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14 DECEMBER 2020


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Article from BTNews 14 DECEMBER 2020

ON TOUR: Free places to visit this Christmas

This Christmas will be different from any other Christmas we have ever known.  But how can you make the best of what is, for most, a rather unsatisfactory situation in terms of going out and at the same time educating the children?  Sharon Ross reports.

One way is to visit a free attraction which, because there are no tourists from abroad, will undoubtedly be a bit quieter than usual.  But do spend money in the shops and make the most of any refreshments available.  You’ll also be helping a sector which has been chronically hit by the pandemic and could do with a bit of extra support.

Here at BTN we’ve picked six popular draws that we think are definitely worth a visit.  But do check on the website and follow the tier system guidelines for both your home and the venue.  

Before you go, here are top tips to plan your Covid-secure visit.

1.    Book beforehand.  Most free attractions will require you to book, in advance, on their website, to control the number of people who visit.  Their website will also tell you what, if any, exhibits are closed because of Covid.  It might not be possible for some small indoor facilities to open in a secure way.

2.    On the day, take a face mask, unless you are exempt. You will have to wear one for indoor attractions.

3.    Don’t go if you are required to self-isolate.  You should be able to get a refund/exchange your ticket if you cannot go.

4.    Take a payment card – many places now prefer that you make a contactless payment.

5.    Look out for signage explaining social distancing rules – these might involve new one-way systems and keeping a safe distance in queues.

6.    Only visit in household ‘bubbles’ (this group is extended for five days from 23-27 December).

7.    On the day of your outing, look again at the attraction’s website.  Rules are constantly changing so it is best to see the most up-to-date information on the day of your visit.

BTN’s Top Six Attractions

Here is BTN’s pick of the best free attractions in the UK:

1.   Science Museum, London 

There is much to do and see at the Science Museum at the moment. As well as the permanent exhibitions such as Exploring Space, Flight and Engineering Your Future, special free exhibitions include Mathematics: The Winton Gallery – explores the way that mathematics has played in building our world; Brass Steel  – discovers the beauty of locomotive engineering; and Fire and Driverless – Who’s in Control? – includes self-driving cars, autonomous flying drones and smart underwater vehicles like the Autosub Long Range Boaty McBoatface. 

The Science Museum also has their usual mix of paid for activities (bookable in advance) including Hubble (3D) – a film narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, exploring the mysteries and grandeur of space and The Equinor Gallery – an interactive experience where you see lightning strike before your eyes, play with forces on giant slides or travel through space under a canopy of stars. 


2.   The National Railway Museum, York 

The National Railway Museum is the largest of its kind in the country.  It’s Great Hall, a former engine shed, houses 300 years of train history including a bullet train, the Rocket – the locomotive that sparked the beginning of the railway age and Queen Victoria’s opulent ‘Palace on Wheels’.  The museum has engineered, in a Covid-secure way, to make the Christmas experience as interactive as possible – the Miniature Railway (£3 per person) is still running on weekdays (10:30-14:30) as is the Mallard Experience steam engine simulator and their pop-up science shows which explore ‘the awesome energy of Brussels sprouts and other Christmas magic’.


3.   RAF Museum London and RAF Museum Cosford

The RAF Museum, London, has new innovative galleries which explore the first 100 years of the RAF, its role today and also invites visitors to imagine its future contribution and technology.  Other exhibits include WWI in the Air Galleries, Historic Hangars and Bomber Command Hall.  Paid-for experiences include a 4-D theatre where you can actually feel like what it is to fly in a Red Arrow, a WWII Mission or even ride on a sleigh with Santa. In January tickets are available for tours of the cockpit of a spitfire.

The RAF also has a smaller Museum in Cosford in Shropshire.  Housed in wartime hangars is their fascinating National Cold War Exhibition.  You will learn about the bravery of pilots in Test Flight and see the last surviving example of a Boulton Paul Defiant Mk 1 in War in the Air.  Covid-secure interactive experiences include the Fun 'n' Flight hands-on gallery and the Black Hawk flight simulator.

Like many other museums, the RAF Museum had to do things a little bit differently during the pandemic and its website now features a whole host of virtual programmes including a recording from the Virtual 75th VE Day Festival and the 2020 RAF Museum Virtual Conference.


4.   The Museum of Liverpool

As the name implies the Museum of Liverpool is about everything Liverpudlian! Current exhibitions include ‘Blitzed – Liverpool Lives’ – Personal accounts bring to life the impact of the Blitz on Liverpool; Liverpool on Wheels – a unique view of Liverpool’s social history and Champion One, Champion All – digital portraits from Liverpool's black music scene.  Also featured at the museum are special displays about the Jewish, Black and Irish communities who have each played an important contribution to Liverpool’s development.

As with every year, the museum has a giant Santa (5m high and 5m circumference) which previously was on display at Blackler’s department store (from 1957-1988). There is also an exhibition of recently collected items showing how local people have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Please note that the museum is closed on a Monday and Tuesday. 


5.   Imperial War Museum (IWM), London

The IWM’s WWI exhibition looks at the War both on the home and fighting fronts.  Each of the 1,300 objects on display, say the museum, ‘gives a voice to the people who created them, used them or cared for them, and reveals stories not only of destruction, suffering and loss, but also endurance and innovation, duty and devotion, comradeship and love’.  Other exhibits include Turning Points 1934 –1945; Curiosities of War; their award-winning exhibition on The Holocaust as well as stories of bravery in The Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

There is a special kids’ guide to the museum, costing £4, which includes fun facts and activities. IWM also offer private tours of the museum, for a fee (bookable in advance).  


6.   National Museum of Scotland

Permanent exhibitions at the Museum in Edinburgh explore the history of Scotland and the wonders of nature and diverse cultures from around the globe.  Highlights include their Scottish Galleries which take you from prehistoric times to the present day.  You can see the famous Lewis Chess Pieces from medieval Scotland – as seen in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, as well as Kingdom of the Scots – the story of Mary Queen of Scots – Scotland’s most controversial monarch.  You can also ‘travel around the world without leaving Scotland’ (which is quite useful in these strange times) in the museum’s World Cultural Galleries which displays artefacts from some of museum’s oldest collections from around the world and demonstrate Scotland's international links.

To celebrate the year of Coasts and Waters there is a small exhibition exploring Scotland’s diverse sea life and the many threat’s facing its marine life.


More information on these and other attractions in the UK can be found at Visitbritain.com.

The National Trust has many outdoor spaces which are open, as well as some of their houses – which are free for members.  Look at their website for prices without membership as well as local tier restrictions and booking information.  This is the same for English Heritage.

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