The Culture24/7 Summertime Special: Open Air Museums

By Nick Owen | 09 August 2011
A street scene from Beamish Open Air Museum
Costumed interpreters help bring the past alive at Beamish Open Air Museum

As the weather (just about) holds out here's our top seven open-air museums for those of you wanting to combine sun and heritage on a great day out...

County Durham

Set in 300 acres of countryside, Beamish is one of the largest open-air museums in the UK. With its mix of original and restored houses, shops and buildings, it is also an excellent way of experiencing Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian living in one day.

A packed summer programme of steam train rides, fairgrounds and historical re-enactments, means kids and adults alike are sure to have loads of period-themed fun.

Weald & Downland Open Air Museum West Sussex

Weald & Downland is the leading museum of historic buildings in England, with an outstanding collection of national importance dating from the 13th centur. It's set amid 40 acres of picturesque Sussex countryside with period gardens, farm animals and numerous activities.

A firm favourite with kids, Weald & Downland also offers a variety of specialist heritage and conservation courses for adults that are snapped up quickly.

Ironbridge Gorge Museums

The cradle of industry with ten museums in one beautiful valley, there's definitely more than enough to see in just one day at Ironbridge. Apart from the eponymoous bridge, highlights include Coalbrookdale, celebrating the birthplace of the industrial revolution, and Blists Hill Victorian Town, which recreates Victorian life down to a tee.

With activities for both parents and children across the museums, boredom is nigh on impossible.  

Ulster American Folk Park County Tyrone

Just outside of Omagh, the park explores the historical link between Ulster and America and the immigrants who sailed between them during the 18th and 19th centuries. More than 30 recreated and painstakingly restored buildings house volunteers dressed in period costumes telling tales and offering visitors samples of various local foods.

Events take place throughout the year covering both New and Old World culture (the bluegrass festival in September looks like one not to be missed).

West Stow Country Park and Anglo-Saxon Village Suffolk

This village set amidst a 52-hectare country park gives visitors the chance to experience the workings of an early Anglo-Saxon (c.420-650AD) village. In the museum are fascinating displays of objects found during the excavation of the site, telling the story of the settlement and the people who lived there.

All aspects of Anglo-Saxon life are covered, from fashion to agriculture (roaming animals included) and even cremation.

St Fagans National History Museum Cardiff

This open-air museum gives visitors the chance to walk around Wales, from Celtic times to the present day. Set in the grounds of the glorious St Fagans Castle and gardens, more than 40 original buildings from different historical periods have been re-erected, including houses, a farm, a school and a chapel, among others.

Welsh-speaking craftsmen are on hand to demonstrate their traditional skills – with their crafts usually on sale – with traditional festivals popping up throughout the year.

Chiltern Open Air Museum Buckinghamshire

Founded in 1976 to save Buckinghamshire’s vanishing vernacular buildings, the museum is set within a 45-acre Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Houses, forges and a working, traditional farm are open to explore, along with woodland areas and orchards to picnic in.  

With historical re-enactments and activities such as candle making to entertain all the family throughout the summer, Chiltern is a fantastic day out and just a stone’s throw from London.

This is just a selection of the wonderful open air museums we have in the UK. Discover more of them in Culture24's listings.
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