Animal encounters: Museums with farms, butterfly houses, aviaries and more
Majestic horses, rare birds and even live beehives – explore the animal kingdom at these museums and historic houses this spring.
With working farms and animal charities on site, these places all offer the chance to swap your two-legged friends for some four-legged alternatives.
Combine deer-spotting with a day out in Knebworth’s acres of parkland, encounter real racehorses at the National Horse Racing Museum, or see species of rare and critically endangered birds in Waddesdon’s stunning aviary.
And if creepy-crawlies are more your thing, the Horniman Museum boasts a Butterfly House and you can learn all about beekeeping at Scolton Manor Museum.
Get back to nature and dive into the animal kingdom.
One of the oldest breeds of working horse in the UK, the Suffolk Punch is on the critical list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Among numerous attractions, Gressenhall Farm has six of these giant horses working almost daily, all year round. Weather permitting, cart rides depart from the farmyard most afternoons.
The museum’s Animal Walk gives visitors the chance to get up close to alpacas, goats, sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens, while the aquarium showcases different aquatic environments from around the world. The Butterfly House provides the perfect environment for its hundreds of butterflies.
On the museum's working farm you'll find cattle, pigs, sheep and hens. There are often milking demonstrations of the Ayrshire cows, and walkers might also spot the farm’s two resident Clydesdale horses.
Waddesdon’s beautifully restored cast-iron framed aviary, in the grounds of the manor house, is home to numerous species of birds including the Socorro dove (currently extinct in the wild), native to the eponymous island off the west of Mexico. Other twitcher's delights here include the critically endangered Blue-crowned laughingthrush, once common in northeast Jiangxi in China.
Behind the manor house, the Pembrokeshire Beekeeping Centre comprises the Pine Tree Apiary with live hives for training beekeepers; a beehive exhibition, presenting award-winning displays about the lives of bees; and the Honey Kitchen.
The park and gardens offer an opportunity to see the grazing herds of Red and Sika deer, which have the run of more than 250 acres of parkland and have been there longer than the Lytton family, who first lived at Knebworth House in 1490.
The parkland at St Fagans is a sanctuary for birds, bats and woodland animals and there are also native breeds of livestock you can visit on site, as well as snail- and bird-spotting activities on offer. St Fagans is particularly known for its beloved sheep and during the spring keeps viewers up to date on live action from the lambing shed with #lambcam.
The museum not only houses the National Horse Racing Museum and the Fred Packard Museum and Galleries of British Sporting Art but is also a flagship home for the Retraining of Racehorses charity, where the public can encounter live racehorses.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.