Cambridge is jam packed full of interesting museums.
And most of them will only take you a couple of hours to explore – or longer if you prefer!
The Fitzwilliam is obviously Cambridge’s biggest gallery/museum and has so much on display for you to spend a good couple of days wandering around, but the city is also home to a bunch of smaller, more focused museums. They’re perfect if you don’t have the time to spend the whole day in a museum, but there’s enough to keep you occupied for as long, or as short, as you want!
So, if you want to expand your knowledge in the city best known for education, have fun seeing all of the cool displays, or give your kids the chance to see the subjects they’re interested in up close and personal, then here are a few different locations to get you started.
(Note: Unfortunately some of the museums don’t let you share photos from inside the galleries online, but where I can I have!)
University Museum of Zoology
The Museum of Zoology has just been refurbished (it re-opened June 2018) and it’s looking absolutely amazing. It reminds me of an extremely mini version of the Natural History Museum in London and is packed with a hugely diverse selection of specimens from the entire animal kingdom. Some of the specimens on display were even discovered by Charles Darwin himself. The museum is separated over two levels, with downstairs dedicated to the huge skeletons in the collection – the giant sloth is an absolute must see! There’s also a cafe, a natural world related gift shop, and the skeleton of a huge whale hanging over the entrance. If you only have time for one museum, then I think this would probably be my pick. Also, check the website for any special events or exhibitions, because they’ve even had jazz concerts on site!
Entry: Free / Open: Tuesday to Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mondays)
Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ
The Polar Museum
The Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute (named after the incredible explorer who lost his life in the Antarctic) houses all kinds of fascinating information about life in the Arctic and the explorations taken to the polar regions (both Arctic and Antarctic). The museum is split into four distinct areas; the reception and shop (plus a few extra displays), life in the Arctic from different eras, polar explorations, and then a gallery space for temporary exhibits. Artefacts such as boats, clothing, homeware, toys and artwork from Arctic communities are available to see, alongside incredible pieces from scientific teams who set off to explore the polar regions, like John Franklin’s in the nineteenth century and Captain Scott’s in the 1900s. There are items like cooking and photographic equipment, diaries and photos, expedition attire, and personal belongings. There are also some models of the ships that would have been used to make these scientific explorations in the past. It’s a small museum, but it truly packs in so much information. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit here and the onsite shop has a wide selection of books if you want to read more about each of the expeditions on show and the regions themselves.
Entry: Free / Open: Tuesday to Sunday (and Bank Holidays)
Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1ER
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
If you love dinosaurs, prehistoric animals and the evolution of the earth, then this is the museum for you. The cabinets are literally brimming with items, from prehistoric poop and shark teeth to stunning gemstones, fossils and dinosaur bones. The collection will take you on a journey of over 4.5 billion years and you could spend hours here looking at every artefact. Established back in 1728, it’s actually one of the University’s oldest museums, making it just shy of 300 years old. Probably its most famous resident is Stan, the skull of a T-Rex. It’s actually a resin replica of the original, but it’s still awesome to see! There’s also an exhibit about the ice age and discoveries that have been made locally, plus fossils that help us understand the geology of the Cambridgeshire region over time. Charles Darwin features in this museum too, as some of the fossils and rocks that he collected during his voyage on the HMS Beagle can be found here.
Due to the fact that there is so much to see here, I absolutely recommend picking up one of the activity sheets (no, they’re not just for kids…) available at the front desk to help you work your way through the exhibitions.
Entry: Free / Open: Monday to Saturday
Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EQ
Museum of Cambridge
If you’re interested in learning more about life in Cambridgeshire over time, then the Museum of Cambridge has you covered. It’s based in a 17th century coaching inn, so even the building itself has a long history in the community, not only the items inside! It’s a quirky building that houses pieces collected around Cambridgeshire over the last 300 years, including household, trade and retail items, signposts and adverts, and general items from everyday life, including a whole collection of children’s toys. There are photographs too, so you can even see how the streets and open spaces have changed over time. It’s an interesting place, if you’re interested in Cambridge or want to find out more about everyday English cultural history.
Entry: free – £5 (dependent on age) / Open: Tuesday to Sunday (Monday only guided tours)
2-3 Castle St, Cambridge, CB3 0AQ
I still have quite a few left to explore and I’m definitely going to be checking out the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Centre for Computing History (for the retro video games…) and the Cambridge Science Centre on my next trip back. Every day’s a school day after all!