New Year culture: UK's best free museums

History Banner

Fancy injecting a bit of culture, arts and history into your life? In which case you’ll be glad to know it doesn’t necessarily involve a big financial outlay. In fact, the UK is home to over 50 free national museums which make for the perfect destination for the whole family. We’ve picked out some of the best ones to help you kick-start the New Year, so book yourself a car hire, check out our guide and hit the road for the ultimate culture vulture road trip…

Riverside Museum

Glasgow’s Riverside Museum was awarded the prestigious title of European Museum of the Year 2013, just two years after it first opened its doors. Located on the banks of the River Clyde, it is dedicated to showcasing some of the most unique vehicles and vessels in the world.

Skateboards, cars, bikes, steam engines and boats are all displayed according to a range of themes, which include re-created Glasgow streets spanning from the late 1800s to the 1980s. Discover the story behind models in the ‘Made in Scotland’ and ‘Disasters and Crashes’ sections, as well as the industrial history of the River Clyde. The eclectic mix of old and new types of transport is sure to captivate people of all ages.

National Glass Centre

If you’re heading for a weekend excursion to England’s beautiful north east, chances are you’ll be stopping by the city of Newcastle to take advantage of its fantastic shopping and entertainment offerings. Before you go about replacing your entire wardrobe, however, keep in mind that the area is also home to numerous museums such as the National Glass Centre in neighbouring Sunderland.

Simply pick up a car hire in Newcastle and make the short journey south for a fascinating insight into all things glass.

The various exhibitions showcase the full history behind glassmaking, with a particular focus on glass and ceramics work from the 1900s onwards. You can also stop by the daily glass blowing workshops and witness glass being made first hand, whilst booking in advance gives you the option of signing up for your very own glassmaking class.

National Football Museum

The National Football Museum in Manchester is a must-visit for any football enthusiast, but thanks to its wide range of exhibitions, it also appeals to those of you with little or no interest in the game.

This year, a special exhibition tells the remarkable stories of players and fans during the First World War, featuring previously unseen diaries depicting the famous ‘Christmas Truce’ football match in 1914. Elsewhere, you can take in the world’s finest collection of football memorabilia dating back to the early days of the beautiful game.

Those partial to a kick-about can put their skills to the test in no less than seven different skill areas. Test your nerve in a penalty shoot-out in a mini Wembley arena, hit the perfect pass in the ‘Pass Master’ test or discover whether you have a future in football commentary with the ‘Match of the Day Commentary Challenge’.


History Uk

Big Pit National Coal Museum

If you find yourself on a road trip in and around the south of Wales, then make sure you set aside a day to visit the Big Pit Coal Museum in the town of Blaenavon.

Regarded as one of the finest mining museums in Britain, and located on a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, this former working coal mine makes for a fascinating day out for the entire family. Highlights include the hugely popular Underground Tour, which sees you descend 300 feet underground for a unique insight into what life was like at the coal face.

You can also check out a range of exhibitions which showcase the tools, equipment and working conditions associated with the mines, whilst a tour of the old buildings will expose you to a variety of complex machinery which helped keep the mines ticking over.

Imperial War Museum

Few cities in the UK can match London when it comes to world class exhibitions, with the capital boasting a wealth of wonderful (and free!) museums and galleries. For history buffs with a keen interest in the great wars, few attractions can match the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road.

It is home to the striking First World War Galleries, a captivating collection of First World War photography which provides a chilling insight into a war-torn society. You can also take in some of the finest art creations that emerged from the First World War, whilst other exhibitions include artefacts and objects from World War Two as well as a snapshot of the life of British troops in Afghanistan.

V&A Museum of Childhood

Across the River Thames in the north-east of London, the V & A Museum of Childhood remains a firm favourite with people of all ages. It’s the perfect way to finally show your kids what toys were like ‘back in your day’, whilst for those of a certain age, it’s a chance to embark on a fun-filled trip down memory lane.

Exhibitions include ‘Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls’ House’ which tells the stories behind some classic doll house designs, whilst there’s also an enormous collection of clothes, dolls, toys (including the early days of Lego) and furniture. Activity zones and workshops are staged on a daily basis, perfect for keeping the kids entertained while you browse the displays in search of toys from days gone by.

Coventry Transport Museum

If you’ve got your sights set on a road trip north of London, then rest assured there are plenty of great towns and cities on the way which are perfect stop-offs for a culture fix. For instance, you could pick up a car hire in Milton Keynes and head into the West Midlands, where you can spend an afternoon indulging in some motor vehicle nostalgia at the Coventry Transport Museum.

Feast your eyes on over 500 cars, buses, motorbikes and cycles, as well as roughly one million items of memorabilia and archives covering over 150 years of transport history. Stand-out vehicles include a Mini Metro previously owned by Lady Diana and the ThrustSSC, which previously held the World Land Speed record.

If you fancy soaking up a bit of extra knowledge, you can pre-book a guided tour.


See more articles

More from Europcar