The region’s museums are filled with a mixture of hands-on experiences and insightful exhibitions. It’s time to get exploring.
There are loads of fantastic museums in Yorkshire, so you don’t have to go far to get your culture fix. From a science adventure centre set in a former steelworks to a repurposed World War Two prisoner camp that explores the history of war, there are loads to choose from. Not sure where to start? We’ve rounded up the very best to make your life easier. Now you just need to decide where to go first.
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is home to an unrivalled collection of engineering artefacts. They have over 6,000 objects on display, including 100 full-sized locomotives. Built in the 1870s, their iconic Station Hall was York’s main working railway station right up until the 1960s. You can see Queen Victoria’s ‘palace on wheels’ and the Shinkansen, a 1960s Japanese bullet train that can reach speeds of up to 130 miles per hour. They also have a 1948 steam locomotive that takes regular trips into the countryside, so you can even take a ride on one of their artefacts.
National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York, North Yorkshire, YO26 4XJ. Entry is free.
National Coal Mining Museum
The National Coal Mining Museum has a mix of interactive exhibits and traditional galleries, so you can totally immerse yourself in the history and science of coal mining. Set in a 45-acre rural site in West Yorkshire, it’s home to the last deep coal mine in England. You can descend 140 metres underground with a miner tour guide to learn about the harsh conditions men, women and children had to endure. Above ground, you can visit the original pithead, the colliery buildings and the galleries. Don’t miss the 1876 steam winder or the pithead baths used by the miners after a hard days work.
National Coal Mining Museum, Caphouse Colliery, New Road, Overton, West Yorkshire, WF4 4RH. Entry is free.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Jorvik Viking Centre combines state-of-the-art animatronics with a child-sized museum to recreate the Viking era. They have an incredible interactive ride that will take you into the past. From your cart, you’ll see a full-scale village with all the sights, sounds and even smells of 10th century York. The gallery is filled with artefacts that date back over 1,000 years. Here you can see skeletons, tools, and even a fossilised poo, with costumed actors on hand to bring them to life. When it comes to family-friendly museums in Yorkshire, this one is a must.
Jorvik Viking Centre, 19 Coppergate, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 9WT. Entry is £12.50 for adults and £8.50 for children, which gives you access to the museum for a full year.
Leeds City Museum
Established in 1819, Leeds City Museum has over 3,000 years worth of history under its roof. Most of its six galleries are filled with Leeds’ wide ranging history. From the rich textile heritage to local inventions, you can see a selection of artefacts that tell the city’s history, but it doesn’t stop there. You can explore its links to Asia and even see how multiculturalism has transformed the area over the years. You can go even further back with a trip to the ancient history gallery, which is filled with Roman, Greek and Egyptian artefacts, including Nesyammun, the famous mummy.
Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 8BH. Entry is free.
Magna is a science adventure museum that brings the region’s steel heritage to life. Set in the former Templeborough steelworks, which is almost half a mile long and 150 feet high, it’s one of the largest museums in Yorkshire. They have separate areas dedicated to Fire, Air, Water and Earth, each with their own links to the steel industry. There over 100 exhibits to see. You can marvel at a five-metre high tornado and even operate a JCB. Throughout the day, they also run The Big Melt, a show that brings the building’s historic ‘E’ furnace to life with a pyrotechnic and audio display.
Magna, Magna Way, Templeborough, South Yorkshire, S60 1FD. Entry is £10.95 for adults, £8.95 for children and £4.50 for children aged 2 to 3 years.
If you want to introduce the little ones to the world of science, Eureka is a must. The award-winning children’s museum has over 400 interactive exhibits spread across six different zones, making it one of the most action-packed in Yorkshire. The largest focuses on the human body, with everything from a giant pair of teeth to a cycling skeleton on display. But it’s the child-sized town square that gets everyone talking. You can visit the miniature Marks and Spencers as well as a replica garage, so the kids can get familiar with the world of work in a fun-filled way.
Eureka, Discovery Road, Halifax, West Yorkshire, HX1 2NE. Entry is £13.95 for both adults and children and £5.95 for children aged 1 to 2 years, which gives you access to the museum for a full year.
Eden Camp is an award-winning museum that brings the history of World War Two to life. Set in the grounds of a former Prisoner of War Camp, it has 29 huts filled with immersive displays and artefacts. They’ve been carefully curated with the help of veterans to give you a sense of life at the time. You can learn about the rise of Hitler, the horrors of the Blitz and the role that women played as you work your way through each hut. Outside, they have a separate area dedicated to military vehicles, including a full-scale spitfire and a Russian tank.
Eden Camp Modern History Theme Museum, Malton, North Yorkshire, YO17 6RT. Entry is £10.95 for adults, £8.50 for children and free for children aged below 5 years.
Kelham Island Museum
Set in one of Sheffield’s oldest industrial districts, on a 900 year-old man-made island, Kelham Island Museum explores the Steel City’s industrial past. It’s filled with objects and machinery that date back to the 18th century. You can see how the steel-making industry survived through the Victorian era and two world wars in their interactive galleries, but the real highlight is the 400-ton River Don Engine – it was one of the most powerful working steam engines in Europe and enabled mills to roll steel plate up to 40 metres thick.
Kelham Island Museum, Alma Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S3 8RY. Entry is £6.82 for adults and free for children below 16 years.
The National Science and Media Museum
The National Science and Media Museum has eight floors and over three million objects, making it one of the biggest and best in museums in Yorkshire. They have one of most impressive collections of photography, film and television in the country and their interactive exhibitions explore the science behind them. One the highlights is Wonderlab, where you can yodel through a 15-metre tube, scramble through a laser tunnel and turn light into art as you work your way through 20 mind-bending exhibits.
National Science and Media Museum, Pictureville, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD1 1NQ. Entry is free.
The Royal Armouries
Home to the National Collection of Arms and Armour, the Royal Armouries is one of the most prestigious museums in Yorkshire and it’s an absolute must if you’re interested in wartime history. It’s made up of five permanent galleries, which cover everything from Self Defence to Tournaments, with artefacts that date back as far as 4000 BC. You can see a real-life vampire killing kit and even the armour worn by Henry VIII. Outside, they have a full-scale jousting court, where tournaments and horse shows are held throughout the year.
Royal Armouries, Armouries Drive, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1LT. Entry is free.
Thwaite Watermill is an industrial museum dedicated to the area’s milling industry. It’s also one of the country’s last remaining water-powered mills. The original engineering, including their huge waterwheels, are still intact, so you can see the milling processes in action, but there’s more to it than that. Step inside the Grade II listed Thwaite House where the manager once lived to learn about life at the mill and see how the workers on ‘Dandy Row’ lived, then head out for walk around the island, which is a haven for local wildlife.
Thwaite Watermill, Thwaite Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1RP. Entry is £4 for adults, £2 for children and free for children aged below 5 years.
Set in York Museum Gardens, Yorkshire Museum is a sight to behold. The Grade I listed building showcases the history of York and how it became the country’s second ever city. They have five permanent galleries filled with artefacts that date back to over 1,000 years, so you can see objects from medieval, Viking and Roman times. Their exhibitions display pieces from the museum’s extensive collection, with a mixture of biological and archaeological items on display. One of the highlights is the UK’s oldest working observatory, which is home to a four-inch refractor telescope made in 1850, once the largest in the UK.
Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 7FR. Entry is £7.27 for adults and free for children with a paying adult.
The Scarborough Fair Collection
The Scarborough Fair Collection is a museum dedicated to vintage fairground equipment and classic vehicles. It’s one of the largest of its kind in Europe and has working rides for you to try, making it one of the best days out in Yorkshire. They have a rare caterpillar ride and ghost train, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can also see 15 mechanical organs, including the Granada Mansfield Wurlitzer, which has shared a stage with The Beatles. Their classic car collection is equally impressive, with a 1915 open-top bus and a 1930s fire engine on display.
The Scarborough Fair Collection, Flower of May Holiday Park, Lebberston Cliff, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 3NU. Entry is £7.75 for adults and £5.25 for children.
Ashworth Barracks Military Museum
Ashworth Barracks Military Museum is a tour-led experience dedicated to wartime history. They have rare artefacts that date back 150 years, covering the Korean War, the Cold War and the two world wars. However, they also acknowledge the more recent troubles in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. It’s an interactive experience that gives you the chance to handle weapons and try on uniforms from a range of different eras. Each tour lasts around two hours and is led by an ex-servicemen, so expect plenty of stories along the way. This is one of the only museums in Yorkshire that pairs its exhibits in with personal experience.
Ashworth Barracks Military Museum, Cedar Road, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN4 9EY. Entry is £10 for adults, £7 for children and free for children aged below 5 years.
Brontë Parsonage Museum
Found at the top of Haworth’s cobbled streets, the Brontë Parsonage was home to one of the most famous families in Yorkshire. Still with its 19th century furnishings, it’s now a fully-fledged museum dedicated to the three sisters. Many of the rooms have been preserved, so you can see the desk they wrote their world famous novels at and get a feel for their day-to-day routines. Separate exhibition spaces house their diaries and other personal possessions. Keep an eye out for their ever-changing displays too, which give you a glimpse into what life was like in this secluded village in the Victorian era.
Brontë Parsonage Museum, Church Street, Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD22 8DR. Entry is £9 for adults, £4 for children and free for children under 5 years.
York Castle Museum
Once a Georgian prison that held some of the most dangerous thieves and murderers in Yorkshire, York Castle Museum now has over 400 years worth of local history under its roof. You can explore the cells and learn about criminals like highwayman Dick Turpin or delve into their collections, which include everything from antique weapons to potato dribblers. When Dr Kirk first built the museum, he wanted to show you the artefacts in context, so you can walk down a Victorian street and experience all the sights, sounds and smells of 19th century York, or step onto the frontline and see it from the soldier’s point of view.
York Castle Museum, Eye of York, North Yorkshire, YO1 9WD. Entry is £10.90 for adults and free for children with a paying adult.
The World of James Herriot
Once the home of Yorkshire’s most famous vet and author, the World of James Herriot is now an award-winning museum that tells his story. This is your chance to explore Herriot Country, the area that inspired his books and the resulting TV series ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. You can see his 1940s home, with its original furnishings, and his veterinary surgery – both of which are filled with observational and interactive exhibits. Try your hand at being a vet, explore the TV set area and discover a World War Two air raid shelter.
The World of James Herriot, 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, YO7 1PL. Entry is £8.50 for adults and £5 for children.
Captain Cook Memorial Museum
Found on Whitby harbour, Captain Cook Memorial Museum celebrates the famous sailor’s achievements with a range of exhibitions in his honour. They’re displayed in the house where he once lodged, so you can explore the 17th century rooms and get a feel for his daily routines as a young apprentice. In the exhibition spaces, they have hand-crafted models of the ships he sailed and a collection of his diary entries. His well-documented travels are exhibited here too, with a set of rotating exhibitions, which can include anything from his discoveries in Australia to the exotic food he encountered.
Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Grape Lane, Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO22 4BA. Entry is £5.70 for adults and £3 for children.
National Emergency Services Museum
Set across three floors, the National Emergency Services Museum is the largest 999 museum in the world. It’s housed in a former police station, so you can visit real Victorian cells and explore an extensive collection of emergency service artefacts. Their galleries cover the police, fire and ambulance services as well as coastguard and mountain rescue, so there are loads of interesting artefacts and stories to discover. Along the way, you can see over 50 emergency service vehicles, including a horse-drawn ambulance and a 47-foot life boat.
National Emergency Services Museum, Old Police/Fire Station, W Bar, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S3 8PT. Entry is £8 for adults, £3 for children and free for children aged below 3 years.
Museum of Victorian Science
The Museum of Victorian Science will take you on a magical mystery tour into the world of science. Tucked away in the home of former physics technician Tony Swift, you can see hundreds of Victorian instruments on display in what feels like a 19th century lab, so it’s a little different to your conventional museum. The tour lasts two hours and comes with refreshments made by Tony’s wife. Expect live demonstrations and mind-blowing facts, as he brings the objects to life. You can see everything from strange glowing bulbs to early x-ray tubes, all with an intriguing story behind them.
Museum of Victorian Science, Woodbury, Whitby, YO21 2QL. Entry is £20 and for adults over 16 years only.
Yorkshire Air Museum
Set on a former World War Two airfield, the Yorkshire Air Museum specialises in wartime aircraft history. It’s the largest independent air museum in the UK and showcases more than 60 aircraft and vehicles dating back to the early 20th century. From Cold War military jets to Second World War planes, the collection covers a range of wartime periods. But it’s not just aircraft – they showcase tanks and emergency service vehicles too. Onsite, you’ll find the airfield’s original buildings as well as the Control Tower, which has a fully functioning radio room, so you can see what goes on behind the scenes.
Yorkshire Air Museum, Halifax Way, Elvington, York, North Yorkshire. Entry is £12 for adults, £5 for children and free for children under 5 years.Cover image credit: © Copyright Leeds-List 2019 by Ali Turner