Culture24's guide to the best open air museums for summer 2013

| 24 July 2013 | Updated: 23 July 2013

Escape the heat this summer and enjoy an open air museum. From Dudley to Durham, here are 17 worth a wander – click on the links for full details and event listings at each venue this summer...

A photo of a family looking at a pig in a sty in an open air museum setting
The Beamish, in County Durham, celebrates its 40th birthday this year
West Stow Anglo Saxon Village, Bury St Edmunds

Go down a hobbit hole or shoot an arrow and carve wood under the guidance of helmet and bearskin-bearing interpreters at this rustic recreation of a village. Moyse’s Hall Museum, a medieval building full of treasures, is a brilliant option if the weather proves unkind.

Weald and Downland Museum
, Chichester


From joineries to animal pounds, this spectacularly picturesque museum is made up of more than 50 historic buildings rescued from all over Sussex. Activities take place all year, but look out for the Vintage and Steam weekend (August) and the Autumn and Countryside Show in October.

Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, County Durham

An amazing, vast time capsule of the Industrial Revolution, the 300-acre Beamish is populated by vintage vehicles, rescued buildings, costumed performers and livestock. Its Victorian town and Georgian flank are worth seeking out, as are the summer holiday activities (until end of August) and agricultural and harvest shows in September.


Black Country Living History Museum, Dudley

From humble 1970s beginnings, Dudley’s 26-acre museum remembers the smoke-filled beginnings of modernity in the early 19th century West Midlands. Narrowboats, trams, trains and buses are a few of the ancient ways to get around this place and give yourself a steam-powered thrill.

St Fagans: Natural History Museum, Cardiff

A vast homage to the culture and history of Wales, St Fagans uses 100 acres of parkland to re-enact everything from 18th century farming to breadmaking and the look of streets in Victorian Cardiff. A 12th century church and the Grade I-listed, 16th century castle are a couple of stone-cold highlights.

Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge Gorge, Telford

Arguably Britain’s most faithful recreation of Victorian life, and one of ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums, the little details include furnaces, candle-making, an anachronistic sweetshop, grocers and a bank exchanging in pounds, shillings and pence. Test your Victorian dress sense or run away to the fairground and while you're here be sure to stride across The Iron Bridge the world’s first cast-iron bridge, above the River Severn.

Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh

Imagine what life might have been like in the 19th century farmhouse where Thomas Mellon, one of the many Irish emigrants to America, spent the first five years of his life. Shops, streets and even a dock with ships all bear witness to life in Ireland two centuries ago, and you can step in the shoes of those who were there first time around.

Chiltern Open Air Museum, Chalfont St Giles

Launched in 1976 to preserve everyday buildings and ancient farming methods, Chiltern’s Iron Age houses, vicarages, toll houses and forges are elegant relics of an age they might make you long to return to. Animals, games and special events add to the fun.

Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore

This incarnation of Britain’s first major open air museum, opened in 1940, has won various visitor awards since arriving in Newtonmore 18 years ago. A clockmaker’s house and a post office are a couple of the once-endangered buildings standing alongside a grand agricultural collection, with a year-round programme including hands-on crafts and music.

Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket

A real community heartland which was once part of a priory estate, Suffolk’s largest museum – covering 80 acres – is full of impressive buildings and quirky artefacts. Visit for a reliably uplifting experience, not to mention blacksmith workshops and a Steam and Crafts Weekend between now and the end of the summer.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield

With its 18th century appearance remarkably intact, Sheffield’s Grade I-listed hamlet – one of the country’s Scheduled Ancient Monuments – was once a powerful 18th century industrial works. The waterwheels and worker’s houses make that era deeply tangible, but the world’s only complete crucible steel furnace steals the show in molten style.

Auchindrain Museum, Furnace

First referred to during the 16th century, the township of Auchindrain was revolutionised into farm crofts during the 1770s, when the Duke of Argyll bought the land. It was still a settlement until 1963 – a couple of centuries after most townships had disappeared – and these days it is divided into east and west sections full of slate barns where its agriculture, industry and residents once thrived.

Amberley Working Museum, Arundel

Chalk-dusted pits, kilns, quarries and buildings from the mid-19th century onwards in Sussex, where all 36 acres can be seen from the on-site vintage bus and narrow gauge railway services. Activity days and fun activities take place throughout the year, although the Roaring Twenties weekend at the start of August sounds vintage.

Church Farm Village and Museum, Skegness

Harking back to the mid-19th century, when Skegness was still a settlement of fewer than 200 people, the museum which opened in 1976 remains the home of the town’s second-oldest building, the Farmhouse. Enter the cowshed, meet Bob the Traction Engine and enjoy a Garden Party and Native American performances during August.

Hamptonne Country Life Museum, St Lawrence

Dating from the 15th century and dotted with re-enactors from six centuries of history in beautiful Jersey, this house and farm hold an orchard of cider-making repute. Open until mid-September, it also has the one-off Faîs'sie d’Cidre weekend in October. Say hello to the residents of the pigsty and their bovine neighbours in the adjoining fields.

Flag Fen, Peterborough

Flag Fen has hit the headlines this year after a set of log boats with potentially unprecedented archaeological implications were found among its woodlands. A Cambridgeshire Stonehenge, this park holds 3,500 years of living history, bringing the prehistoric era palpably close.

Ryedale Folk Museum, York

Dominated by Iron Age buildings within five acres of the North York Moors National Park, 2,000 years of history and the singular Harrison collection of antiquities and unusual artefacts stand out here. Craft sessions, art workshops, horse handling, music, harvest celebrations and a cookery week all take place during the course of the summer.

Want more top tens? Try these:

Top ten toy collections
Top ten re-enactment and living history events
Top ten heritage steam railway tips

Top ten dinosaur museums and collections
Top ten mazes
Art galleries at seaside resorts

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