Museums for Kids

What do you do with the kids when it’s raining? It may be blue skies and sunshine now but you just know that the minute they break up for the school holidays the skies will cloud over and the showers will begin in earnest. What you need is an indoor place that isn’t too far to travel, where you can spend a good few hours keeping the kids entertained.

Well there’s only one place that fits the bill – your local museum! Yes nearly every town and certainly every city has at least one museum and they are the ideal places to go no matter what the weather – here are just a few reasons why:

  • Most museums are free to enter and those that charge usually allow kids in for free.
  • Over the school holidays most museums will be putting on activities, themes and events to encourage children to go.
  • You don’t have far to travel to get there.
  • The kids are entertained and educated at the same time!

Museums for Kids in London

The Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL – For one of London’s finest museums look no further than the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum boasts a huge wealth of collections and artefacts that have been gathered for the past 3,000 years!

Call in at the weekends when the V&A museum hosts Drop-in-Design events for families along with family trails and fantastic hands-on interactive exhibits that aims to bring history to life for children. There’s a calendar of events that tells you what’s on at the museum and when. So borrow a backpack full of games and puzzles from reception and start exploring! Best of all – it’s all free!

The Victoria and Albert Museum is open daily from 10am till 5.45pm and until 10pm on Fridays.

V & A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA – What was life-like before the advent of Nintendos and Playstation? Take children on a journey back through to time, to the era of your own childhoods, your parent’s childhoods and even your grandparents as you explore the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood.

Collections date from the 1600’s to the present day so children can marvel at some of the earliest toy collections, clothing and furniture and find out what it was like to be a child in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The museum encourages a real hands-on feel with daily activities such as Art Smarts to keep little ones entertained. Everyday is different! There is also a calendar of activities and events to help you plan your visit. Once again – it’s all completely FREE!

The Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood is open everyday from 10am to 5.30pm and until 9pm on the first Thursday of every month. Maps and reviews

National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich SE10 9NF– Three sites make up this one museum; the Maritime Galleries hosts a collection of ship models, paintings, flags and maps and has interactive exhibitions such as a bridge simulator; the Royal Observatory is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Planetarium, budding astronauts will love exploring time and space with the Astronomy Centre and the Planetarium shows; and the Queen’s House, a 17th century house that is home to one of the finest art collections.

The National Maritime Museum is free apart from The Royal Observatory, which charges for adults and the Planetarium which charges £4.50 for children and £6.50 for adults. However all family events are free including Play Tuesdays for under 5s, Explore Saturdays and Discover Sundays that are crammed full of exciting activities for families from toddlers to teenagers!

Dino Snores for Kids

The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD – Open 7 days a week, this is one of my favourite museums and will immediately capture children’s attention as soon as they walk through the impressive foyer and are confronted by the famous, large skeleton of a Diplodocus!

Once they get over that there is so much for children to do that you could easily stretch this to a two-day visit. 7 to 14 year olds can head over to the special science lab for kids: Investigate; children are invited to take a hands-on approach in the Earth Lab; brave kids can also handle nature specimens in the Lasting Impressions gallery.

There are also explorer backpacks for kids to use and family activities almost every day during school holidays. Don’t miss the famous Dinosaur Gallery where kids can come face to face with some very bad-tempered reptiles!

Once again parents, the Natural History Museum is entirely free!

The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD – This interactive science museum is immensely popular with the kids and has a real WOW factor to it as it explores the human body and space and encourages children to challenge their minds and question their surroundings. Events cater for all ages, from under 5s to over 50s!

There are amazing experiments children can take part in as well as a 3D cinema (the closest you may get to flying with the Red Arrows!) and the popular Launchpad Gallery that has over 50 interactive exhibits plus shows and demos.

School holidays are full of family events, including camping overnight in the museum! So take a look at the museum calendar to find out what’s going on. And of course it’s free!

Opening times for the Science Museum are daily from 10am to 6pm.

The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG – The museum has 3 floors full of history from around the world as well as special collections and exhibits. There are backpacks for kids to help them explore the special family trails around the museum as well as interactive sections where children can handle objects. There is also a full programme of family events on throughout the year.

The British Museum is open everyday from 10am to 5.30pm and is FREE!

London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2E 7BB – London’s public transport is brought to life from the Victorian era to the present and beyond in a lively and entertaining fashion. Each child will be given a free Family Activity Book that explains some of the museum’s exhibits and includes a time travelling device, a horse, a house, a poster and more (the mind boggles!).

There’s lots to explore on the family trails including an outdoor Green Trail. Plus they get to meet characters from London’s past and climb aboard some of London’s iconic red buses!

Open Mon-Thurs, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm and on Fridays from 11am to 6pm. Adults have to pay £15 for tickets whilst children are free – group discounts and concessions are available.

Design Museum, Shad Thames, City of London, SE1 2YD – This museum covers design from the point of view of architecture, fashion, graphic, product and industry and has a series of colourful, wacky and illuminating collections and exhibits. This is definitely a must for creative children!

The museum run creative workshops for kids aged from 5 to 11 every Sunday afternoon and have a family trail which can be explored with the help of The Thinkerer. They also have special family activity days which are filled with competitions, workshops, games and activities and some of the children’s work is then put on display for other museum visitors to look at.

The Design Museum is open daily from 10am to 5.45pm and tickets cost £10.85 for adults and is free to under 12s.

There are loads more museums dotted in and around London, so get a full list of London museums, or try Google Places. There’s a museum for every day of the week and more!

Museums for Kid’s in the Rest of the UK

Museums in the North of England

Abbey House Museum, Abbey Walk, Leeds – The Abbey House Museum was recently shortlisted for the 2011 Guardian Family Friendly Museum because of their hands-on approach and vast range of activities for children. Step back in time and wander through recreated Victorian streets, meet some local characters and find out how Victorian children spent their time!

Open Tues – Fri 10am-5pm; Sat 12pm-5pm; Sun 10am-5pm. Adults £3.90, children £1.75.

National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York – The National Railway Museum in York is a must for kids obsessed with transport! They have a vast collection of trains from the 19th century to the present day. The museum has also signed up to the Kids in Museums Manifesto and have a full range of family friendly activities during the holidays with a play area and a café for when you want to relax and watch the kids swing on the monkey bars.

Open 10am-6pm daily, admission FREE!

Eureka National Children’s Museum, Discovery Road, Halifax – Eureka National Children’s Museum was recently named as one of the top three family days out by The Independent and has 100s of hands-on exhibits! It is designed to inspire children to learn about themselves and their surroundings by using their imaginations through play and discovery. There is something for children of all ages – they’ll be spoilt for choice!

Open daily during the hols from 10am-5pm. Adults £10.95, children 3+ £10.95, toddlers £3.75, babies free.

Imperial War Museum North, The Quays, Manchester – The Imperial War Museum North is an exciting place to be if you love finding out about submarines, warplanes and tanks! There’s a chance for children to find out what it was like during the First and Second World Wars and to interact when they are told to get to their Action Stations!

Open daily from 10am – 5pm, admission FREE!

Museum of Science and Industry, Castlefield, Manchester – Housed in an impressive Victorian building is the magnificent Museum of Science and Industry which houses galleries on air and space, energy, power etc. There’s a 4D theatre and heaps of exhibits that children can get involved with!

Open daily from 10am-5pm, admission FREE!

Seven Stories Museum of Children’s Books, Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle – The Seven Stories Museum of Children’s Books aims to fire up their imaginations and develop a love of books and stories. Discover some of their favourite authors and walk through large colourful illustrations of some popular children’s books.

Open Mon – Sat from 10am-5pm and Sun from 10am-4pm. Adults £6.50, children £5.50, families £19.

Great North Museum, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne – Now if your kids like dinosaurs then they’ll love the Great North Museum! Find out about the wonders of the animal and plant kingdom, walk among the dinosaurs, marvel at Egyptian mummies and explore an interactive Hadrian’s Wall – these are just a few of things you can do here! Spend a day exploring the world’s history in a fun and exciting way!

Open Mon – Sat 10am-5pm and Sun 2pm-5pm. Admission is FREE!

Museums in the Midlands

Bletchley Park Museum, Milton Keynes – Bletchley Park was the home of secret code-breaking activities in World War II and was where the first modern computer was invented! So if you have little spies around the house then take them to where the real spies made a huge difference to the war effort and see of the famous Enigma machines!

There are also real life spy stories including the one about the hidden horde of silver somewhere at Bletchley Park – perhaps you can solve the mystery of where it is hidden!

Open daily through the summer from 9.30am – 5pm. Adults £15, children aged 12 -16 £9, children under 12 FREE!

Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Jordan Well, Coventry – The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum were the 2010 Guardian Family Friendly Award Winners for their hands-on experiences, touch screen interactive exhibits, family trails and story baskets. Plus there are workshops, events and performances on all through the holidays!

Open Mon – Sat 10am-4pm and Sun 12pm-4pm. Admission FREE!

National Space Centre, Leicester – The National Space Museum is the UK’s largest space visitor attraction and extremely popular with kids of all ages! Explore the six hands-on galleries, discover the UK’s largest planetarium and wander around over 150 interactive experiences! There are lots of family events and activities running through the holidays too and you can easily spend an entire day in the museum!

The National Space Museum, Leicester. Open Tues – Fri, 10am-4pm and Sat – Sun, 10am-5pm. Adults £13, children £11, under 5’s free.

Museums in the South of England

Beaulieu, Brockenhurst, Hampshire – Set in the heart of the New Forest, is one of the South’s top day visitor attractions and includes the World of Top Gear! There’s lots more to do including visiting the famous National Motor Museum which displays over 250 vehicles, the Palace House and experiencing the thrill of high-speed rides and drives! It’s a full day out with plenty of activities for the kids and lots to keep the adults entertained too!

Open daily from 10am-5pm. Tickets include access to everything. Adults £20, youths (13 – 17) £12, children (5 – 12) £9.95, under 5’s Free.

Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey – Famous for being the birthplace of British motor sport and aviation and will be a thrill for dad as well as the kids! The many exhibits include giant racing cars, Second World War Bombers and Concorde! On school holidays they often have car rides where you can experience the thrill of the racetrack for yourself!

Open daily in the summer from 10am – 5pm. Adults £11, children £6.05, under 5’s go free.

Dinosaur Isle, Sandown, Isle of Wight – The first purpose-built dinosaur museum in Britain and houses a large collection of fossils from the island. The dinosaur gallery also houses life-sized dinosaurs! Events include fossil walks where you may just stumble upon the remains of a T-Rex!

Open daily from 10am-6pm. Adults £5, children £3.70

Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire – An award-winning, family friendly museum dedicated to the life and stories of Roald Dahl. Children can dress up as their favourite characters or get arty in the arts and crafts room. There are lots of fun activities and workshops where they can discover whizzpopping science!

Open Tues – Fri from 10am-5pm and Sat – Sun from 11am-5pm. Adults £6.60, children £4.40 and under 5s free.

@Bristol – ‘At Bristol’ is a science museum who, with the help of Morph, aim to bring science to life for children and adults! There are live shows, interactive exhibits and a Planetarium that allows children to get up and close and personal with their own bodies and experiments to find out how things work. Plus an events calendar will help you make the most of the holidays!

Open daily from 10am to 6pm during school holidays and until 5pm otherwise. Adults are £12.90, children £8.25, children under 2 Free.

Museums in Scotland

National Museum of Flight, East Lothian -An aviation adventure with the Jet Age, Concorde and the Parachute Store. Find out what it’s like in the cockpit plus lots of other games and fun for children! (I think dad might also appreciate this one!).

Open daily from 10am – 5pm. Adults £9.50, children £4, children under 5 FREE!

Edinburgh Science Festival at the National Museum of Scotland – Part of the National Museum of Scotland and offers free activities and events for all ages such as Science Secrets and Go Go Gadgets! The activities do have to be booked in advance as they are free they do tend to be very popular! Some events are drop-in and some take an hour or so. Your children will come back buzzing with what they’ve learnt!
Runs throughout April.

National Museum of Childhood, Royal Mile, Edinburgh – Allows children to explore what it was like to be a child through the ages with a fantastic range of games, toys and dolls, including a dressing up area, a puppet theatre and many hands-on activities to keep them occupied! Parents can also get involved by telling children stories of their own childhoods and pointing out the toys that they used to play with.
Open Mon – Sat from 10am-5pm. Admission FREE!

Museums in Northern Ireland

W5, Belfast – W5 Online is an interactive discovery centre that is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. It has its very own world of wonder for under 8s, experiments for older children, hands-on activities such as the lie detector (great for parents!) as well as creative workshops.
Open Mon – Fri from 10am-5pm. Sat 10am-6pm and Sun 12pm-6pm. Adults £7.90, children £5.90, under 3’s go free.

Armagh Planetarium – A fantastic digital theatre, popular rocket building activity and the chance for children to find out about the cosmos and to touch a 140 kg meteorite! You can also build a cosmic balloon and take a stroll around the AstroPark.
Open Mon-Sat from 11.30am to 5pm. Shows are £6 for adults and £5 for children.

Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Holywood – Shows what life was like over 100 years ago. Discover early pubs (one for the parents!), try your hand at basket weaving, visit the Tullylish Bleach Tower and pop into the silent Picture House. There are arts and crafts programmes as well as events on during school holidays.
Open Tues – Fri 10am-4pm and Sat – Sun from 11am-4pm. Adults £7.50, children £4.50, under 4’s free.

More  Information
  • Kids in Museums – an independent organisation campaigning to make museums family friendly.
  • Show Me – a collection of cool stuff from museums around the UK.
  • Visit Britain – a listing of museums for families.
  • Read about our day out at the Verulamium Museum in St Albans