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The 10 Best: Museums for children

Claire Kingston has scoured the UK to find some of the best child-friendly museums – big names and hidden gems; the mind-blowing and the gory.

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, Edinburgh

Scotland’s oldest purpose-built attraction, the 165-year-old Camera Obscura, is still pulling in the crowds today. Virtual reality Victorian-style, it’s a fascinating way to see this beautiful city. Check out the streets below, spot the people, scoop them up, squash them or build bridges for them. Then it’s time for the World of Illusions - five floors of interactive mind-blowing displays. Learn classic magic tricks, get lost in the mirror maze, swap noses, grow, shrink, sever your head and then travel through a swirling vortex tunnel. High-energy fun combined with a little history and plenty of science.


Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, County Durham

Travel back in history and see what North East England was really like in the Victorian and Edwardian times. At this 350-acre living museum, trams take you through a 1900s town where you can pop into shops, go to school or even visit the dentist. Afterwards, take a trip down a drift mine, or jump on board the steam train to go and help out at a 1940s farm. There’s so much to do here; we love the idea of learning to bake bread or make sweets the old-fashioned way. Or why not have a go at playing in a traditional brass band? No experience necessary!

Thackray Museum

Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds

Not for the faint-hearted, the Thackray takes you on a gory journey through medical history. With nine interactive galleries, this museum is bigger (and stinkier) than most. For an attack on the senses, walk the filthy streets of Victorian Leeds or visit a quack doctor and learn about the frightening world of surgery before pain relief. Kids can get really hands-on and learn about the human body in the Life Zone, counting teeth or finding out who has the fastest reflexes. A great way to learn about the history of medicine – if you can stomach it.

Greater Manchester Police Museum

Greater Manchester Police Museum, Manchester

A ‘hidden gem’ according to locals and visitors, a visit to this former police station will transport you back to 1879 and life on the beat in Manchester. Kids will love getting dressed up, arresting the baddies and taking them down to the cells to try out the wooden pillows. Then it’s off to court in the fully restored courtroom to hear the verdict. See vehicles (old and new), truncheons, whistles and weapons. Learn about forensics and fingerprints and chat to former policemen and women. Open on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the school holidays, it’s perfect for a rainy morning or afternoon.

The MAD Museum

The MAD Museum, Stratford-upon-Avon

For all budding engineers, inventors and builders of marble runs, The MAD (Mechanical Art and Design) Museum is a must. Push buttons and pull levers to your heart’s content in this small but ingenious museum. Interactive displays of kinetic art, automata and steampunk contraptions mean that there are enough whirling robotics, churning clogs and rolling ball circuits to keep even the busiest of hands entertained. Full of wacky designs and eccentric inventions, there’s also a huge magnetic wall for inspired kids to create marvellous marble runs of their own. Great for inquisitive minds.

Big Pit National Coal Museum

Big Pit National Coal Museum, Torfaen

A real coal mine, Big Pit provides an emotive insight into the history of mining in Wales and the conditions faced by the men, women and children who worked in the industry. Everything here is as real as can be which makes the experience particularly unique and memorable. Visitors are kitted out with helmets, cap lamps, belts and batteries, then taken 90 metres underground in a rattling cage to the Big Pit mineshaft. There, an ex-miner takes you on a journey round the coalfaces, engine houses and stables, painting a stark picture of everyday life for the Welsh mining community. A history lesson the kids will never forget.

National History

The Natural History Museum, London

A century and a half after its foundation, the Natural History Museum is still hard to beat for a day out. Split into four colour-coded zones there is so much to see and do. Where else can you meet a roaring T.Rex and then stand next to a blue whale? Or experience an earthquake before riding through the centre of the earth? At Investigate, the science centre, kids can get even closer to nature, examining specimens under microscopes, weighing fossils and making observations like real scientists. And prepare yourself for an exploration of the darkest caves and the deepest oceans in the Life in the Dark exhibition. Discover what happens when the lights go out.

Science Museum

The Science Museum, London

With seven floors of interactive displays, the Science Museum never ceases to amaze. Kids of all ages can fly the Red Arrows simulators, and older children can set off on VR missions to outer space. For jaw-dropping science, get them to The Wonderlab where they can test materials, learn about explosions, watch lightning strike and understand friction by playing on giant slides. Little ones can discover science through play in the interactive Garden, or explore the Pattern Pod, a multi-sensory area full of robot trails, interactive patterns and water ripples that don’t make you wet. Visit once and you’ll be hooked for life.

The Postal Museum

The Postal Museum, London

New kid on the block is The Postal Museum in Clerkenwell, where visitors get the rare opportunity to see the one-hundred year-old Post Office railway. Take the ‘mail rail’, an interactive train ride through the tunnels deep below Mount Pleasant sorting office, a journey that tells the story of how the railway kept post flowing through London 22 hours a day, even through the Blitz. There’s plenty to do, from trying to sort the post as the ground shakes, to sending messages through pneumatic tubes, or racing pneumatic cars. For under 8's, there’s a mini-town for mini Postman Pats to sort letters and do the rounds.

Boscombe Down Aviation

Boscombe Down Aviation Collection, Salisbury

This collection, based in a First World War hangar at famously secretive Boscombe Down airbase near Salisbury, is sure to be a hit. Visitors can see an impressive collection of aircraft and exhibits, including rare items such as a Harrier jet from the Falklands and an RAF nuclear bomb. And it’s far from being a look-and-don’t-touch museum, children will enjoy clambering into the cockpits of almost every plane, fighter jet and helicopter where they can press buttons, flick switches, grapple with joysticks and try the simulators. Hands-on fun guided by ex-RAF pilots, some of whom have personally flown these awesome aircraft.

Which museums are your family favourites? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook, using the hashtag #chalkandchat

Chalk & Chat 2018


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