Open-Air Adventures: Ten top outdoor museums to visit

By Ben Miller | 29 July 2010
A photo of a young person wearing a hard hat working with textiles

Ten of the best open-air museums to enjoy this summer

Culture24 grabs its sunglasses and dubious straw boater in selfless pursuit of some of the UK's most roofless attractions…

At the risk of wasting too much time smalltalking about the weather, the miserable summers of the noughties seem unimaginable this year.

Soaring temperatures and tropical humidity have made effective air conditioning and well-stocked café fridges as important as colourful displays and imaginative activity programmes in museums and galleries.

It also makes it the season to get out there and enjoy the wide range of open-air heritage attractions across the UK, merging picturesque scenery with revealing and entertaining days out…

Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall: (Above) Part haunting hard-hatted journey through hundreds of years of underground mining in Cornwall, part clifftop adventure with breathtaking views and loads of hands-on activities, this thrillingly atmospheric mine was disused in 1990, and is renowned for laying on top-rate pasties.

Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, Worcestershire: This 15-acre sprawl of ancient buildings on the outskirts of Bromsgrove is in restless form almost 50 years after it was founded – in August alone you can take your pick from meeting heroes, family forensics days, Medieval jousting and demonstrations revealing the intricacies of Victorian knicker washing.

Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Shropshire: Under the towering shadow of the world’s first cast iron bridge over the River Severn, this diverse circle of sites are all within walking distance of each other, allowing families to witness everything from Egyptian mythology at the Museum of the Gorge to costume connoisseurs at the Art Fund Prize-shortlisted Blists Hill Victorian Town.

Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh: Evocation is the name of the game at Northern Ireland’s hidden gem, following the path of emigration on a voyage which starts at an Irish port and ends up in America. A beguilingly realistic and singular adventure through 200 years of cross-cultural history.

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Sussex: A trip to Chichester's Weald and Downland feels like a holiday to a bygone world, faithfully recreating traditional crafts and activities in a brimming year-round schedule of activities which are always a hit with kids.

Beamish Open Air Museum, Durham: Hop on a tram and stop off to go down a mine, pat a pit pony, have a word with blacksmiths and Edwardian schoolteachers and witness the 18th and 19th centuries come alive at the North-East's ever-popular mini-town.

Chiltern Open Air Museum, Buckinghamshire: As well as being one of the best places to visit for hands-on fun in the Buckinghamshire area, Chiltern is also the saviour of bricks and mortar – the dozens of buildings it features have all been rescued from demolition and rebuilt, including a 19th century Toll House from High Wycombe and a Victorian Farm Yard which counts goats, sheep and rabbits among its robust occupants.

Black Country Living Museum, Dudley: You’ll struggle to see everything in a day at this 26-acre Midlands must-see, but some highlights to look out for include a harrowing darkened coalmine, the chance to assault a coconut at a Victorian fairground and an early 20th century cinema, all accessed by chauffeur-driven trams and trolleybuses.

St Fagans National History Museum, Cardiff: The country's leading heritage spot has been telling the story of Wales since 1948 in front of an imposing castle and glorious set of gardens – see it before it gets even bigger, as the Lottery gave it support for an £8.7 million funding bid earlier this year.

The original and still one of the best British open-air sites, Invernessshire's heritage epicentre invites you to trace the story of Highland people from the past 300 years across an 80-acre plot surrounded by mountains.

Have we got it completely wrong, or do we just need to get out more? We want your views. Send us your suntrap recommendations and we'll feature them on Culture24 as part of our Punter's Picks series this summer…

Email – include a picture if you have one and a few words telling us why you picked your choice. Mark your email "Punter’s Pick".

Related listings (120)
See all related listings »


  • 1 mile
  • 2 miles
  • 3 miles
  • 4 miles
  • 5 miles
  • 10 miles
  • 20 miles
  • 50 miles
  • Any time
  • Today
  • This week
  • This month
  • This year