showcasing the best of the south west
Top 10 Museums in the South West

Top 10 Museums in the South West

The Fashion Museum, Bath, Somerset

A wonderful museum celebrating fashion moments from Bath’s Georgian hey day to Roland Mouret’s infamous Galaxy dress.  A History of Fashion in 100 objects is artfully curated to provide a seamless mini clips of best bits – here embroidered courts from Ferragamo  rub ankles with 90s Nike Air Max, an 1850s top hat is juxtaposed with Gareth Pugh’s layered plastic dress and John Galliano’s newspaper print leather gloves.  We love it for the Dress of the Year exhibition with pieces selected by fashion editors and bloggers. Marvel at Bodymap and Katharine Hamnett slogan t-shirts from the 80s (remember George and Andrew in their CHOOSE LIFE tees?) or Christopher Kane’s sugar pink number chosen by Susanna Lau of www.stylebubble.co.uk. There are dressing up moments for kids – hooped skirt, anyone? – and Saturday sketching, with artist pads and pencils provided for those who want to nail the Eighties shoulderpad.

Bovington Tank Museum, Dorset

An essential stop for boys large and small, with an exhibition of the 35 most significant tanks, live rolling tanks, stationary ones to climb in and out of,  perfect reconstructions of First World War trenches to explore. On Family Days you can sign up to ride in a tank and over 17s with a driving license can take part in the wildly popular Tank Experience Day where you learn to drive a FV342 armoured personnel carrier, powering along a 2 mile cross country circuit (already sold out for 2017, this needs serious pre-thought for the war-obsessive in your life). With veteran accounts from those who fought everywhere from the French trenches to the streets of Basra, it’s the ultimate Boy’s Own experience. Father’s Day is covered with Fatherfest, tanks and a full blown carvery.

RAMM, Exeter, Devon

The Royal Albert Memorial & Art Gallery to give it its correct title, is a like a mini British Museum, somewhere to linger and explore, ideally alone so that you can give it the time it deserves. There’s a little bit of everything here in this power house of ancient relics –highlights include an Egyptian tomb with the Mummy of Shep-en- Mut and Sladen’s study completely unchanged since its installation in 1910 with display cases full of the sea urchins and starfish he collected,  Kids can try on Roman solider’s helmets and peep through spy holes into ancient worlds, make puppets and masks. From Aztec clothing to Chinese ceramics and an incredible array of birds in the Fine Feather Gallery – and that’s before we’ve even got to the art – this is one museum not to miss.

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Cornwall

This museum is just as it should be, quirky, old fashioned and a little bit spooky. It was founded in the early Fifties by Cecil Williamson who had been obsessed by magic since childhood and  originally came with a resident witch. After the tragic Boscastle floods, the Museum re-emerged with a facelift and new ownership in 2015. Suitable for older children and adults only, the museum explore the rituals and practices of magic through the ages  and examines the history of witchcraft, including the habitual drownings (scary for younger kids). Potions, spells, skeletons, black wool for knitting and burning, housed in an atmospheric old house and staffed by volunteers with an interest in the paranormal and an encyclopaedic knowledge of witchcraft, this is anything but your average museum.

The Roman Baths, Bath, Somerset

Quite possibly the finest museum in the South West, easily the most ancient and yet one that is constantly updating. As a case in point, the Ancient & Modern experience, where you can tour the old baths and then move on to the Thermae Bath Spa for the 21st century version of bobbing and floating in the famous thermal waters (see our recent review here). There’s Thai Chi on the terrace, tunnel tours for the more robust and you can even get married and hold a candlelit party here. Built by the Romans 2000 years ago, above the City’s famous three hot springs, these baths are incredibly well preserved so that you can imagine exactly what those indulgent Romans would have got up to. There’s the Great Bath, a lead lined pool filled with steaming water, the cold water pool, the changing rooms where they headed for a blood-pumping massage (olive oil and strigil included) and of course the Temple to Minerva for some much-needed piety. So much to see here and some serious time travelling to be done.  This one calls for the audio guide.

The Fleet Air Arm Museum, Somerset

Like the Tank Museum, it’s another testosterone-fuelled adventure, a vast hangar filled with more than 100 aeroplanes from 1902 to present day.  There’s spitfires and de Havillands, of course, but the real draw is a prototype of the first ever Concorde. You can climb aboard and prowl around the cabin and the cockpit and marvel at the heady luxury of first class though champagne and caviar is sadly not provided.

National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, Cornwall

We’re big fans of the Maritime which is a perfect example of a modern (Lottery funded) museum. Education is handed out in as button-pressing, fun and immersive way as possible, so that children might actually consider this to be a good day out. Last time we visited you could climb into the cockpit of a Sea King rescue helicopter. There’s a Lookout tower with telescope and binoculars with fantastic views across the harbour and the underground, temperature plummeting Tidal Zone, set just beneath sea level and with windows providing tantalising glimpses of underwater life. There’s so much to do here, life rafts to climb in and out of, boats to steer, endless artsy craftsy activities and currently an exhibition on tattoo art (pirates, tattoos, I guess?) Brilliantly done and needs several hours.

Winchester Science Centre, Winchester, Hants

Slightly off our beat but worth the detour is this miniature science museum and planetarium which offers the same hands-on experience as the Exhibition Road behemoth without the crowds or pavement programme hustlers (hate that). This is a seriously great museum which kids will love.  As with the London version, there is tonnes to do with 100 hands-on interactive exhibits (create a tornado, try moving a ball with just your brain waves or the giant walk-through colon and an invention studio where you can come up with your own design. There are regular events -  such as a dalek invasion later this month and many suitably explosive demonstrations and of course screenings throughout the day at the Planetarium.  For space freaks there are adult lectures on various missions.

Lyme Regis Museum, Dorset

How could we not mention this shrine to Lyme Regis in general and to fossils and Mary Anning in particular, she the discoverer of the first complete ichthyosaur.  It’s a trifle trad but well worth a visit for the dinosaur lover in your life, complete with a bit of fossil hunting at nearby Charmouth afterwards (goggles and hammers supplied). You can find out about John Fowles who moved to Lyme in the Sixties and set his famous French Lieutentant’s Woman here and of course Jane Austen who used Lyme Regis as the setting for Persuasion.

SS Great Britain, Bristol, Somerset

Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1843 this was the world’s first luxury liner, powered  by steam it was the biggest, the fastest and even had its own brand of champagne. It’s brilliantly done – kids can dress up as a Victorian, climb the rigging (in a safety harness). There are passenger diaries and ship’s logs recording the more gruesome sailor accidents. Great café here too and an ice cream parlour in summer.

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