In this roundup, we’re going to take you through museums that look at everything from urban sustainability to one of England’s most notorious prisons. There is no better way to learn outside school than in museums where kids can get inspired about new topics first-hand. So, here is a selection of ten interesting museums to visit in and around London that will help you make a fun and memorable family trip out this summer.
One of the world’s most sustainable buildings, The Crystal is home to a selection of engaging exhibits that take a closer look at the the future of our cities and urban sustainability. A green building seeking to educate visitors on how our world will look in 2050, The Crystal’s interactive stations include scenario simulators and kinetic squares. With educational resources like activity sheets available on their site for learners to complete during their visit, a day at The Crystal can also be personalised in order to allow visitors to look at more specific areas of urban planning and learn about how they can personally contribute to sustainable urban living.
It’s more important than ever for us to be aware of our impact on the environment and the technological solutions that can help us work towards a more sustainable future. What’s so fantastic about the Crystal is that it’s a real life example of what it seeks to educate people on, being an electric building that uses solar power and natural heat sources to generate its own energy. A showcase of technological feats, you won’t quickly forget a visit to The Crystal. Better still, you can easily get there by cable car on the Emirates Air Line, meaning you can also enjoy great views over London on your day out!
The Household Cavalry Museum
At the heart of London, The Household Cavalry Museum is a living, breathing museum situated in one of the city’s most historic buildings dating from 1750. With displays tracing a 350 year history, what distinguishes this museum from other military exhibitions is the fact that it is so immersive, with exhibits just opposite the in-use stables where soldiers and keepers tend to horses.
Whether you’re a London local or tourist, The Household Cavalry Museum offers a unique look into an important aspect of British history and tradition. Providing a look into the work behind ceremonial duties and the broader role of the household cavalry, the museum allows visitors an opportunity to see the original 18th century stables first-hand and listen to accounts of the strenuous cavalry training regime. Learn about the facts behind the cavalry before witnessing the free changing of the guard ceremony for yourself at 11am Monday - Saturday or 10am on Sundays. Within walking distance of St James’s Park, this museum is the perfect place to stop off ahead of a summer picnic in the park.
The Museum of the Order of St John
Many centuries ago in Jerusalem, men known as Knights of the Order of St John did hospitable work for pilgrims that were travelling to pay homage in the Holy Land. Their story is told through this beautifully crafted museum, tracing the order’s development all the way up to its modern-day role as St John Ambulance, now an international first aid charity. Revamped in 2009 and with carefully crafted exhibitions arranged in chronological order, The Museum of the Order of St John offers a look into the movement of the knights from Jerusalem to Cyprus, Rhodes and finally to Malta, with their present-day headquarters also presented in the exhibition.
The museum offers the chance for visitors to delve into 900 years of history, art, religion and culture through informative videos and a number of interactive workshops and activity trails. With a huge selection of artefacts including paintings, armour, swords, manuscripts and even a full sized canon, these ancient relics help to paint a picture of the past. Housed in a beautiful building that was once the English headquarters of the Order of St John, the museum’s site dates back to the 11th century. Being entirely free to visit, this museum is a must visit for the summer holidays.
Milton Keynes Museum
With a huge range of exhibits covering everything from the penny farthing to Morse code to WW2 air raids, there’s something for everyone to learn at the Milton Keynes Museum. Housed in the Stacey Hill Farm, the museum was founded and set up by a group of local people who began collecting items from closing down farms and factories. The museum offers a look back into the past as told by local people and with exhibits that will appeal to both children and adults alike.
With different events taking place throughout the year such as ‘Motors at the Museum’ and their annual ‘Victorian Weekend’, the Milton Keynes Museum is certainly worth a visit for a well rounded day out.
Rural Life Centre
Originally a private collection of agricultural equipment, the Rural Life Centre was begun by Henry and Madge Jackson who spent years collecting devices and apparatus spanning over 150 years of farming history. Having opened to the public in 1973, the museum is spread over a sprawling ten acres of land.
Exploring a range of different elements of village life and farming, the museum offers a closer look at domestic life, forestry, the railway and how rural life was impacted by the war. The Museum of Village and Rural Life provides an immersive experience that draws together several aspect of farming life, being the largest countryside museum in the south of England.
With displays that relate to the setup of village life, this vast display of rescued buildings, structures and tools provides an intimate look into the intricacies of rural living. Host to a number of activities and events, the museum is brought to life with costumes, demonstrations, craft workshops and hands-on activities.
The Clink Prison Museum
Dare you enter The Clink? Built upon the original site of the Clink Prison which dates back to the 12th century, this museum provides a gruesomely hands-on experience of one of England’s oldest prisons. Uncovering social, religious and historical issues, visitors to The Clink Prison Museum are able to handle original crime and punishment artefacts as they are guided through the shocking true stories contained within the building.
With informative displays outlining the prison’s past, this museum encapsulates part of history and brings it into the present day, giving visitors a look into some of the ordeals that inmates would have experienced during their time at the prison. It is a short walk along the river from the Golden Hind and the Globe theatre.
Didcot Railway Centre
Housing a characterful collection of Great Western Railway steam engines, restored buildings and artefacts including a recreation of Brunel’s broad gauge railway, the Didcot Railway Centre is based at the original 1932 GWR engine shed. With many of the old depot features still in place today, the Didcot Railway Centre offers an authentic look into the British railway system and how it has evolved.
During your trip to the centre, you’ll not only be learning about the history of the railway, but also experiencing it! With the main demonstration line spanning almost half a mile, on running days you can travel down the line past the engine shed and locomotive workshops before entering the woods and arriving at the rural Oxford Road station. Preserving an important piece of British history, the Didcot Railway Centre teaches visitors about the technology and history of rail transport. With tickets available at the gate on arrival, make sure you stop off at the museum this summer to learn about the rich history of rail.
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Home to a vast selection of art and antiquities from present history dating back to 2500 BC, The Fitzwilliam Museum is the museum of the University of Cambridge. With items including everything from paintings and drawings to manuscripts and antiquities, these valuable relics are sourced not only from England and Europe, but moreover ancient Egypt, Nubia, Greece, Rome, China, Japan and Korea.
Housing paintings by the likes of Picasso, Monet, Titian and Canaletto, other key items include Chinese jades, Japanese ceramics and a rich collection of European pottery, furniture, textiles and more. For those passionate about history and art or individuals simply wanting to try something new whilst in Cambridge, this historic gem is free for visitors, with a range of gallery trails and interactive puzzles also on offer.
With visits generally taking 2 - 3 hours, The Fitzwilliam Museum is the perfect summer’s day activity. What’s more, once you’re done exploring the huge variety of artefacts on show, you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy the other sights of the city.
Forty Hall Estate
Situated in green Enfield, Forty Hall Estate is a stunning Jacobean Manor House with medieval fishing ponds, a walled garden and pleasure grounds. With a permanent exhibition featuring a range of visual and audio accompaniments, Forty Hall also includes a selection of historical spaces, hidden trail chests, dress up opportunities and even kitchen role play. With guided tours available to better help bring the hall’s history to life, Forty Hall Estate is the perfect setting for a day out this summer.
Once the setting of Henry VIII’s Palace of Elsyng, Forty Hall Estate is also home to a huge variety of plants and wildlife. With information boards across the estate, it’s the perfect setting to learn more about local flora and fauna. Beyond the exhibits and educational points across the grounds, the estate is also home to Forty Hall Farm where children can visit a selection of farm animals. With a packed events calendar including talks, concerts, film screenings and music festivals, there is plenty on offer for all the family at Forty Hall Estate.
Boasting Britain’s largest and most diverse collection of working steam engines, Hollycombe Museum brings history to life through its working steam railways, scenic woodland gardens and traditional fairground. Located on the border of Sussex and Hampshire, visitors are given the chance to ride on either a steam or diesel locomotive and enjoy the idyllic views of Sussex Weald and the South Downs.
Beyond railway steam, Hollycombe museum is also home to a collection of road engines and steam rollers, a waterwheel and authentic Victorian fairground rides like ‘Mr Field’s Steam Circus’ - the world’s oldest mechanically operated attraction. With listed gardens to explore and relax with a picnic on, there really is something for everyone at Hollycombe Museum. If you’re considering a visit to Sussex this summer, make sure that Hollycombe Museum is on your itinerary.