Winning tip: An injection of knowledge, Leeds
If you want children to become aware of not taking life for granted and help them to understand the contribution science, medicine and vaccinations can make to life in these times, the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds is a must. Recently given a huge makeover, it features a Victorian street full of real smells and bugs, and shows the impact of cholera and smallpox before vaccinations were available. There are talks, displays, games and information about health heroes over the years who have – and still are – making our lives safe. My daughter became fascinated by medicine from her visit a few years ago.
Adults £11.95, children £8.95, under 5s free (tickets last for 12 months),
Life through a lens, Edinburgh
The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions experience in Edinburgh (just next to the castle) presents a unique view of the city. With over 100 interactive exhibits on five floors , it is completely kid-friendly with no “don’t touch” signs and tons of visual gags. There’s even a forced perspective room where toddlers can enjoy looming over older siblings: they can dance with their own shadow, merge their face with a monkey’s, serve their head on a platter and do a wee on a shark.
Adult £16.20, child 5-15 £12.60, under-5s free,
Pencil it in, Keswick, Lake District
The Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick is a magical little museum which charmed me when I was a youngster and does so again as an adult! See the world’s first pencil after entering the museum through a replica graphite mine, which would have served as the source of the pencil industry over three centuries ago. Then have your own set of pencils made with your name engraved on them.
£14.50 for two adults and two children,
Mummy’s the word, Haslemere, Surrey
Haslemere Educational Museum is a natural history museum with a local charm. Its rich and diverse collections include an expansive range of fossils and an unnervingly huge Japanese spider crab. Just as you think you’ve hit the limit of your enjoyable discomfort, you reach the mummy room with its cat and crocodile mummies adorning the walls. Perfect for parents of small children with Gerald Durrell inclinations.
Admission by donation
Engine-room drama, Anglesy
The beach-laden island of Anglesey already holds a unique charm for a family day out, but how about a visit to Tacla Taid Transport Museum? It’s set in a replica 1940s cobbled street, where kids and big kids alike can take a fascinating journey exploring transport history through time. You can also opt to stay over at the glamping site in your very own converted army truck.
Adult £7, child £4.50, family £20,
You’ve got mail, central London
Sorted! At the Postal Museum gets my vote. It allows your little ones to participate in all stages of the mail journey: franking letters and parcels, carrying mail in sacks, pushing the sacks around in trolleys, raising pulleys and sending sacks down chutes. There’s also a well-oiled slide to get would-be postmasters back to the start. A ride on the mail train is another option.
child 0-8, £4, Adult £16, 3-15 years £9,
Go back in time, Chichester, West Sussex
Anybody who wants to see, touch and even smell what life was like in years gone by should head to the Weald and Downland Living Museum – a museum with rural buildings ranging from early medieval England to the Victorian age, and a multisensory, living presentation. There are also farm animals to visit, a woodland playground to burn off energy, and hands-on activities and traditional games in one of the barns if it rains.
family ticket £42,
Follow that train, Walthamstow, London
A huge steam engine stands at the entrance to the small, indoor-outdoor Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. Two 1967 Victoria Line carriages, one original and the other refurbished, sit side by side with the drivers’ cab open to would-be train drivers. Fireman Frank displays the fire engine featured in TV programmes such as London’s Burning. It’s surrounded by uniforms and helmets, fire extinguishers, and over 200 model engines. There’s a penny farthing bicycle, a 1954 bus undergoing renovation and a model of the first petrol-fuelled car. Aeroplanes dangle from the ceiling and a model railway is being built. Volunteers talk enthusiastically to all.
To the rescue, Sheffield
The National Emergency Services Museum offers a complete history and celebration of the development of the UK’s much-loved emergency services. It’s housed in a historic combined police, fire and ambulance station in Sheffield city centre, and kids can climb aboard a fire engine, try on different uniforms (ours loved the vintage nurse outfits!) and get hands-on with a load of life-saving equipment. Knowledgable and friendly volunteers are always close by to bring exhibitions to life and share their experiences with little ones.
Adult £8, 3-15 years £6,
Spinning yarns, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village on the Isle of Lewis is a living museum with the entire settlement preserved to reflect coastal crofting life. Every house is named after the last family who stayed there; two are set up for day visitors complete with authentic furniture, while the rest can be booked as holiday cottages. Travelling back in time, you can see how a traditional township once survived. Peat smoke wafts around the village as fires burn in the grates, the fisherman sings his shanties, and the weaver spins Harris Tweed on a Hattersley loom, bringing Hebridean heritage to life for the next generation.
Ahoy there! Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria
The Dock Museum in Barrow-in-Furness is a must for everyone – free entrance and parking! There’s no plank to walk but a suspension bridge over a dry dock. Spy archeological treasures from Romans to Victorians, and learn all about social, engineering, architectural and maritime history. Fathom out the quiz. Don’t give the theatre a wide berth, but watch the films. See stunning ship models and ring the ship’s bell. Have a tasty meal, and enjoy the outdoor adventure playground and picnic area before walking along the scenic channel side. What a day out!
Radio control, Porthcurno, Cornwall