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UK's 50 best museums & galleries

Published 30/10/2010

<b>British Museum </b><br/>
The museum's collection of seven million objects is 'the most astonishing repository of global history', according to Dave. Don't miss 'the stunning architecture of the Round Reading Room at its heart'. <br/>
<b>Details</b> Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG (020-7323 8299; www.britishmuseum. org). Open 10am to 5.30pm daily; entrance free
British Museum
The museum's collection of seven million objects is 'the most astonishing repository of global history', according to Dave. Don't miss 'the stunning architecture of the Round Reading Room at its heart'.
Details Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG (020-7323 8299; www.britishmuseum. org). Open 10am to 5.30pm daily; entrance free
Victoria & Albert Museum
'Without doubt one of the most beautiful museums in the country,' says Alice, 'the V&A is a perfect place to rummage for hidden gems. Not least in the gorgeous jewellery displays and recently reopened Theatre and Performance galleries.'
Details Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL (020-7942 2000; Open 10am to 5.45pm daily; entrance free
Whitechapel Gallery
Simon sums this up as 'the jewel in the crown of London's East End'. Recognisedworldwide as a touchstone of contemporary art 'its doors have been open for more than 100 years, and in that time it has shown work by modern masters, from Picasso to Pollock'.
Details 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX (020-7522 7888; Opening hours vary; entrance free
White Cube
'Still the go-to place for the biggest names in contemporary art,' according to Alice, White Cube's 'cool, clean spaces - in both Hoxton and Mayfair - are just the right size for its small but immaculately formed exhibitions.'
Details 48 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6PB and 25-26 Mason's Yard, London, SW1Y 6BU (020-7930 5373; Open 10am to 6pm Tues to Sat; entrance free
Tate Modern
You know you're in safe hands whichever Tate you visit but Tate Modern is a must for lovers of modern and contemporary art. Expertly managed collections, imaginatively curated temporary exhibitions and a regular programme of events help it fulfil its brief to bring understanding and enjoyment of art to the masses.
Details Bankside, London, SE1 9TG (020-7887 8888; Open 10am to 6pm Sun to Thurs, 10am to 10pm Fri and Sat; entrance free
National Museum of Scotland
Dave sums this up as 'a great museum in a spanking new building'. Prize exhibits include 'the Lewis Chessmen and the Monymusk Reliquary'.
Details Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF (0131-225 7534; Open 10am to 5pm daily; entrance free
Serpentine Gallery
'A great programme of modern and contemporary exhibitions has earned the Serpentine a deserved reputation,' says Helen. 'I always head there when I'm in London, to view work I would not ordinarily see and to have a browse in itswell-stocked bookshop.'
Details Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA (020-7402 6075; Open 10am to 6pm daily; entrance free
Science Museum
'The basement here never fails to entertain toddlers and older kids, with a fantastic multi-sensory play area and great hourly shows - look out for the bubble show,' says Justine. 'For an extra treat buy tickets for the ride stimulator by the café.'
Details Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD (020-7942 4000; Open 10am to 6pm daily; entrance free
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Relaunched in 2006, the Norman Fosterdesigned Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is recommended by Helen. Collections cover Art Nouveau and abstract art but it's the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury bequest, spanning 5,000 years, that most come for. The collection's antler comb was one of the pieces discussed on the Radio 4 series AHistory of the World in 100 Objects.
Details University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ (01603 593199: Open 10am to 5pm Tues to Sun; entrance free
This international centre for contemporary art 'attracts world-class exhibitions year-round, and has played host to the British Art Show and the Turner Prize', says Simon. 'Recent programmes have included major exhibitions by Yoko Ono and Martin Parr. It is also one of the most approachable museums in the country.'
Details Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA (0191-478 1810; Open 10am to 6pm daily (10.30am Tues); entrance free
Natural History Museum
Alice can still remember her first visit here, as a child. 'The T-Rex terrified me for weeks,' she says, adding that it's a 'spectacular must-visit for children of all ages'. Dave agrees. 'You can't go far wrong with a dinosaur and a dodo.'
Details Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD(020-7942 5000; Open 10am to 5.50pm daily; entrance free
Pitt Rivers Museum
'One of the strangest and most fascinating museums in the country,' according to Alice, it's 'a higgledy-piggledy, crammed-to-the-rafters anthropological treasure trove and curiosities abound in its dusty cabinets. Do not miss the shrunken heads.'
Details South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PP (01865 270927; Open 10am to 4.30pm Tues to Sun; entrance free
National Railway Museum
This could be the dusty preserve of committed trainspotters but it is anything but. Yes, there are plenty of trains but, more than that, it captures the joys of train travel, with displays including a ridiculously opulent coach Queen Victoria once travelled in.
Details Leeman Road, York, YO26 4XJ (0844 815 3139; Open 10am to 6pm daily; entrance free
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Expect 'some great old ships for kids to run around - HMS Warrior and HMS Victory - loads of cannons and low decks to add adventure, plus there are still a few bits of the Mary Rose to look at until they've built an all-singing new home for Henry VIII's flagship', says Dave.
Details Victory Road, Portsmouth, PO1 3LJ (023 9283 9766; www.historicdockyard. Open 10am to 5.30pm daily; entrance £19.50 adults, £14 children
Our Dynamic Earth
Expect a 'great journey through time from the Big Bang, with rainforests, a real iceberg, an Imax film and lots of buttons to press', says Justine.
Details 112-116 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8AS (0131-550 7800; Opening hours vary; entrance £10.50 adults, £7 children
Blists Hill
This museum, near Ironbridge, which recently underwent a £12 million redevlopment, is a 'recreated Victorian village on the edge of the place where the Industrial Revolution began - a great family day out', says Dave.
Details Legges Way, Madeley, Nr Ironbridge, Shropshire, TF7 5DU (01952 884391; Open 10am to 5pm daily; entrance £14.60 adults, £9.35 children
Big Pit: National Coal Museum
'The power and plight of industry in south Wales is laid bare here,' explains Dave. 'If you're over 1m tall, you can also go deep underground, which will please kids.'
Details Blaenafon, Torfaen, NP4 9XP (01495 790311; www.museumwales. Open 9.30am to 5pm daily; entrance free
The Cumberland Pencil Museum
'The perfect destination to indulge in all things graphite, including a comprehensive range of Derwent & Lakeland products, this is great for aspiring artists young and old,' says Helen.
Details Southey Works, Main Street, Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 5NG (01768 773626; Open 9.30am to 4pm daily; entrance £3.50 adults, £2.25 children
'Everything here is designed for children to play with and mess with, explore and learn. It's all child sized and at child height,' says Justine. There's also a 'great café with healthy food options to please the parents'.
Details Discovery Road, Halifax, West Yorkshire, HX1 2NE (01422 330069; Opening hours vary; entrance £8.95 adults and children
Roald Dahl Museum
'Wonka chocolate doors, notebooks with prompts to fill in as your go around, drama students doing readings from the books and Café Twit for ?Snozzcumber' sandwiches - this is perfect for RD fans young and old,' says Justine.
Details 81-83, High Street, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, HP16 0AL (01494 892192; www.roalddahlmuseum. org). Open 10am to 5pm Tues to Fri, 11am to 5pm weekends; entrance £6 adults, £4 children
New Art Gallery Walsall
'Britain is a world leader in gallery education and the New Art Gallery Walsall is an example of why,' promises Simon. 'There is a unique interactive gallery space called Disco, and multi-sensory sessions for parents to spend time with babies too.'
Details Gallery Square, Walsall, West Midlands, WS2 8LG (01922 654400; Open 10am to 5pm Mon to Sat, 11am to 4pm Sun; entrance free
Nottingham Contemporary
This is one of the most exciting gallery spaces in the UK, according to Simon. 'It has attracted more than 200,000 visitors since it opened at the end of last year and offers well considered events for people of all ages.'
Details Weekday Cross, Nottingham, NG1 2GB (0115 948 9750; www.nottinghamcontemporary. org). Opening hours vary; entrance free
Abbot Hall
A beautiful Grade I-listed building, this promises 'a tempting and ambitious programme of exhibitions', says Alice. 'Currently focussing on Lowry, it's staged brilliant exhibitions of Lucian Freud, Paula Rego and Frank Auerbach in the past.'
Details Kirkland, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 5AL (01539 722464; uk). Open 10.30am to 5pm Mon to Sat; entrance £5.75 adults, free for children
Foundling Museum
'Set up to commemorate London's first orphanage, the Foundling Hospital, this tells the story of the the 27,000 children it cared for and its founder Sir Thomas Coram,' explains Justine. 'The activity packs for kids are great.'
Details 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ (020-7841 3600; Open 10am to 5pm Tues to Sat, 11am to 5pm Sun; entrance £7.50 for adults, free for children
Stromness Museum
Thewooden cabinets here are packed with curiosities - and the tales of more interesting historical happenings than many a larger museum. From Daniel Defoe, through the Hudson Bay Company, Scapa Flow and Mrs Fraser - a localwoman who gave her name to Australia's Fraser Island after being shipwrecked there - the collections tell of Orkney's long connections to a much widerworld.
Details 52 Alfred Street, Stromness, Orkney, KW17 3DH (01856 850025). Open 11am to 3.30pm Mon to Sat; entrance £3.50 adults, £1
The Wallace Collection
Described by Alice as 'an oasis of culture tucked away behind Oxford Street', the Wallace Collection has a 'wonderfully eccentric and very fine collection of paintings by Titian, Rembrandt and Hals (The Laughing Cavalier is here) and porcelain'.
Details Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN (020-7563 9500; Open 10am to 5pm daily; entrance free
Dr Johnson's House
'Where the great man composed his dictionary, there's now a Georgian townhouse devoted to him, complete with a splendid range of contemporary portraits,' sums up Dave.
Details 17 Gough Square, London, EC4A 3DE (020-7353 3745; www.drjohnsonshouse. org). Open 11am to 5pm Mon to Sat; entrance £4.50 adults, £1.50 children
Glasgow Police Museum
'Small and informative, the Glasgow Police Museum covers the history of Britain's first force, the City of Glasgow Police, from 1779-1975,' explains Helen. 'The International Police Exhibition of uniforms and badges from around the globe is worth the visit alone.'
Details 1st Floor, 30 Bell Street, Glasgow, G1 1LG (0141-552 1818; Opening hours vary; entrance free
Porthcurno Telegraph Museum
Dave describes this as 'a brilliant little museum on the far west tip of Cornwall, complete with Second World War tunnels and lots of (still working) Victorian telegraph equipment'.
Details Old Cable Lane, St Levan, Porthcurno, Cornwall, TR19 6JX (01736 810966; Open 10am to 5pm Sun & Mon in winter; entrance £5.50 adults, £3.10 children
The Common Guild
'In the reception rooms of Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon's Glasgow home is a contemplative gallery space showing world-class contemporary visual art,' says Helen. 'Itswork also extends to one-off projects, talks, discussion groups and direction of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art'.
Details 21Woodlands Terrace, Glasgow, G3 6DF (0141-428 3022; www.thecommonguild. Open 12 to 7pm Thurs &Fri, 12 to 5pm Sat; entrance free
The Fruitmarket Gallery
Tucked away behind Edinburgh's Waverley Station the Fruitmarket Gallery boasts 'a consistently excellent programme of exhibitions', says Alice. 'Martin Creed's playful DownOver Up is there at the moment. I always call in whenever I'm in the city.'
Details 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DF (0131-225 2383; www.fruitmarket. Open 11am to 6pm Mon-Sat, 12pm to 5pm Sun; entrance free
'This began life as the vision of a group of local artists, working in an abandoned coach house,' explains Simon. Now a purpose-built gallery, it commissions new work, hosts ambitious residencies and shows work by 'well-known and emerging artists, including Richard Billingham, Anne Hardy, Alex Frost and Gayle Chong Kwan'
Details Station Road, Sway, Hampshire, SO41 6BA (01590 682260; www.artsway. Open 11am to 5pm Tues to Sun; entrance free
Shandy Hall
'Formerly the home of celebrated writer Laurence Sterne, and now a museum dedicated to his legacy, the museum seeks to explore how the experimental spirit of previous generations of artists can help us to unlock the work of contemporaries, and vice versa,' explains Simon.
Details Shandy Hall, Coxwold, York, YO61 4AD (01347 868465; www.laurencesternetrust. Open in winter by appointment; entrance £5
Bletchley Park
'A crazy place full of school-style Portakabinswhere Second World War codebreakers kept us in the war by breaking German and Japanese codes,' according toDave. Look out for the 1940s computers enthusiasts have rebuilt, he adds.
Details The Mansion, Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, MK3 6EB (01908 640404; Open 10.30am to 4pm daily; entrance £10 adults, £6 children
An interactive science museum, according to Justine this is 'suitable for children of all ages with lots of hands-on attractions that the kids will love'.
Details At-Bristol, Anchor Road, Harbourside, Bristol, BS1 5DB (0117-909 2000; Open 10am to 5pm weekdays, 10am to 6pm weekends; entrance £10.80 adults, £7 children
Sutton Hoo
This National Trust site 'tells the story of the greatest Anglo-Saxon archaeological find ever made in a knowledgeable but friendly way', enthuses Dave.
Details Tranmer House, Sutton Hoo, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DJ (01394 389700; Opening times vary; entrance £6.20 adults, £3.10 children
Canal Museum
'Housed in a 19th-century ice warehouse, built for a famous ice-cream maker of the day, this is all about the history of the inland waterways - the narrowboats, the cargos, the people who lived and worked on the boats, and the horses that pulled them,' explains Justine.
Details 12-13 New Wharf Road, London, N1 9RT (020-7713 0836; www.canalmuseum. Open 10am to 4.30pm Tues to Sun; entrance £3 adults, £1.50 children
David Mellor Design Museum
At the David Mellor Cutlery Factory and Design Museum, 'you can view cutlery being produced, see it exhibited (alongside a blinking British traffic light also designed by Mellor), try it out in the café and purchase it in the shop', says Helen.
Details TheRound Building, Hathersage, Sheffield, S32 1BA (01433 650220; Open 10am to 5pm Mon to Sat, 11am to 5pm Sun; entrance free
Dovecot Studios
'The renovation of Edinburgh's oldest public baths provides a stunning home to the world-renowned Dovecot Studios, a specialist contemporary tapestry weaving studio, and two gallery spaces. Book a tour to see the master weavers working at their looms where the old pool used to be,' advises Helen.
Details Dovecot Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT (0131-550 3660; Open 10.30am to 5.30pm Tues to Sat; entrance free; tours £3
Ruthin Craft Centre
'The purpose-built Ruthin Craft Centre, in north Wales, is a great destination for the craft enthusiast or novice,' states Helen. 'Beautiful publications often accompany exhibitions, providing excellent insights into the practice of contemporary makers in Wales and beyond.'
Details Park Road, Ruthin, Denbighshire, LL15 1BB (01824 704774; www.ruthincraftcentre. Open 10am to 5.30pm daily; entrance free
Design Museum
As well as a 'fantastic location', Alice rates this for its 'well-thought-out exhibitions, which make you look at the world in a slightly different way'.
Details Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YD (020-7403 6933; www.designmuseum. org). Open 10am to 5.45 daily; entrance £8.50 adults, £6.50 concessions
'The future is digital,' says Simon. 'The team at FACT know this and are dedicated to delivering outstanding and thought-provoking exhibition programmes for people who want to engage with the possibilities of tomorrow's art, film and media landscapes'.
Details 88 Wood Street, Liverpool, L1 4DQ (0151-707 4444; Open 11am to 6pmMon to Sat, 11am to 9pm Sun; general entrance free
The Modern Institute
'If works by big names, including Turner Prize nominees and winners, are what you're after then the Modern Institute in Glasgow is a must,' advises Helen. 'Relocating earlier this year to a beautifully refurbished old bathhouse, it's now firmly positioned on the world art map.'
Details 14-20 Osborne Street, Glasgow, G1 5QN (0141-248 3711; www.themoderninstitute. com). Open 10am to 5pm Mon to Fri, 12 to 5pm Sat; entrance free
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
'This is a musuem for the packaging obsessed, like me, who empathise with tales of its founder, Robert Opie, rescuing packaging from friend's waste bins,' admits Helen. Current exhibitions cover political souvenirs, the Guinness advertising machine and sustainable packaging.
Details 2 Colville Mews, Lonsdale Road, London, W11 2AR (020-7908 0880; Open 10am to 6pm Tues to Sat, 11am to 5pm Sun; entrance £5.80 adults, £2 children.
Hannah Barry
'A gallerist working with exciting young talent in the artist hot-spots of south London, Hannah Barry opened her gallery in a warehouse on a run-down industrial estate two years ago,' explains Alice. 'In the summer, she stages a sculpture exhibition on the rooftop of the nearby multi-storey car park.'
Details Unit 9i, Copeland Road Industrial Estate, 133 Copeland Road, London, SE15 3SN (020-7493 4224; Open 12pm to 6pm Fri and Sat; entrance free
Glenkiln Sculpture Park
An ideal place to visit in winter, when the works are dusted in snow, this 'park' is really just an open hillside peppered with six sculptures by the likes of Auguste Rodin, Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore. Park by the reservoir and head out for a hike
Details Glenkiln Sculpture Park, Shawhead, Scotland, DG2 9UE; access is open and entrance is free
The Forbidden Corner
'Mumsnetters love the Forbidden Corner,' says Justine. 'It's a wonderful garden with a mass of secret paths, underground corridors and mazes and plenty of strange follies to find whilst you're exploring.'
Details Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Middleham, North Yorkshire, DL8 4TJ (01969 640638; www.theforbiddencorner. Open 10am to 6pm Sun; entrance £10 adults, £8 children
The Study Room
'Live Art have been the producers of some of the most significant documents and artefacts of contemporary art in recent times,' says Simon. 'Their openaccess Study Room provides a gateway into a provocative, challenging yet wonder-full world.'
Details Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, London, E2 7ES (020-7033 0275; Open by appointment; entrance free
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
'Yorkshire Sculpture Park's spectacular landscape and award-winning gallery spaces each play their part in making this one of the few places in the world able to host major, large-scale sculpture exhibitions like the current David Nash review,' says Simon.
Details Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, WF4 4LG (01924 832631; Open 10am to 6pm daily; entrance free
Grizedale Arts
'Grizedale Arts explores how contemporary art and artists can contribute to the social, cultural and economic context within which the organisation operates,' says Simon. Its events, projects and residencies are 'not a gallery or a museum but might just provide a model for future cultural institutions'.
Details Lawson Park, East of Lake, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8AD (01539 441050; Check the website for participatory events and projects

From secret spooks at Bletchley Park to sartorial splendour at the V&A, Rhiannon Batten presents the essential guide to the UK’s finest art, hidden history and coolest culture

>> Click on the image to launch our guide

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