Five amazing museum day trips

Get out of the city with the Time Out Art team’s pick of fascinating institutions within easy reach of London
Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard © Kirstin Prisk
By Eddy Frankel and Rosemary Waugh |
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The summer hols are here, giving you plenty of opportunities to indulge in some idle browsing around a museum or two. But don't limit yourself to London's best-loved institutions. Our list will help you plan the most enticing short-haul trips to the museums handily orbiting the capital. Or, if you're feeling properly adventurous, check out our guide to the best arty weekends.

Five Amazing Museum Day Trips

Fashion Museum (Bath)

Since 1963, the Fashion Museum in Bath has awarded a forward-facing frock the title ‘Dress of the Year’. See the most recent winner (a Dior ensemble featuring the slogan: ‘We Should All Be Feminists’) along with clothes dating back to the 1600s. Small but perfectly formed, this museum takes getting dressed seriously.
While you’re in town: The best museum in Bath is the city itself. Hold your own toga party at the Roman Baths, or live out your Colin Firth wet shirt dreams on the Royal Crescent and other Georgian landmarks.
How far? 1 hr 30 mins from Paddington.

© Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Polar Museum (Cambridge)

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been a little warm in London recently. Cool off with a visit to the Polar Museum, your one-stop museum shop for all things arctic. Run by the Scott Polar Research Institute, this enjoyably niche museum combines a permanent collection with an impressive array of temporary shows on everything from Shackleton to icy watercolours.
While you’re in town: The grande dame of Cambridge museums is the Fitzwilliam, but this famous university town is littered with other ones including museums of zoology, archeology and anthropology, earth sciences, history of science… you name it, there’s probably a Cambridge museum dedicated to it.
How far? 50 mins from King’s Cross.

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© Ian Wallman

Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford)

Yes, shrunken heads. But a lot of other stuff too. Over half a million objects, in fact, and they come from all over the globe. But along with learning about everything from boat-building to weaving jewellery, the Pitt Rivers is also worth visiting for the building. Gaze directly up at its soaring Victorian ceilings and you might feel like you’ve shrunk too.
While you’re in town: For art lovers, The Ashmolean easily earns points on the cultural scorecard. Alternately, get some fresh air (and an ice cream) and lose a few hours in the university’s earthly paradise of the Botanic Gardens.
How far? 1 hr from Paddington.

© National Museum of the Royal Navy

Historic Dockyard (Portsmouth)

Although there are many problems with Britain’s navy – the role it played in the brutality of colonialism, for example– one  thing you can say is that it had some really cool ships. Come visit them – and there are a lot of them, including HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and HMS Alliance – at the Historic Dockyard, alongside numerous exhibitions on the history of Britain on the sea. That’s a lot of naval-gazing.
While you’re in town: Climb up the Emirates Spinnaker Tower to see across the channel and check if the French are about to invade.
How far? 1 hour 34 mins from Waterloo.

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© Canterbury Roman Museum

Canterbury Roman Museum (Canterbury)

Canterbury’s not always been Canterbury. Once upon a Roman time, it was called Durovernum Cantiacorum. Quite the mouthful. And you can get a proper eyeful of the town’s Roman history in this perfectly packed little museum, filled with mosaics, weapons and silverware.
While you’re in town: See the gorgeous gothic-era cathedral.
How far? 56 mins from King’s Cross.

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