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V&A in London
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The 20 best museums in the UK

Planning a day out and want it to be filled with culture? Get inspired with our pick of the best museums in the UK

Written by
John Bills
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How do you like to spend your weekends? If the answer is looking at stuff and learning all about it, then you’re in the right place. There’s no shortage of amazing museums in the UK, and we’ve done our mightiest to pick out the very best right here.

No matter where in the UK you are, be it Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or England, you’ll find a museum worth spending the rest of your life in. Okay, ‘the rest of your life’ is a little excessive, but you get the point. Ready to get out there and explore? These are the absolute best museums in the UK according to us.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in the UK

Best museums in the UK

Where is it? London, England

What is it? A research institution and museum showcasing the wonders of the natural world

Why go? First of all, a visit to the Natural History Museum is a must for getting a picture with Dippy the Diplodocus, London’s most popular dinosaur. The Natural History Museum is the place for dino lovers, although there is much more to the museum than ginormous skeletons. The taxidermy is incredible, while the inquisitive approach to the wider universe will make science geeks out of hardened cynics. Research continues here, making it a living museum of thought and curiosity.

📍The best museums in London

Where is it? Cardiff, Wales

What is it? An open-air museum positively brimming with Welsh heritage

Why go? St Fagan’s Castle is worth a visit for the grace of the castle gardens, but the museum is the real pull. More than 40 buildings showcase the long and storied history of the Welsh people, with interactive exhibitions and traditional crafts all around. Entry is free, which feels wrong. St Fagan’s Castle is 11 miles to the west of Cardiff and worth every single yard.

📍The best museums in Cardiff

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Where is it? London, England

What is it? One of the most iconic art galleries on the planet

Why go? Why go? Do we have to plead the case for a visit to the Tate Modern? Come on now, don’t be silly. This is one of the most impressive art galleries on the planet, holding a vast collection of works that are as good as it gets. The opening of the Tate Modern in 2000 signalled the beginning of a new era in British culture, although legends of the past still dominate the walls of this magnificent museum.

Where is it? Liverpool, England

What is it? The history and legacy of the Transatlantic slave trade laid bare with no punches pulled

Why go? A difficult but necessary museum, Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum (part of the Maritime Museum) dives into the vile history and legacy of slavery while focusing on its impact on the city as a whole. As one of the largest ports in Britain, Liverpool was at the front and centre of slavery, with much of the city’s development coming from the trade in human beings. It takes a brave city to put the shameful reason for its success at the heart of its modern life, but that is Liverpool.

📍The best museums in Liverpool

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Where is it? Dudley, England

What is it? Only one of the best open-air museums in Britain

Why go? History is alive and well at the Black Country Living Museum. Dudley’s finest covers 26 acres of tangible history, giving visitors a clear view into ordinary life centuries ago. Three hundred years of history shimmers here, with lovingly reconstructed houses, pubs and more transporting visitors back in time. This is a must for Peaky Blinders fans; much of the beloved show was filmed here.

📍The best living museums in the UK

Where is it? London, England

What is it? Queen Victoria’s great cultural gift to the world, an incredible celebration of applied arts from all over the world

Why go? This is a biggie, make no mistake about that. The V&A has some 150 galleries across seven floors, featuring everything from paintings to posters via ceramics, textiles, glass and more. The museum is packed with famous artefacts and iconic pieces, with refurbs over the years ensuring that the V&A continues to sparkle. The temporary exhibitions here are frequently spectacular.

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Where is it? York, England

What is it? An absolute dreamworld for lovers of all things trains

Why go? Trains built the modern world, and the National Railway Museum tells that story. The collection of railway paraphernalia here is unmatched, with the only bullet train outside of Japan one of the big draws. Trains are impressive things, and this brilliant museum (next to York train station, of course) is equally impressive. Even if you aren’t into the iron roosters, this is a fabulous museum.

📍The best museums in York

Where is it? Derby, England

What is it? A celebration of innovation and industry in the East Midlands

Why go? Those who make the trip to Derby will find themselves falling in love with the magnificent Museum of Making. Formerly the Derby Industrial Museum, this brilliant spot is a museum is housed in an old silk mill and dedicated to history and innovation in this part of the world. Highlights include the world’s smallest engine using human hair and a seven-tonne Rolls Royce engine suspended above the heads of visitors in the atrium. Don’t look up. Actually, do look up…

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Where is it? Birmingham, England

What is it? A coffin-making factory for the stars

Why go? A little morbid, sure, but Birmingham’s Coffin Works Museum is one of the most curious cultural spots on an island full of them. Located in the city’s famed Jewellery Quarter, Coffin Works is the final resting chambers for luminaries such as Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother and more. Birmingham is a fascinating city, and this museum might just be its most fascinating spot.

📍The best museums in Birmingham

Where is it? Blaenavon, Wales

What is it? A former colliery and coal mine turned labyrinthine museum

Why go? The rise and fall of Welsh coal has been well documented, but there is no better place to learn about it all than the Big Pit National Coal Museum. A tour of the former mine is mighty fascinating, both to learn about the logistics of coal extraction and for all the insight into the tough life of a miner. A former worker takes care of the tours, adding an extra element of reality to the experience. Mining is an integral part of Welsh history, and this is the place to learn more.

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Where is it? Bristol, England

What is it? An exploration of the magic of curiosity, with interactive exhibitions for all the family

Why go? Bristol is a city famous for its willingness to push the envelope, and We the Curious is a spectacular exploration of that. Everything from the outer universe to the intricacies of the brain is explored here, with everything from Wallace & Gromit to the food we eat explored throughout. If ever there was a museum that perfectly sums up the atmosphere of a city, Bristol’s We the Curious would be it.

📍The best museums in Bristol

Where is it? Edinburgh, Scotland

What is it? A museum dedicated to the many magnificent writers to emanate from the Scottish capital

Why go? Scotland has produced its fair share of fantastic writers, and the best of the best are showcased at The Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. Luminaries like Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott are celebrated here, with the writing desk of the former one of the museum’s highlights. The museum is accessed via Makar’s Court, itself covered in famous quotes. Literary heaven.

📍The best museums in Edinburgh

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Where is it? York, England

What is it? A museum dedicated to York’s long history of Vikings

Why go? Because Vikings are awesome? There surely doesn't need to be any more to it than that. The Vikings ruled over these parts in the late ninth and early tenth century, and that period of York’s history is explored at Jorvik. Workshops on costumes and storytelling are also available, although most come here to gawp at the ancient weaponry, raided treasure and genuine artefacts.

Where is it? Belfast, Northern Ireland

What is it? Ground zero for all things Titanic

Why go? The story of the doomed Titanic is well known, but there’s no better place to immerse yourself in the history of the famous ship than at its spiritual home and birthplace. Belfast’s Titanic Museum sits next to the shipyard where the boat was built and sparkles through interactive galleries, reconstructions and more. You will almost certainly learn something new about this iconic vessel.

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Where is it? London, England

What is it? A science museum in London, obviously, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of this incredible place

Why go? Science lovers, welcome to heaven. Seven floors of educational and engaging exhibits await at the Science Museum in London, covering everything from contemporary science and technology to medical history and space exploration. The museum is also home to the oldest display of clocks and watches in the world, with most of the 1,250 time-tellers dating from between 1600 and 1850. The souvenir shop also happens to be one of the city’s finest.

Where is it? Oxford, England

What is it? A world-famous museum of art and archaeology in a gorgeous university town

Why go? The Ashmolean Museum is often considered a little brother to the British Museum, but there is more to this place than a diet version of its London counterpart. This place is packed with curiosities, from King Alfred’s jewellery to a tiny camel used to ward off evil spirits. Yes, you read that correctly. The third-floor art gallery is the cherry on top of this cultural cake.

📍The best museums in Oxford

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Where is it? London, England

What is it? One of the most impressive art galleries in Britain

Why go? London’s National Gallery has come a long way from housing 38 pictures on opening in 1824. More than 2,300 works of art fill the halls today, from medieval classics to French Impressionists with plenty of stops in between. Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ pulls in the crowds, but this is the place that rewards those willing to look a little deeper. Sort of like art in general, really.

Where is it? Portsmouth, England

What is it? An area of the HM Naval Base in Portsmouth that is open to the public

Why go? Britain was built by its strength on the seas, and the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a great place to immerse yourself in the majesty of shipbuilding and exploration. Several impressive vessels are on show here, and the National Museum of the Royal Navy tells the story of the Navy from its origins to the current day.

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Where is it? Glasgow, Scotland

What is it? A stunning collection of more than 8,000 works of art covering a whole load of ground

Why go? Scotland’s finest collection of art is among the best in the world. As the name suggests, the gallery is the personal collection of Sir William Burrell (1861-1958), an incredibly wealthy shipping merchant with a real taste for style. Make no mistake about it, Burrell knew his way around art, and this is one of the most impressive personal collections ever amassed. Everything from Degas to Cézanne waits within a gorgeous location some 16 miles outside the centre of Glasgow.

📍The best museums in Glasgow

Where is it? British Museum, London

What is it? The first national museum to be open to the public anywhere on the planet, with interesting times ahead

Why go? The British Museum opened in 1759 when the world was a very different place. Treasures and artefacts from around the world fill the galleries, the most significant finds made by British explorers at home and abroad. Some of the most famous artefacts on the planet are found in the British Museum, but should they be? That is a can-of-worms conversation, and the legitimacy of this place will be debated for decades to come. Even so, the many things on show here are as legendary as it gets, once-in-a-lifetime pieces everyone should see at least once.

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