The Polar Museum

The Polar Museum
Scott Polar Research Institute
Lensfield Road


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01223 336540

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01223 336562


01223 336548


01223 336549

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.
A young visitor at the Polar Museum
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The Scott Polar Research Institute was established in 1920 by Frank Debenham as a memorial to Scott and his companions. Debenham was a geologist on Captain Scott’s British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910-13. He had the idea of establishing a research centre as a fitting tribute to the national hero and to ensure that Scott’s pioneering scientific work would continue.

Located in a Grade 2 listed building dating from 1934, the Institute developed as a centre for polar explorers to share information, leading to the deposit of the Polar Museum's core collections.

In 2010 the renovated Polar Museum opened its doors to the public. It now displays more of its collections than before, offering visitors the chance to experience the story of Earth’s coldest, driest, highest and deadliest places.

The new displays are based on the theme of exploration into science, emphasising both the history of exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic and the wider environmental significance of the poles in a changing world.

Art and artefacts from the people who call the Arctic home are displayed alongside the last letters of Captain Scott and iconic Antarctic photographs by Herbert Ponting. A series of exhibits shows how science is undertaken in the harsh conditions of the polar regions.

As well as these permanent exhibits, the Museum regularly hosts special exhibitions and shows of modern polar art. A great range of polar-related material, including books, toys and posters, is available from the Museum Shop and may also be ordered online. The Institute has an active Friends organisation and welcomes volunteers.

Venue Type:

Museum, Library, Archive, Gallery

Opening hours

Museum opening times: 1000-1600pm (Tues to Sat), except some public and university holidays, and occasional other days, e.g. Bank Holiday weekends, between Christmas and New Year.

The Polar Museum welcomes school and other groups of all ages - please book in advance. Please note that the museum is small and we therefore ask that you limit groups to 24.

The Museum is closed Sun-Mon.

Admission charges

Admission free

Additional info

Our library and archives are open to the public by appointment.

We have been shortlisted for a European Museum of the Year Award 2012.

The Museum holds an unrivalled collection of artifacts, paintings, drawings, photographs (including cinematographic film, lantern slides, and Daguerreotypes), and other material relating to polar exploration, history and science.
The museum displays feature items from Scott's last expedition, including farewell letters to friends and family, diaries, the sleeping bag of Captain Oates, and the black flag left by Amundsen. The museum also houses displays on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, scientific instruments and equipment from the 'heroic age' of exploration, the sledges and skis used by Scott, Shackleton and other explorers, geological specimens, modern exploration equipment and clothing, polar artworks and an example of an Emperor penguin.
Items not on display may be viewed by prior arrangement.

Collection details

Archives, Coins and Medals, Costume and Textiles, Film and Media, Land Transport, Maritime, Natural Sciences, Personalities, Photography, Science and Technology, Social History

Key artists and exhibits

  • Captain Robert Falcon Scott
  • Captain Lawrence Oates
  • Roald Amundsen
  • Sir Ernest Shackleton
  • British Graham Land Expedition
  • Northwest Passage
  • Sir John Franklin
  • Sledges and skis
  • Modern exploration equipment and clothing
  • Emperor penguin
  • Arctic
  • Antarctic
  • North Pole
  • South Pole
  • Inuit
  • Scrimshaw
Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.

The Thing Is …

  • 24 September — 20 December 2014 *on now

This exhibition explores the many ways in which we consider and care for museum objects, how and why objects gain meaning and why we collect them and their accompanying stories.

Pairing an object from each of the University of Cambridge Museums and the Botanic Gardens with an object taken from the reserve collections at the Polar Museum, The Thing Is … uses innovative touch screen technology to explore the relationships between each pair and invites the public to contribute to the curatorial process. The dialogue between the objects highlights the often surprising correspondences between things and audiences.

Image for The Thing Is...

The Thing Is...

  • 24 September — 20 December 2014 *on now

Exhibiting a loaned object from each of the other University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden with a paired item from The Polar Museum's collections, this exhibition will raise questions about the nature of curating, collecting, and the stories objects can tell us. Through the written word, film, archival materials and audio recordings, this exhibition uses touch screen technology to explore the relationship between each pair and invites the public to contribute to the curatorial process.

The museum is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 4pm.

This exhibition is part of Curating Cambridge: our city, our stories, our stuff.

Suitable for

  • Any age


Free admission

Image for The Polar Muse

The Polar Muse

  • 24 September — 20 December 2014 *on now

The Polar Muse' is a collaboration between The Polar Museum and eight Cambridge-based poets. Each poet has chosen an object from the Museum's permanent display that excites, inspires or unsettles them and has been invited to write a poem. The resulting poems will be presented on the glass of the Museum's display cases, in front of the objects which inspired them.

'The Polar Muse' seeks to explore and challenge how we engage with objects in museums. We want to offer new ideas about interpreting museum objects - not solely based on facts and not necessarily coerced or shaped by a simple relationship between an object and a caption. Each new poem may dwell on the unexpected, its appearance, its history or even much larger stories in which the object only plays a minor role. We hope that the presentation of the poems will disrupt visitors' expectations of a museum visit and encourage questions about the relationship between language, looking and understanding.

The Polar Museum is delighted to be collaborating with Lucy Hamilton, Sarah Howe, Rod Mengham, Drew Milne, Redell Olsen, Andrea Porter, Lucy Sheerman, Rebecca Watts and PN Review which will publish the commissioned poems in a special supplement.

The museum is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 4pm.

This exhibition is part of Curating Cambridge: our city, our stories, our stuff.

Suitable for

  • Any age


Free admission