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Best Free Museums in the UK

With some of the finest free museums in the world, the UK can serve up a great day out without raiding the piggy bank. We take a look at the best of the best. Find out what’s in, what’s on and where to go with our big list of museums and galleries. Have we missed one of your favourites? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter.

NATIONAL MUSEUM CARDIFF

Big without being impossible to get around, Cardiff’s national treasure is a must-see on a rainy day. Come for the art galleries, the Evolution of Wales exhibits and the incredible marine specimens in the Natural History section. Stay for the scrummy snacks, drinks and home-cooked meals in the cafe.

Nearest train station: Cathays

Walking distance: 7 min

ST FAGANS NATIONAL HISTORY MUSEUM

Like Horrible Histories? You’ll love St Fagans, an open-air museum with a difference. The carefully restored buildings here represent a wealth of Welsh historical events and eras, from a re-erected school to an entire Workmen’s Institute. Explore 100 acres of hands-on history, rub shoulders with animals and watch craftspeople revive ancient techniques.

Nearest train station: Waungron Park

Walking distance: 45 min (bus 13 min)

ROYAL ARMOURIES

The UK’s biggest collection of arms and armour is housed in three imposing locations - a purpose-built museum in Leeds, a maritime fort in Portsmouth, and the Tower of London. Explore the biggest, baddest and most violent articles of war in history, from the devastating mace to the giant Gatling machine gun.

Nearest train station: Leeds , Portchester , or Tower Hill (depends on location)

Walking distance: Leeds 16 min, Portchester 32 min, Tower Hill 7 min

IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM NORTH

Manchester’s version of the Imperial War Museum is housed in a spectacular building just off Trafford Wharf Road. Combining guest exhibitions with soberly curated permanent exhibits, it’s a fascinating and sometimes shocking look at the history and effects of modern warfare. Expect to spend more than three hours discovering the reality of WWII.

Nearest train station: Manchester United FC

Walking distance: 18 min

ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM

Want to while away a day among the dreaming spires of Oxford? The Ashmolean’s deceptively tidy exterior belies its vast array of exhibits, subjects and galleries. Discover the greatest works of the world’s finest painters, spark a fascination for Ancient Egyptians, or just lose yourself in the fabulous collections of the UK’s first dedicated museum.

Nearest train station: Oxford

Walking distance: 11 min

RIVERSIDE MUSEUM GLASGOW

Multi-award winning and completely original, the Riverside Museum celebrates everything Glaswegian - from the city’s maritime heritage to its character. The signature pistachio-coloured walls are lined with collections of model cars, part art installation and part exhibit, while the reconstructed streets inside resurrect a Glasgow long since gone. The building is super-impressive, too.

Nearest train station: Exhibition Centre

Walking distance: 24 min

RAF COSFORD MUSEUM

Come face to face with an awe-inspiring Vulcan bomber at RAF Cosford, one of the best aerial museums in the country. Cosford is also home to the oldest Spitfire left in the world. Budding pilots can test their mettle in a real flight simulator, and find out if they’ve got what it takes to hit the skies in an interactive learning gallery.

Nearest train station: C osford

Walking distance: 16 min

WESTON PARK MUSEUM

Weston Park’s sturdy museum building hides a treasure trove of Sheffield-oriented exhibits. The curation isn’t done with a focus on education, but on what will fascinate developing minds: the result is a gleeful hotchpotch of objects from every period in history. Discover the city’s prehistoric past, and revel in its modern character.

Nearest train station: Sheffield

Walking distance: 34 min

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House-of-Marbles.jpg

HOUSE OF MARBLES

Who’d have though the humble marble could power a whole museum! With interactive ‘marble drop’ exhibits, massive collections of the world’s simplest toy, and an active glassblowing factory onsite, the House of Marbles packs a whole lot of fun into its Devonian premises. The restaurant’s lovely, and you can take your dog into the main body of the museum.

Nearest train station: Newton Abbot

Walking distance: NA. 15 minute taxi journey

VICTORIA ART GALLERY

From 15th century paintings to modern masters, Bath’s Victoria Gallery has something for every artistic taste. It’s small, and its exhibits are weighted towards representations of Bath and Jane Austen, but its spacious feel and the quality of the paintings and other artworks make it a great place to spend a couple of hours.

Nearest train station: Bath

Walking distance: 8 min

FALMOUTH ART GALLERY

Above the Falmouth Public Library, you’ll find this gallery housing a permanent collection of major artworks. With a scope covering old masters, Victorian painters, Impressionists and Surrealists, the paintings alone make it one of the most important art venues in the South West. Add a fascinatingly creepy selection of automata and a fine library of children’s book illustrations to the mix, and you’ve got a perfect day out.

Nearest train station: Falmouth Town

Walking distance: 16 min

NATIONAL WATERFRONT MUSEUM

Swansea’s cultural centre provides something for all the family - movies, curated family days and special exhibitions, and a core offering of interactive content and physical exhibits. You could spend a whole afternoon in here, rain or no rain.

Nearest train station: Swansea

Walking distance: 12 min

GREAT NORTH MUSEUM

You don’t have to travel to London to find out what makes the natural world so special. Newcastle’s Great North Museum boasts ‘the world under one roof’, and comes pretty close to delivering. Fossils, bones, skeletons, hundreds of thousands of plant specimens, and incredible Ancient Egyptian and Greek exhibits have been enthralling the kids of Tyne and Wear since 1884.

Nearest train station: Manors

Walking distance: 18 min

BRADFORD INDUSTRIAL MUSEUM

Bradford’s living archive of industrial history proudly occupies the well-kept mill buildings at Moorside, and features all the star exhibits you’d expect. Kids will love the working machinery, and are guaranteed to squeal in horror when they see the scale-model child who would have worked beneath it. An epic resource for school projects.

Nearest train station: New Pudsey

Walking distance: 46 min (bus 36 min)

NOTTINGHAM CONTEMPORARY

A versatile modern gallery space set on multiple levels, the Contemporary brings all forms of modern art to Nottingham. You’ll see curated exhibitions inventively displayed, in a centrally located venue that often hosts gigs and digital art events in the evenings. The cafe is first rate, serving home cooked food and artisan beer.

Nearest train station: Nottingham

Walking distance: 8 min

ARBEIA ROMAN FORT

Arbeia’s impressive reconstruction of a Roman garrison fort is reason enough to take history-mad kids to South Shields: come on a re-enactment day, and you’ll be doubly delighted. As well as marvelling at the completely rebuilt gates, officer’s quarters and barracks, you’ll be transported back to the times of the Empire by falconry displays and gladiatorial contests. There are also live excavations to lose yourself in.

Nearest train station: South Shields Metro

Walking distance: 15 min

ABERDEEN MARITIME MUSEUM

Using its small size to great effect, the Aberdeen Maritime Museum combines historic city buildings with a sensitive modern renovation. Exhibits trace the city’s history with the seafaring industries including ship-building, oil and fishing. Ship- and boat-obsessed kids of all ages and sizes will love the working exhibits, and the chance to see real shipping cruising past the Museum’s huge new windows.

Nearest train station: Aberdeen

Walking distance: 9 mins

GLASGOW GALLERY OF MODERN ART

With real emphasis on the ‘modern’, GoMA isn’t to everyone’s taste - but if you love a bit of high concept, you’ll be enthralled at the exhibitions inside this glorious old building. Heavily involved in the ongoing artistic character of the city, GoMA highlights its links with the work, obsessions and practices of some of the world’s most influential creators.

Nearest train station: Glasgow Central

Walking distance: 5 min

Looking for more tips for great days out in the UK? Take a look at our destination guides.

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