Best museums to visit
We round up an exciting selection of new and soon-to-reopen museums across the UK
Overseas summer holidays might be on hold this year, but there are still plenty of brilliant attractions to visit on the British Isles! From spa hotels in heritage spa towns, to leafy arboretums perfect for picnics and picturesque antiques shopping streets, we're on hand to ensure that your summer holidays are packed full of inspiring day trips and relaxing mini breaks.
And, for those seeking culture and academia, we've rounded up a selection of new and soon-to-reopen museums across the UK – many of which have undergone exciting refurbishments over the last year.
Museum of Making, Derby
Built in 1721, and considered the world’s first modern factory, Derby Silk Mill is a key part of Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site, a blueprint for the many industrial settlements that followed. Post restoration, the mill reopened this spring as the Museum of Making. It will tell 300-plus years of industrious history through a collection of 30,000 objects, including the world’s tiniest engine (run with a human hair) and a jar of burgundy and black silk samples said to have been made at the mill itself. A cafe and shop will also be on site, as well as a Make Works facility, fostering local manufacture for artists, designers and makers.
Boscobel House and The Royal Oak, Shropshire
Fresh from a renovation and re-planting of its oak pasture, this English Heritage site is reopening imminently. One-time hiding place of the future King Charles II as he fled defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the property includes a timber-framed hunting lodge, formal gardens and a neatly preserved Victorian farmyard roamed by chickens. Having first hidden in an oak tree (today’s ‘Royal Oak’ is a descendant of the original), Charles spent the night in a priest’s hole within the lodge. Inspired by this history, visitors will
be able to follow a new hide and seek- themed self-guided tour.
Thackray Museum of Medicine, Leeds
Aptly situated beside ‘Jimmy’s’ hospital, in a Grade II-listed former workhouse, the focus here is the history of medicine. First opened in 1997, the Thackray Museum of Medicine closed in 2019 for a £4m refurbishment and reopens this year with innovative galleries to display its collection of 50,000 medical objects, plus a new cafe and shop. Highlights include a range of Wilkinson English Delftware apothecary jars, Prince Albert’s personal medicine chest and a selection of 18th and 19th-century surgical equipment, including some rather gruesome amputation knives, saws and trepanning instruments.
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Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln
One of Europe’s finest Gothic buildings, Lincoln’s Minster has long been appreciated for its beauty and craftsmanship. The writer John Ruskin went so far as to describe it as ‘out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles’. This year is an especially timely one to pay a visit – in spring the cathedral launched the results of its recently completed £16.5m conservation and construction project. You’ll now find a contemporary visitor centre, shop, cafe and contemplative outdoor space, which will make a fitting entry point to the restored cathedral.
Museum of Oxford, Oxford
It may not have the glitzy renown of Oxford’s Ashmolean or Pitt Rivers museums but this small institution shines. Sharing stories from Roman times to the present, it’s less about bringing global artefacts to Oxford and more about sharing the city’s curiosities with the world. From a silk suit made by a local fashion house for the premiere of Hugh Grant’s first movie, to an Elizabethan wall painting taken from a long-lost Oxford tavern, and a marmalade tin from then-local company Frank Coopers that travelled to Antarctica with Captain Scott, it’s all here. Or will be from the autumn when the museum reopens following a major redesign.
Nottingham Castle, Nottingham
This legendary fortress, with its elegant 13th-century gatehouse, was built at the behest of William the Conqueror in 1068 and developed into a mighty royal residence in the Middle Ages before being mostly razed towards the end of the Civil War. A ducal palace later built on the site was destroyed in the 1830s by rioters angry at conditions in the then-industrial city’s slums. Rebuilt in 1875 and run as a museum and gallery, it closed in 2018 for a £30m refurbishment. Expect intriguing displays on everything from Robin Hood to the city’s lace trade, as well as redeveloped gallery spaces and an adventure playground.