Favorite UK museums and galleries: readers’ journey ideas | Museums
Winner tip: Old friends in Birmingham
I recently attended the newly opened Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham (free but pre-registration required). It was the last gallery I visited before the lockdown and the first since then, and it was like seeing old friends. It’s a little gem of a gallery with works by Simone Martini, Claude, Degas, Canaletto, among others, and a personal favorite, a lively Gainsborough who shows his two daughters climbing into a hay wagon. Located in a Grade II listed Art Deco building, it’s a lovely place to stop for an hour followed by a cake on the terrace at nearby Winterbourne House.
Concrete and Pointed, Nottingham
Nottingham Contemporary, a new art gallery in Nottingham. For the arts Photo: David Sillitoe / The Guardian
I have visited the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery in the city’s Lace Market several times since the lockdown ended. It’s a fab modern concrete building with lace prints on the outside (pictured), large airy gallery space, and a really nice cafe and gift shop, all of which were especially therapeutic. An exhibition of paintings by Denzil Forrester was recently completed and a new one has just opened, including a tribute to Grace Jones and works by Berlin-based Jimmy Robert. It’s a great building to stroll into (for free) in a lovely historic part of the city and there is always something interesting to see.
Carnegie Train, Dunfermline
The family turns up at Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace, Dunfermline. Photo: Alamy
Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic influence can be felt all over the world, from libraries to theaters to museums. A visit to the free Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline will take you back to the beginning of history. From the tiny house he lived in with his family to his trip across the seas to his huge international influence, the story is told in a way that captivates visitors of all ages. I am very proud to have this museum on my doorstep. It may be small, but it packs a punch, maybe like Andrew Carnegie himself. Capacity is reduced for Covid safety and online booking is essential.
Explosively good, Dumfries and Galloway
Women work in the Gretna ammunition factory, Scotland, 1918. Photo: Science & Society Picture Librar / Getty Images
The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs, overshadowed by Gretna’s wedding fame, sums up the history of the huge ammunition factory north of Solway (Devil’s porridge was a name for the explosive cordite). Unfortunately, none of the factory buildings are left and the land is contaminated with chemical waste. Through photos, information boards, clothes, machines, and interactive games, the museum explains how thousands, mostly women, made bombs through both the World Wars and the Cold War. Stories and photos of the efforts and sacrifices of these women make it poignant read.
• Adults £ 6, ages 5-16 £ 5, families (2 + 3) £ 15
Almost like clubbing, London
Kraftwerk in the Design Museum. Photo: Peter Boettcher
The electronic exhibition in the Design Museum is, in my opinion, the next we will ever have in a club again. As soon as you step in, you can feel the carefully curated playlists of house, techno and drum and bass. It takes you on a fantastic journey back in time from the invention of the theremin to installations by Aphex Twin and Weirdcore, Juke and Footwork in Chicago and Detroit, without forgetting the origins of techno and house in the black community. After a drink with a loved one, make a late slot and recreate the dance floor.
• £ 16.30 for adults, £ 12.15 for students, £ 8.15 for children
Chill out with Damien, London
Damien Hirst’s End of a Century exhibition at Newport Street Gallery. Photo: Yui Mok / PA
I love Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in London’s Vauxhall, which reopened yesterday (October 7th) with a new exhibition called End of a Century. There’s no trolley rage like some galleries because there’s so much space: each room has huge white walls and high ceilings so you can just enjoy the art and be completely immersed in it without being bombarded by other inputs. This also makes it perfect for social distancing and it’s free.
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Medically uplifting, London
Skull and drug bottles in the Old Operating Theater Museum. Photo: Alamy
The Old Operating Theater Museum at St. Thomas’s Church in Southwark is wood-paneled and quiet, and frozen in time long before antiseptics or anesthetics. An airy old pharmacy full of mysterious potions and ancient medicines stands on narrow steps and over creaky floorboards. Now when we’re sick it feels uplifting to see how far medicine has come. The winding steps and dry herbal air give the place a magical, autumnal feel that is magical too.
• Reservation essential: flat rate ticket for up to six people, £ 20
Vicky Leech Mateos
Real Mine Ship, West Yorkshire
A group of visitors to the mining museum in pre-Covid times. Photo: Donna Niman
The National Coalmining Museum in Overton, West Yorkshire is a real adventure. We liked the “damn pit” tour, which descended 140 meters underground in a downright curvy old lift (worth getting engaged to the normally bored teenagers!) Where a former miner treated us to historical stories about the mining experience. The guides absolutely make this place what it is. We loved meeting the horses and ponies and visiting the different galleries. The end of the day at the adventure playground rounded off a really entertaining and free, educational day.
• Currently only overland tours are available, booking fee £ 2.10 for up to six people, advance booking only, donations welcome
Donna Niman |
Art and Coastal Heritage, New Forest
The St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington, Hampshire is a gem. The main museum guides you through local coastal history and shows finds such as the “Boldre treasure” of Roman coins. There’s a real boat and interactive exhibits for kids, plus regular craft and community outreach events. The other half of the recently renovated building is a professional art gallery with local and national exhibits. The museum also has a lovely, locally run cafe and shop that displays the best of local artisans. I don’t think people realize it is there, but a visit to Lymington is not complete without stopping by.
• Adults £ 6, ages 5-16 £ 3, families (2 + 4) £ 12
Stateside style, bathroom
Photo: NJphoto / Alamy
High up in Bath, overlooking beautiful Limpley Stoke in the Avon Valley, is the unique American Museum and Gardens. Remodeled two years ago, the prairie-style plantings of the garden are breathtaking. The Claverton Manor House recreates fascinating US rooms with decorative arts spanning four centuries. A takeaway cafe serves American specialties with all items freshly prepared. You can safely enjoy your refreshments on a breathtaking terrace overlooking the gardens and valley. A new children’s playground has just opened. There is no need to book in advance, but the gardens are limited to 300 people per day and supervised visits to the Claverton Manor collection are only available between 11:00 and 16:00.
• Adults £ 10, ages 5-17 £ 7.50, families (2 + 3) £ 22.50, open Tuesday through Sunday
Crafts and symbolism, Surrey
Watts Gallery Artists’ Village is an idyllic site in the Surrey Hills, just a 10-minute bus ride from Guildford. In the main gallery are the beautiful symbolist paintings by George Frederic Watts. One room is dedicated to the work of Evelyn and William De Morgan. Five minutes up the street is Watts Mortuary Chapel, designed by Watts’ fellow artist and wife Mary Fraser Tytler and executed in excellent handicrafts by members of the local community.
• Adults £ 12.50, under 18s free
Horror for Watchmaking, Suffolk
The Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St. Edmunds may be small, but it has a varied selection of exhibits. The medieval building alone is worth a visit and, since it used to be a police station, it has a crime and punishment department. Notable items include a disruptive gallows cage and a death mask from a notorious 19th century murderer. Much less alarming is the renowned collection of watches – I love the lavish decoration of the pocket watches.
• Adults £ 5, ages 5-16 £ 3, families (2 + 5) £ 15
Spellbinding Species, Cambridge
Photo: Marc Zakian / Alamy
The recently redesigned Museum of Zoology in Cambridge (free but book online) is a lesser-known gem among nondescript concrete laboratory buildings. It reopened late last month. The place is fascinating from the moment you step under a floating fin whale skeleton (see picture). Highlights include the towering frame of an extinct giant ground sloth, Darwin’s specimens from his Beagle trip, and, my personal favorite, a questionably taxidermized but adorable giant anteater.