on the harbourside, a 5 to 10-minute walk from the city centre. There are car parks at The Grove and Wapping Wharf.
Find out more at M Shed Bristol
What’s there: There’s so much to see in this famous and free London museum that you need at least a couple of visits to do it justice. There’s a huge amount aimed at children and families such as Who Am I? which explores what makes a person and the interactive atmosphere gallery which explores the world’s climate with its own land, oceans and ice – visotors can follow 5 fast games through Earth’s multi-billion-year history. Kids also love the Exploring Space gallery with its rockets, satellites, space probes and landers. The IMAX 3D Cinema shows spectacular science films each day for an extra charge.
Open: Daily 10am-6pm except 24th-26th December. Open until 7pm during school holidays – check the times on the Science Museum website.
Getting there: The Science Museum is a 10-minute walk from South Kensington tube station on the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines and there’s a pedestrian subway from the station to the main entrance on Exhibition Road.
Find out more at the Science Museum
What’s there: Opening to the public on 6th July 2012, footie-mad kids will love the free National Football Museum. The 1st floor explores the history of football, what it means to be a football fan and and shows the innovative story of football in the film Our Beautiful Game. The 2nd floor is more interactive, from the 5-second decision game, You Are The Ref, a Discovery Zone for under 5s and a brilliant display of football toys and games from 1900s to now. There’s also a Hall of Fame celebrating the game’s greatest players and Stuart Clarke’s Homes of Football photography collection. In the Football Plus section (extra charge), you test your speed, score a penalty and even try commentating.
Open: From 6th July 2012, Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 11am-5pm
Getting there: The National Football Museum is in the Urbis Building by Cathedral Gardens in Manchester city centre and a 2-minute walk from Manchester Victoria station. Drivers should follow signs for Urbis from the M60 ring road – there are several car parks close by.
Find out more at the National Football Museum
What’s there: There’s a lot to see in this brilliant free museum in Edinburgh. In the Discovery Zones, kids can fire a medieval catapult or try mending a broken pot. Under 8s love Imagine where they create their own story, play with shadow puppets, create mosaic artworks and even make a Chinese dragon dance. There are 3 areas in Adventure Planet – Encounter looks at specimens from the natural world, Explore gets hands-on with nature, even exploring life inside a cow pat, while Investigate get closer to real specimens. Free Family Footprint Trails suggest creative ways to explore the galleries.
Open: Daily 10am- 5pm. Closed 25th December, open 12-5pm on 26th December and 1st and 2nd January.
Getting there: The National Museum Scotland is on Chambers Street in Edinburgh’s old town, a short walk from the Royal Mile. Chambers Street links George IV Bridge and South Bridge. If you’re driving, follow signs to the city centre. Pay-and-display parking is available on Chambers Street and there’s off-street parking at NCP Quartermile.
Find out more at National Museum Scotland
What’s there: Known as MOSI, this free interactive museum takes you on a journey through Manchester’s past, through sights, sounds and even smells… Inside, you can experience what it was like to work in a cotton mill, noise and all, see the night sky in the Planetarium and even crawl through a Victorian sewer with smells, sounds and more… The newest gallery is Revolution Manchester which has one of the UK’s best indoor media walls, while Experiment is packed with fun interactive science exhibits. Also popular is the 4D Theatre, complete with moving seats, water spray and even air blasts.
Open: Daily 10am-5pm except 24th-26th December and 1st January.
Getting there: Museum of Science & Industry is on Liverpool Road in Castlefield, a few minutes from Manchester city centre and a 5-minute walk from Deansgate station or the Deansgate-Castlefield (formerly GMEX) tram stop. If you’re driving, nearest motorways are the M602 and the M60 and MOSI is signposted from the centre. Parking costs £7 before 9am, £5 after 9am and £3 after 3pm.
Find out more at MOSI
What’s there: There’s plenty for families at the free National Museum Cardiff. One of the most popular attractions is the Evolution of Wales gallery, a journey through time from the Big Bang and the Earth’s formation with up-close experiences of moon rock, meteorites, volcanoes, dinosaurs and woolly mammoths. There’s plenty to learn in the Natural History galleries and if the kids enjoy art, pick up an activity booklet and explore the Art Galleries. Also excellent is the Clore Discovery Centre where children can open drawers and get hands-on with hundreds of museum objects from dinosaur bones to Bronze Age weapons. There are also family trails to help you explore the galleries.
Open: Tuesday to Sunday 10am-5pm and open most Bank Holiday Mondays.
Getting there: The National Museum Cardiff is in Cathays Park and a 20-minute walk from Cardiff Central Bus and Train Station. It’s off Junction 32 of the M4 and there’s a Visitor Car Park behind the museum off Museum Avenue – you can buy an exit token from the Museum Shop for £4.
Find out more at National Museum Cardiff
What’s there: Full of interactive exhibits, the free World Museum is a family favourite. One of its best features is the ‘Chronicle of a Journey to Earth’ shown in the planetarium where you can blast off on a memorable journey through space and time and learn about the Universe. Revamped in 2012, the planetarium’s new digital projection system gets you up-close to the moon and the volcanoes of Mars. There’s an excellent Aquarium covering Tropical, Mangrove and Native habitats and a Bug House with live creepy crawlies from leaf cutter ants to scorpions plus a 2-metre animatronic fly and Avril the giant spider.
Open: Daily 10am-5pm. Closed from 2pm on 24th December and all day 25th and 26th December.
Getting there:World Museum is on William Brown Street, near the entrance to the Queensway Tunnel and Lime Street station. The nearest train stations are Liverpool Lime Street, Moorfields station and Liverpool Central.
Find out more at World Museum
What’s there: If you’ve got creative kids, visit the How Art is Made exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, covering everything from paintings and pottery to stained glass and jewellery. The In Touch gallery lets you experience lots of artworks through touch, sound and light – you can squeeze into a chair in the shape of a 19th-century corset, eavesdrop on Albert Einstein and even step inside a 17th-century painting! In the Picture and History Galleries, interactive experiences including trying on costumes and discovering hidden treasures. There are family activities every weekend from 1pm-4pm with arts and crafts for £1.50 per child (accompanying adult free).
Open: Daily Mon-Thu 10am-5pm; Fri 10.30am-5pm; Sat and bank holidays 10am-5pm; Sun 12.30pm-5pm
Getting there: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is on Chamberlain Square in the city centre, between Central Library and the main shopping area, a short walk from New Street, Snow Hill and Moor Street railway stations. For drivers, there are car parks and on pay-and-display street parking nearby.
Find out more at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
What’s there: Always a favourite with kids, the Natural History Museum requires a couple of visits (or more) to really see it all. Key attractions at this educational, fun and free museum include the reconstruction of the blue whale, the largest creature on earth, and impressive replicas of prehistoric dinosaurs such as the animatronic T rex with its giant jaws and teeth, the vegetarian Diplodocus which grew up to 26 metres and the Super Crocodile (which probably ate dinosaurs…). Children will also love seeing thousands of live leafcutter ants at work and the shaking inside the Earthquake Room.
Open: Daily 10am-5.50pm except 24th-26th December.
Getting there: The Natural History Museum is within walking distance of South Kensington station on the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines. Head for the Cromwell Road entrance for dinosaurs, creepy-crawlies and the blue whale and the Exhibition Road entrance for volcanoes, earthquakes and the giant Earth model. The Cromwell Road entrance has steps while the Exhibition Road entrance is step-free.
Find out more at the Natural History Museum
What’s there: Set in an award-winning building, the Imperial War Museum North is designed in the shape of a globe shattered by conflict. This excellent free museum explores the impact of war through real life stories and innovative exhibits and really brings history alive for children. Exhibits include the fire-fighting trailer pump used in the Manchester Blitz of the Second World War and the enormous T34 Tank. Families can learn more at the hands-on Action Stations. Every hour, you can watch first-hand wartime experiences at the Big Picture Show. For an extra charge, visit the viewing platform of the 29-metre-high Air Shard for views over The Quays and Manchester.
Open: Daily 10am-5pm. Closed 24th-26th December.
Getting there: Located at The Quays on Trafford Wharf Road, IWM North is easy to reach via public transport from the city centre. The nearest Metrolink stations are MediaCityUK or Harbour City. Trams run direct from Manchester Piccadilly, Deansgate-Castlefield and St Peter’s Square. The museum is a short walk across the canal by footbridge. If you’re coming by car, take the Manchester Outer Ring Road (M60).
Find out more at IWM North