Seven Ship Museums for half term

This half term climb aboard any one of the thirty-four ship museums docked around the country that make up Britain’s National Historic Fleet Collection and you’re in for a treat.

As a nation with a strong seafaring heritage, we are fortunate enough to have some of the best ships in the world preserved and on public display for everyone to explore and enjoy. The wide variety of floating and dry docked museums are not just for sailing enthusiasts, they appeal to all ages, interests and tastes: from battleships to royal yachts, and from passenger steamships to scientific discovery vessels, each one has sailed its way into to British and global history.

My children love boats and all things water related, so here’s our choice of the top 7 British ship museums:

1. Royal Yacht Britannia Edinburgh, Scotland

Britannia portrait no cloud 300dpiRoyal Yacht Britannia provides visitors with a glimpse of life on board a royal residence. This yacht belonged to HM Queen Elizabeth II, and was for personal holiday use for her and other members of the royal family. This opulent floating palace has sailed over one million miles and been used for more than 300 royal engagements over half a century.  Decommissioned in 2009 and now docked in Edinburgh with its original furnishings and fixtures intact, it is open to the general public.  So you can peek into: the royal bedrooms of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and the state reception and dining rooms filled with gifts from dignitaries.

Children can sit in the Captains’ chair in the antiquated helm, see the Queens ‘cool’ on board Bentley and speedboat, and learn a thing or two about setting the dinner table using rulers for precision positioning of cutlery and crockery!


2. HMS Belfast, River Thames, London

P1020346Moored alongside London’s iconic riverside buildings including Tower Bridge the banks of the River Thames, is the Royal Navy warship HMS Belfast.  Commissioned in 1939, this massive battleship was part of the British naval blockade against Germany in WWII and later used in the Korean War. HMS Belfast is now operated by the Imperial War Museum providing an insight into life at war.

On board children can clamber up and down stairwells between the different decks moving through: the awe inspiring big guns and ammunition, the operations room, and into the galley – tasked with the mammoth duty of preparing 900 meals at a time. The exhibits cover an array of war items of interest including a rare Enigma Cypher machine used by the enemy to code messages, cracked by the team at Bletchley Park.

3. Cutty Sark, Greenwich, London

This is the last surviving Tea Clipper, and this museum merchant ship tells the story of its sole competitive mission of bringing the season’s first precious loads of tea from China back to Victorian London- a journey that took about 120 days. Reopened last year after an extensive £50m renovation programme, this is the most popular museum ship amongst visitors with plenty of interactive historical interest for all. We reviewed the Cutty Sark when it re-opened last year. 

4. RRS Discovery Dundee, Scotland

DSC00083The Royal Research Ship Discovery was built in Dundee in 1901; her design was based on a traditional wooden three masted whaling ship but with some special scientific modifications. She carried Robert Falcon Scott and his team of scientists, sailors and dogs on the British National Antarctic Expedition. Despite challenging climatic conditions, the research team of this pioneering expedition conducted extensive mapping and magnetic surveys, and meteorological observations of the Antarctic. Aboard this wooden ship, the team discovered and identified 500 new types of land and marine creatures and their findings filled ten volumes!

RRS Discovery was used in two further polar expeditions after which she was docked in London until being brought home to Dundee where she is the centre piece of the Discovery Point interactive visitor attraction and museum. This ship museum and centre is inspirational for little explorers!

5. SS Great Britain, Bristol

ss GB_MG_5173The Steam Ship Great Britain was designed by the innovative British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as a luxury transatlantic passenger steamship. SS Great Britain was the first screw propelled ship and at her launch was the longest passenger steamship in the world, operating between Bristol and New York, completing the journey in an incredible 14 days!  SS Great Britain is a testimony to great British design and engineering and you can explore this ship that changed the world, in the dry dock at the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol.

During half term there will be crew caper story telling sessions, and if you pop next door into the Brunel Institute (open the first two Saturdays of the month) you can learn more about Mr Brunel’s amazing inventions.


6. HMS Warrior, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Main Gun Deck
Main Gun Deck (Credit: HMS Warrior Press)

HMS Warrior earns her place in history as the world’s first iron plated and iron hulled naval ship. She was developed in 1860 to fend off the threat from the French fleets’ development of iron clad warships. Until this point, Britain’s fleet of wooden ships had little protection against the threat of canons. Although revolutionary at her time, HMS Warriors credentials as the biggest and strongest naval battleship in the world lasted only a decade, she was superseded by the next generation of armoured vessels and found herself placed in reserve.

Narrowly escaping the scrap heap on a few occasions, she has now been restored and is docked at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for all to appreciate. Children can get involved in the family activities organised for visitors during the school holidays.

7. HMS Victory, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

The Ferocious HMS Warrior (Credit Jamie Campbell)
The fearsome HMS Victory (Credit Jamie Campbell)

Launched in 1765, HMS Victory is the world’s oldest surviving naval ship and has a highly distinguished battle history. Having fought in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and Napoleonic wars, she is best remembered for being Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was upon her deck that he was mortally wounded in 1805. Now docked at Portsmouth Historical Dockyard, you can climb aboard all eight decks of this magnificently fearsome looking yellow and black painted gunship and pay tribute to the colossal might, fire power and history of this Georgian vessel.

There are lots of family friendly activities throughout the year, check this link for more details: have teamed up with HMS Belfast to provide one prize of a family ticket for entry to this thrilling battleship. For your chance to win, just tell us which British ship museum you would most like to visit and why, or like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter, or all 3! Good luck!

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