No need to look for expensive activities to keep the family busy during half term – Britain has plenty of children's museums for all ages, and many of them are free! Here are 13 of our favourite free museums that are perfect for a family day out.
1. Build your own Flying Scotsman
From steam rides behind Flying Scotsman to storytelling, there's lots of hands-on fun for the whole family at the National Railway Museum. You can join in with Flying Scotsman model making, take a ride on the Miniature Railway and find out all about speedy locomotives in the exciting Need for Speed science show..
National Railway Museum, York, YO26 4XJ. Opening hours 10am - 6pm. Free
2. Learn about aircraft
Air museums are perfect for boisterous kids! At the huge hangars at the RAF Museum in Cosford, Shropshire, the collection of flying machines will amaze all age groups. The interactive Fun 'n' Flight gallery is packed with experiments to help you learn how aircraft fly or find out how to guide a Hercules to a drop zone. For details of this and more great free-entry museums, check their website or call 01902 376 200.
Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, Shropshire TF11 8UP. Opening hours 10am - 5pm [last admission 4pm] Applies March - October. Free
3. Discover the docks
Bristol's magnificent M Shed museum explores the city's maritime past. Outside, working cranes, steam trains and tug boats are perfect for little transport fans to examine up close. See amazing film and photographs (the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 is one of their current exhibits), listen to moving personal stories, encounter rare and quirky objects and play with interactive displays. From prehistoric times to the present day, M Shed tells the history of Bristol. (Image via Bristol City Council)
M Shed, Princes Wharf, Bristol, BS1 4RN, tel: 0117 352 6600. Opening hours 10am - 5pm, Tuesdays – Sundays. Closed Mondays except Mondays during Bristol school holidays: 10am-5pm. Free
4. Roar with the dinosaurs
The Natural History Museum is divided into four colour-coded zones, each with its own marvels. The Blue Zone is devoted to the diversity of life on earth, from dinosaurs to epic sealife, where a life-size model of a blue whale quietens all but the loudest of kids. Geology takes centre stage in the Red Zone. It's a dramatic escalator ascent through the centre of the earth. At the top you'll find the ground-shaking earthquake simulator – a reliable source of giggles and a few shrieks of alarm. The entrance hall meanwhile houses Dippy the plaster cast of a Diplodocus, which has been there since it was commissioned by King Edward VII in 1905, but will be replaced by the skeleton of a blue whale from summer 2017 while Dippy goes on tour.
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK. Tel 020 7942 5000. Opening hours 10am - 5:50pm daily, last entry is 5:30pm. Free
5. Become a mad scientist
No one's too young (or old) for a day at the Science Museum – it's unlike any other museum with all of its games, simulators, IMAX 3D Cinema and interactive exhibits. The highlight for children is the 'Launchpad', where 50 hands-on exhibits and experiments keep kids busy; here, they can make a rainbow or take a dizzying turn on the rotation station. Don't miss the most elaborate water table you have every seen, filled with small boats that float down a cascading canal, where children are able to work different levers and pumps to direct the water and boats (waterproof aprons and cloaks are provided).
Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD. Opening hours 10am - 6pm, last entry 5:15. Free
6. Discover the world
Full of surprises for inquisitive kids, the World Museum Liverpool has a huge collection of natural wonders and relics like meteors, shadow puppets from Malaysia and dinosaur footprints, all displayed in a fun and interactive way. From a planetarium to an aquarium, and even a bug house with a live display of leafcutter ants and bees, there's plenty to entertain the young and the old. Throughout half-term the museum runs a range of hands-on activities and family-friendly tours.
World Museum Liverpool, William Brown Street, Liverpool. Tel: 0151 478 4393. Opening hours 10am - 5pm daily. Free
7. Mummify a life-size Egyptian mummy
Winner of the 2012 Sunday Telegraph Family Friendly Museums Award (and voted Britain's number one museum for families by the public), the Haslemere Educational Museum in Surrey allows children to actually handle the exhibits. An afternoon at Haslemere means holding a real dinosaur bone – no exaggeration – and cuddling Arthur, a stuffed bear who is more than 125 years old. Upon entering the museum, children are immediately armed with a magnifying glass and a backpack of questionnaires and other materials. Then they can run off and explore, dress up in fancy dress costumes (provided), search for “mini beasts” in the pond, watch bees at work in a specially adapted hive, and perhaps most fun of all; mummify a life-size human corpse (made out of stuffed cotton) using crochet hooks, and entomb it with ritual objects.
Haslemere Educational Museum, 78 High Street, Haslemere, Surrey, GU27 2LA. Tel: 01428 642112. Opening hours 10am - 5pm. Free
8. Go back in time
With its adorable collection of teddy bears, a display of Victorian doll's houses big enough to outdo most first-time buyers and enough toys to prompt nostalgia from every generation, the V&A Museum of Childhood is a museum that should charm adults as much as children. We reckon a lot of thought has gone into making this museum child-friendly; after all, it's a tease to see so many toys and not be able to play with them. To compensate, there are activity stations in each area with Lego, a sandpit, board games, rocking horses, a book corner and other activites. In addition, the museum hosts plenty of kids events at weekends and during school holidays.
V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9PA. Tel: 020 8983 5200. Opening hours 10am - 5:45pm (last admission 5:30pm). Free
9. Search for hidden treasures
There are plenty of exhibits designed especially for children at The National Museum of Scotland, a great place to learn about the natural world. It’s full of interesting things to do and experiment with, quiet corners with books to sit and read, musical instruments to play, drawers and cupboards with hidden treasures to peek inside and mirrors to parade past dressed up in child-sized costumes. Some of the most remarkable objects on display include a gigantic skull (from a whale named Moby), and a life-sized cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton that's 12 metres long.
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF. Tel: 0300 123 6789. Opening hours 10am - 5pm daily. Free
10. Get closer to nature
The Horniman Museum has to be one of the most child-friendly museums in all of London, with a nature trail, weekend workshops and a Hands On Base where children can touch museum objects. There's an aquarium, and the Nature Base explores the natural world with exhibits including the Horniman Museum beehive.
Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ. Tel: 020 8699 1872. Opening hours 10am - 5.30pm. Free
11. Drive a tube train
The much-loved London Transport Museum has an under-fives play area decorated with illustrations and the chance to sit in the driver's cab of a red bus and guide a Northern Line simulator through tunnels and up to platforms – (truth be told, it's fun for adults, too).
London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2E 7BB. Tel: 020 7379 6344. Opening hours 10am - 6pm daily. Free for children, but £17.50 charge for adults (which allows unlimited entry for 12 months).
12. Discover the ice age
Weston Park Museum in Sheffield has plenty of opportunities for children to immerse themselves in nature and history: building an igloo in a section devoted to Sheffield in the ice age, dressing up as a butcher or spying on an ant colony. The zoological collection is vibrant and interactive and it's worth bringing a sketchbook to draw pictures of the exotic animals on display, from hyenas to millipedes.
Weston Park Museum, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TP. Tel: 0114 278 2600. Opening hours Monday - Friday 10am - 5pm, Sundays 11am - 4pm, Bank Holidays 10am - 5pm. Free
13. Learn about human evolution
Throughout half-term and at weekends, the Nottingham Contemporary Museum organises family-friendly activities, from using shadow puppets to explain human and animal evolution, to art projects, helping to get children engaged with the work on display.
Weekday Cross, Nottingham NG1 2GB. Opening hours Tue - Sat: 10am - 6pm, Sun: 11am - 5pm, Bank Holidays: 10am - 5pm, closed on Mondays. Free
14. For footie fanatics
Perfect for budding footballers, the National Football Museum in Manchester has proved a popular attraction since opening last July, and its vast collection includes colourful memorabilia, player profiles, football kits and photographs chronicling the history of the beautiful game. The Discovery Zone is a place where children can dress up as footballers themselves; and in the storytelling corner they can listen to stories of teams' triumphs.
Urbis Building, Cathedral Gardens, Manchester M4 3BG. Tel: 0161 605 8200. Opening hours 10am - 5pm daily. Free