Ten museums for children
Dinosaurs, code-breaking machines, shrunken heads and Apollo 10, who says museums are stuffy? Here's 10 great family friendly museums for budding culture vultures.
- Greater London
From pre-historic animals to petrified bats, nowhere else reveals the power of the natural world quite so dramatically as the Natural History Museum. Ever since the millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated a giant skeleton cast of a diplodocus, this place has evoked awe and a genuine wonder in children. Today the museum also boasts a dramatic escalator entry through the centre of the earth and the magnificent Darwin centre where children can see scientists in action in high-tech laboratories.
- Greater London
With the Apollo 10 command module, an X-ray telescope and the Huygens Titan probe, this is a Museum where all children can boldly go. One of London's most popular attractions, it's a hands-on museum with games, simulators and all sorts of wacky interactive exhibits to delight. Recent additions include the Pattern-pod, which introduces contemporary science to the under-8s, while nascent horologists can discover the oldest timepieces in the world in the Clockmaker's Collection.
- Tyne and Wear
A perfect place for young minds to flourish, this seven-storey converted Victorian flour mill is a playful centre devoted to story telling. There are galleries displaying picture-book illustrations by the much-loved Edward Ardizzone. Michael Morpurgo has recently donated his archive, and the attic hosts live shows and talks by authors. In the basement, book-worms are encouraged to get creative and write stories of their own.
Ironbridge Gorge situated along the River Severn is a remarkable part of the world where much early industry remains intact. As a result, it has become something of a visitor attraction for those interested in the pioneering innovations of Victorian Britain. Enginuity is the ideal place for Steampunk enthusiasts, a museum devoted to all things locomotive, kids can build all manner of machines. Just down the road is Blists Hill, a perfect recreation of a Victorian Town, well worth a visit to the old fashioned sweet shop.
For an epic history-filled day out, Porstmouth Historic Dockyard offers a fascinating insight into life on the high seas. For here is where HMS Victory is docked, the most famous wooden warship in the world. Believe it or not it was already an old lady when it sailed into the Battle of Trafalgar, well past the normal shelf-life for a timber war ship, but it survived, unlike Nelson who was killed onboard. The ship has recently undergone a comprehensive renovation, now restored to its former fighting glory, it is well worth admiring all 104 of its canons.
What makes this Glasgow art gallery so popular? A great art collection certainly, boasting paintings by Rembrandt, Salvador Dalí and cutting-edge contemporary art, but secretly we know the success is down to Sir Roger the stuffed Asian elephant who has been a stalwart of the museum since 1900. Since the Life Gallery closed for renovations last year visitors have missed his benign presence, but now he's back, together with the much-loved Spitfire in a newly refurbished space.
A museum that appeals to all ages, the Pitt Rivers in Oxford is a firm family favourite. With a suitably eclectic collection of artefacts, everything from a witch in a bottle to a giant totem pole, the museum is pioneering in its approach in teaching children the value of objects by letting them handle them. Best of all, there are torches for the parts of the museum in semi-darkness, nothing like lighting up a shrunken head to give the kids a thrill.
- East Lothian
East Fortune is a fitting place for a museum displaying the history of aviation. It played an important role in the First World War as a depot for ship-based aeroplanes and served as an operational training base in the Second. Today this fascinating relic contains all manner of planes including the pioneer Pilcher Hawk, a Tiger Moth and a Messerschmitt. The hangars have just been refurbished with new, immersive displays bringing the history and drama of flight to life.
- Greater London
The Cartoon Museum is 4,000 square feet of glorious character assassination. Beginning with the seventeenth-century dissolute artist George Rowlandson, it is a rollicking tour through British political history and cartoon culture. Satirists H.M Bateman and Steve Bell make an appearance, together with family favourites the Bash St Kids, Minnie the Minx and Denis the Menace. Finally, no self-respecting cartoon museum would be without the wonderful Gromit, Nick Park's harassed genius dog.
The home of British wartime code breaking, Bletchley Park is a huge visitor attraction particularly for those techno-geeks who want to see Colossus, the world's first programmable computer. The extraordinary atmosphere of eccentrics working hard together in complete secrecy is perfectly encapsulated in Hut 6 where the Cambridge mathematician Gordon Welchman worked. He is credited for transforming Bletchley Park into the place that, as Churchill rightly said, "shortened the duration of the war by at least two years."