NATIONAL TREASURES: THE INSIDER'S GUIDE
This week The Information asked its expert panel to pick the 50 best museums in Britain. Some were chosen specifically with children in mind, others for their wide range of exhibits, and still more because they are simply fascinating places to spend an autumn afternoon. Charlotte Packer took notes
Saturday 10 October 1998
WORKING OR LIVING HISTORY
THE PANEL: This week's 50 Best was compiled with the help of Alyson Spark, editor Best Guides Ltd, guide book and Internet publishers (see offer, below); Dorothy Boswell, editor of Kids Out, the monthly listings magazine for London parents (pounds 1.75); Nick Poole, public affairs assistant, and Emma Wright, press officer, at the Museums and Galleries Commission; and writer, creative director and self-confessed `impresario of ideas' Stephen Bayley. Our thanks to them all.
COMPETITION: For a chance to win one of 50 copies of `Best Guides to: Best Days Out' (RRP pounds 9.99) simply send your suggestion for a future 50 Best (along with your name, address and daytime phone number) on a postcard to: Best Guides competition, The Information, The Independent, 1 Canada Sq, London E14 5DL. Usual Independent Newspapers (UK) rules apply.
NOTE: WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO CHECK DETAILS OF OPENING HOURS AND ADMISSION CHARGES, READERS ARE ADVISED ALWAYS TO RING VENUES BEFORE SETTING OUT.
NEXT WEEK: OUR EXPERT PANEL LOOKS INTO THE KNOTTY PROBLEM OF WHAT TO DO THIS HALF-TERM.
BETHNAL GREEN MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD
Revisit your childhood in London with the largest display of toys in the world - dolls, teddy bears, toy soldiers, toy theatres, games, children's clothes, fancy-dress costumes, nursery furniture... The dolls' house collection, and a new collection of Japanese ceremonial dolls are particularly worth seeing.
Where & when: Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 (0181-983 5200) Mon-Thur, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2.30pm-6pm. Free.
Top tip: See the exact replica of a Nuremburg merchant's house built in 1673.
One of the oldest and most famous museums in the world, the British Museum attracts more visitors each year than any other in the UK, with Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman galleries among the finest you will see. Don't let the crowds put you off..
Where & when: Great Russell St, London WC1 (0171-636 1555) Mon-Sat 10am- 5pm, Sun 12noon-6pm. Free.
Top tip: Ask at information for a free guide.
BLACK COUNTRY LIVING MUSEUM
Reconstructed traditional cottages, shops and workshops are brought to life on this 26-acre site by costumed staff. Experience an 1850s miner's life underground; 1930s fast food (fried fish); and the flicks in a 1920s cinema.
Where & when: Tipton Rd, Dudley (0121-557 9643) March-Oct daily 10am- 5pm; Nov-Feb Mon & Tues 12noon-4pm, Wed-Sun 10am-4pm. Adults pounds 6.95, children pounds 4.50.
Top tip: Join in the old-fashioned school lesson, complete with stern schoolmistress.
THE BATH MUSEUM OF COSTUME
Housed in the 18th-century Assembly Rooms, where Bath's elite once held court, is one of the most important collections of fashionable clothes in the country, with items dating from the late 16th century to the present day.
Where & when: Bennett St, Bath (01225 477789) Mon-Sun 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 3.80, children pounds 2.70, families pounds 11.
Top tip: See the silver tissue dress, one of the oldest and most important exhibits.
Art critic Jim Ede built up an enviable collection of early-20th-century art, which he donated in 1990, along with his house, to Cambridge University. The collection remains as it was when he lived there, and the atmosphere is wonderfully intimate.
Where & when: Castle St, Cambridge (01223 352124). House: Tues-Sun 2pm- 4pm; gallery: Tues-Sat 12.30-5.30pm, Sun 2pm-5pm. Free
Top tip: Make your visit on a weekday when the house is at its most tranquil.
DUXFORD FLIGHT MUSEUM, DUXFORD AIRFIELD (IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM)
Probably the largest and finest collection of aircraft (both civil and military) in Europe. The airfield holds more than 140 items including tanks and guns, Spitfires, Concorde and a Harrier Jump Jet. There is also an annexe of the Imperial War Museum on site.
Where & when: Duxford, Cambs (01223 835000) April-mid-Oct daily 10am- 6pm; mid-Oct-April daily 10am-4pm. Adults pounds 7, children pounds 3.50.
Top tip: If you visit tomorrow, you will catch the last air display of the year.
Houses more than a million items from all over the world - from the wonders of the Amazonian rainforest to an exhibit devoted to space travel and the universe. Particularly popular are the mummies in the Egyptology gallery.
Where & when: William Brown St, Liverpool (0151-478 4399) Mon-Sat 10am- 5pm, Sun 12noon-5pm. Adults pounds 3, children pounds 1.50.
Top tip: Check out the Natural History Centre - this hands-on exhibit comprises more than 200,000 items which visitors can examine under the video microscopes.
MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE
Film and TV brought to life on the South Bank. Children can fly like Superman, read the news, audition for Hollywood and watch classic clips. Trained actor-guides take you from silent movies, via propaganda films (shown on a model of an agitprop train), up to present-day technological advances.
Where & when: South Bank Centre, Waterloo SE1 (0171-401 2636) daily 10am- 6pm. Adults pounds 6.25, children pounds 4.50, students pounds 5.25.
Top tip: Create your own animation.
OLD ST THOMAS'S OPERATING THEATRE AND HERB GARRET
The only surviving example of an operating theatre that pre-dates anaesthetic. Located in the roof of an old church to ensure that patients' screams could not be heard on the wards of the hospital itself.
Where & when: 9a St Thomas St, London SE1 (0171-955 4791) most Mondays plus Tues-Sun 10am-4pm. Adults pounds 2.90, children pounds 1.50.
Top tip: Check out the scarificators.
ULSTER FOLK AND TRANSPORT MUSEUM
Farmhouses, cottages and mills have been reconstructed around a pretty wooded site north of Belfast. Some 30 buildings give a vivid account of Irish life over the past 100 years or so. There is also a transport museum, with a section devoted to the Titanic.
Where & when: Cultra, Holywood (01232 428 428), Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm, Sat & Sun 12.30-4.30pm. Adults pounds 4; children pounds 2.50, under-5s free.
Top tip: Climb aboard Maedb, the largest steam locomotive built in Northern Ireland.
EXPLORATORY HANDS-ON SCIENCE CENTRE
Here, children (and adults) can explore the wonders of science and technology - launch a hot-air balloon, walk inside the world's largest acoustic guitar, make electricity... There are more than 150 experiments to push, pull, balance and even heat, plus a StarDome planetarium and a shop. Sundays boast live science shows.
Where & when: Bristol Old Station, Temple Meads (0117-9075000) daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 5, children pounds 3.50.
Top tip: Test your heart in the Body Gallery.
MACCLESFIELD SILK MUSEUM
The history of Macclesfield's silk industry goes back over 400 years, and is explored in two galleries. One is devoted to the history of silk itself, from its earliest uses through to parachute production in the Second World War, and the other to technological developments (at one time Macclesfield had over 120 mills and 600 outworkers' cottages). Visitors can tour a working mill and watch demonstrations of dyeing and weaving.
Where & when: Heritage Centre, Roe St, Macclesfield (01625 613210) Mon- Sat 11am-5pm, Sun 1pm-5pm. Adults pounds 2.60, children pounds 1.60, concs pounds 1.85.
Top tip: Don't leave without finding out about Macclesfield Stripe.
BEAULIEU NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM
The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, set in 75 acres, has over 250 historic vehicles, including the 1927 Sunbeam - the first car to zoom past the 200mph mark on its speedometer. As well as the cars, there is a vast collection of motoring memorabilia; and if you tire of automobiles, there are the abbey ruins to admire.
Where & when: John Montagu Building, Beaulieu, Brockenhurst, Hampshire (01590 612345) summer 10am-6pm, winter till 5pm. Adults pounds 8.75, children pounds 6.25.
Top tip: Don't miss the star of the show, Donald Campbell's jet-powered Bluebird.
THE GALLERIES OF JUSTICE
At this award-winning museum, you get a prisoner identity number, then find out what crimes you've committed - and your fate: flogging, execution or transportation to a penal colony. Other exhibits include a Victorian gaol and real mediaeval caves used for storing wool and food.
Where & when: Shire Hall, High Pavement, Lace Market, Nottingham (0115- 9520555) Tues-Sun and Bank Hol Mon, 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 7.95, children pounds 4.95.
Top tip: Despite its outward appearance, the museum is huge, so allow at least four hours.
THE FITZWILLIAM MUSEUM
A bequest to Cambridge University by Viscount Fitzwilliam, this has been described as the "finest small museum in Europe". The excellent collections include antiquities, armour, books, textiles, sculpture, furniture, pottery, prints and glass. Upstairs are works by Titian and Gainsborough, plus a selection of Impressionists. The Fitzwilliam also stages regular temporary exhibitions.
Where & when: University of Cambridge, Trumpington St, Cambridge (01223 332900) Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2.15pm-5pm. Free.
Top tip: Allow enough time to do the painting galleries justice.
WEALD & DOWNLAND OPEN AIR MUSEUM
Over 35 rescued and reconstructed buildings are scattered across this beautiful site on the Sussex Downs, forming a complete village. All were of historic importance and are from south-east England; they range from early mediaeval houses to a 19th-century school house.
Where & when: Bosham Hoe, Bosham, Chichester (01243 811348) Mar-Oct daily 10am-5pm; Nov-Feb Wed, Sat-Sun 10.30am-4pm. Adults pounds 5.20, children pounds 2.50.
Top tip: Visit on 24-25 October and you'll catch the Country Celebration, which features heavy horses and vintage tractors.
THE DESIGN MUSEUM
An elegant white cube on the edge of the Thames, the Design Museum is the world's first museum devoted to industrial design in the 20th century. Regular exhibitions, such as the current David Mellor retrospective, focus on the work of influential designers, while the permanent collection covers a wide range of items - many of which we take for granted, such as kettles, cutlery and computers.
Where & when: 28 Shad Thames, London SE1 (0171-378 6055) daily 11.30am- 6pm. Adults pounds 5.25, concs pounds 4, families pounds 12.
Top tip: Catch the Eames exhibition before it closes in January.
BARBARA HEPWORTH MUSEUM AND SCULPTURE GARDEN
This tiny, lush oasis, filled with stunning sculptures, is just around the corner from the Cornish Tate. In addition to the garden, you can also visit Hepworth's studio, which is complete with photographs and other memorabilia, and unfinished carvings in wood and stone.
Where & when: Barnoon Hill, St Ives (01736 796226) gallery closed until 14 Nov, then open Tue-Sun 10.30am- 5.30pm. Adults pounds 3.50, concs pounds 2.
Top tip: Buy tickets for the garden and the Tate Gallery together to get a reduced rate.
ROYAL ENGINEERS MUSEUM
Not only the most comprehensive collection of military engineering in the world, but also a treasure trove of the unexpected. Weird and wonderful exhibits include a Chinese skull which was used as a drinking cup, a Harrier Jump Jet, and exotic loot from around the world, such as a selection of exquisite 19th-century embroidery from Peking.
Where & when: Prince Arthur Rd, Gillingham, Kent (01634 406397) Mon-Thur 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 11.30am-5pm. Adults pounds 3, concs pounds 1.50.
Top tip: Wellington's map of the battle of Waterloo is a must-see: the dark patch in the middle is his Chief of Staff de Lancey's blood.
ELLESMERE BOAT MUSEUM
A video presentation kicks off the tour of this Merseyside museum, one of the best canal museums in Britain. Indoor exhibits chart the working life of the canals, and the various craft designed for navigating them. Outside you can board one of the museum's 60-odd floating exhibits and/or visit several period cottages and stables.
Where & when: South Pier Rd, Ellesmere Port, South Wirral (0151-355 5017) summer daily 10am-5pm; winter Mon-Wed, Sat-Sun 11am-4pm. Adults pounds 5.40, children pounds 3.60.
Top tip: It's worth paying the extra to take one of the lock-and-canal trips.
VICTORIA & ALBERT
In addition to its National Sculpture Collection, the V&A houses one of the largest and finest collections of decorative and applied art in the world, spanning 2,000 years and comprising over four million items. Works include textiles, costumes, silver, ceramics, furniture, glass, books, prints and paintings, and special exhibitions devoted to individual designers or decortaive arts are held regularly.
Where & when: Cromwell Rd, London SW7 (0171-938 8500) Mon 12noon-5.45pm, Tues-Sun 10am-5.45pm. Adults pounds 5, concs pounds 3.
Top tip: Don't leave without seeing the Nicola Pisano sculptures in gallery 22.
THE RAGGED SCHOOL MUSEUM
This 19th-century East End warehouse opened in the 1880s as Dr Barnardo's Ragged Day School. Externally, not much has changed since then, but it's now used to re-create the experiences of children who grew up in the East End in the latter half of Victoria's reign. Plus displays on local history, industry and East End life.
Where & when: 46-48 Copperfield Rd, London E3 (0181-980 6405) Wed-Thur 10am-5pm, first Sun of month 2pm-5pm. Free.
Top tip: The museum is small, but fascinating and time-consuming, so make sure you give yourself long enough to do it justice.
A little gem of a museum, devoted to furniture and interior design, whihc never fails to please. Organised around a series of room settings within a row of 18th-century almshouses, it charts English domestic interiors from the Elizabethans on. Each room is well explained, with intriguing details which make visits fun for children too. An extension is due to open on 19 November.
Where & when: Kingsland Rd, London E2 (0171-739 9893) Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun and Bank Hols 2-5pm. Free.
Top tip: Don't miss the all-seeing eye in the Elizabethan room - spooky!
THACKERY MEDICAL MUSEUM
This interactive museum is for all the family and looks at the development of medicine through the eyes of those on the receiving end - the patients. Includes a trip back in time to the 1840s and the slums of Leeds, where you can discover the treatments available at the time. In the Pain, Pus and Blood section you can "experience" surgery without anaesthetic.
Where & when: Beckett St, Leeds (0113-244 4343). Tues-Sun 10am-5.30pm. Adults pounds 3.95, children pounds 3.
Top tip: Be sure to tour BodyWorks with Sherlock Bones, who will take you into the gut to explore the human body.
SCOTTISH FISHERIES MUSEUM
Set within a mixture of buildings dating from 1540, which include a sail loft, fishermen's cottages, a boatyard and a fish chandlers. The museum is as much about the home lives of the fishermen and their families as about life at sea. Much space is given over to the women's contribution - preparing and bating the lines, sewing nets, gutting herrings and so on.
Where & when: St Ayles, Harbourshead, Anstruther, Fife (01333 310 628). April-Oct Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm, Sun 11am-5pm; Nov-Mar Mon-Sat 10am-4.30pm, Sun 2pm-4.30pm. Adults pounds 3.50, children pounds 2.50.
Top tip: Keep an eye out for the "haunted" boots in the fisherman's cottage.
THE CUMING MUSEUM
This wonderful but bizarre museum houses the eccentric collections of the Cumings, father and son. When Henry Cuming died in 1902, he left more than 100,000 items, all clearly labelled, and a sum of money with which to build a home for them. The result is perfect rainy-day material: a leg sawn from an Egyptian mummy, African ceremonial necklaces, ancient pottery and lots of Roman artefacts from digs conducted in the Southwark area.
Where & when: 155-157 Walworth Rd, London SE17 (0171-701 1342). Tues- Sat 10am-5pm. Free.
Top tip: Check out the statue of the Roman Hunter God, dug up at Southwark Cathedral.
BEAMISH NORTH OF ENGLAND OPEN-AIR MUSEUM
This popular open-air museum, a little north of Durham, is all that remains of the area's coal industry. Visitors are allowed to explore the pit heads and go below ground to see what working conditions were like in the mine shafts. There is also a working farm, scenic cottages and a pub.
Where & when: (01207 231 811) Daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 8, children pounds 5; under-fives free.
Top tip: This is no whistle-stop affair - the average visit takes around five hours. So do make sure you have planned this as a full day trip.
MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY IN MANCHESTER
Located in the buildings of the world's oldest passenger railway station, Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry has room enough to do justice to its specialisations. The galleries cover a range of themes from Air and Space (packed with all forms of flying machines) to Fibres, Fabrics and Fashion - tackling the rag trade from the industrial revolution to the present day.
Where & when: Liverpool Rd, Castlefield, Manchester (0161-832 2244). Daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 5,children pounds 3; under-fives free.
Top tip: This autumn you can also see Devious Devices, an exhibition of automata.
ELSECAR HERITAGE CENTRE
Elsecar's location - in beautiful South Yorkshire countryside - alone makes it worth a visit. The Powerhouse explores power and energy, while the Living History Centre boasts a working steam railway. Although the trains only run on Sundays and Bank Holidays, there are always locomotives on site to examine.
Where & when: Wath Rd, Elsecar, Barnsley, South Yorks (01226 740 203). Daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 5.25, children pounds 3.
Top tip: If you are into steam trains, visit on a Sunday when the trains are running.
LONDON TRANSPORT MUSEUM
The perfect day out for any child who dreams of being a train driver: displays chart the history of public transport in the capital, including wonderful old steam-train carriages and trams to explore. Simulators give those wannabe bus and Tube-train drivers the chance to compare their dreams with something near the real thing
Where & when: 39 Wellington St, London WC2 (0171-379 6344). Mon-Sun 10am-6pm, Fri 11am-6pm. Adults pounds 4.95, children pounds 2.95.
Top tip: Follow the KidZone trail.
Five floors cover everything from steam power and electricity through to nuclear power and space travel. Among the most popular exhibits are the Apollo 10 space capsule, George Stevenson's first steam train, the Rocket, and Britain's first jump jet. There are also lots of working models and interactive elements in each of the sections.
Where & when: Exhibition Rd, London SW7 (0171-938 8000). Mon-Sun 10am- 6.50pm. Adults pounds 6.50, children pounds 3.50; free after 4.30pm.
Top tip: Chat to friends via the sound dishes at either end of the Launch Pad Gallery.
A world-famous museum of anthropology, opened in the 1890s, which retains its Victorian cabinet-of-curiosities atmosphere with case upon case of weird and wonderful artefacts: amulets, baby carriers, a dodo, firearms, head-hunting trophies, Japanese armour. More than 500,000 exhibits.
Where & when: South Parks Rd, Oxford (01865 270 927). Mon-Sat 1pm-4.30pm. Free
Top tip: Stand in the middle of the main gallery and gaze up and around to absorb the collection as a whole.
THE CABARET AND MECHANICAL MUSEUM
First your tickets are stamped by a mechanical man, who then opens the doors on to a mad world of mechanical cabaret. The tinkling of a nickelodeon follows you round the exhibits, most of which spring to life at the touch of a button.
Where & when: 3-34 The Market, Covent Garden London WC1 (0171-379 7961). Mon-Fri 10am-6.30pm, Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 11am-6.30pm. Adults pounds 1.95, children pounds 1.20.
Top tip: Don't miss the machine which claims to cure arachnophobia.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
The collection is displayed within a series of Life Galleries, which lead visitors from prehistory to the present day. The dinosaurs are particularly popular; but just as good, though perhaps less well known, are the galleries concerning Creepy Crawlies, Human Biology, Ecology and the Story of the Earth.
Where & when: Cromwell Rd, London SW7 (0171-938 9123). Mon-Sat 10am-5.50pm, Sun 11am-5.50pm. Adults pounds 6, children pounds 3.
Top tip: Don't leave without visiting the amazing new Earth galleries.
MUSEUM OF WELSH LIFE
Traditional buildings - a tollhouse, a chapel and a row of Victorian cottages in 100 acres of grounds - give a fascinating insight into Welsh life from Celtic times till today. Some of them, such as the blacksmith's forge, still function and visitors can watch people at work.
Where & when: St Fagans, Cardiff (01222 573500) July-Nov daily 10am-6pm, Oct-June daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 5.25, children pounds 2.75.
Top tip: At the pottery, your children can work up a little creation of their own.
MERSEYSIDE MARITIME MUSEUM
This award-winning museum is set within Liverpool's 19th-century docks and has displays covering the history of the Port of Liverpool. One section focuses on the slave trade and is based around a mock-up of a slave boat. As well as the contents of the warehouse, there are also floating exhibits and daily demonstrations.
Where & when: Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 (0151-478 4499) daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 3, concs pounds 1.50.
Top tip: The Crime Against Humanity exhibition is hugely popular and very moving.
PETRIE MUSEUM OF EGYPTIAN ARCHAEOLOGY
The Petrie is one of the most fascinating collections of Egyptian archaeology in the world. It charts the development of Ancient Egyptian culture and daily life, and includes the world's earliest surviving dress, the first medical texts on papyrus and the largest collection of Graeco-Roman mummy portraits.
Where & when: University College of London, Gower St, WC1 (0171-387 7050 x2884) Mon-Fri 10am-12noon, 1.15pm-5pm. Free.
Top tip: Don't miss the Egyptian bead-net dancing dress, thought to have been made in 2800BC.
BIRMINGHAM CITY MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY
No doubt a significant number of the 600,000 or so visitors Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery attracts each year come to see its outstanding collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings - easily the finest in the world. There are also works by Bellini, Canaletto, Gentileschi and Botticelli.
Where & when: Chamberlain Square, Birmingham (0121-303 2834) Mon-Thur 10am-5pm, Fri 10.30am-5pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12.30pm-5pm. Free.
Top tip: Stop for tea in the museum's Edwardian tea rooms.
JOSEPHINE & JOHN BOWES MUSEUM
Josephine was an actress, and John was a Teesdale businessman and politician. They married in 1852 and, in 15 years, amassed a remarkable collection of textiles, furniture, ceramics and paintings. The house - a French-style chateau - was designed with their collection in mind by Jules Pellechet in around 1869.
Where & when: Barnard Castle, Co Durham (01833 690606) Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm; from 1 Nov: Mon-Sun 11am-5pm. Adults pounds 3.90, concs pounds 2.90.
Top tip: Check when the giant silver swan - a Victorian automaton - will be "performing".
SNIBSTON DISCOVERY PARK & MUSEUM
Our industrial heritage (coal mining in particular), science and technology are explored at Coalville's hands-on museum, with lively surface tours of Snibston's colliery buildings conducted by ex-miners, an outdoor science playground, and galleries dedicated to fashion and textiles, transport and engineering.
Where & when: Ashby Rd, Coalville, Leicestershire (01530 510851) April- Aug daily 10am-6pm, Sept-Mar daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 4.75, children pounds 2.95.
Top tip: Don't miss the fascinating black-hole exhibit.
SIR JOHN SOANE'S MUSEUM
Sir John Soane's museum (which was once his house) is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. Soane, the architect responsible for the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Royal Hospital Chelsea, was also a great collector; when he died in 1837, he requested that his house be turned into a museum and left unchanged.
Where & when: 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2 (0171-430 0175) Tues-Sat 10am- 5pm, first Tuesday of the month 6pm-9pm. Free.
Top tip: Look out for Hogarth's series A Rake's Progress.
MUSEUM OF LONDON
An excellent way to introduce children to history: most of the imaginative exhibits, which trace London's history from the Ice Age to the late 20th century, relate to the national curriculum. One highlight is a model of the Fire of London which comes complete with commentary.
Where & when: 150 London Wall, London EC2 (0171-600 3699) Tues-Sat 10am- 5.50pm, Sun 12noon-5.50pm. Adults pounds 4, children pounds 2, families pounds 9.50.
Top tip: See the Cheapside hoard - exquisite jewels found under a shop in 1912.
THE IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM
Originally a memorial to the two World Wars, it also covers later conflicts (the Falklands, etc). Housed in what was once London's notorious Bedlam Hospital, it has an excellent selection of hardware - tanks, planes and jeeps - and exhibits on the secret services in war, life in the trenches, and civilian life in the Blitz, with galleries devoted to war artists such as Stanley Spencer and Henry Moore.
Where & when: Lambeth Rd, SE1 (0171-416 5000) daily 10am-6pm. Adults pounds 5, children pounds 2.50.
Top tip: Don't miss the Trench Experience.
CASTLE MUSEUM, YORK
Memories, both personal and cultural, are brought to life at York Castle Museum where visitors walk, literally, through time. Start with a tour of the streets and shops of old York, visit the cell where highway man, Dick Turpin, spent his last night, and then refuel with a snack in a cafe still stuck in the swinging Sixties.
Where & when: The Eye of York, York (01904 653611) Mon-Sat 9.30am-4pm, Sun 10am-4pm. Adults pounds 4.75, children pounds 3.30.
Top tip: Chocolate addicts should visit the current exhibition "All You Need to Know About Chocolate".
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE COUNTY MUSEUM AND ROALD DAHL CHILDREN'S GALLERY
Housed in period buildings with a new art gallery, the innovative, interactive exhibits focus on Bucks but will interest all visitors - especially kids - as the Roald Dahl Gallery is a unique hands-on museum for children.
Where & when: Church St, Aylesbury (01296 331441) Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun and Bank Hols 2pm-5pm. Museum, free; art gallery, pounds 3.50; Roald Dahl Gallery, pounds 2.
Top tip: Very popular, so call ahead and save yourself a wasted journey.
Although highly regarded, the Horniman is far enough away from the centre of town to remain a secret. It has a fascinating anthropological collection at its heart, amassed by Frederick Horniman during the late 19th-century. The stuffed walrus is a favourite with children, as is the small zoo.
Where & when: 100 London Rd, SE23 (0181-699 2339) Mon-Sat 10.30am-5.30pm, Sun 2pm-5.30pm. Free.
Top tip: Time your visit to coincide with the Apostle's Clock's 4pm chime, when animatronic figures enact a gospel story.
IRONBRIDGE GORGE MUSEUMS
The Shropshire cradle of the Industrial Revolution, Ironbridge is so named because it is where the first iron bridge was cast and built in 1779. This engineering feat is recalled with several museums arranged on a six-square mile site.
Where & when: Ironbridge, Telford (01952 433 522) daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 9.50, concs pounds 5.50, covering all sites.
Top tip: Start your visit at Blists Hill Victorian Town and change your money at the bank for old pennies - which you can then spend in the shops and exhibits.
EUREKA! THE MUSEUM FOR CHILDREN
If your little ones plague you with questions about where electricity comes from, why fridges are cold, what makes the lavatory flush and how cars are made, then Eureka! is for them - and you. It is Britain's only museum which has been designed specifically with children under 12 in mind.
Where & when: Discovery Rd, Halifax, West Yorkshire (01422 330069) daily 10am-5pm. Adults pounds 5.25, children pounds 4.25.
Top tip: Until 2 Nov, you can book the kids into a musical sculpture workshop.
BRAHMAH TEA AND COFFEE MUSEUM
Exhibits include a collection of over 1,000 teapots, lots of coffee-making gadgetry and a wide range of other tea- and coffee-related paraphernalia. The histories of both beverages are cleverly charted through interesting displays (including tiny tea bushes and old tea chests) and informative videos.
Where & when: The Clove Building, Maguire St, SE1 (0171-378 0222) daily 10am-6pm. Adults pounds 3.50, children pounds 2.
Top tip: Include a refuelling stop in the cafe, where you'll be taught how to make a proper cup of tea - the Brahmah way.
THE BURRELL COLLECTION
One of Glasgow's most intriguing attractions, based in Pollok Country Park just outside the city. The collection, amassed by Sir William Burrell in the early part of the century, is breathtaking for its sheer variety and quality: Chinese and Japanese porcelain, Impressionist masterpieces, medieval furniture, stained glass and beautiful tapestries.
Where & when: Pollok Country Park (0141-649 7151) Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm. Free.
Top tip: Meditate with Rodin's Thinker.
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